Each time I prepare to ride a test, I close my eyes and take a quiet moment to create a mental image of myself as my favorite horse-and-rider combination at the time. I focus on what I’d like to accomplish–creating the ideal balance of harmony and expression, while taking mental checks in the short end of the arena to optimize my horse’s frame, bend and engagement. In other words, I create a “brain video” of the ideal ride. With that ideal ride in my head, I try to come as close to that as I can in my tests.
There are many horse-and-rider combinations that have served as mental images for me in my tests. A pair that I really enjoyed watching was Bonfire and Anky van Grunsven. There are many other Olympic riders and trainers I like to remember, such as Christine Stückelberger and Granat, Harry Boldt and Woyczek, Reiner Klimke and Ahlerich, Hilda Gurney and Keen, Nicole Uphoff and Rembrandt, Isabell Werth and Gigolo, Johann Hinnemann and Ideaal and Monica Theodorescu and Ganimedes.
My mental image might change to someone who more recently has had a good ride, such as Rusty and Ulla Salzgeber and, of course, our top U.S. horses. The first combination that comes to mind is Debbie McDonald and Brentina. What a beautiful display of concentration, confidence and relaxation! Lisa Wilcox and Relevant are also brilliant together. She is such a polished and talented rider.
With a mental image in my mind, I try to stay as focused as possible during my test. If I make a mistake, I leave it and think about the next exercise coming up. Dwelling on thinking about mistakes during your test doesn’t make it better, rather it makes your test worse. Recently, for example, I was riding my 6-year-old gelding Wendelstern at Dressage at Devon in the 6-year-old championship class, and I missed a flying change. Instead of dwelling on my mistake, I recaptured my mental image–Dr. Ulf Moeller, rider of champion young horses in Germany–and immediately refocused on the next movement. As a result, we won!
Dennis Callin is a U.S. Dressage Federation bronze, silver and gold medalist. He trained with the late Col. Bengt Ljungquist, who found Callin’s first international mount, Zenith, as well as with Georg Theodorescu, Johann Hinnemann, Herbert Rehbein, Harry Boldt and Klaus Balkenhol. Based in Raleigh, N.C., he operates Xenophon Farm, a training and sales facility. His website is www.denniscallin.com.