December 9, 2015
Equestrian competition is among the most ancient of competitive sports. Going back to before the legendary Olympic games, through Roman times, and of course in the modern Olympics, equestrian competition elicits passion and excitement from fans of all types. There are many kinds of equestrian events, from racing to jumping to dressage to polo, all with different followings. The events vary greatly, and this of course means a wide range of training routines across these sports. Much like figure skating or ice hockey, the horsey set are also famous for the entire family getting into the competitive spirit. The energy - and ice - of competition can be felt as much in the arena as in the stands. And as with other sports, parents and athletes seek out every possible advantage. In this light, horseback riding is experiencing a similar revolution as with other sports, where mental training is integral to athlete development, and increasingly an explicit part of programmes.
Horseback riding is one of the toughest mental sports. Mental training allows the rider to improve their focus in order to be ready for the challenge of horseback riding. Just like technique and muscles have their training regimens and routines, brains need similar training as well.
Another factor is visual information processing speed. Riders have to interpret the situation and the surrounding environment in a fraction of a second, while also maintaining the dual-task of controlling the horse. Mental training improves visual information processing speed and increases the rider's ability to be fully aware of the environment.
Injury avoidance and assessment for return-to-play are of crucial importance in equestrian as concussions are very present. A rider's head when mounted in the saddle can be up to 3m above the ground. Add the speed that the horse is moving at, and any fall becomes extremely dangerous. Injury avoidance can a lot of times depend on decision-making and awareness. If the rider is fully aware of their surroundings, they are able to avoid the spots that might result in a fall. In addition, dual-tasking is very important. The rider has to focus on both controlling the horse and planning the next move. Expanding the brain's ability to dual task allows for better injury avoidance.
Even with full preparations and training, the risk of concussion remains high. So in the case that a rider suffers a concussion, they need to have the ability to conduct an objective assessment of their ability to return-to-play. It happens way too often that an athlete returns to play after suffering a concussion before being ready. Athletes often have the incentive to misidentify their symptoms in order to return sooner. Athletes are naturally competitive, and part of that competitive spirit is to try to be back as soon as possible.
The new revolution in sports vision and mental training is perceptual-cognitive training. NeuroTracker has shown direct results on improving focus. It allows athletes to be "in the zone" for longer periods of time. This specifically applies to NeuroTracker Attention Stamina mode in which the user is asked to maintain their focus by tracking the 4 moving targets in the 3D environment for a longer period of time.
3D multiple-object tracking also allows the user to increase their visual information processing speed. In other words, the user is able to interpret visual clues faster and better. This becomes vital in horseback riding as even the smallest of bumps in the road can be of great danger to the horse and the rider. It also allows the user to interpret the horse's own body language, which is known in scientific terms as biological motion, better and quicker. In a controlled study, NeuroTracker has shown a capacity to improve the ability of reading biological motion. As a direct result of improving visual information processing speed, the rider is able to be more aware of their surroundings and therefore avoid injuries.
The other factor that NeuroTracker helps with is cognitive performance baselining. If a baseline is established with a user, then it is fully expected for the athlete to be able to get back to their baseline as an aspect of their recovery. If the athlete is performing well-below their baseline, which is the case with any user that had a concussion who used NeuroTracker, then they are not ready to return to play. Doing so would put them at extra risk of not performing well, or even worse, sustaining a more significant injury or simply worsening their existing one.
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