The title of this article is out of character for me.

Rarely will I ever suggest to someone who wants to achieve something in performance to step back and slow down. My job is to always move my clients forward toward their potential: understand where they are right now, determine where they would like to go and then step-by-step build the path to reach the targets.

But, COVID changed how we worked in 2020 and will continue to make things blurry for a while. It has been difficult to formulate targets for our equestrian clients because we’re not exactly sure what those targets might be. Will there be a consistent schedule of shows 2021? Will there be other lock-downs? Will we get back to normal soon?

Then, naturally, the uncertainty of what’s going to happen fuels all sorts of “what ifs” that creep in to create scenarios that might cause you to be anxious. Fear emerges out of the unknown and there have been lots of equestrian questions through this period:

  1. What if the barn closes down again?
  2. What if I can’t ride for awhile?
  3. What if I lose some of my skills?
  4. What if my horse isn’t getting the care it needs every day?
  5. I’ve made great progress with my horse the past few years, what if I fall behind in my development and the horse’s development?
  6. What if I get sick at the barn?
  7. How is this crazy period impacting my program?

You might have completely different questions that are causing you to be anxious. With uncertainty about the future, there is plenty of opportunity to project forward to scenarios that can cause you stress.

So, in light of the uncertainty, and not knowing what a clear equestrian picture looks like, we’ve chosen to step back. I know the future will be bright beyond COVID 19, but it remains blurry right now. Soon enough, there will be a defined show schedule. When the time comes that we can plan, we’ll look ahead at the targets and create the developmental path—like we’ve always done.

But, for now, I thought you might like a few ideas on what you can do to not only alleviate some fear from the uncertainty of this time, but bring value to your riding. It’s not really about crushing big goals right now but inching forward with some certainty to take you through uncertain times.

Short-term targets

You’re unable to see out too far right now so what can you accomplish today or this week? How can you improve your technical skills on and off the horse? What do you need to work on today to become a better rider and a better competitor tomorrow?

Many of our riders have focused on fundamentals and flatwork during the downtime to further build their foundations. Hacking has been a great option—valuable time together with your horse to build the partnership. The development of mental and emotional capabilities has also been an opportunity—to enhance the ability to both enjoy and achieve more in the sport.

Simply learning to be kind to yourself can make a major difference in how much you both enjoy your riding and the level of confidence you bring to it.

©Elena Titarenco

Be in the moment

One of the most crucial skills for any performer is having the ability to ground themselves in the moment and just do their job. We know that fear emerges on either side of the present moment. So projecting forward or back to unlikely scenarios creates a chatty voice whispering things to you that aren’t helpful—and not fun.

A very simple mindfulness practice to work on this skill could be a starting point for you. Try an app like Headspace, 10% Happier, Waking Up or one of your own choice to learn more about your thoughts and how to better place yourself in the here and now.


Care for yourself

It’s vital to both your physical and mental well-being that have you pieces in place to take the best care of yourself. Stress can emerge quickly so routines to keep it to a minimum are key. Many riders have become stronger through their core and legs by integrating fitness, yoga etc. If you can’t get to the gym, try online programs like Peloton to build and maintain strength.

The barn is a happy place for riders. Even if you don’t ride, get to the barn, see your horse, see others from a distance and connect. If you can’t get to the barn because of restrictions, a number of our clients have barn staff send videos of their horses either being trained or in their stalls for peace of mind that their partner is healthy and doing well.

I know you’ll be riding with freedom again soon enough. But until then, consider only looking ahead one day or one week where things are within your control and things are more certain. It’s not about long-term targets and laser focus right now. A healthier approach focuses on short-term vision, small steps and self-care.