In­side Your Ride

Men­tal-skills coach Tonya John­ston ex­plores the im­por­tance of un­der­stand­ing what mo­ti­vates you to ride and how to use it to your ad­van­tage.

Practical Horseman - - Special Eventing Issue - By Tonya John­ston

Why do you ride?” “Why do you com­pete?” Ask two peo­ple those ques­tions and you are sure to get dif­fer­ent an­swers. We each have our own per­sonal pas­sion that keeps us in­volved in this amaz­ing sport. In fact, be­ing aware of your unique, spe­cific rea­sons for rid­ing has the po­ten­tial to build psy­cho­log­i­cal strength and pos­i­tive en­ergy like noth­ing else. The pas­sion and ded­i­ca­tion that fuel your love of rid­ing are ex­tremely pow­er­ful forces and can be chan­neled in many use­ful ways to help you reach your goals, sus­tain ef­fort and meet your rid­ing chal­lenges.

So what in­spires you to ride? Although you may have some ideas about what you love about it, you may not have asked your­self that di­rect ques­tion in some time. Let’s take this op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore a ter­rific method you can use to un­cover your cur­rent mo­ti­va­tion, as well as look at some ideas on how you can use your mo­ti­va­tion to its fullest ad­van­tage.

What Draws Riders to Horses

The world is full of unique per­spec­tives when it comes to an in­di­vid­ual’s mo­ti­va­tion for rid­ing and par­tic­i­pat­ing in eques­trian sport. Here are a few fan­tas­tic ex­am­ples of what draws us to horses:

Peter Pletcher, top hunter pro­fes­sional: “The num­berone thing that keeps me go­ing is the love of horses. As tough as this busi­ness can get some­times, I take a breath and re­mem­ber what a great an­i­mal the horse is and what they do for all of us, and it makes me smile.”

Betty Oare, ama­teur hunter rider: “I guess I have just never thought about quit­ting rid­ing. I know it is harder to be com­pet­i­tive as you age, but I still en­joy rid­ing ev­ery day, show­ing, judg­ing and fox­hunt­ing when I can. It has been a good way of life and given me a lot of joy. And I am al­ways look­ing around the cor­ner for that di­a­mond in the rough!”

Ju­nior dres­sage rider: “When my horse and I talk to each other without words, it is amaz­ing. I love our re­la­tion­ship—it’s what mo­ti­vates me.”

Jenny Karas­sizis, top hunter pro­fes­sional: “I am a com­pet­i­tive per­son, so suc­cess is my mo­ti­va­tion to work hard and keep learn­ing ways to im­prove. I re­al­ize that things won’t al­ways go my way and there are many ups and downs in this sport, but that feel­ing of ac­com­plish­ment keeps me go­ing, that and the love I have for the horses.”

Michael Page, Olympic sil­ver and

bronze medal­ist event­ing: “I don’t think I ever rode with the idea of be­ing an Olympic ath­lete. I rode with the idea that rid­ing was what ful­filled me and rid­ing bet­ter was what would ful­fill me more.”

Ja­cob Pope, Emerg­ing Ath­letes Pro­gram fi­nals win­ner, hunter/jumper pro­fes­sional: “My main mo­ti­va­tion is get­ting on the horses and hav­ing them go bet­ter and bet­ter each day.”

Ama­teur even­ter: “I love my horse so much, and our team is amaz­ing. I love rid­ing and com­pet­ing with such great peo­ple. It makes ev­ery day fun, no mat­ter what hap­pens. That is my mo­ti­va­tion.”

Fo­cus on In­trin­sic vs. Ex­trin­sic Mo­ti­va­tion

As you ex­am­ine what in­spires you to ride, fo­cus on the in­trin­sic mo­ti­va­tion that comes from in­side you. In­trin­sic mo­ti­va­tion com­prises your feel­ings of per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion, joy and hap­pi­ness, whereas ex­trin­sic mo­ti­va­tion comes from things like recog­ni­tion, scores or praise. The dis­tinc­tion be­tween these two types of mo­ti­va­tion is es­pe­cially im­por­tant for riders who com­pete. Your per­sonal in­ter­nal mo­ti­va­tion can ac­tu­ally be neg­a­tively af­fected by get­ting “re­warded” for rid­ing, as you may ac­ci­den­tally be­gin to rely on rib­bons or ap­plause to in­form whether or not you en­joyed a par­tic­u­lar ride. Keep con­trol of your mo­ti­va­tion by keep­ing your in­trin­sic mo­tives, such as en­joy­ment and im­prove­ment on a skill, first and fore­most in your mind.

Un­cover Your Cur­rent Mo­ti­va­tion

Through­out your rid­ing ca­reer, your mo­ti­va­tion may ebb and flow over time as work/fam­ily/sport/life cir­cum­stances and pri­or­i­ties change. These fluc­tu­a­tions are nat­u­ral and ex­pected, so it is valu­able to check in with your­self from time to time to un­der­stand your cur­rent per­spec­tive. The fol­low­ing ex­er­cise is an op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore where your mo­ti­va­tion is right now, so that you can clearly align it with your choices, goals and ac­tions as you part­ner with your horse. Cre­ate a Mo­ti­va­tion State­ment:

Brain­storm­ing and cre­at­ing a mo­ti­va­tion state­ment is a process that in­volves vis­it­ing all of your rea­sons for rid­ing and then crys­tal­liz­ing them into a con­cise and pow­er­ful state­ment that you can use in a va­ri­ety of ways.

