One of the most important lessons we want each student to take home from the Josey Ranch is that to be a great competitor, you must be a great horseman. A true horseman becomes a team with his or her horse. A true horseman develops a way of thinking that creates many great qualities, such as the ability to:
• Recognize problems and solve them.
• Listen to what people say, rather than merely hear it.
• Read a horse and anticipate his next move.
• Be a deep thinker.
• Exercise self-control and patience.
• Believe that to improve is to succeed.
• Recognize something worthwhile.
• Understand limitations.
• Have the desire to be a lifelong learner.
A good horseman has to have desire; he will not understand the “how to” until he has the “want to.” He or she never stops learning and will take advantage of every opportunity, utilizing resources such as books, magazines, videos, clinics, and demonstrations. I encourage you to seek knowledge from many sources, and while keeping an open mind, use only the parts that apply to you, personally.
Horsemanship involves adjusting your body to the movements and desired position of your horse. Be consistent with your horsemanship skills so your performance will be correct in your practice and competition. Be an active participant in the race, not just a passenger along for the ride. In the alleyway, for example, there are some specific measures you can take to become a better horseman:
• Be ready. See and feel that good run you visualize as you start down the alley.
• Know your horse’s attitude in the alleyway and what is required of you to begin the race positively. If you are riding a laid-back horse, get him fired up. On the other hand, if your horse is high strung, you need to calm him.
• Concentrate. Keep his body in the correct position while you approach the mouth of the arena.
• Breathe! Many people tense up and hold their breath in the alleyway. Learn how to inhale and exhale several times, taking deep breaths to calm yourself. Relax and ride your horse like you would ride him at home.
• Think only of the pattern you are about to run; do not entertain negative thoughts.
• Ignore distractions. Horses are extremely sensitive and can sense what you are feeling through your body, and they will react accordingly.
• Some people cannot handle the pressure of the alleyway. Learn to let your adrenaline help you so you don’t become a victim of nerves. Make your plan and stick to it.
Becoming a good horseman begins in your mind. To become extraordinary, you must think extraordinarily. To be a winner, you must think like a winner. Just as you have to train your horse, you must train your mind. A great horseman may not always be the winner, but the winners are always great horsemen. You must think like a champion in order to become one.