I recently came across the most beautiful Instagram account called Plaid Paper (@PlaidPaper) filled with whimsical water colours of horses, dogs and cosy homes. If you haven’t seen Plaid Paper already, stop what you are doing and head across right now! I knew instantly that …
What is motivation?
When we enter the world of horses we are seized as Ralph Waldo Emmerson says ‘by a grand passion’. It is the thing that gets us up at all hours of the morning, that sees us mucking out stables, weeding paddocks all weekend long, cleaning tack, scrubbing horses, coming home at all ours of the night and spending every spare bit of time we have learning more. This is one important ingredient of motivation, the other is the insatiable drive to improve and grow.
I caught up with fellow equestrian bloggers, Charlotte, Lindsey, Sophie and Heather to get their take on motivation.
Motivation to me, is that fleeting feeling of hunger that you get when you start making progress towards your end goal, and really it’s a vital ingredient in the recipe of getting from where you are to where you want to be.
Charlotte Sinclair Stanley (https://www.potentiallyadequate.com/)
For many, like Lindsey, riding can be the ultimate tool for unwinding at the end of the day, however Sophie touches on the very important point of recognising when it is and is not the right time to ride, motivational issues aside. Sophie says, “If I have had a very busy and stressful day in the office, riding doesn’t always provide a release, and knowing when to NOT ride is important, otherwise I can end up more frustrated and negative towards whatever it is I’m trying to achieve.” Over time, I too have become aware of the counterproductive nature of riding when my stress levels are high. It’s important for each rider to be aware of how this impacts them individually.
When does motivation suffer?
I think every equestrian struggles with motivation at some point, thus my tongue in cheek book, Equestrian Handbook of Excuses. I don’t own a horse yet, so my time at the barn is dear. Very little prevents me from spending time with horses. That being said, I don’t always feel like pushing myself in the saddle, and can struggle with that pretty frequently. I’m self-critical and often get in my own head.
Heather Wallace (https://www.bridleandbone.com/blog)
For the majority of my adult life, my motivation has been boundless, even without the prospect of a competition on the horizon. Like an addict seeking a high, I would chase the feeling, that moment of perfection, that was motivation enough to see me swinging into the saddle day after day. In 2015, after a massive year of competing, I found my motivation flagging – I was ready for a change, I just wasn’t aware of it.
A lack of progress, or even feeling like we are going backwards in our riding and training can led to a reduction in motivation. Lindsey notes that forgetting her love for the sport, and an over focus on goals will make her time with her horses feel stale.”
Heather touches on the impact that negative experiences, such as a scary spook or a bad fall, can have upon not only our confidence, but also our motivation. “Sometimes getting myself to the barn is the biggest hurdle”, she says.
What can we do to build our motivation back up?
In talking to my fellow bloggers, two common theme’s emerge, goal setting and hitting ‘refresh’.
When it is a good time to ride, & I aim for 5 times a week, I think about my goals – what is it that I want to achieve? There is very little point aiming for the end goal, if it’s likely to be a big step, so I chunk down into much smaller steps to work towards, and on a day that.
Sophie Tunnah (http://www.teamtunnaheventing.co.uk/)
Goals can be a powerful tool when used well, they are intimately linked to progress, and it is progress upon which so many us thrive on. Lindsey says, “I start to dream. I re-evaluate new goals, or a new approach to goals, for me and the horses. I ask myself, how do I want to grow as a rider in the next few months? How do I want to develop the horses in the next few months? I visualize the outcome and grow excited, then I’m quickly ready to jump in.”
Charlotte takes goal setting to another level with vision boards, and says that “Creating vision boards that represent all of the things that you want to be, that you can be if you work hard enough is a great way to keep inspired. Whether you cut out words and photos from a magazine or create a collage and keep it as your background on your computer or phone, keeping a constant reminder of your ideal future will almost guarantee you motivation in the present.”
