We catch up with our south-west brand ambassador Ali Dane to find out how she's planning to tackle the upcoming year.
It’s January, we’re SO over Christmas, we’ve waved goodbye to 2015 and we’re full of eager anticipation and high expectations for both our four legged partners and ourselves. We’re ready to throw ourselves head first into the beautiful uncharted waters of 2016. However, come June each year, I hear people lamenting about what a terrible year it’s been so far. Sometimes the reasons for this are clearly unavoidable. But quite often, all it would have taken to avoid whatever catastrophe has befallen them, is a bit of management…
If I had a pound for every time a new client said “…But I’ve spent SO much time and money on him… I don’t understand WHY we aren’t getting good competition results yet…?“, I’d be a lot better off. Well, my friends, I’m going to explain as best I can:
I often find that there is a direct correlation between the amount of money spent on a horse and the height of expectations. The higher the price paid for a horse, or the more money spent on posh equipment, the better we expect the results to be.
Now, I’m not saying that we all expect to go to the Olympics with our new horse, or because of new equipment – it’s all relative – but if we spend money, we expect results. It’s only natural. However, there’s one problem with that mentality.
That Neddy over there, the one that meant you had to re-mortgage your house to afford, and the one that just got a brand new top-of-the-range-super-comfy-scientifically-guaranteed-to-make-you-win saddle and has 473 different professional check-ups throughout the year… he couldn’t care less about all of that. If he doesn’t like the top end of the arena at The Big Championship you’ve been practicing for (for absolutely ages) he WILL spook, no matter how much your bridle cost.
I am no different. If I spend money, I want to see positive results. However, one thing I’ve learned over the years is to carefully manage each horse as an individual and to make allowances. After all, they aren’t machines.
Surround yourself with good professionals, who dish out positive yet realistic advice. Do all you can to ensure everything is ‘correct’ (i.e. saddle fit, teeth and hoof care, feeding, routine etc), but above all, listen to what your horse is telling you. He doesn’t like having his saddle girthed up? Speak to a vet about ulcers… He leans more on one rein than the other? Explain what you’re feeling to your trainer. He’s displaying undesirable behaviours in the stable? Check whether they’re normal with a knowledgeable friend. Please don’t bury your head in the sand and expect these types of things to disappear.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s an awful lot of rubbish information out there, and what works for one horse might not work for yours, but ‘knowledge is power’, so they say. Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid of change. Sometimes change is good.
Read. There is a wealth of information at our fingertips – use it. Good horse management doesn’t have to be expensive.
Ask any of the top professionals and they will tell you that along with some epic highs, they’ve experienced some crashing lows with horses. Once you accept this somewhat gut-wrenching reality, you’ll start to be able to manage your expectations. This is a sweeping statement, and certainly a bit of a generalisation, but within the horse world I regularly come across ‘unfulfilled’ competitive riders with one of two attitudes: (1) massively self-deprecating, or (2) place too much blame on the horse.
I definitely naturally fall into the first category, but I have worked hard to change that. In my humble opinion, it is the riders who place realistic expectations on both themselves and their horses, who produce the best (and most consistently positive) results. This might not mean always winning, but these people will gain the most satisfaction from competing.
One of the beautiful things about a new year is that you can make plans for the forthcoming season and start afresh. Manage your diary for the year according to your horse, and then combine that with your expectations.
Be realistic. Listen to the knowledgeable people around you. Look at how previous years have gone. Is there a pattern? Do you benefit from a mid-season break? Does he perform better at some venues than others? If so, why? Do YOU perform better at some venues? Again, ask yourself why?
I tend to do a loose and easily changeable plan for the year, according to my overall goals. I then make a firm plan for the next three months, which is continually updated as we go through the year. To keep myself motivated and to track progress (or lack of, in some cases!) I keep very brief notes in my daily work diary. I also ask people to film my lessons so I can remember what I’m meant to be working on in between and what to do in competition warm ups.
Planning your shows and events couldn’t be easier now that we have great management tools, like Equo Events, available to us riders. Make use of this amazing website the best you can. Equo will help keep you organised, enable you to enter and make payments very easily, and keep track of your spending (if you want to check… I don’t).
So, until next time, Happy 2016! May it be full of happiness, success and positivity!
If you want to know what else Ali Dane and her team of horses have been up to, remember to check out her other brand ambassador blogs.