By Jen Roytz
Around this time each year riders young and old are thinking about what competitions they want to enter throughout the upcoming season with their horse(s). What is the best way to create a plan that will be easy to follow and allow you and your horse to peak at the right time?
Lexington-based trainer Jenn O’Neill, barn manager and trainer at Antebellum Farm, says it is important to be goal-oriented.
“I suggest my students pick one or two goals for the upcoming season,” said O’Neill. “They don’t have to be big ‘riding career-defining’ goals, like winning the AECs or a big FEI competition, but they need to have a goal,” said O’Neill.
The goals can be simple, like moving up a level in competition throughout the year, qualifying for the American Eventing Championships (AECs) or competing in their first one-star event. Then, it is all about mapping out a plan to get there.
When moving up a level in competition, for example, O’Neill suggests deciding well in advance what specific competition will be the least intimidating to move up to a more challenging level, then plan your competition schedule using that as an end-goal. She also strongly suggests making sure your coach can be there for support and guidance.
“Moving up a level can be stressful, and having someone there to remind you that you can do it is really important,” said O’Neill, an advanced level rider who has competed at the CCI** level. “I find that meeting the minimum requirements to move up a level is seldom enough to be prepared, so I want my students to be overly prepared and confident to go out and get the job done safely.”
Be considerate of your horse’s abilities as well as your own. If he or she is struggling to comply with what you are asking, they may not be as ready as you are for such a big challenge. An outside perspective from your coach or a trainer can be helpful.
Photo credit JJ Sillman
As is the case with everything in life, even the best laid plans often need to be adjusted along the way. So many things can impact your progress, from weather and injuries to having an uncharacteristic poor performance. Be open to modifying your plan, allowing you to stay focused on your greater goal.
“It’s always good to have a back-up plan in case an outing doesn’t go
as anticipated,” said O’Neill. “So much of the sport is mental, so talk with your coach if you get frustrated or overwhelmed, or if something makes you start to question the plan you’ve set for yourself.”
The bottom line is that the goals one sets should be fun an achievable. It is good to have a bit of nervous excitement when attempting a new challenge, but the task you are facing should never feel overwhelming or scary.
“Choose goals that are realistic and achievable with hard work, but don’t forget to dream a little,” said O’Neill. “Go out of your comfort zone a little with that end-of-year goal, but don’t forget, this sport is supposed to be fun for both the rider and the horse!”
Photo credit JJ Sillman