I need time on a new trail or swimming in the river with the horses every so often. Those experiences make me feel alive. Going too long without them just deflates my spirit a bit. The funny thing about life-giving adventure is that you often have to plan for it, make time for it. For example, this weekend I’m trying my first bareback trail ride. I have no idea how it will go, but I’m confident in the partnership I’ve built with Chip, and I know certainly that I will grow and learn a whole lot.
Lindsey Rains (http://altamirahorsemanship.com/)
We all agreed that placing too much pressure on yourself and your horse can be detrimental and that taking some pressure off and giving yourself some time can be really valuable. Heather says, “I still ride, but I don’t put any pressure on myself to meet certain standards. A trail ride, a walk in the paddock, or even just grazing Delight can usually help me to reset.” I’m a huge fan of this approach too, back at the end of 2015 when my motivation took a hit, Nonie and I got out on the beach and I re-learnt to ride bare back.
Be sure to check out these great blogs for more inspiring reading:
Heather Wallace – https://www.bridleandbone.com/blog
Lindsey Rains – http://altamirahorsemanship.com/
Sophie Tunnah – http://www.teamtunnaheventing.co.uk/
Charlotte Sinclair Stanley- https://www.potentiallyadequate.com/
I recently wrote about the connections I have made with riders from across the world via Instagram, one such rider is Emily Grimstead. The first thing you will undoubtedly notice when you scroll through Emily’s feed is her spunky, spotty pony – Goosebumps or Goose for short. Emily and Goose recently returned from a very successful trip to the National Dressage Pony Cup. They competed in the USDF Training Level and musical freestyle classes.
How did Emily Find her way into the world of horses?
Despite growing up with a horsey mother, it took Emily a few years to overcome her fear of horses. She start riding at the age of 10, “I think I was just nervous about riding something so high off the ground. I was a timid rider for a long time. I’ve always been more comfortable on smaller horses and ponies”.
During her years as a rider Emily has tried her hand at most equestrian sports from showing her first horse, Cory a purebred Arabian (who is now 30!) to Western pleasure to hunter/jumpers and found dressage accidentally. “There was a dressage clinic at the camp on Valentine’s Day in 2015 and I just fell in love with the sport! Now, I could never go back to a different discipline. Dressage is just so fun and challenging; there is just so much to learn!”
Although Goose, now 17, keeps Emily on her toes as he continues to come up with new ‘tricks’, he has come a long way from the dangerous pony that Cindy Bellis-Jones rescued from slaughter. Cindy said, “There are just ponies that through no fault of their own have travelled down the wrong path and find themselves in a bad situation. They come in all colors, but share a common denominator of needing a helping hand to get back to a better place. Goose was one of those ponies. I tried to look past the surface and instead see what the pony really was. Goose needed a purpose. That is what I saw. His color, although quite neat, really didn’t influence my decision [to save him]. He would have travelled back to my farm in any color.”
How did Emily and Goose meet?
The first meeting between Emily and Goose happened by chance, as he was agisted at Emily’s barn. Although she didn’t ride him at the time, it was love at first sight. “He just had the sweetest personality!”. When the owners put the barn and horses up for sale some years later, Emily’s mother, who teaches beginner riding lessons at a Girl Scout camp, purchased him with the intention of using him in the program. However, this wasn’t quite the right job for Goose. True to his pony nature, Goose would be naughty and quite difficult for the young riders to manage. So Emily took him on as her own project, and he flourished with the consistency of one rider.
The journey from rescue pony to Breed Champion at Pony Cup was not without some bumps in the road. At their first competition together, Emily recalls, “Goose was so naughty that he had to be led into the arena by my husband! We also had some serious trailering issues that we had to work through to get him there.”
Emily discovered the National Dressage Pony Cup when investigating what opportunities existed for adults who ride dressage ponies. With this goal in mind Emily went from being a weekend rider to working hard and riding about five days per week. She says that “The prospect of going [to the National Pony Cup] really motivated me to push harder as an equestrian and to try to be a better rider”.
