17, July, 2019

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a friend who was worried about a decrease in motivation. Right now, I’m going to take a step back and let you all know that I’m paraphrasing here and also using creative licence to protect the guilty…

This friend is having an epic couple of years with a new business launch, which she is overseeing alongside teaching clients, running a small farm and riding her own horses – sound familiar? This friend was asking if was ok or ‘normal’ to not want to attend the regionals they’d qualified for – instead just to concentrate on the local shows and training.

Normal?!?!? Was she quite serious??? What’s not normal is effectively working three jobs and keeping on family on track and performing at a very high level in what is, quite frankly, a ridiculously time consuming and difficult sport. What’s not normal is that this person hasn’t been sectioned and isn’t currently in lock up surrounded by white coats, or at the very least, self-medicating with copious quantities of booze while curled in the foetal position in a corner somewhere sucking her thumb!

She was worried that she wasn’t fulfilling her horse’s potential, wasn’t taking advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves, was somehow delaying her horse’s progression, and above all else, she wasn’t showing the world just how fabulous she could be. To all of this I say (channelling my best English aristocrat here) Balderdash!! Any success we declare is simply a measure against an arbitrary goalpost. Our horses don’t have any sense of time, nor do they have any ambition – outside of that to please their caregivers. Yes, Valegro knows he is special, but he knows that because Charlotte has told him he is, not because he has won a stupid amount of gold medals.

As riders and owners and trainers, we have got to stop measuring ourselves against any marker, except that which measures our horse’s health and contentment and our own sense of achievement. Our horse is just as happy hanging out in the field grazing with his friends as he is learning a new skill in the arena, or showing it off at a show. And that skill learned is just as impressive, just as remarkable, if no one sees it apart from the barn cat as it is when on the national or international stage. Likewise, they have no agenda. They don’t know they’re ‘supposed’ to make a linear progression through the grades – they don’t know it’s unseemly to be competing at Novice and take two years off and then come out at PSG. And before any of you neophytes challenge me on this, I’ve seen a horse that not only did this, but came out as National Grand Prix champion a couple of years later.

Now we’ve established the fact that horses are not on any innate timetable we need to go back to the problem faced by the initial correspondent – is it normal to feel unmotivated? The answer to this is a categorical yes. And not only is it normal, it is a fantastic opportunity. Sit back, take stock. Work on that problem you’ve been glossing over for months. Push through and nail the movement you know you need to have down pat before you step up a grade next season or the season after that. Take time to enjoy your horse, the training, just going for a hack or popping a few fences if you don’t feel like schooling. Before you know it, the drive will come back, and I’ll see you at Nationals in 2020.


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