Avoiding the winter doldrums

Our mind coach shares some ideas for rebooting your riding enthusiasm over winter

Winter’s tough on horse owners – no sunny shows or long, lazy treks to enjoy, and instead there’s mud, cold and rain to contend with. But if you’re lacking in motivation, it’s a good time to shake things up. Trying some new strategies can reboot your enthusiasm and give your riding a whole new outlook.

It seems like it happens overnight. One day you and your horse are frolicking on dry ground, you’re admiring sleek and shiny summer coats and you can take your time when it comes to going for that evening ride because, well, you have time. It’s not dark for ages! 

Then one day, you pull off their covers and they look… fluffy. You have to abort mission half way through the ride because it’s dark already, and what’s more, it’s cold! 

It’s not hard to argue the fact that horse ownership and riding is that much more pleasurable in the summer months, but there’s still no reason why your enthusiasm and motivation needs to start peddling downhill just because it’s winter.

Let’s make a plan for how to keep your winter mojo firing on all cylinders.

Winners are made in winter

See that light over there on the horizon? That’s spring. Those longer days, that sunshine on your back, the competitions that are rolling out one weekend after the next, those long rides you want to take? They are all waiting for you in only a few short months. But you aren’t going to get the most out of them unless you put the legwork in now.

The secret to maintaining motivation and inspiration over the colder days is to connect to something greater than what it is you are currently experiencing. Yes it might be dark, rainy and you are presently schlepping around in the mud, but pulling on your gloves and tacking up anyway will see you primed and ready to embrace every opportunity that comes your way when the clocks spring forward.

If you’ve avoided setting goals previously, now is the time to get your planning mojo on, and a three-month goal is a really good place to start. With that in mind, grab a pen and paper and project yourself forward to three month’s time. What is a goal that would excite you? What is something that you can connect to that would make you feel super chuffed that you put the work in for and were able to pull off?

Make it something that matters to you, one that you can put some energy behind.

Designing a goal that excites you is like casting a line into the future; it creates positive tension and keeps your focus forward so that the daily tasks and (sometimes) sacrifices of winter are all moving you towards a greater purpose. Not only that, but having a clear idea of what you are working towards is essential in designing daily and weekly training goals and targets that allow for positive and incremental progression. 

Set yourself up for success 

Making a decision on what it is you are going to do in the exact moment you need to do it is never a very good idea. It means that the likelihood of us being seduced by the home comforts or procrastinating getting outside and riding is greatly increased as we buy into the mood of the moment. Instead, take some time out at the beginning of each week to quite literally plot out your week. 

Now you have your three-month goal to work towards, what is it that you need to focus and do on a daily and weekly basis to maximise your chances of being able to follow through?

Make decisions about how you want things to be and the things that you want to do from a place that considers both the current state of events and your future aspirations. From there, you can deal with the very practical elements of setting yourself up for success.

Only have a narrow window to ride in between work and darkness setting in? Take your riding clothes with you and get changed before you leave. Make sure you eat something mid-afternoon so hunger pangs don’t cast the winning vote between riding and not riding. 

Deliberately set yourself up and adjust your routine so you make it easy to get out there with your horse and do what it is you want to do together.

The ideal, and the bare essentials

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, the minimal light and the wet ground underfoot makes riding a difficult undertaking, even if it’s exactly what we would like to be doing. The thing is, lamenting a situation that is outside of your control and influence is futile and a total waste of time. 

What I encourage is devising two different plans that exist side by side; Plan A outlines your ideal, and Plan B represents the absolute minimum that you will invest yourself in to feel as though you are still progressing with your learning and at the very least keeping your head in the riding game.

For example, your ideal might be to ride five times a week, but the reality might be a weather forecast that looks anything but supportive of this. Your ‘bare essentials’ list might include things like improving your physical fitness for your riding without the horse instead, watching training tutorials, improving your mental skills, or cleaning and sorting the mountain of gear that’s been lying in wait in your tackroom since you can’t remember when. 

It can also be a good time to catch up on all the other bits of life, or to rest and gather your resources for when you are able to step back into the game. It may not be what you had planned, but it doesn’t have to be a waste of time, or a hardship. 

Seek out inspiration

Whilst some days it’s easy to feel inspired, for the most part, inspiration is something that you need to actively cultivate. Make seeking out inspiration a natural part of your modus operandi; allow time for it in your day. If you have a very specific goal in mind for the end of winter, watch examples of people doing what it is you want to be doing and doing it well! Allow the vision of the to burn itself into your brainscape in a way that motivates you to do that same. Read, watch, learn, upskill. Take the time to fill your inspiration cup daily.

This article was first published in the June-July 2018 issue of NZ Horse & Pony. Latest issue out now, wherever great magazines are sold.