Planning a season, a career for yourself or your horse, shoot - even planning for the few weeks or days ahead can be challenging. That's without even taking into consideration that you and/or your horse may be unable to continue for any number of reasons! Choosing an end goal is easy; to compete at Championships, move up to Novice level, jump 3' courses, ride confidently in the back pasture, get to the barn 3 times per week. Each of those goals has its own set of objectives, smaller pieces that can be difficult to recognize as goals, or even as achievements. Thinking only of the finish line can make the milestones reached seem like tiny, insignificant pebbles on the way to the greater goal.
Many of us tend to focus on results and outcomes. We make winning the goal, but why? Sure, the blue ribbon is pretty, and it means I'm better than everyone (mua-ha-ha!!). Will the joy and pride from getting that blue ribbon make up for all the hard times I put myself through trying to earn it? Will it make up for the injuries, money spent, time away from family and friends? I could go on and on about the weekend being wasted if I didn't get the placing I hoped for, or the schooling being pointless if I had yet another stop at the coffin on course. It’s easy for me to get down on myself for the things I haven’t done, without even considering all the things I have done, and even done well. I think that's a common thread amongst riders, amongst people. So what if we stopped aiming for a blue ribbon, and focused instead on enjoying the process? What if we just strive to get better results, to become better riders and better horsepeople, without beating ourselves up for the heights not yet reached? Maybe if we start collecting all the seemingly insignificant pebbles, we could actually build a formidable monument.
Our schooling paid off...on the second approach.
As part of your goal-setting process, take a look at the qualifications for your end goal, those are the achievements you can recognize along the way. Requirements for each eventing level are laid out in the rulebook, read over the dressage tests and jumping regulations for your current level and the level you aspire to. Competing at Beginner Novice might take more, or less preparation than you thought. Are you and your horse capable yet of completing the necessary MERs to move up to Preliminary? Coach Daniel Stewart talks about putting your goals on a 'ladder' to break them down into the steps to get there, check out his interview on the USEA Podcast here, and download my interpretation of the ladder to fill in yourself at the bottom of this page. Whether you want to compete or not, setting a path and tracking goals can be a great way to help you notice what areas might need more attention and prioritize your efforts.
Consider what it is you really want, and why. Try to focus on what will actually bring joy into your life. It is okay if your goals are different from your friends' goals, and from what you see on social media. Let's make an effort to stop letting other people’s ideas and pressures worm into our heads and make us think we are not happy with what we have. You get to decide for yourself that who you are and what you have is enough. If you are pushing and clawing and struggling, and hating every minute of it, take a breath and evaluate why you are doing that. Are you trying to reach your goal, or someone else's idea of what you "should" be doing? If we constantly compare ourselves to each other, our horses to our competitors' horses, and wish we could ride better and have a better horse, we're missing the point. Maybe take a second to look behind you at your milestones.
While we obsessively create fitness calendars, scour the USEA omnibus, track down schooling shows, and fit in as much horse-ing as possible, we all can be more thoughtful about our own personal goals. Personal is the key word. Personal to you, to your horse(s), your schedule, your budget, your abilities. Set goals that feel a little scary, but achievable within your constraints. Maybe you'll end up being able to push a little harder than you thought, maybe you'll have to scale back a bit - but you can do that; you're flexible. Things are going to come up that you didn't predict (ahem- COVID). Change is okay. Compromise can be the key to success. If there's one thing I will commit to, it's shifting focus if things start to fall apart. 'Plan A' is ideal, but 'Plan X' should be just as good - different, but still good.
Your horse doesn't care about the ribbon.