Several weeks ago, Martin (my husband and fellow horse trainer) and I held a Goal Setting Workshop for our clients. I, personally, am incredibly goal oriented and as soon as the final competition of the year concludes, I am already excited about planning my goals for the following year. As I started pursuing this journey of mindfulness, I kept asking myself...how do goals factor in? Mindfulness is about being fully in the present moment and goals are focused on the future, right? Well, yes and no. I like to think of goals like a rudder on a boat simply directing us along our path. We still must be able to navigate the storms and seas along that journey. In our workshop, I kept reiterating that "we must focus on [and hopefully enjoy] the process". Especially in the art of horse riding, the journey really is the destination. The word dressage means "training"... not showing, not winning and although competition can be enjoyable, at the end of the day it is not those competitions that define you as a rider. It's what you do with your horses day in and day out. Dressage, in its simplest form should be physical therapy for the horse. We must be very careful that we keep the spirit of correct riding alive within in us at all times. It is so easy as a competition approaches to start to drill movements and lose sight of what our horses really need in our pursuit for perfection. Believe me, I have been guilty of this! Keep stepping back and ask, what does my horse need? Maybe instead of drilling flying changes over and over and over again, you take a moment and really analyze what is going on. Why is there a problem in the flying change? Is the horse straight enough? If not, where are they escaping and how are you going to go about fixing it? Perhaps you need to go back and work on making sure the simple changes are straighter. Start to tune into your body more...this will help you tune in to your horses body as well. If your body is holding tension, it will be very difficult to feel your horse's subtle [or not so subtle] evasions. Start to feel your horses shoulders, his hips, his barrel and ribcage. Pretty soon, you will be so tuned into his every movement that you will be able to make subtle corrections and be in true harmony with your horse. You must also stay mentally present as well to allow your body to relax enough to harmonize with your horse. If your mind is focused on problems at home or filled with negative self judgement, you will need to let it go in order to fulfill your potential as a rider. This is where a meditation practice can come in handy. You can train your mind to stay focused simply on what you feel, hear and see in the present moment. When your mind begins to go down the path of negativity, you can take a deep breath and stop it in it's tracks but it does take practice. Be as kind and patient with yourself as you would be to a young horse just learning something new.
This type of thinking is how you can stay present while in pursuit of your goals. I am currently in the process of pursuing my gold medal and my horse, Gran Casso, struggles some with his passage right now. I believe that one day he will be really excellent in this movement but at this time he is a little weak and sometimes will struggle with keeping elevation and suspension. It's important that when training a horse we empathize with him...understand the difficulty he may be feeling and work to build not only his strength, suppleness, and balance, but also his confidence.
In the pursuit of your goals, I encourage you to be specific and write them down. Look at them everyday and say them out loud. Choose goals that you can control...remember in competition you are adding a judge into the equation which takes the control away from you. My goals at competition now is to be proud of the way I rode my horse and focus on the feeling I have the moment I come out of the ring rather than basing my feelings off the judges score. This took me a few years to figure out and I now encourage all of my students to focus on that as well.
I also would encourage you to do something each day that propels you closer to your goal. Perhaps you can't make it out to ride one day...maybe that day you could watch a video of a rider you admire or do yoga or Pilates to keep your body in shape. Or simply meditate so that in moments of struggle, you have the ability to recenter yourself in the present moment.
Be Mindful in the pursuit of your goals
Much love and many blessings,
This blog will be all about personal growth. I will discuss different topics and issues, some relating to horses and some not. Feel free to comment!