Motivation – Movement – Milestones

A glimpse into the importance and reasoning behind motivation during winter months.

Motivation can come in several forms as equestrians. Independently sought from; inner drive, determination, self motivation, competitiveness, willingness, resilience, desire to improve. All these are otherwise known as innate structures, we are born with them; they are part of us as an individual. External influences can range from; coach, leagues, calendar of events, targets, goals, dreams, ambitions, family, friends, other riders. These are known as intrinsic needs, we learn them throughout our character building; they are an essential element of human development. At the start of the day as horse owners, we are programmed to get up and go. But what makes us tick? Why do we do what we do? How do we keep going in all sorts of seasons, not just over winter months? Before you attempt to answer these questions and try to justify our reasoning for doing what we do, let’s consider the following. Generally speaking, there are 7 key factors that motivate people.I like to address these as the seven secrets of motivation.

  1. Autonomy
  2. Competency
  3. Meaning
  4. Power
  5. Purpose
  6. Relatedness
  7. Rewards 

The reasoning for each horse owner, rider, amateur, and even professionals, can be based around these points, of course, quite differently depending on case by case. However, if we really want to gather an insight here into what makes us tick other than the four fantastic chambers in our vital organ, we can now take into account these aspects and refer to them as relevant to ones way. Motivational psychologists such as Deci and Ryan with reference to their ‘Self-Determination Theory’ (2000), alongside others in the past decade and more, have researched and discovered that building a strength, experiencing freedom of choice, getting recognised by others, pursuing a purpose, experiencing a deeper meaning, acquiring tangible rewards, gaining or holding on to power, are main factors which motivate people. If we rasp this back to digestible language or in equestrian terms, it can look like the four mountains we climb:

CPPG. Confidence, Perspective, Peace and Growth. Day to to day this can sound and feel like the following in our yards: setting time aside to stop and plan. Plan a week ahead, a fortnight or a month, perhaps further depending on specific targets. What mountain do you want to overcome? Always plan carefully according to the horse’s current workload and goals moving forward. Asking for advice on training plans or help in this area is a truly good thing and can really help owners and riders to ensure the upmost welfare and best for their horses, especially during harsher weather months. 

Great planning can lead to great victories, whether that is a small yet important step towards progression on the training scale or achieving a new personal best with your four-legged dance partner or popping over horizontal poles to fussy music sounds echoing across the arena or tackling that much anticipated strong track out cross-country to finish in the top ten or going on an adventure as a happy hacker. Planning takes time, many seem to overlook this fundamental element within horsemanship. Always have a plan before you set out on your schooling session, it allows for more purposeful work and training to be carried out (perspective) with bite sized targets obtained (confidence), hence, rewarding both the horse and rider (peace) with a sense of accomplishment (growth) upon finish. 

Irish weather can be quite less desirable in winter months for any equine related activities unless you have an indoor arena which many are not equipped with. Rainy days and gusty winds are simply inevitable in Ireland, all over each region there is not a still tail in sight during winter months, yet riders and owners must oversee the winter conditions for the benefit of their horses. Are we really going to allow the weatherman to determine our level of activity and happiness? I remember training for my first World Major in 2016, I trained hard during “a very bad winter”, I ran countless miles in the snow, sleet, hail, all for what? To achieve a target. Perhaps the fire in my soul to continue was driven from the burning want to prove I can achieve that medal after being told I would never be able to run again. My I’ll show you attitude kicked in, and I mean full on fresh bucked, reared, bronco style was activated, regardless of the conditions I was faced with at the time. So why do it? Keep your horses interested, keep them informed, keep them involved, keep them inspired. We do so much for our horses all year round, meanwhile, it is important to remember our own self care, especially during winter months. Take time ‘out’ to just ‘be’ with your horses. Never underestimate quality time with them, the down time in between busy schedules of plans, take time to just be. Rest if you need to recharge, but never give up. You may find how simply refreshing that act is. Time spent out of the saddle surrounded by your dearest is an investment in itself. A mantra I once heard is: do what you can but do it well.

Why is it important to keep motivation during the winter months?

Motivation leads to movement which can potentially lead to achieving milestones.

There are several valuable facts to this, here I don’t claim to have the magic wand nor golden ticket to answer this in one piece, yet I aim to provide some reasoning and encouragement. Motivation aids in keeping your horse moving and supple, it can give them a sense of purpose and direction within a routine.The tough days of digging deep for self motivation can contribute towards you achieving your goals, together as a partnership built on a strong foundation. There is proof in stating that hard work pays off, you reap what you sow, in all areas of your life.

