Best of JN: Keeping the Main Thing, the Main Thing

“…you have to keep the main thing in the forefront, because that’s the reason you’re doing all the other stuff.” In this week’s Best of Jumper Nation, Ema Klugman discusses how to maintain focus on your primary goal.

What does it mean to keep the main thing, the main thing? In other words, how can a person prioritize their primary goal while also committing time and effort to secondary, but also necessary, tasks?

Two conversations I had recently sparked my thinking on this topic. 

Training horses: My “main thing.” Photo by Ema Klugman.

The first was with a fellow rider and trainer who was glad that her business was going so well, but also lamented how she had so many client horses to ride and students to teach that she hardly had time for her own horses. It was ironic, she thought, because the whole reason she had the horse business was to be able to pay for her own competitive goals, which she had increasingly little time to achieve. 

The second conversation was with a little-known guy named Boyd Martin, who you’ve probably never heard of [he’s just an Olympic champion…], who was kind enough to lead a discussion and give some advice to members of the NEXT Australian High Performance squad over Zoom. The title of this article is a phrase of the advice he repeated to us: “you’ve got to keep the main thing, the main thing.” For someone like him, the main thing is producing and training horses to be world champions. The secondary things are coaching, selling horses, communicating with owners, hiring and managing staff, talking to vets, talking to farriers… the list goes on. But he admonished us: those secondary things are necessary, but you have to keep the main thing in the forefront, because that’s the reason you’re doing all the other stuff.  

His point wasn’t that the main thing had to be the only thing; in fact, that would be just about impossible. Very few top riders can spend all day, every day, simply training their top horses. Part of that is just economics: the task of developing horses for personal success isn’t one that makes much, if any, money. Most top riders are coaches as well, and they usually train and sell horses to fund their business. The other part of this is that our lives are dynamic and filled with other tasks and responsibilities. Maybe those are family responsibilities or work commitments. Focusing on one’s primary goal is hard when there are lots of other tasks to juggle. But the best people in the world at what they do are the ones that have this focus.

So, what is your “main thing”? If you are a professional, is it breaking in young horses, selling amateur horses, reaching your own competitive goals, or teaching students? If you are an amateur, maybe your main thing is actually your professional life and job, or your family. If horses are a hobby, don’t let them overpower your life; keep the main thing the main thing.

Our top priority might also change over time. For example, maybe we want to focus fully on horses as a career in our 20s, and then shift to be amateur riders later on. Or maybe we go into a professional career and love it for a decade, and then take a leap to try riding professionally later in life. Some might say your main thing has to stay the same throughout your life, but I think that’s only true in rare cases. Furthermore, maybe the main thing can be a short-term goal on the calendar, like winning or placing in a certain competition. Having clarity about what you want your main thing to be is the first step in prioritizing it.