First of all, let’s discuss what a training rut is. To me it’s when you experience a loss of motivation, enjoyment or progress in your training. There can be a variety of reasons that cause you to slip into a training rut, so figuring out why you are in one might not be that easy. Some common causes are physical, mental, emotional or even spiritual. Physical reasons we fall into a rut can be from injury or reaching a horse’s physical limit. Mentally we can get into a rut if we hit a plateau and feel like we are not learning new things. Emotional ruts seem to come from not enough success. This looks like feeling frustrated more often than not, dreading going to the barn to ride, finding reasons to cancel lessons or feeling like you are not good enough or not improving enough. A spiritual rut is a little less clear but it might occur because you have become disconnected from the reasons for why you ride. Perhaps you have gotten swept up in a competitive path and it is not as enjoyable as you think it should be. You might even feel like your chosen discipline is not ideal for your horse, who might enjoy something else or be more successful doing some other job. All of these things will tug at you and this can put you into a rut.
So what can you do to address your training rut, whatever the cause? Spending a little time looking for what might have gotten you there could be very fruitful and might even be remedy enough. Once you have a little more clarity around the path you have taken, there are several things you can do to move yourself into a better flow and more exiting relationship with your training.
• Ride in a clinic or symposium or with a different trainer. Not only will this get your blood pumping with some excitement, but you will also learn something new. Talk to your trainer about upcoming opportunities. Ask which clinicians he or she likes like or who he or she thinks might be a good fit for you and your horse.
• Take your horse to different locations to train. This will help you and your horse see, experience and learn things you wouldn’t at home.
• Ride a different horse. Sometimes this is easy and sometimes not. It doesn’t have to be a horse who is at a higher level than you. Sometimes riding a simpler horse can teach you a surprising amount.
• Try a different discipline. Have you always wanted to go on a fox hunt or play polo? Then do it! It will be invigorating and probably make you appreciate your horse and the work you’ve done even more.
• Try groundwork with your horse, as it can be a fun and different way to get to know him. It will also improve your time in the saddle.
• Do something different for yourself in your physical routine. The more fit, flexible and strong you are, the better you ride.
• Seek new ways to learn new information. There is so much out there, and learning not only empowers action, but the brain loves it! Think about how great you feel when you learn something new, even before you master it. There are many resources out there to learn from, such as books, articles, DVDs and online training sites.
Once you realize you are stuck in a rut, the most important thing to do is work to get out of it. This is a process, so it won’t happen overnight. Stay focused, stay committed and 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.