In this new Sports & Performance Psychology article, Dr. Darby Bonomi PhD discusses cultivating your “horse sense”.
How important is intuition in guiding riding and decisions regarding your horse? Do you look to your “gut” to give you clues about how your horse is feeling or what you need to change in your show prep or plan? If you’re a trainer, do you rely on your intuition to make decisions about horse purchases or horse/rider matches? Most equestrians will answer ‘yes’ to these questions; many have told me that when in doubt, they go with their intuition because “the gut doesn’t lie.”
So, what is intuition and how can we learn to incorporate it effectively into our training?
Intuition, according to the dictionary, is “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning” — hence, the synonym “gut,” which refers to receiving information directly to our ‘core’ while by passing the mind. Intuition is also called the “sixth sense,” an inner knowing that is unadulterated by emotion, other people’s influence, or circumstances.
I sat down with Ned Glynn, owner and trainer at Sonoma Valley Stables in Petaluma, California to talk about the place of intuition in coaching riders, assessing horses, and dealing with tense situations at the barn.
Ned revealed that he uses his intuition regularly: “I get a gut feeling when I know a rider is feeling safe, and ‘on it.’ I know when I can push them or not. I have a sense when I can move them up (in divisions). I also get a gut feeling when we’re trying a horse— I can sense whether this match is going to work or not.”
Ned’s strategy involves weaving together his “sense” about a situation with his knowledge and many years of experience in the industry. He intuitively mingles “analytical information” —say, a vet report, or the skill of a rider—with what he feels. And when he talks about his feelings, Ned is not referring to something emotional, but rather a “sense.” And, he relies heavily on it. For instance, if a lot of variables point toward putting a horse and rider in a certain division, but he doesn’t sense it’s quite right, he’ll likely change the plan. Over the years, Ned has learned what many riders have told me: there’s always something to a gut feeling, and it’s important to pay attention to it.
So, while it may sound easy to connect to your intuition, most of us have to work at it. What’s the key to getting in tune with your intuitive knowledge, and how do you learn to trust your gut? Ned says he is “very deliberate about being very present every day” whether he’s at a show or schooling a rider at home. Being present allows him to be a keen observer, taking in cues on many different levels. I asked Ned to elaborate on how he personally gets fully present. “Breath is the most important aspect; I pay attention to my breathing and try to slow it down, especially if I’m feeling some tension or anxiety about a situation. I also deliberately let other thoughts go out of my mind, so I can be fully there.”
I also was curious how Ned distinguishes between intuitive thoughts and simple anxious thoughts that plague most of us. “It’s hard when I get fatigued, for sure—then it’s just more of a challenge” (to be fully present). Ned noted that taking care of himself—especially when he’s under stress, like at a show, is imperative. He prioritizes sleep, nutrition, and hydration—to make sure he’s in good form to use all his senses—analytic and intuitive.
Do you want to become more in touch with your own intuition and learn to trust it?
Start by setting an intention to do so. Take the time to “hear” your gut. Practice becoming present, both by following your breath and drawing boundaries around activities at the barn. Multitasking, being overly busy, and preoccupied with your phone all interfere with being present and available to receive information from your gut. Follow the small intuitive hits first, and soon you will feel more confident in your ‘knowing.’ The more you practice, the more you will learn how to hear your intuition, the more you will come to trust it.
Darby Bonomi, PhD is a Sport and Performance Psychologist. She works with equestrians in all disciplines, as well as other athletes, to achieve optimal performance in and out of the competition. We are thrilled to include this ongoing element in our publication to help riders improve in all aspects of the sport.
Learn more about Darby Bonomi and how she might help you and your riding at: www.darbybonomi.com