With the Olympics done and dusted for another 4 years we take a look at the motivation that’s required to stay at the top of your game.
I am sure there are not many of us who have not dreamt about riding at the Olympics – the pinnacle of competition for nearly all sports including our beloved equestrian. For most of us it is not a dream that will be achieved in this life time, however that should not stop you achieving goals with your horse. A goal can be as small as getting your horse to canter a full circle for the first time, to competing at a big show that you’ve been aiming towards for a long time.
We may not all get to compete at the Olympics, but we can certainly take something away from the Olympians and bring it to our own success. Olympians are some of the most dedicated people you will ever meet. They have a goal and they do everything they can to achieve it. They know what it takes to be the top in their sport. By looking at what an Olympian does closely, we can move one step closer to achieving our own goals with our horses.
With nearly everything in life we need motivation. Without motivation you are unlikely to achieve anything that you’ve been aiming towards. Motivation is different for each of us. We need to individually find what motivation works for us and our horses so that we can stick to our goals and ultimately achieve them. My all time favourite words are “STOP WISHING. START DOING”! How can we expect our horse to jump a clear round, or do a flawless dressage test if we don’t put the work in? No amount of dreaming will bring results, hard work and trying and trying again will.
You don’t often see an Olympian down on themselves. They are optimists. They will always try and see the positive in a situation to help them down the track. Your horse had a rail at fence 3 because it ran down to it. Turn this into a positive and a learning curve so that it won’t happen next time. If you enter the ring negative to begin with you can’t expect to get the best results. Anything your feeling your horse will feel too. If your nervous, the chances are pretty high that your horse will not perform well. Yes, a certain amount of nerves are good, but these are positive nerves and adrenaline. Stay positive, think positive. Don’t think about the worst outcome. Turn the negative around and think about the best outcome, whether it be jumping a clear round or completing your test without errors. If you envision the mistakes you think you’ll make the chances are much higher that you’ll actually make them!
I read an interesting article recently about what Olympians do to stay motivated. One of the items on top of the list was loving your sport. This is not normally hard for any of us equestrians. We love our horses and our sport. However, if you don’t love competing then perhaps that is why you’re not getting the results you’re after. Take a step back and think about what goals you want to achieve; you may realise they are not even competition related.
Anticipation is another aspect that we could all steal from our equestrian Olympians. The top riders in the world can read and anticipate a situation before something goes wrong, however don’t be disheartened, we’ve all seen the very best get it wrong plenty of times. Remember, we’re all human after all and none of us can be perfect 100% of the time. Try and read a situation. If you get to a competition and its windy and you know your horse will be nervous around the flapping flags, think about what you can do to control the situation. Flex them slightly to the inside, distract them by doing lots of transitions, warm them up as close to where you’ll be competing as possible. Or if you walk your jumping course and you know a distance will be a bit long for your horse, you go into the course with the plan to ride forward after fence 3 to 4 to make the 5 strides, however you get to close a distance to 3 so you anticipate that it will be better for you to sit up and wait and do 6 strides. That is anticipating a situation and solving a problem before it becomes an issue (fence down, stop, etc.).
I find nothing more motivating then watching the best in the world riding. One of my coaches once said to me – just pretend you’re your favourite rider, channel them! Look at yourself in the arena mirror and imagine that your favourite rider is looking back at you. It sounds silly but it really works. You start to truly believe that you are that rider and it improves your position and your confidence straight away.
Goal setting – what is it you want to accomplish with your horse? Start out setting small, manageable goals and then build up so that you feel you are progressing and will continue to stay motivated. If you set yourself unrealistic, unachievable goals from the start you will quickly become disheartened and potentially give up before you’ve reached any of your goals. But in saying that, don’t make them too easy, they have to push you and your horse just enough that you will continue to improve.
Make a list. Stay focused on your goals. Write a list of all the things you want to achieve in the month ahead. Stick it to your fridge door or put it on your bedroom wall. Each time you achieve something put a big tick next to it. The satisfaction you will feel when putting that tick there will provide you with the motivation you need to tick off your next goal and the next after that. Once you’ve come to the end of your list, make a new one!
Don’t just think about the end result. Think of the steps you take in getting there. You don’t go from jumping 60cm to 160cm overnight. Enjoy the ride while you and your horse progress and constantly look back on all the small (to other people possibly insignificant) things you've achieved. That’s what’s important.