For Emily the highlight of her time at the Pony Cup was receiving the high point Appaloosa pony breed award. “It was a complete surprise and I am so thankful. Having Goosebumps win a beautiful champion neck sash was just a dream come true!”
Emily’s advise to other riders?
I asked Emily what she has learned during her journey and her response could not have been more perfect. “Have patience. Correct training takes a lot of time and it is just as strange and difficult for our horses to learn new things as it is for us as riders. I feel like it has taken over two years just to get to a place where a lot of other riders start out. But accomplishing a goal on a pony that you trained yourself? There is no better feeling!”
Daring to suck… It’s a seemingly bizarre concept that resonated deeply with me. I was listening to one of my favourite podcast’s (check it out here http://summerinnanen.com/frr-37) when I stumbled across this idea.
So what does ‘daring to suck’ actually mean? In a nutshell, it means giving something a go even if there is a possibility of not pulling it off, not getting the outcome you were after, or failing. For me, daring to suck is an action which is in direct opposition to fearing failure.
Why is this important? As someone who identifies as having perfectionistic tendencies, I can see how my fear of failure has held me back at times. Whether it be something as simple as not riding that movement that is tricky and feels super uncomfortable or not entering that competition because you might make a mistake. Looking back, I can also see that my fear of failure kept me competing at prelim/novice level for way longer than necessary. I wanted everything to be perfect when I took the step up to prelim. This is a real problem because life is not perfect, particularly when you add a horse into the mix.
Over the last two years, I feel that I have become much better at embracing imperfection. Here are some things that I feel have helped me along in this journey:
Understand why things feel uncomfortable.
For me one of the most useful things in understanding this was understanding the four stages of learning. The first stage is unconscious incompetence (that is we don’t know anything about what we cannot yet do). The second stage is conscious incompetence (we know what we can’t do). The third stage is conscious competence (we know the skills needed and we can use them but a high degree of concentration is required). The fourth and final stage is unconscious competence (we are able to apply the skills effectively with little conscious effort being required). Sure, there are times when something that is normally effortless becomes incredibly hard. But for the most part discomfort comes about when we are learning a new skill. I’ve found it particularly useful to link discomfort in my riding with the understanding that I am learning something new and growing.
Push yourself to do things which are uncomfortable, but not unsafe.
Many of you will be familiar with the concept of the ‘comfort zone’, the ‘learning zone’ and the ‘danger zone’. We have to learn to balance the need to push ourselves beyond our established skills. However, we also need to be mindful that we do not push too far and create a dangerous situation. In doing this having a coach who knows your level of skill and can push you is invaluable. Get to know what it feels like when you are working within the growth zone. For me things feel uncomfortable, challenging and requires a lot more conscious effort, but it never feels unsafe.
Don’t be afraid to try new things.
Perfection it doesn’t exist anywhere. Even less so when you bring an animal with its own thoughts and feelings into the picture. Don’t be afraid to try new things! Whether that is trying a different exercise, playing around with the timing of your aids or even seeking the input of a different coach. A few years ago, Nonie and I got to a stage where we could barely ride a 20m canter circle despite having compete successfully competed at novice and prelim. With limited access to dressage coaches in the area, we struggled along on our own for several months. Rides would frequently end up with me in tears and questioning my ability as a rider. I eventually contacted one of the local western trainers who had a good reputation. She helped Nonie and I make some changes that greatly improved our straightness, Nonie’s obedience and my confidence to lead. Her strategies worked even though they were not classical dressage.
The dressage coach that I train with now lives about 800km away, so we get her up to run clinics once every couple of months. In between clinics I am training on my own. This sometimes means that I have to use my knowledge and skills to figure things out on my own. Sometimes this means that I make mistakes or do things that don’t work. What I have learnt that it is much better to make a mistake than trying the same thing over and over and expect a different result. And generally we get things to a point where they start to improve.
So join me in embracing imperfection. I’d love to hear about a time when fear of failure has held you back and how you have dared to suck!
To read more on this topic check out my post, “I’ll be a good rider when”.