These are unprecedented times, and I’ve made so many changes to and edits to this article, that it really has taken on a life and direction of its own. I wanted to write about motivation, and how it can be one of the most important tools in your mental skills toolbox as an equestrian. As it turns out, motivation is one of the key skills to help us at this particular time in our history.
Its really easy to stay excited and motivated when everything is going well, isn’t it? You won your last two classes, you aced your last exam, and you just wrote a stellar report that has your boss beaming from ear to ear. Life is good, you and your horse are flying through the grades and everything is rosy.
But what happens when life gets in the way and you just aren’t on top of your game? Maybe you’ve had an intense few weeks of deadlines for projects, or your new young horse tried to jump out of the paddock and is now hopping around on three legs, or you have an unexpected stop or crash in a practice session. Or a combination of those and some other curve balls have you feeling less than confident for the upcoming event.
Like, for instance, the impossible happened, and the whole world is in lockdown because of the Corona Virus, and you wonder if anything will ever make sense again…
It might be a really challenging time for most of us riders currently, but I want to implore you not to sink into the depths of despair and give up on your hopes and dreams just yet. Now is possibly one of the most important times in your life to get really clear about your motivation.
Never have your mental skills been more important to your health and wellbeing. Right now, when the whole world is upside down, and everything in your life previously taken for granted, has changed; now is the time to re-group, revise and reset.
One of the most important aspects to your successful riding career is a strong mindset, that will help you to focus on what is going right, as opposed to what you can’t do. Being able to keep going in the face of setbacks requires you to draw strength from your core motivation for doing the sport of riding. Let’s look a little deeper into Motivation, as one of the nine essential Mental Skills of a Successful Athlete.
While there are many different definitions for motivation, for our purposes as riders, we can usefully apply Gadson’s explanation, which is “the internal and external stimuli which arouse and direct behaviour”
This suggests that motivation is both intrinsic and extrinsic, and that it has to inspire us enough to take action. Other sources call motivation the athlete’s inner will and dedication to focus on achieving goals they have set themselves. It is both the internal strength and the driving force behind our actions, fueled by our desire to achieve success in that area.
According to Trifocus Fitness Academy’s Sports Psychology course, intrinsic Goals come from within, and have to do with self-worth, knowledge, growth, passion, dedication, fun and purpose. Intrinsically motivated people find it easy to motivate themselves, and often engage in an activity because it is personally rewarding, rather than for some external reward.
Extrinsic goals are from your external environment and include deadlines, social status, money, prizes, winning, failure, and perks. Extrinsically motivated athletes have the desire to gain external rewards or avoid punishment. Athletes who are externally motivated often find it difficult to deal with failure, and need lots of encouragement from their coaches. Extrinsic rewards can be used to motivate athletes to acquire new skills, but once these skills are mastered, athletes may become more intrinsically motivated to pursue the activity. External rewards are also a useful source of feedback, allowing athletes to know when their performance has met the required standard.
Motivation is what gets you out of bed in the mornings. Even on days when the clouds seem really dark and threatening. And at this time, when many equestrians are in lockdown without their beloved horses for comfort and strength, it can be both useful and comforting to develop a motivation statement that will remind you of all you love about riding, and what you aspire to in the sport. “Reminding yourself of your passion for the sport and your desire to accomplish your goals can help you overcome a challenging time,” says Tonya Johnstone
Uncovering and working with your core motivation statement can help you to focus on what’s important, even if only for today, for now.
So here’s how to start. You will need a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. If you feel at all creative, you can use different colours for each section.
In the middle of the page, write the word, Riding – or any other word that inspires you.
Circle it. Then, draw lines from this word, as though you are drawing a sun, and answer the following questions in a bit of a brainstorming session:
What do you love about riding?
What type of rider do you want to be?
What are your favorite riding memories?
This can be a rather intimidating exercise to try on your own, so I’ve included some examples to get you thinking. The key is to not limit yourself to only one or two statements. Try and get about 4 or 5 per question. Don’t edit and don’t judge yourself.
Once you have about twenty or so words or short phrases coming from your sun, sit back a little, and reflect. Some people like to put this away for a day or two, to percolate a bit. When you come back to your mind map, circle 3 or 4 words that really resonate for you.
Now you have the basis for a sentence, acronym or motto that really epitomizes your motivation for riding, or whatever sport or area of your life you are currently working with, and wanting to be clear about. Play around with it, and begin to formulate your own, personalized motivation statement.
Here are a few examples:
“I am excited to develop, excel and achieve this year.”
“Working with horses, I am positive, encouraging and an analytical rider.”
“I’m a thinking rider, who loves to learn with my horse.”
PACE – Planning + Action + Commitment = Excellence
I have found over and over again, that this exercise can be incredibly grounding, and reminds us of what’s really important to us within the larger context of the sport we love.
Once you have your motivation statement, use it everywhere. Put it on your mirror, pin it to the cover of your show jacket, put it up in the tack room, if you have one at home. Even during this time of lock down, a strong motivation statement about your riding can keep you focused on where you are headed, and this is an excellent place from which to do your planning.
Johnston, T. (2012). Inside your Ride: Mental Skills for being happy and successful with your horse. Boulder, CO: Equine Network