Where’s Your Focus? An Excerpt from ‘Ride Big’ by John Haime

In this excerpt from his book Ride Big: The Ultimate Guide to Building Equestrian Confidence, renowned performance coach John Haime tells us that to achieve top results in our equestrian sport, we need to develop laser-like focus in the saddle.

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmore Class, winners of the 2021 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. Photo by Shelby Allen.

If you ask Oliver Townend (the #1 ranked FEI eventer in the world in 2020 and winner of the Kentucky Three-Day in 2021), your ability to keep your attention on the task at hand is critical to any success you might have in equestrian sport. He believes that focusing on the right things — what’s important to him and his own program—has been crucial to him reaching the top of the sport.

Oliver has convincing words for you to consider on the importance of focus and what it means to performance excellence in equestrian sport: “I don’t think it would be possible to compete successfully at the highest, or for that matter, any level, without being able to have a high level of focus. The focus levels required in competition are just too high for your mind to be able to wander — it has to be on your process and your job. It can mean the difference between winning and losing, and unfortunately, it can also mean life and death in our sport.”

So, where do you think your focus is in your equestrian experience? Is it “on your process and job,” as it is with Oliver, or do you wander in and out and let your attention drift to things around you that take away from your performance? Can you separate what matters from what doesn’t matter? Are you able to pull yourself into the moment and keep your mind focused on your riding?

What are you focused on? The right things? The wrong things?

Too much?

What’s important? What’s not important?

What just happened or what might happen?

These are all questions to ask yourself in considering whether your level of focus is helping or hurting your performance, and how it might be impacting whether you are Riding Big or riding small.

Focus is a significant area of interest today. Because of the growing number of distraction around us, including ever-changing advancements in technology, attention spans are shrinking to the point where it has become difficult for performers to keep their minds on a particular task for more than a few seconds. And science tells us there is a link between your focus skills and how well you perform your tasks. If your attention muscles are well developed, there is much more likelihood that you can excel. Confidence and focus are so closely linked. If your mind is paying attention to what’s important, what matters, and is grounded in the moment without the temptations of attention on the past and future, your opportunity to build confidence will be greater.

I became interested in the idea of focus when reflecting on my own professional sports career in golf. That’s when I realized I was struggling with focus and keeping my mind and energy centered on my plan to win a competition. When in the heat of competition, I found that my emotions would, at the worst times, knock me off my focus (I had a lack of awareness and inability to direct my emotion), and eroded my chances of being a consistent contender.

Challenging emotions like frustration and the wrong kind of anger wreaked havoc, and often diverted my attention to the past or propelled my attention into the future—exactly the places where I didn’t want to be. Because of this challenge, as may be true for you too, the real competition was always inside of me as I tried to keep my mind where it should be — confidently executing my skills in the present moment. You might know the feeling—drop a rail, have a mediocre ride, or struggle in a match, and you find it difficult to get your mind back in the game. That makes it even harder to create the right internal environment to complete the course, show your potential in the next class, or score in the final chukker. Some call it being “frazzled.”

There is always the tendency to focus on what’s not important—those distractions that are dressed up as important but really don’t do much to move things forward and help you improve. They are all little threats to your confidence.

This excerpt from Ride Big by John Haime is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.HorseandRiderBooks.com).

Photo courtesy of John Haime.