Here is a simple exercise you can do to help improve your riding via your thoughts.
When you are next riding remember to notice your thoughts, are you thinking more about:
a) How your horse is feeling?
b) What your horse is thinking?
Here are some examples to help you work out which one of these you might be doing:
If you’re thinking about how your horse is feeling then you are likely to have thoughts like ‘ah that transition felt good’ or ‘this canter needs more energy’. You will notice your thoughts will be directly influenced by the feedback your horse is giving you, in a clear and productive way.
If you are having thoughts about what your horse is thinking, you will have thoughts like ‘is he going spook there’ or ‘will she get tense when the other horse leaves the arena’. These thoughts are usually connected to things which are happening around you or things that have happened to you in the past, which means you will find yourself trying to second guess what is going to happen next. These thoughts will take your concentration and disconnect you from your horse, they will also subconsciously make you ride defensively, which your horse will instantly pick up on.
You may find yourself yo-yoing between the two, from thoughts about what your horse is feeling to thoughts about what your horse is thinking. This is okay, just try to notice it happening and when it does try to bring your thoughts back in line with how your horse is feeling. Ask yourself questions like, how does this walk/trot or canter feel? Is this rhythm consistent? Could my horse soften more to my aids?
To improve your riding try to think about how your horse is feeling in each moment. This will help you to stay fully connected to your horse, which in turn, will help your horse to stay fully connected to you.