Hello and welcome to this latest blog post! I know it’s been too long since the last one, but between a full time job and the peak of the competition season it has been impossible to find time to write!
I am so excited about fall! It is my favorite season, especially in Greece with the weather granting us a second, milder summer.
I also love fall because in my mind, it’s almost like a second ‘New Year’, a time to set goals and plan ahead.
However, it can be very hard to jump back into the pre-summer zone and prepare. That is why I decided to write about preparing the comeback to the show ring after the summer break!
Much like everything, I believe that the correct plan is thought out and created off the horse. The steps to creating this plan are few but that doesn’t make them any less difficult.
So brace yourselves, winter is coming! (couldn’t resist)
Step 1: Introspection
The first and most important step in this preparation process is to see where you are and where you want to go.
Are you planning to compete in a more difficult class in this new season? How far are you from that level?
If you plan on competing in the same classes, what are your weak points?
Often times, I feel overwhelmed when I think about this. Like many dressage riders, I tend to be a perfectionist, and in turn, I tend to have very high expectations of myself.
That is the biggest trap. #MissionIMpossible
The reason is simple: when we choose to pursue a mission impossible, we create stress and set ourselves up for disappointment.
That is neither healthy nor helpful.
Question: So how do you find the balance between setting goals that are challenging without writing the script to your own MI series?
Answer: You become S.M.A.R.T.
If you are not familiar with SMART, it is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Specific.
So keeping in mind this acronym, I like to start setting goals, in this case for the start of the competition season! (Easily I have my Time Specific parameter set!)
To give an example, by the start of the competition season, my goal with Sansoucie is to stabilize her tempi changes for the Prix St. George. To make this goal more Specific, I want to improve her straightness and suppleness during those exercises.
By identifying these specific issues, I also have the parameters against which I will Measure my progress. Setting a numerical/score goal in this case is not helpful since I believe in a qualitative approach to goals rather than a quantitative one.
The make it or break it moment though, are the Attainable and Relevant parameters. They are the difference between a motivating goal and an MI goal.
MI goal example: “Get Sansoucie to get an 8 in one tempi changes within the next 30 days.”
Very specific, measurable and time specific but still a Mission Impossible.
Why? Well I started competing in the small tour in June! It is not Attainable to want to do one tempies in 60 days, let alone get an 8 in them! It is also not Relevant because we are not at Grand Prix level yet.
Therefore, to complete the initial example, within the next 30 days I want to improve our straightness and suppleness in the 3 & 4 tempi changes.
Step 2: Create an action plan.
Now that we’ve identified WHERE we want to go, we have to figure out the HOW.
That is often a lot more complicated since the path towards any goal in life is never a straight line.
In spite of the unexpected twists and turns of that path though, it’s hugely important to have a plan of action.
To draft this plan I always coordinate and talk with every part of my team. First and foremost with my trainer, Joanna.
Together we discuss possible exercises that we’ll utilize, whether we shall try a change of equipment and how often we shall use each equipment.
As an example, we recently changed Sansoucie’s bradoon and we’ve been experimenting with her double bridle bits too. We’ve decided to use the double once or twice a week at most during this time.
These decisions are not absolute, the plan changes constantly according to the feedback Sansoucie gives us each day and even according to the weather! You can’t ride during a heat wave after all!
I also believe it is incredibly important to take into consideration the feeding schedule and the supplements we give during preparation periods.
Therefore, discussing with your vet is vital in order to make sure that your horse is 100% healthy and able to work towards the goal you’ve set.
Upon discussing my summer training plans with my vet, we decided on certain supplements for Sansoucie to aid her as the new muscles built. We also shifted the volume of her feed to hours when the temperature is lower to aid her digestion.
Finally, it is important to plan days of high intensity training and days of lower intensity. Usually I train the hardest on the weekends, when I have more time. Monday is hand walking/lunging day and on weekdays I focus more on basic training with less exercises.
Step 3: Remain Flexible!
While I believe that maintaining a healthily functioning body is 50% of being a great rider, I do not mean physical flexibility in this case!
Rather, I refer to ~mental~ flexibility and more specifically, to a flexible approach to our goals.
Goals are there to guide us, they serve as motivation, as reminders of what we are working towards.
If we want to succeed, we have to put our 110% to fight towards those goals!
However we are only humans and we can only control that much. That means that sometimes, we might give it our all and still not manage to meet that goal.
There are sooo many factors that come to play, we all should know that by now – we work with 600kgs Free Spirits after all <3
Yet, sometimes I feel we all need a gentle reminder that plans need to be adapted.
Heck, goals need to be adapted!
This might sound contradictory to everything I’ve just written but it’s also reality!
I’m not saying that when we hit a bump its ok to stop and give up, to the contrary!
When we hit a bump we try to go over it, around it, under it, ANYTHING except giving up!
If none of that works out though, we adjust the plan. We remain flexible and even if it takes a little longer than expected, that’s ok too.
So these are my tips on how to successfully enter the 2019 fall competition season!
What are your tricks, thoughts and comments on getting back into the ring? Leave a comment or send me a message!
Most importantly, remember to keep your chin up, your heels down and to enjoy the ride! <3