When riders loose focus, it is not far behind for the horse. When a horse does not have something productive to focus on, such as their rider, they will find something else to focus on; Generally a horse will seek out something to fear.
How long is a horse’s attention span?
Horses are able to focus on one thing while blocking everything out, something I strive to do often. We’ve all seen our horse look at something off in the distance every time you pass the open arena door. Unfortunately for us, naturally horses hyper focus out of fear. If they are focused out of fear, they react within milliseconds. If they are calm and focused, they can stay focused for longer periods. Realized, longer periods are just a few minutes before a horse will become bored or look for an easier option or want to release some energy.
How to tell if your horse is really paying attention to you?
Usually a horse is just going to keep looking at other people, other horses or things outside of the ring. There are a lot of horses that pay attention to their riders, without their riders having to get their attention or they give their attention easily. However that is not always the case. If your horse tolerates you on his back but instead of paying attention to his rider, he chooses to go to the center of the arena, the gate to call or the instructor on the ground. The first step to take is getting the horses attention again.
That can be more challenging than it might seem sometimes. Not in a sense that you would need some special skills. Anyone can do it. However, what you need is a ton of patience and dedication to get your horse to pay attention to you no matter how long it will take.
How do you get your horse focused on you?
As soon as my horse stops paying attention to me, I immediately ask him to do something simple to remind him that he need to be paying attention. Stop, Backup, trot off. Circle in the direction the horse changes too. If they are looking outside the arena, do an inside circle to bring their attention back to me.
It is important to stay calm in that moment and don’t get frustrated. You are not going to make things better by getting frustrated and starting to jerk the reins as you turn your horses head to the side. The only thing you will most likely achieve by jerking the reins is that your horse will get scared of the pain and start tossing his head. This can cause him to be upset instead of getting his attention.
The key here is to stay calm longer than your horse.
To help aid my horses and riders focus we use InTune by doTERRA.