Step 1: Brain­storm your mo­ti­va­tion with a tech­nique called clus­ter­ing. Put a small cir­cle in the mid­dle of a blank piece of pa­per. In the cir­cle write “rid­ing” or your horse’s name. Next, con­sider your an­swers to the fol­low­ing ques­tions: What spe­cific things do you love about rid­ing? What type of rider would you like to be? Why are you pas­sion­ate about achiev­ing your goals? What are the pos­i­tive feel­ings

you get when you are rid­ing?

Step 2: Draw a line that reaches out from the cir­cle, like a ray com­ing from the sun, for each an­swer or re­sponse to the above ques­tions. Give your­self 20 to 30 min­utes to write any­thing that oc­curs to you, be­ing care­ful not to cen­sor your­self. No mat­ter how big or how small a thought, if it pops into your mind, write it down. In ad­di­tion to con­sid­er­ing the above ques­tions, re­visit a suc­cess­ful, fun ride in your mind’s eye to help you get in touch with the pos­i­tive emo­tions and feel­ings you ex­pe­ri­ence with your horse.

Step 3: Step away from your brain­storm­ing for one or two days.

Step 4: When you come back to your brain­storm­ing choose the top two or three items that are so im­por­tant they seem to jump off the page at you. Us­ing these items, write a short and dy­namic state­ment or mantra that en­cap­su­lates why you ride and com­pete. Re­mem­ber that this needs to make sense to you alone, so use pow­er­ful lan­guage that makes you smile. Ex­am­ples in­clude: “Ef­fec­tive + El­e­gant = Ex­cel­lence!” or “I love fac­ing chal­lenges to­gether—we are a

Brain­storm­ing and cre­at­ing a mo­ti­va­tion state­ment is a process that in­volves vis­it­ing all of your rea­sons for rid­ing and then crys­tal­liz­ing them into a con­cise and pow­er­ful state­ment that you can use in a va­ri­ety of ways.

team.” An acro­nym is also a good idea— be cre­ative and have fun!

Ben­e­fits of Cre­at­ing a Mo­ti­va­tion State­ment

Af­ter com­plet­ing your mo­ti­va­tion state­ment, did you reac­quaint your­self with the fact that you love to ride be­cause it takes you out­side to en­joy na­ture and spend time with your horse? Or re­al­ize that you work hard in lessons and clin­ics be­cause of the sat­is­fac­tion and pride you feel when you ac­com­plish a new skill to­gether? Per­haps you re­al­ized it’s re­ally your com­pet­i­tive na­ture that drives you and your love of the adren­a­line in the start box? Once you have a mo­ti­va­tion state­ment and a deeper un­der­stand­ing of your top fac­tors that keep you rid­ing, there are many ways they can help you:

To iden­tify and go af­ter your rid­ing goals: To be­come the best, hap­pi­est rider you can be, it is im­por­tant to make sure that the goals you set for your train­ing and com­pe­ti­tion line up with your fun­da­men­tal pas­sion for rid­ing. In this way you en­sure that you will feel em­pow­ered and pos­i­tive as you cre­ate and work to­ward your goals.

To re­vi­tal­ize your en­joy­ment of the sport: Although you may think that this is ob­vi­ous, you might be sur­prised how what you en­joy can change over time. What do you re­ally, truly love about rid­ing? Ap­pre­ci­at­ing spe­cial mo­ments, pos­i­tive emo­tions, ways you value the chal­lenges of com­pet­ing, notic­ing how you look for­ward to cer­tain as­pects of your time at the barn are all ac­knowl­edged and val­ued through a mo­ti­va­tion state­ment.

To suc­cess­fully nav­i­gate a chal­leng­ing time: On a cold, dark morn­ing, when you have been strug­gling in your re­cent lessons, get­ting up to ride be­fore work might feel like a chore. Re­mind­ing your­self of your pas­sion and your de­sire to ac­com­plish your goals can help you find the de­ter­mi­na­tion you need to get to the barn with a so­lu­tion-ori­ented at­ti­tude.

To de­cide the best route to take when at a cross­roads: When you are faced with a big de­ci­sion, such as which horse to buy or trainer to choose, you can use your mo­ti­va­tion state­ment as a yard­stick with which to mea­sure your op­tions. Choices that are in align­ment with your core mo­ti­va­tion will il­lu­mi­nate them­selves and aid you in nav­i­gat­ing your op­por­tu­ni­ties.

You love to ride for so many dif­fer­ent rea­sons, but your top mo­ti­va­tors are a pow­er­ful force that can help you on a va­ri­ety of fronts if you choose to har­ness them. Re­flect­ing on and ar­tic­u­lat­ing these mo­ti­va­tions in a way that speaks to you will not only help you achieve your goals, it will help you choose the right goals. You can then en­joy mov­ing for­ward on a path to­ward ful­fill­ment as well as suc­cess.

Re­flect­ing on and ar­tic­u­lat­ing these mo­ti­va­tions in a way that speaks to you will not only help you achieve your goals, it will help you choose the right goals.

Top hunter pro­fes­sional Peter Pletcher, here rid­ing Blanche Strunk’s Kennedy, is mo­ti­vated to ride be­cause of his love of horses and all they do for us.

An eques­trian men­tal-skills coach and A-cir­cuit com­peti­tor, Tonya John­ston has a mas­ter’s de­gree in sport psy­chol­ogy. Her book, In­side Your Ride: Men­tal Skills for Be­ing Happy and Suc­cess­ful with Your Horse is avail­able in pa­per­back or e-book edi­tions....

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