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Last Wednesday, two-time Olympic team gold medalist McLain Ward (USA) opted out of his first championship in over a decade when he withdrew his mount Contagious from the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru due to injury.

Wrote Ward on Facebook, “withdrawing is the correct choice for the horse and the team.”

On Friday, across the pond in Germany, World Equestrian Games team silver medalist Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) forfeited his chance at the Rolex Grand Slam 250,000 Euro bonus when he decided not to contest the Aachen Grand Prix with 13-year-old Toveks Mary Lou. The mare, von Eckermann’s only top international horse at the moment, posted a double clear in the Thursday’s Nations Cup for the winning Swedish team.

“As Mary Lou already has two hard rounds in her body, I don’t want to expose her to the possibility of jumping another three even harder ones,” von Eckermann told World of Showjumping. “It doesn’t feel like the right thing to do.”

On Sunday, American dressage rider Endel Ots announced he would not be making the trip to Lima, what was meant to be his championship debut, after his mount, the nine-year-old Hanoverian gelding Lucky Strike, sustained injuries during the team transport to Miami.

“Obviously, I am devastated,” said Ots. “It was a goal of mine to compete Lucky at the Pan American Games, but my horse’s health is more important, and I know the team understands.”

Whether on the world stage or in schooling shows, competing horses means making calls that are sometimes at odds with a rider’s personal goals. Those decisions are easier made when the rider has a clearly defined value structure for their program.

Which begs the question: do you have the right mental/emotional structure in your riding? Is your fundamental riding structure held together by twigs and mud or brick and stone? Can it be blown down by one big huff and puff or is it impenetrable by any outside force?

What do you value?

Do you have trouble making decisions or make decisions that may not be in the best interest of you or your equestrian partners? Or, do you see others make horsemanship decisions that really make you scratch your head?

Structure is critical to a consistent, enjoyable, sustainable career in equestrian sport and it’s built on strong values.

Ask yourself:

  1. What is your long-term vision for your riding? Where do you want to go?
  2. Why do you ride?
  3. What do you believe in and what is most important to you in your riding?

The third question addresses a non-negotiable foundational piece in performance: your values.

If you have strong values in your riding, making good decisions becomes easier. When you are clear in what you believe in, and use those values to guide your decisions, your decisions become true to who you are and they are consistent.

Conversely, a lack of understanding of what you believe in can take you down any path—and unfortunately, sometimes not the right one. Without a well-defined value structure, decision-making is unpredictable and inconsistent.

Building your value structure

Working with top performers and leading equestrian athletes every day, I believe in order to be a consistent, sustainable performer, values are a must. If you have a value system for your riding, great. If you don’t, consider creating a structure for yourself by following some simple steps:

  1. Begin thinking about what you really believe in. What is most important to you in your riding? What qualities do you admire in others? Do a search online for a list of values—for example, Excellence, Professionalism, Confidence, Humility, Respect, Enjoyment, Integrity, Honesty, Resilience, Accountability—and select ones that align with your beliefs. Highlight seven to ten that you could see being a part of your value structure and then shave that list down to five absolutes. Those five are your core riding values.
  2. Once you have selected your values, identify how you will live by them each day. What are the behaviors and actions that will bring your values to life? You must ensure you are living them day by day and they become the backbone for each decision you make. To get you started, write down each value you have chosen in #1 and list all the behaviors and resulting actions that will bring the value to life each day. For instance, if integrity is an important value for you, you might write: “My horse’s safety and well-being come first, always.”
  3. Keep your list of values and actions in a place where you can see them. Review your values every day to keep them top of mind.

I promise that once you identify your key values and you commit to them, these values will become the engine of your internal compass, guiding your decisions on horsemanship and helping you go down the right path in and out of the ring.

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