3 Tips to Help You Stay Motivated In the January Doldrums

Despite that fresh new start as far as the calendar goes, let’s face it: January can be a tough time to ride, and an even tougher time to stay motivated. Here are a few tips to help you stay fired up for 2018!

Skip would be a poor motivational speaker. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

It’s hard to believe that it was less than a month ago that we were all sharing our new year resolutions, fresh-faced and bright-eyed with all the anticipation of a sunlit snowy morning. Within a few weeks, horses went back to being horses — that is, walking disasters of accident-prone knuckleheads good at injuring themselves or pulling 180s in training — Mother Nature totally lost her mind and gave us all four seasons in the scope of a few days and all of that magical sustaining hope and anticipation flickered away to be replaced by inconsistent riding conditions, unforeseen setbacks and all of life’s nice little ways of kicking you when you’re already feeling a little down.

That last freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw cycle didn’t do any of us any favors, especially for those of us in the no-indoor-arena club — mud is difficult to ride in safely, and flooding is even worse (I have a friend who spent most of last week literally pumping out her barn when unusual weather conditions flooded her entire property). Even those of us with indoor arenas can’t keep riding in circles forever, hoping that somehow another lap on the rail can somehow speed the clock along.

Yes, better days are coming… but if you need a little help remembering how much our equestrian life has to offer, here are a few tips to bolster your spirits.

1. Put your 2018 horse goals in writing.

It’s been proven over and over that writing down one’s goals increases one’s chance of achieving them. Just as important as setting goals is setting specific, achievable goals as well as a road map to get there, and seeing these steps in writing in front of your eyes adds a layer of accountability.

I personally really love Biz’s suggestion to make a monthly resolution or goal for her professional life, her health and wellness, and her horses, and map out the specific steps necessary to achieve that goal. And of course — it’s all written down.

Nothing looks more daunting when you can barely get in two or three rides a week than your big end-of-the-year goal, whether it’s an achievement in the show ring or a fifty-mile trail ride. Break those big goals down into smaller building blocks that you can accomplish each month, and suddenly January doesn’t look like such a bleak time of the year at all.

2. Watch a film or read a book about your discipline that inspires you.

For me, that motivational film was the new-to-Netflix documentary Down the Fence, which I reviewed last week. Watching training videos can be helpful, but there’s always a tendency to compare one’s abilities or one’s horse to what you see in the video, which can be terribly disillusioning if you feel like you have further to go. A book or film created purely for art’s sake can have a totally different effect, even if it’s an old cheesy classic with bad acting and overly-chatty horses.

It’s the reminder of the joy that we experience that helps get us motivated again, and nothing captures that joy quite like a good read or a great movie/documentary.

3. Go do something totally different, not related to the barn.

Yes, I know how privileged I am to have horses on my own farm, but there are still days in the dull winter when the endless repetition of the same chores zaps any desire I have to try to saddle up and go for a productive ride. On those days, when the horses seem to be satisfied just to hang out in the pasture with their buddies, I strap on my snowshoes and go for a snowy hike with the dog, or even treat myself to an afternoon of doing absolutely nothing at all at home (in my limited spare time, I absolutely love to knit).

While there’s always an initial guilt in my head (“you could be using this time to ride or drive!“) the truth is that all of us need a break or a change in routine from time to time, especially in the winter when our options for riding or training seem limited. It is totally okay to need to spend some time doing “normal person” things. And usually, I find myself refreshed and ready to get back to my horses eagerly the next day.

What are your winter motivational strategies? Share your tips in the comments section!

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