How many people do you see riding that constantly look at their horse? There are a couple of things wrong with this. For one you focus your energy down, not forward. Your shoulders point downward and you put weight on the front end of your horse. You also rely on your vision to figure out what your horse is doing instead of feeling him. That is why your instructor will tell you to look up and put your shoulders back.
But what they don’t tell you after is to focus on where you are going. Have a plan. Too many people ride without purpose. They just follow the outside of the arena or keep on the same circle. I go all over the place. If I’m done riding and there is no place in the arena without a footprint, I’ve done my job. The advantage is that my horse can’t anticipate where I’m going, so it has to keep paying attention. I plan, I look where I’m going and my horse follows. I also get better steering on him because we are constantly changing directions, which in turn will make him more flexible. I can work better on his balance and feel where he has problems in his body etc. But that is for another post.
If you’ve ever ridden competition and done patterns you know how different it is to riding at home. All of a sudden you have to stick to a plan, do things at designated spots and keep going to the next task even if you are not ready for it. The secret to riding a pattern is to focus on the next step.
When I’m competing in reining and I need to ride my fast circles, I am not where I am, I am where I’m going. It is like driving your car. You don’t look at your steering wheel, you look at the road. If it is a winding road you look into the next corner, if it is a long road you look far ahead. You don’t look to the middle of the roundabout! (See my post about riding circles). You feel where your car is and adjust your steering accordingly. If the car goes off your planned path you adjust. And yet how many people do you see ride there horse on an approximate course. I wanted to end up in this corner but fell about 3 metres short, oh well. And that is if they even know where they were going. Not good enough.
Start having a plan next time you ride.