Time seems to be a constant concern, at least in our current world, and most of us seem to be without enough of it. Life has a way of getting in the way of riding, and that is frustrating. Riding better is related to practice and number of hours in the saddle. So what can you do when you are short on hours and still want to get better?
Maximizing your ride time is not only physical, but also mental and even emotional. Your time in the tack can be compromised by many different variables, and some mental preparation can reduce some of the emotional stress. Sometimes we actually get out of the house or office in time to head to the barn, but then traffic gets in the way. Or it is not unusual to arrive at the barn and have something unexpected occur. Some of these pesky things can be a torn blanket, a minor injury requiring treatment or a lecture from your barn manager. Sometimes there are fires at home or work that just have to be put out. We all have experienced most, if not all, of these. So know you are not alone. Here are some ideas for how to get as much as you can out of whatever time you have in the saddle:
Physical: Be prepared and streamline. This is tough for those of us who like to futz around the barn. We love to do things with our horses that aren’t always efficient uses of time. Some of these luxury activities include hand-grazing, super grooming, trying on new blankets or boots or saddle pads and feeding lots of treats. All of these activities take time and are important in their own way, but when you’re short on time, you might be better off skipping some of the luxury in exchange for some time in the saddle. Doing this simply takes focus and knowing that you can catch up on fun stuff later in the week. It is tough in the moment, but after you accomplish a particular goal during your ride, the sacrifice will feel worth it.
Mental: Microbursts of focus can be a great practice tool. You have to do this during competition, and the opportunity to practice it at home (with some stress added) will only make you better at horse shows. While on your tardy way to the barn, instead of focusing on how upset you are that your ride will be shorter than planned or desired, focus on one or two important things you would like to get out of the ride. When we have plenty of time, we actually tend to waste it. Sometimes feeling the crunch can make you more efficient and have you focus on things more intensely.
Emotional: Being late or feeling pressed for time can be very stressful and create quite a lot of upset. Then, ridiculously enough, we get upset for being upset! It’s an incredibly huge waste of time and energy. Being able to manage your emotions apart from the fact that you are late or do not have as much time as you want is really important. It is a valuable strategy and tool for when you are in any kind of crunch or pressurized situation. Plenty of things make us emotional. So how do you control them? One question to ask yourself when your emotions begin to elevate is: What is fact and what is fiction? Much of our emotional cascading comes with all the things we anticipate, fear, dread or worry about—even if none of them are part of the reality of the situation. When you can begin to stick to just the facts, you will feel your emotions begin to settle. It takes some practice though, so don’t expect to be great at it initially.
Use your lack of time to filter out the unimportant items, details or actions to laser-focus yourself and your horse during whatever time you have together. Becoming good at this will help you in the saddle and just about anywhere else in life where you feel like you run out of time. Stay focused, stay committed and most of all, be kind to yourself.
Jenny Susser has a doctoral degree and is licensed in clinical health psychology, specializing in sport psychology. A four-year all-American swimmer at UCLA, she swam on two national teams and at the 1988 Olympic Trials. She has worked with athletes of all sports and ages—collegiate, professional, international and amateur. She was the sport psychologist for the 2010 WEG South African Para-Dressage Team and the 2012 U.S. Olympic Dressage Team. Dr. Jenny is also a performance coach with Human Performance.