“This is scientific evidence that riding horses is good for brain health!”I thought to myself while in the middle of a two and a half hour lecture by Horacio Sanchez, author of The Education Revolution. I attend a number of trainings for my day job as teacher, but this one riveted my attention like no other.
The 2.5 Hour Lecture Summarized
The thrust of Sanchez’s teaching was that educators need to understand students’ temperaments (which according to him are innate) and how the brain functions. And beyond that, teachers should explain to students how their brains work so students can make conscious decisions to be successful by practicing activities that are good for brain health.
“Riding Horses for Brain Health” Was All I Could Think Of
Here are three specific items Sanchez encouraged the audience of teachers to share with students–notice how well riding horses or just being around horses plays into his brain health tips.
1. Spend one hour unplugged each day.
This is not hard at all if you are at the barn and especially riding. It’s impossible to get sucked into a Netflix binge from the back of a horse. When you’re grooming a horse, cleaning a stall, talking to your horse’s neighbors, it’s kind of hard to be fully immersed in social media and answering email. Horse time equals unplugged time. And I daresay usually more than one hour. I typically spend between two to three hours at a time at the barn.
2. Do focus drills.
During the lecture, Sanchez had a Power Point showing several cards from a deck of cards and said to look at the nine of spades. Over time the cards kept moving and going off the screen and basically getting shuffled around. We were supposed to track where the card was and know which card it was “under.” I lost it after the third shuffle, but it seemed several of the people around me were successful in focusing on that one card and knew where it was. The whole point of that was to keep our brain tracking with that particular activity.
How does this translate to horseback riding? Well, riding is a series of focus drills. We equestrians have to be aware of our horse and adjust what we’re doing depending on our desired outcome. This all takes immense focus. For example, several months ago my Thoroughbred Knight and I were having sluggish trot to canter transitions. It would take a few strides to get the canter. Long story short, I read somewhere (probably on another blog) to exhale through the transition. My trainer encouraged me to tie the transition in with a leg yield.
Doing just one of those things, the exhaling or initiating a leg yield, requires focus. Doing them simultaneously would seem to require a more intense focus drill. Memorizing a course–that sure sounds like a focus drill. Dressage test–focus drill. Isn’t everything we do on horseback a focus drill?
3. Do important tasks as a single task activity.
Throughout the lecture Sanchez said that multi-tasking is really not a thing–that only .2% of the population can multitask and that “we are creating a new generation of people unable to focus,” because we are trying to do so much at once thanks to ubiquitous technology. It seems as if most barn tasks are single task activities. I cannot clean a stall and pick a hoof. Nor can I jump a fence and oil my saddle. Getting in a routine of single task activities should hopefully help “stable people” (sorry, I couldn’t resist) maintain their stability and focus.
Finally, Sanchez cited several stats which I wasn’t fast enough to write down about how continual learning leads to long-term brain health. Dedicated horse lovers and owners realize that no matter how much we already know about horses, there is always more to learn. This surely gives us jump on doing right by our brain.
Your Turn: What have you heard about how to maintain a healthy brain? Can you think of different examples of horse-related tasks/processes that could be categorized as focus drills?
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