A rider who uses his eyes correctly can make progress very quickly indeed. The beginners I train over jumps make considerable progress by simply being aware of where they are looking. The eyes are extremely important in all sports in which the body is moved by action. A skier focusing on a sheet of ice skies right over it, guaranteeing a fall… The windsurfer who lowers his head and looks at the water loses his balance. Look at the number of riders who stare at the ground poles that they are going over. What is the point? I have never seen any advantage in staring at the ground. On the contrary, it only results in a mess after the jump!
Why are the eyes so important? It may seem obvious to you, but it is thanks to the messages gathered by the eyes that the rider analyses the situation and gives orders to his body and to his horse. There is a great difference between what I call the focused view and the wide-angle view. The focal view is rather like looking through a tube: the eyes focus on one spot, eliminating all the rest. When jumping, for example, it is easy to understand the influence of the focus of the eyes on the rider’s position. Generally speaking, if the rider fixes his eyes on a specific spot, he will change his balance to such an extent that he will lead his horse to this precise spot. The wide-angle view, on the other hand, enlarges one’s field of vision to a maximum. While jumping a course, it allows one to receive the maximum amount of information about the course, the turns, the approach, the fence, the landing, and the next fence… As far as jumping is concerned, it is of course best to start with a course of poles on the ground. In the beginning choose something to look at in the distance, if possible something pleasant such as squirrel, a handsome boy or a pretty girl at the edge of the arena, a monkey in a tree… this is better than looking for something in an empty sky or the spider webs in the riding school. A wide-angle view means a broad and distant view but it does not exclude one from looking at a precise object sufficiently high up and far away. Looking vaguely around is too difficult, one must attribute importance to the place where one wants to go. Train yourself to be aware of where you are looking. If you look down, ask yourself why: « What was it that made me look down? « Try to control your thoughts and approach the pole on the ground again trying to control your eyes. After succeeding over poles on the ground, train over cavalletti, then uprights and oxers. Start training at home or at the yard where you ride, then try in a small class at a show. You could ask for help from someone watching you and signalling every time you stop concentrating on where you are looking. You yourself are, of course, your best teacher… if you are honest and don’t cheat! I can already hear the sceptics saying: « Yes, but I’ve seen this or that great rider winning, and he always looks at the fence’s ground line «. Remember we said never say “Yes, But…”. My own technique for keeping my actions under control while approaching a fence is to use my wide-angle view. It allows me above all to anticipate, which as we have seen is of crucial importance. The control tower is always vigilant. Your role is to be present: be here and now to better anticipate the future… and this happens first through the eyes.
Train yourself to jump small fences looking to the right or to the left. This is an excellent exercise for releasing oneself from the influence of the eyes and rediscovering one’s sensations. The body puts itself in a ‘waiting’ position while moving together with the horse. It is rather like having a bandage over one’s eyes…but less dangerous. Try to memorise this feeling, and then use it again when approaching fences. While training, at times I close my eyes for three or four strides to re-centre myself on the horse’s movements.