British Summertime! Very British weather as we begin April but at least we have lighter evenings – yay! Equestrian moan even more about the weather than the average Brit I would say, partly because we have good reason to when we are out in it all the time. As a result, I personally find that the sunny days are so much more appreciated when they do come along. Without the crappy days, I wouldn’t have such a grateful feeling for the good ones.
Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s my understanding of human behaviour or both that makes me link a similar feeling between struggle and success. There are so many examples of times I can think of when I’ve either been frustrated by my situation, my ability or something going on in my life but when things do go right or I experience good times I really feel a deep sense of gratitude for it because I know it isn’t guaranteed.
Working with horses and particularly being involved in horse sport has to be right up there with one of the most stressful environments but at the same time so rewarding. Equestrians need to have a huge amount of resilience to get back from disappointments, setbacks and injuries to horse and rider. There are a million things that could go wrong! Looking back on one of those times for me was the timing of breaking my neck. It’s not so much the broken neck I’m focused on – proving that equestrians are a little bit different to normal people! – but the timing sucked. I had gone many years showjumping without a major incident and when that happened during a routine training day at home it was really bad timing. I had worked hard on my riding, fitness and jumping skills for years. It was recognised by a huge stud in Holland and they wanted to send me a 7 year old stallion to compete for them because he was a small horse for their very tall riders! It would have been an unbelievable opportunity, but breaking my neck the week before he was coming meant I was out for a good 5 -6 months. I didn’t get that level of opportunity again, although I did have many good times again.
I can remember my first show back after my injury so clearly. I know just how I felt, what the weather was like and all the details. It was an emotional feeling I can recall vividly. I was so happy and grateful to be there. I cannot remember a thing about how the show went in terms of success, but I know I loved every minute and it felt amazing. My energy was entirely focused on the processes leading up to the show. I had my recovery planned out with physio, exercise in the gym (I had never stepped foot in a gym before my accident believing I was fit enough doing other work) and riding again as soon as I was able to on something sensible. I did have some thoughts around the accident and what could have happened if it turned out to be worse, but I was able to overcome any worries by reminding myself that the accident was unique and no two will ever be the same. I wanted to learn from it and see anything I could do differently in the future. My learning was that I need to expect slightly less from one session. I was too ambitious with the training session and my young horse made a few mistakes. It was totally fine until one mistake too many resulted in a trip. No harm was done to him, just me! It taught me to be patient and accept less than perfect is ok. Being successful is about consistency not intensity.
Many years later now, I hope I have understood some of the lessons I have been given. There is always more to learn every day. I can imagine lots of people felt similar to me when we came back from lockdown. A new found appreciation for things we maybe took for granted or overlooked before. I listened to a great podcast recently in the Centre 10 Coaches Hub with Charlie Unwin interviewing Sophie Wells OBE – Paralympic Dressage multi medalist. She spoke about the incredible team building environment at Tokyo due to the different focus the games brought during these strange pandemic times. It was a intense feeling of appreciation just to be there and be a part of the games and there was less focus on medals. It’s often during these times that the best performances are created. The medals did come. Studies often show that the best performances come from those who are well prepared, highly skilled/practiced, focused/have the ability to remain focused, who are content in their life and manage their lifestyle well. Sleep and recovery is a hugely important element which was regularly overlooked in the past. Of course you need some talent but that is not at the top of the list.
There are so many factors involved in a successful outcome which are in our control or influence. There are many things which are not in out control too. The wisdom, as they say, is to know the difference. Successful outcomes or results are bright, shiny and often shared for all to see, particularly in the age of social media. The processes which get you there are often less glamourous and generally not shared or celebrated enough. That is unfortunately the culture we live in. It is encouraged and rewarded to be focused on results, but as there is only ever one winner, there are far more losers (so to speak). Our focus would be much better spent on the little wins and appreciations day to day. If we reward ourselves with the gratitude of doing something we love, reminding ourselves why we are doing it in the first place, and focusing only on the things we can influence or improve, the results will take care of themselves. Consistency is definitely the path to making good habits last. Doing something very small but consistently over a long time beats doing everything in a day and then burning out.
More interesting podcasts I’ve listened to recently include one all about habits with Brene Brown interviewing James Clear. It’s a really good two part episode, you can find it on Spotify. James talks about how to build and sustain habits you want, tying them in to your identity, and helping to reduce the habits you don’t want. I can recommend taking some time to listen whilst mucking out or driving around. A quote from James ‘ We don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems’
James refers to systems we have in place day to day which is another word for processes.
I suppose what I’m trying to say in this blog is that it’s good to remember what our motivation was which started our journey with horses, riding etc. and get back to that sense of purpose. Don’t try to measure your success against others because they are not on your journey. Be grateful for the good times and live in the present, rather than waiting for a future result or outcome to make you happy. You can’t appreciate the success without having experienced struggle, so be grateful for the learning opportunity if you fail. If something gets in your way and prevents you from enjoying your riding, feel free to talk to me about how I can help. As a Centre 10 Advanced Coach I have training in building your mental skills to help you understand ways to combat a range of rider performance problems. A recent client was helped to build strategies into her competition days with great success which took her from a shaky start of the season to a top performance in just two online sessions. That is as rewarding for me as riding in my own competition. Love it!