The world, and stables across the country, are slowly opening up to try and resume some semblance of normal activity.
Except there is no ‘new normal’ just yet. For riders this means more access to their horses and instruction, but no clear sense of when and how competition will resume. Understandably, this has left many in a strange state of suspension with a loss of motivation. You may find yourself being happy to be reunited with your horse, while at the same time feeling pulled deeper by the undertow of a low mood. If you are, you are not alone and there are some steps you can take to put more joy back into your return to ride.
Let it Out
There is still a lot of uncertainty, so for many right now it is a constant swing between grief and adaptation. There is the letting go of what was, of plans, of trips, of people. There are many losses still being processed and that means periods of emotional upheaval.
If you can lean into this idea a little bit and allow yourself to cry and be angry at times, it will help you heal and move forward. Riders, like other athletes, have a tendency to feel they must be stoic and not let on they may be having a difficult time. But if you look around, you will also see athletes in all sports that are owning and opening up about their feelings. No one can be up and positive all the time and certainly trying to force it on yourself will do you no favours.
Seek to Adapt
When you venting or releasing is done for the moment or day, then by all means get to the business of adapting to your situation. You were just bumped from short-term preparation to compete to long-term, so you are going to have to do some revamping.
Realize you are not picking up where you left off, so stay psychologically flexible and allow yourself to make, assess, and alter goals. Talk to your coach and define stages of return for yourself, just as you would if you were coming back from an injury. Your return will not look like someone else’s and it’s perfectly okay to slow down and take your time with the process.
Using your newfound psychological flexibility, you may also want to entertain goals or ways of achieving those goals you never have before. For example, re-connecting with your horse could be your first return stage, but instead of doing it all from the saddle, maybe you could try some ground techniques instead.
Keep Working the Structure
One of the reasons many riders are now experiencing a loss of motivation comes back to the loss of structure. Right now there are not many “markers” to anchor your schedule, like a definitive show season.
With all the freedom now comes a huge amount of decision-making. “Should I go ride now or in the middle of the day as a work break? But I can’t do that every day, so maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe just today.” We are all doing a lot of mental gymnastics right now trying to grab onto something stationary.
“Decision fatigue” is now becoming a common stressor. To preserve your mental and physical energy, continue to develop a schedule for yourself, modifying now and again as needed. Your structure can and should also mean the development of goals. They won’t be the same, but they will do the same things for you psychologically: provide motivation, focus your efforts and reduce stress. When you ride with purpose, you engage in the kind of clarity of action that is calming for both you and your horse.
If You Want Competition, Invent It
If you need to challenge yourself, there are many more ways than a horse show. In lieu of the real thing you can visualize yourself competing. Look for photos or watch videos of a new venue you want to get to and picture yourself there. See and feel yourself in that ring, perhaps competing against a new crop of riders. Source new courses and jump types and take these into your imagery work.
Or maybe it’s a good time to compete against yourself mentally. This could be a great opportunity to practice becoming more resilient in your mind. Hate water jumps or crowded warm-up rings? Do you fall apart when someone changes the order of go? You can use visualization to develop stronger mental skills from the comfort of your couch.
How great would it feel to enter your first horse show later this year, or even next year, not worried about liverpools because you now love them after jumping 207 of them in your mind? The act of competing means to seek to outdo or rise above ‒ so why not start with yourself?