New Year’s Series : Setting goals in uncertain times

In the wake of a new and (hopefully) better year, I am finding myself hopeful for what lies ahead. 2020 was a year of massive change for me as I left a large portion of my financial security in corporate America to take the leap into the world of a professional equestrian. Letting go of former plans I had mapped out for myself and seizing an opportunity that I hadn’t scheduled for was both scary and exciting. To do it during a pandemic made it even more hectic. But there was so much I learned from living through the crazy year of 2020, especially in terms of my riding, teaching and training.

Nothing about 2020 looked “normal” and as we all course-corrected multiple times throughout the year, it is obvious that some of the changes we’ve undergone are here to stay. And while I have firsthand witnessed the tragedy of Covid-19 and it’s ramifications by being a frontline essential worker, I have also been witness to how our mindsets and actions can benefit us immensely in times of great uncertainty and how we can still work on our goals, our horses and ourselves. Below is a summary of what my students and I have learned as a result of living, working and riding in unprecedented times.

Focus on what you can control. We have faced circumstances far beyond our control this year. Some of us have faced working overtime on front lines, some are working from home, and some not at all. Some of us are struggling financially in unimaginable ways. Some of us don’t have child care or means to school kids from home. Some of us are kids and are terrified by this pandemic and surrounding political events. Regardless of things surrounding us, there are some things that we can control. In terms of riding, we can continue to show up for our lessons, ride regularly, practice posting without stirrups, and look for new ways to bond with our horses. I had to urge myself to find ways I could still work towards my goals even with the stress and challenges I faced as a result of the pandemic. Sometimes that looked like riding at 9pm after teaching all day, sometimes listening to more podcasts while cleaning stalls or driving, and sometimes working out before work to help improve my position in the saddle. I invested in some professional coaching for my business and seized online educational opportunities. All of these are things I will continue to invest in this year because these are things within my control, regardless of the chaos being felt in the world around me.

One day at a time. As things are constantly changing around us, it seems impossible to make any plans regarding the future. Will there be any clinics or shows in 2021? Many of us took 2020 off from attending events. As I am teaching students this year, I am focusing more on giving them a complete and well-rounded education versus preparing them for a specific competition goal. Regardless of what events they could possibly ride in, their education and skill set is still the most valuable thing I can give them. In my own riding and teaching, I try to focus on completing one day’s tasks without too much thought of what I will be doing tomorrow or even next week. It’s best to bring your best in the moment and not be distracted by what may, or may not, happen in the future.

Expand your horizons beyond traditional learning. One of the benefits to forced change is that we now have a host of virtual learning and educational opportunities that we didn’t have at our fingertips before. Many top riders have created online courses and Zoom platforms. There is more emphasis on producing podcasts, blogs and social media posts. Some trainers offer virtual lessons, meaning that you can now record a video of your ride and send it to a trainer in any time zone of the world for their critique. Pretty cool opportunity! This is something I still have to take advantage of in 2021, but I have special interest in joining JJ Tate’s online course and will be sending videos of my rides to top coaches in our country for their input. Where I once had to truck hours way for this kind of opportunity, all I need now is a smart phone and the internet to upload a video of me riding to a top professional of my choosing!

You are your only competition. Right now, it’s best to focus on our own skills and compete against our older skills sets. I encourage everyone to put aside their competitive nature during 2021 and focus on teamwork, building confidence and support during stressful times. If we are to focus on being better than anyone right now, it should be our former self. Lift others on their journey to improve themselves also.

Create community. We all need each other right now. Support and creativity is best found in numbers. The extra mental and emotional stress caused by the pandemic can cause us all to be off our game. Supporting each other gives us a boost of energy when we are fatigued. As the new President of the Central New York Dressage and Combined Training Association, I hope to foster an environment of idea sharing, problem-solving and support among members. I enjoy seeing the teamwork amongst my students and barn family as they work to prepare for lessons and clinics. It has been fulfilling to watch others as they work outside of their comfort zone and feel safe enough in their environment to do so.

Focus on the journey, forget the destination. I have personally found it liberating to not be concerned with deadlines or outcomes. Who knows if and when things will go back to the way they were. It’s best to focus on becoming the best rider and horseman/horsewoman you can be, and if the opportunity to compete transpires, we are prepared. And if it doesn’t, then we are still making strides toward bettering ourselves along the way. ❤️

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