Motivation during winter months prepares you for being capable of competing in not so pleasant weather conditions so there is not so much of a shock factor when you are warming up for the first event of the year in sideways torrential rain. Continuing when the times are tough and the tough gets going, as they say, during winter months can also aid towards developing skills and ability, developing confidence as the outcome of your efforts begin to transform into action and not only proof on paper. I am a firm believer in you never stop learning, continuing to act on our training can keep you learning, giving you responsibility for your actions. Bit by bit, scaffolding your way through the basics does lead to success. A positive action combined with positive thinking can result in success. Some readers may think to themselves, well I’m not out to find competitive success, so why should I follow this? Hold your horses on that note, I am asking you to consider what you really consider success to be? At different stages, for some success takes on a different shape and form compared to the next. It is important to appreciate that everyone is riding their own path, some truthfully believe it was a success to get their horse safely to a paddock containing the beast inside, while another idea of success is taking their step up onto the three tiered podium as the surrounding crowd roar. So whether you are driven to be successful or are finding yourself simply surviving, just remember motivation is most significant to us as equestrians. Success is like dating, consistency is key. A little progress each day adds up to big results.

The expression we have all heard; ‘dig deep because nobody is going to push you’, get it pinned to your tack room board! Training and working on through winter months, once safe to do so, increases and promotes resilience and determination, the quantity varying depending on each individual rider’s initial mindset. If you train hard now, you will potentially be better prepared for the season ahead. 

As an educator by occupation, I see first hand the significance of practice, of revision, of perseverance in pursuit of excellence. Extra effort at tough times maximises the possibilities of success. Using time effectively and wisely during wet winter weeks sets your sights on a shinier summer season. Whether it be battling hay bales uphill, schooling up a sweat while soaked to the bone, containing the firework on four legs as wind howls making your cute kitten turn into a kite, somehow we find a way, we push through all types of barriers, physical, mental, emotional, to keep going. My Husband often says to me, “horse girls are wired differently”. Yes we are, we are strong on days we feel like giving up, we are committed to a cause, we work hard so our best friends can live their best life, we pump our last few pennies into not just our sport but our passion and watch it turn into poop or in some cases rosettes and PB’s. No time spent in the saddle is wasted time, but wasted time is worse than wasted money.

From a competition viewpoint, the sense of satisfaction some seek as they leave the ring or white boards, or cross that finish line, can only truly be gained by putting in the graft behind the scenes. When I think of my own coach, how hard she works, I truly believe she is ‘made of steel’. That she has a level of motivation beyond belief, exceptional experience and mind blowing determination whereby I think she can sit on a coffee table and make it ride well. I have watched her over the years as a role model in the equine industry, spring back from defeats, showcase high standards of professionalism, find solutions to tricky situations, value and respect her horses and the people around her to develop into the top athlete she is. The self motivation, admirable attitude and approaches she conveys, reminds me to put in the hard work and long hours in, in seeking that dream and ambition. When the work of yesterday begins to throw its head into tomorrow, then you can be glad that you kept going, did your best, practiced and practiced and practiced some more. Practice makes progress. At the end of the day, when the scores are up, everyone will silently be choosing the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. Don’t be the latter.

Darker evenings and shorter days can be tough on anyone and horses. I think I can stand up for many here when I say we do a little happy dance in our muck splashed boots and chapped weathered hands, as the clocks spring forward in the springtime. In horsey world terms, all our birthdays come at once. The average working person juggles a large amount daily in this modern fast-pace society, at a time when several aspects of daily life can deplete anyones motivation. Horses are not a hobby, they are a way of life for us. I often pair it back when there are hard days, recalling why I do what I do, my passion. A 45 minute of correct schooling is better than nothing, so plan, find the time, wrap up well, have a secure and safe place, ride with a purpose. Note down how it went, what you aimed to focus on and what was achieved, and what could make it even better? Almost as a mini self assessment, and if unsure in evaluating these points perhaps video your schooling session, discuss with a coach, use the feedback to motivate and points to improve. Because let’s be honest, we all were not born 5* riders or Olympians, so for the general person it takes perseverance alongside a great coach to unlock the potential and develop skills overtime. Your horse needs you, they rely on you for numerous things daily, so truth of the matter we have to keep doing, for them. What is in it for us? When we are motivated to move, the brain releases two mood-enhancing chemicals when we exercise called endorphins and serotonin. These can be seen to positively contribute towards your own health. So it really isn’t all give and no take. We do gain from the grafting.

Short-term goals can help you to achieve targets which can also aid in keeping up motivation. The small steps along the way for any horse in any stage of its career is something not to be underestimated. Long-term goals are desirable and attainable when the ingredients from the short-term goals have been acted on, developed, improved, practiced and performed. I conclude on this lyric from Ben Howard’s single, keep your head up, keep your heart strong.


Motivation – Movement – Milestones

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