Every year as January 1st approaches, people sit down and reflect on the past 12 months and resolve to be better in the months to come. New Year’s Resolutions are a tradition that dates back to the Ancient Babylonians some 4,000 years ago, and while their resolutions were probably less about watching reality TV and cutting gluten, the fact is that people from all over the world for thousands have years have used the calendar switching over as an opportunity for growth. Equestrians love a good opportunity for growth, and horse people of all stripes use this opportunity to set goals for the coming year, evaluate the progress they’ve made, and decide what steps they can take to be even better in the years to come.
Setting goals is an important step on the path to achieving success. After all, the top riders in any discipline didn’t reach that level by accident. Years and years of careful planning go into every blue ribbon, and for Matt Brown, a four-star eventer based in Kennett Square, PA the goal planning process is one he relishes. “I’m really big on setting goals. And while I’m constantly evaluating my progress as well as that of my clients and horses, the end of the year is a great time to really sit down and focus on what I want to accomplish in the forthcoming season.”
Brown and his wife, Cecily Clark, own and operate East West Training Stables, and their dedication to personal growth and progress has served them well. Brown and Clark have owned East West Training since 2004, moving across the country from California to Pennsylvania in 2015 with Brown’s eyes on becoming a part of the US Eventing Team. His dedication, hard work, and commitment to setting attainable goals and then doing what it takes to make those goals a reality secured him a spot as a reserve for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero with Super Socks BCF.
“Setting realistic goals and then working every day to achieve them is important in this sport. It’s what separates the top riders from those who wish to be top riders.” Brown says.
And whether your end goal is the competing in the Olympics, successfully completing a clinic with your favorite professional, or just surviving your first horse show, setting goals and then dividing them into bite-sized daily tasks can make all the difference in the world. “When I’m setting goals, it’s important to me to take things in smaller, more manageable chunks. While It’s great to say ‘Okay, in three months I’m want to be able to run ten miles’, if you don’t make daily habits you’re going to give up on that goal a week in because you won’t be seeing any measurable results and human nature will get the best of you.”
Brown’s advice to overcome this inevitable bump in the road? “At the outset of every year I’ll create a big, ambitious end result that I want to meet. Then I sit down with my coaches and Cecily and we break it down and talk about what it’s going to take to get there. Every three months I create goals for myself, my horses, and my clients. Once I have a specific goal to work towards, I create three daily habits that I review every night before bed and every morning. I also include weekly goals to keep myself on track.”
For Brown, accountability is key to making sure goals are more than just scribbles on paper. “Get everyone you can involved. Tell your riding coaches, tell your personal trainer or yoga instructor. Having the feeling that your whole team is on the same page and working with you to make your dreams reality is powerful motivation. Letting yourself down is one thing, letting an entire group down is entirely different.”
Writing your goals down can also make them seem more real and thus more difficult to push to the side. Get old school and grab a pen and paper, stick the paper to your mirror or your fridge and use it as a touchstone. Having that strong visual reminder can prove as inspiration when you’re dragging yourself to the barn in subzero temperatures, or when putting on workout clothes and driving to the gym seems insurmountable.
Being goal oriented seems to run in Brown’s blood, but what do his clients think of this obsession with personal progress? “Some of them find it to be really painful at first! But I spend a day where I don’t teach lessons, and instead I just sit down with my clients and we go over goals for the season, the next three months, and their daily habits. They have to come to me and Cecily with a tangible list of written-down objectives and then I help them figure out what we can do as a team to get them to that point. Normally, even if they were dreading the meeting, by the time it’s all said and done they’re more excited than ever.”
Are you ready to start working on your goals list? Here’s an example of a realistic, attainable, but still ambitious goal that Matt has for the first three months of 2018: “I’ve had back pain that has taken me completely out of the sport in the past, and I’m obviously not wanting to repeat that. One of my main goals is increase my strength and flexibility, which will prevent injuries that might sideline me and make my ultimate riding goals near impossible to achieve. Every day I set aside 20-30 minutes for core exercises, I also set aside time to stretch before and after riding, which lessens the risk of injury significantly. I also make sure to learn a little more about physiology every day. The more I know about the human body the more successfully I can condition myself. Once a week I’ll take a yoga class or go to a physical therapy session to keep myself on track.”
The moral of the story? Achieving ambitious goals isn’t going to happen overnight, so break them down into things you can achieve overnight. Crossing an item off your list every day will motivate you further and bring you one step closer to whatever end result you’re hoping to achieve!