One of the biggest obstacles to making forward progress in riding (along with most things in life) is staying consistent. It takes an effort to show up, put your butt in the saddle, and do more than phone it in – especially during the cold, dark days of winter.
I know this from my own experience and from watching others struggle with how to stay consistent in their riding.
That’s why I reached out to my own trainer, Becky Seizert of Seizert Dressage, to find out what we can all do to combat inconsistency.
Not only is Becky a pro dressage rider and trainer who specializes in equine rehabilitation but she also has a Masters in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota. For the past decade, she has dealt with helping both people and their equine partners with learning how to stay the course no matter how tough things get.
She seemed like the perfect person to provide insights into the consistency problem so many riders have.
Here’s what we talked about.
Q: With all of your experience training horses and dealing with clients over the years, why have you found being consistent so difficult for people?
A: Yeah, it seems like it should be easy. I think is the simple answer. It doesn’t seem like being consistent should take the amount of time or effort that it does. But, being consistent actually takes a lot of strength.
You may not have to draw on that strength every day, but some days you have to really dig deep and power through something difficult. And I think that’s when it feels impossible. It feels like this daunting never ending road. The reality is you’re not on a never-ending road. Working through some issues you or your horse has may take a week of really hard work or a month of really hard work. Or you may just need to power through on days that are really a struggle.
And that’s why showing up consistently can feel so hard. Sometimes the tough days never seem to end.
Q: What do you think are the best ways to combat inconsistency?
A: I think keeping it all in perspective is so important. Just like when we talk about rehabbing horses. They’re going to have good days and bad days. They make progress and then take a few steps back.
We’re going to have different struggles but we still have good days and bad days like them. So, we need to look at the milestones we’ve been able to reach rather than only focus on what we’re still unable to do. For instance, if you’ve been able to overcome one of your fears in the saddle – even if you’re still afraid to do other things with your horse – that’s progress. If you can look at where you’ve come instead of what you have left to do, that’s always a positive.
Using a journal like yours is a really good way to keep track of your progress and help you stay consistent. It’s one way to keep yourself accountable. See what you’ve done and what you’ve planned to do. Then having a person on those days when you don’t really want to come out to the barn or go to the gym is so helpful. Someone who can hold you accountable and say, “Look, I know it’s hard today but let’s do this.”
“So, we need to look at the milestones we’ve been able to reach rather than only focus on what we’re still unable to do.”
Q: Do you struggle with being consistent as a pro?
A: Sure. It’s easier for me because people pay me and I’ve been training horses for so long. But I still struggle with my own horse. Some days when she’s being particularly difficult and I don’t have the energy to deal with her, it feels like I can’t handle it. But I do.
It’s about finding a way, getting your foot in the door without making the ride into such a big deal. Instead of turning things into a fight, maybe it’s a day where we’re going to work on stuff at the walk. Or we’re going to do something fun like hit the trails.
Once you’re on the horse, sometimes you end up doing more than you thought you could.
Q: So giving yourself permission to simply show up? Give yourself a break once in a while?
A: Yeah, exactly. I use this trick when I go to the gym. I say to myself, “Okay, I can at least walk on the treadmill for five minutes. If I do that then I’m going to go sit in the sauna for however long I want.”
Usually what happens is five minutes comes and goes and then I find myself running. Once I’ve started, it’s so much easier to keep moving. So much of this is about just showing up.
Q: Why is consistency so critical in riding horses?
A: From a horse perspective, there is really no way to make progress without consistency. Horses learn through repetition. People learn through repetition. Which means we need to string enough days of meaningful work together to achieve any kind of progress.
If you’re not showing up to work on your position or whatever you need to be doing with your horse, you’re never going to see change. I think that’s why it can seem so daunting for people. The only path to progress involves putting in the time and the work. We all kind of want the quick and easy approach, but it doesn’t work that way. That’s also why so many people get frustrated. Nothing about horses is quick or easy.
Q: Don’t you think we end up trying to bit off more than we can chew? We want everything to happen right away.
A: Absolutely. Forcing yourself to come back and do more later can be really great for motivation. Because if you can leave with that feeling of consistency, you’ll want to come back for more. Go the next step. What we want is that intrinsic motivation that pushes us to come back tomorrow, to really want next time to be better. That’s when we start to see a breakthrough and improvement.
And, that’s where using the journal is so key because you can go back, see in your own words that you had good days two weeks ago, where you’ve made progress, and that small steps can have a really big impact.
“Once I’ve started, it’s so much easier to keep moving. So much of this is about just showing up.”
Q: Yeah, it can feel like you’re never getting anywhere especially when you’ve had a lot of issues with your horse. Seeing your own words on the page about what you’ve been able to do can be pretty powerful.
A: It just kind of keeps things in perspective that it’s not always going to be so hard. You felt the joy that you had when you were making progress a couple of weeks ago. Looking back and remembering that is a good way to help you stay the course. Not get too far off the trail.
When you start to hit some barrier or you come back to that same problem and feel like this is just never going to change, you can look back see the change. You can remind yourself that change happened. It makes it harder to have a self-defeating attitude or keep asking yourself, “What am I doing here?”
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: I don’t want to understate how much strength and boldness it takes to stay consistent. Some days it really does take everything you’ve got to show up and put meaningful work in. That’s exhausting. But when you do it chances are tomorrow won’t be as hard.
Q: You’re talking about emotional strength?
A: Exactly. Everyone has their thing that they’re working on with their horses. The big one is fear. Also, a lot of people struggle with their temper when they’re riding. They have a hard time finding patience with themselves. It’s so critical to give yourself space to work through your mental barriers and make sure your mental game is tough. Just like your position and timing, it’s another piece of the puzzle. And it’s not going to get better without consistency.
Key takeaways to stay consistent
- Being consistent seems like it’s easy… but it’s not – For most of us, riding is a hobby. It’s supposed to be fun. Except when it’s hard, we’re having a bad day, our horses don’t cooperate – which means it takes a whole lot more commitment and dedication to showing up than we realize. (This should not be a shocker.)
- Keep this whole riding thing in perspective – It’s not all unicorns and rainbow sprinkles. Get comfortable with the downs as well as the ups. (Yes, I know. Reality can be a buzz kill but this too will pass.)
- Don’t get bogged down in what you can’t do – Take time to reflect on what you’ve been able to achieve and the progress you’ve made. (You might just surprise yourself.)
- Keep yourself accountable – Get a friend to meet you on those days you know will be tough to get out to the barn. (Having a buddy makes things so much better.)
- Do less to do more – Sometimes the hardest part is just showing up. On the days when it’s a struggle, plan on doing less. Forcing yourself and your horse to have an epic ride no matter the circumstances can be the ultimate recipe for frustration. (Been there. Done that.)
- Your mental game is just as important as your physical game – Train those mental muscles like you train your core. (I feel another blog post coming on…)
Follow Becky @seizertdressage on Instagram to find out more about her training and ideas on rider fitness.
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