Everything Else Everything else Training

My New Mantra for a New Year – Have a System, not a Goal

By and large, I am a relatively organised person. Ok, so I may feel like it’s a balancing act keeping all the plates in the air, and one false move will cause my life to descend into chaos, but it rarely happens. I attribute this to my love of planning things, by which I mean my love of setting myself goals then working backwards to figure out what I need to do to achieve them.

However, as I’ve done more, I’ve realised that I sometimes fail to enjoy the journey. I’m so focused on the bright shiny goal, which I’m convinced holds the key to true happiness, that I give myself a really hard time if I’m not hitting all the little steps which make up the path to that goal.


We did some work. . . (Photo by Olivia Hall)

In 2013, I was forced to slow down. I had a new horse, who was very green, and pretty weak. She just wasn’t ready to do very much of anything, and so any horsey goals I had went out of the window. In contrast, my roller derby skating was going from strength to strength. The sport I’d picked up as a way to get fitter for eventing suddenly became my main focus.

And then a funny thing happened.

I’d always enjoyed the skating, because I did it, and if I wasn’t good enough to make the team, oh well, no pressure, it wasn’t my ‘main thing’ anyway. I didn’t always enjoy the riding, because I was constantly looking for how and where to improve, which (to me) meant focusing on what I hadn’t done well enough. Except in 2013, that flipped. I can honestly say I did not have a single ride on my mare which I didn’t enjoy. We won a few rosettes at low key events, but mostly we bimbled about doing not a lot of anything very much. And I loved it. I got back the sheer joy of riding for riding’s sake.

. . .we did our first ODE (and got a rosette)

. . .we did our first ODE (and got a rosette – thanks to Jancis Weal for the picture)

But the skating. Oh boy, the skating. Suddenly I wanted to make the A team. I was fearful I was being judged and found wanting, and from loving every session when I put on skates, I found myself dreading it some days. But I kept on going, and I kept pretty quiet about feeling that way (no-one wants a teammate who’s constantly dragging you down with their own self-doubt!), and at the end of 2013, in our last home game of the year, I made my A team debut.

So I used the Christmas break to have a think. What was I doing differently in one than in the other? Why had I started loving the riding and why was I losing the love for the skating?

Then a friend shared this link with me.


And we spent a lot of time having some lovely hacks – we even went all the way to North Yorks for a weekend of riding with Jane (I sold her the little dun horse, Boris, a couple of years ago).

I read it twice. Then I came here to make this post. What I’d been doing with the riding, was having a system. I rode with the aim of strengthening and fittening my lovely little horse, but I didn’t have any real goals, because how could I plan when she was so green? If a competition came along which fitted where she was, we did it, if not, no worries, we went for a gallop instead. And this year she’s come out so much better for that approach. She’s strong, she’s got a good attitude to her work, and earlier this week she surprised me so much over a fence she nearly jumped me clean out of the saddle. At the start of 2013, she didn’t even know how to jump. On the other hand I had goals for the skating. And I didn’t love it as much as when I first started.

So in 2014, I’m planning to have a system not a goal, for everything. I’m going to go to skate training twice a week, but if I miss a week, I’m not going to beat myself up about it, because life happens, and I plan to keep skating for a long time. Likewise, I’m going to keep having lessons on my mare, and doing competitions when they fit in with where she is, because I want to be riding her for a long time to come.

Hopefully, I’m going to enjoy the things I do a lot more in 2014, because I’m not doing them to try and hit a goal, or prove anything to myself or anyone else. I’m doing them because I love to do them. And because they fit my system.


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  • This really makes sense! I had a baby this year and sent my ‘proper’ chap to a professional. Relaxing and riding my older mare with no specific goals is so refreshing! X

  • The last sentence of the next-to-last paragraph is excellent, and more young horses would go further and last longer if more people heeded it!

  • I love this idea, I am very goal focused, but I think it is possible to ‘train’ towards a goal but remindf yourself about the fun bits which is a benefit for the horse (and your support crew)as well as your own motivation. Good article in the link too 🙂