H&H’s dressage columnist on staying mentally strong during winter training
Things are beginning to feel rather dark and gloomy again, as the weather has turned and all the rain that we could have done with during the summer arrives in one hit, plus the days get shorter and shorter.
I know that for many people it becomes a challenge to get their horses done before or after work with enough light, and especially when the weather isn’t particularly motivating. But, hopefully, a silver lining of the Covid-19 situation is that more people are now working from home, which might give them a little more flexibility on that front.
The sound of clippers is buzzing in the air again and the international competitions that are still going ahead are indoors now. Some of the big indoor shows this autumn will feel very strange and even eerie with no spectators, but luckily ClipMyHorse.TV is doing a fantastic job of airing most big shows live online. It means that in some instances we have more spectators – it’s just that they are virtual.
Having shows live-streamed is also great for looking back at previous tests and learning from them, or watching other top rides to get inspired.
Nobody knows where we will be next season and what the new normal will turn out to be, but we must all adapt within our own lives, and also as a sport, and continue to be grateful to the venues that are managing to make it work – even if that involves a few sacrifices.
With all this dragging on, going into the winter may feel especially depressing, so it is even more important at this time of year to set achievable goals for the months ahead.
I always base my goals on training rather than on a particular test mark or percentage, because while my performance is in my hands, the marks and also the placings are not directly in my control.
I try to set a goal for each horse; for a younger one it might be establishing a simple or flying change, for another it might be improving their lateral work or strengthening the canter for pirouettes. If we have a goal we can start to plan how to achieve it, then we have a process that is mentally much healthier to focus on than the goal itself, which is the outcome of that process.
For example, if I want to improve my canter pirouettes, I will think about what needs improving – maybe it’s the jump in the canter, or maybe the straightness going in and out of them. I then think about how I can make this better by improving the canter itself with strengthening exercises, and transitions on the straight and within the bend. If I focus on the “how”, then I find that the outcome takes care of itself.
If I want to teach my horse a new movement, such as the changes, again I will think about how to do it, then test out different approaches and work out which one my horse responds to best. If I have a problem, I try to dissect why, and that brings me back to thinking “how” to manage it. The outcome, if my process is good, is that I achieve my goal.
Having bite-sized goals that lead to “bigger picture” goals makes managing motivation much easier. It is also worth remembering that our horses need to stay motivated, too, so planning in variety for them is worth doing. Working in the school every day can be as monotonous to them as it often is for us.
Ref Horse & Hound; 15 October 2020