Why do you ride?” “Why do you compete?” Ask two people those questions and you are sure to get different answers. We each have our own personal passion that keeps us involved in this amazing sport. In fact, being aware of your unique, specific reasons for riding has the potential to build psychological strength and positive energy like nothing else. The passion and dedication that fuel your love of riding are extremely powerful forces and can be channeled in many useful ways to help you reach your goals, sustain effort and meet your riding challenges.
So what inspires you to ride? Although you may have some ideas about what you love about it, you may not have asked yourself that direct question in some time. Let’s take this opportunity to explore a terrific method you can use to uncover your current motivation, as well as look at some ideas on how you can use your motivation to its fullest advantage.
What Draws Riders to Horses
The world is full of unique perspectives when it comes to an individual’s motivation for riding and participating in equestrian sport. Here are a few fantastic examples of what draws us to horses:
Peter Pletcher, top hunter professional: “The number-one thing that keeps me going is the love of horses. As tough as this business can get sometimes, I take a breath and remember what a great animal the horse is and what they do for all of us, and it makes me smile.”
Betty Oare, amateur hunter rider: “I guess I have just never thought about quitting riding. I know it is harder to be competitive as you age, but I still enjoy riding every day, showing, judging and foxhunting when I can. It has been a good way of life and given me a lot of joy. And I am always looking around the corner for that diamond in the rough!”
Junior dressage rider: “When my horse and I talk to each other without words, it is amazing. I love our relationship—it’s what motivates me.”
Jenny Karassizis, top hunter professional: “I am a competitive person, so success is my motivation to work hard and keep learning ways to improve. I realize that things won’t always go my way and there are many ups and downs in this sport, but that feeling of accomplishment keeps me going, that and the love I have for the horses.”
Michael Page, Olympic silver and bronze medalist eventing: “I don’t think I ever rode with the idea of being an Olympic athlete. I rode with the idea that riding was what fulfilled me and riding better was what would fulfill me more.”
Jacob Pope, Emerging Athletes Program finals winner, hunter/jumper professional: “My main motivation is getting on the horses and having them go better and better each day.”
Amateur eventer: “I love my horse so much, and our team is amazing. I love riding and competing with such great people. It makes every day fun, no matter what happens. That is my motivation.”
Focus on Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
As you examine what inspires you to ride, focus on the intrinsic motivation that comes from inside you. Intrinsic motivation comprises your feelings of personal satisfaction, joy and happiness, whereas extrinsic motivation comes from things like recognition, scores or praise. The distinction between these two types of motivation is especially important for riders who compete. Your personal internal motivation can actually be negatively affected by getting “rewarded” for riding, as you may accidentally begin to rely on ribbons or applause to inform whether or not you enjoyed a particular ride. Keep control of your motivation by keeping your intrinsic motives, such as enjoyment and improvement on a skill, first and foremost in your mind.
Uncover Your Current Motivation
Throughout your riding career, your motivation may ebb and flow over time as work/family/sport/life circumstances and priorities change. These fluctuations are natural and expected, so it is valuable to check in with yourself from time to time to understand your current perspective. The following exercise is an opportunity to explore where your motivation is right now, so that you can clearly align it with your choices, goals and actions as you partner with your horse.
Create a Motivation Statement:
Brainstorming and creating a motivation statement is a process that involves visiting all of your reasons for riding and then crystallizing them into a concise and powerful statement that you can use in a variety of ways.
Step 1: Brainstorm your motivation with a technique called clustering. Put a small circle in the middle of a blank piece of paper. In the circle write “riding” or your horse’s name. Next, consider your answers to the following questions: What specific things do you love about riding? What type of rider would you like to be? Why are you passionate about achieving your goals? What are the positive feelings you get when you are riding?
Step 2: Draw a line that reaches out from the circle, like a ray coming from the sun, for each answer or response to the above questions. Give yourself 20 to 30 minutes to write anything that occurs to you, being careful not to censor yourself. No matter how big or how small a thought, if it pops into your mind, write it down. In addition to considering the above questions, revisit a successful, fun ride in your mind’s eye to help you get in touch with the positive emotions and feelings you experience with your horse.
Step 3: Step away from your brainstorming for one or two days.
Step 4: When you come back to your brainstorming choose the top two or three items that are so important they seem to jump off the page at you. Using these items, write a short and dynamic statement or mantra that encapsulates why you ride and compete. Remember that this needs to make sense to you alone, so use powerful language that makes you smile. Examples include: “Effective + Elegant = Excellence!” or “I love facing challenges together—we are a team.” An acronym is also a good idea—be creative and have fun!
Benefits of Creating a Motivation Statement
After completing your motivation statement, did you reacquaint yourself with the fact that you love to ride because it takes you outside to enjoy nature and spend time with your horse? Or realize that you work hard in lessons and clinics because of the satisfaction and pride you feel when you accomplish a new skill together? Perhaps you realized it’s really your competitive nature that drives you and your love of the adrenaline in the start box? Once you have a motivation statement and a deeper understanding of your top factors that keep you riding, there are many ways they can help you:
- To identify and go after your riding goals: To become the best, happiest rider you can be, it is important to make sure that the goals you set for your training and competition line up with your fundamental passion for riding. In this way you ensure that you will feel empowered and positive as you create and work toward your goals.
- To revitalize your enjoyment of the sport: Although you may think that this is obvious, you might be surprised how what you enjoy can change over time. What do you really, truly love about riding? Appreciating special moments, positive emotions, ways you value the challenges of competing, noticing how you look forward to certain aspects of your time at the barn are all acknowledged and valued through a motivation statement.
- To decide the best route to take when at a crossroads: When you are faced with a big decision, such as which horse to buy or trainer to choose, you can use your motivation statement as a yardstick with which to measure your options. Choices that are in alignment with your core motivation will illuminate themselves and aid you in navigating your opportunities.
You love to ride for so many different reasons, but your top motivators are a powerful force that can help you on a variety of fronts if you choose to harness them. Reflecting on and articulating these motivations in a way that speaks to you will not only help you achieve your goals, it will help you choose the right goals. You can then enjoy moving forward on a path toward fulfillment as well as success.
This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of Practical Horseman.