This is something I found myself speaking a lot about last week in person and online. I am, like many others, an amateur rider. Horses are not in my family background and much as they are what I live for, I had neither the talent, the support or the funds to be a professional at this sport. Thankfully I am good enough at other things to manage to be gainfully employed doing them which in turn allows me to enjoy horses which are my true passion in life.
As an amateur rider, my performance does not dictate if my mortgage gets paid and it does not dictate if I keep or lose the ride on a horse. It does not pay my bills (the opposite actually) nor does it determine my career success. From this perspective, it is easier to be an amateur rider. There is less pressure to perform. The horses are a hobby, a pleasure, an enjoyment. This isn’t my job, I don’t have to be good at it.
However, the flipside is one often not fully realised. As an amateur you do not work at your passion in life, instead you work long and hard at something you may not even enjoy just to afford your passion in life. As an amateur, horses don’t come first – neither does any aspect of it. Horses are squeezed in in the evenings, the early mornings, the weekends and the lunch breaks. Horses come after the day job, the commute, the family commitments and the jobs that have to be done at home and around the house. Having a job outside of horses often on paper leaves you financially well off enough to enjoy them and to afford lessons / clinics / saddlery but it can leave you very time poor and under pressure, making it hard to enjoy those perks. It’s the work – life – horse balance.
Pressure to perform as an amateur rider starts to mount sometimes because horses, rather than being what you do, become what you work all day to afford to do. Sometimes it can be hard to feel like there is no progress when you have worked long hours to afford to do a sport. Sometimes it’s hard to enjoy the very thing you are so passionate about because it is always squeezed into extra time and you are tired from trying to balance everything ending up tight on time and clock watching. It’s the opposite of having the time and freedom to work on improving something. It becomes functional instead of fun, it becomes erratic instead of educational
It’s easy to say oh just enjoy it and take part but actually there is nothing wrong with being competitive and nothing wrong with wanting to be the best you can be at something that you love. I really hate hearing amateurs being criticised for being competitive – why shouldn’t they? There is nothing wrong in having drive and passion and goals. Sometimes being competitive is mistakenly seen as not enjoying something – quite the opposite – many of us would not enjoy the sport without an element of competition.
What I have learned as an amateur rider is to stop trying to act like a professional in terms of performance. I have learned to stop criticising myself for not getting enough done with a horse a particular week, for making a mistake in training or in the ring, for not having time after a long day to ride, for not performing to each time to maximum potential, for not being as good or as consistent as a professional.
There is one aspect of professional riding that I am now going to make myself take on board though – it is not performance, its planning. When going to shows I have learned that I need to proactively plan time in advance to allow myself to prioritise what I am doing and to enjoy my time with my horse – to enjoy the preparation and to feel relaxed and confident. I went to a national competition last weekend under way too much pressure. I committed to too many things the day before we travelled – trying to keep the day job, the family business and clients happy and I forgot about myself. The night before I ended up soaking from riding in the rain and freezing cold and tired at the thoughts of how much had to be done. I ended up working late and leaving late on the day of travel only to arrive at the show too late to ride, tired and feeling ill prepared. This was a show I had worked for months to qualify for, this was a show that I spent a lot money on lessons and equipment for only to ride undress pressure I put myself under. I didn’t prioritise myself so why would anyone else?
In summary, as an amateur rider, I think we need to stop trying to be professionals and instead try to learn from them. We need to allow ourselves to enjoy being with and competing on our horses. We need to remember that if we can balance the day job and the rest and still find time to ride, we are doing well. We need sometimes to block out time free of other people’s wants and needs and free of work just for us to achieve the things we work so hard for. We don’t have to be amazing at this, it’s not our job.