Perform Well: Get back on track the right way

Tuesday, 15 February 2022

Many of us have relaxed a bit over the festive period and let some of our more healthy habits slide, usually around nutrition or fitness. Now, with the days getting lighter and the competition season not too far away, getting back to where we were before can now seem a bit daunting. Added to that, colder temperatures and winter weather can make early mornings on the yard much less palatable, meaning your motivation for making changes might be lacking.

When planning any changes, the key thing to do is set your goals based on where you are now, not where you want to be. If where you are now is a few pounds heavier than normal and a little bit less fit, then that’s your starting point. Making plans based on where we want to be can lead to setting unhelpful, unrealistic targets that we’re unlikely to stick to, leading to feelings of frustration and guilt for the things we should have done differently. You don’t have a time machine and you can’t go back and change anything, so you need to work with acceptance of where you are and use that as your starting point.

At this point, it’s also really easy to get drawn into looking sideways and comparing yourself to other people. This is something that our minds have a tendency to do, but it’s rarely helpful. It’s often made worse by social media, where what we’re comparing to are just the edited highlights of other people’s lives, rather than reality. Maybe at the moment you’re thinking that everyone else looks so fit and motivated, that they’re all raring to go with their horses and steps ahead of you in their training. Rather than getting drawn into these unhelpful comparisons, try to remember that you have a choice – you can get your self-confidence and self-worth by at what others are doing, or you can decide the values and behaviours that you want to demonstrate, and compare yourself against those things when you look in the mirror. You aren’t going to get this right 100% of the time, but that’s absolutely fine. This approach is the key to developing a more stable sense of self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence, and it’s also the foundation of performing at your best and enjoying what you do.

Remember that there’s a difference between motivation and commitment. Motivation is a feeling so, just like any other feeling, it’s going to come and go. When it’s -3 degrees or pouring with rain outside, it’s really normal to not feel motivated. That doesn’t mean that you’re a fair-weather rider or letting your horse down, though – it means that your mind is normal and functioning as it should. If you do feel motivated at the moment, then roll with it. It not, then there’s an alternative, which is to work with commitment. This means making a realistic plan and sticking to it, regardless of how you feel. With where you are now in mind, think about what might be some of the key things for you to commit to. This could be the number of times you want to ride your horse each week, making healthy changes to your diet or returning to the gym on a regular basis. Remember, motivation and how you feel at the moment isn’t important, it’s commitment that’s going to get the job done.

To recap..

  1. Accept where you are now and make your plans from there.
  2. Decide how you want to be and judge yourself on that, rather than getting drawn into unhelpful sideways comparisons.
  3. Make a plan of the things you want to commit to, rather than waiting to feel motivated enough to start.


Leonie Lightfoot is a performance psychologist for British Equestrian’s World Class Programme and one of the leads for the federation’s Perform Well programme.