The Key to Equestrian Happiness? Enjoyment Before Achievement

Photo by Irene Elise Powlick


Sometimes things get fuzzy in sports, and a reset is exactly what you need.

Very often my phone will ring, or I’ll get an “emergency” text – an athlete client is in a funk. Their focus unconsciously shifts to the many distractions around them – often things they have no control over; an obsession starts with the outcome, the enjoyment disappears, everything becomes difficult and their experience becomes tedious. The downward spiral starts.

In my business, it’s all about achievement, reaching higher and getting to the next level. If I don’t generate the results for a client, and help them pull the potential out, I’m out of a job. And, that’s the way it should be – I’m in the high performance business.

The tricky part here is that, funnily enough, focusing on the achievement is not the best way to go about elevating achievement.

Photo by Irene Elise Powlick

Let me explain … 

In order to get to a high level of performance and reach targets set, there are two primary areas that are important to elevate performance and sustain it. I always refer to enjoyment as the first cog in the wheel and achievement as the second cog. And, the order is quite important because enjoyment is always a key to sustainable high performance. Can you succeed without it? Yes, for a short period. But, over time, when enjoyment is not at the centre of performance, I get the call like I mentioned above. Sport isn’t fun, frustration sets in, the spiral downward begins, and results plummet.

From a young age, many equestrians pursue achievement so aggressively and persistently that they actually forget about the enjoyment part. They assume that if they seek achievement – and get it – enjoyment will just follow automatically. But it’s not quite that simple.

I was a direct victim of the enjoyment vs achievement phenomena when I was a professional athlete playing professional golf. I would practice as hard and long as I could to get better, continually pursuing golf perfection that I thought was needed to play professional golf – and I slowly slipped into a state of misery – not knowing that enjoyment might be important in having a sustainable professional golf career. In retrospect, if I focused more on seeking enjoyment in the game and really enjoyed the journey, and put a central focus on the real reason why I was playing the game, because I loved it and it was fun, and created a plan around that, career results may have been significantly different. I blindly pursued achievement, but forgot about enjoyment.

Photo by Irene Elise Powlick

So what does that mean for you?

You might consider your perspective of enjoyment and achievement and try shifting the enjoyment to the forefront of your equestrian experience – no matter what your level. Think about why you ride? Is it to enjoy the sport or achieve something or both? For almost all of us it is both. If it is for you, remember the order of importance and that enjoyment will support the achievement and not the other way around. Making enjoyment a priority will very much help in your pursuit of achievement and reaching your potential in your riding. Putting achievement first may not help you maximize your equestrian experience and could put you on a path where your original purpose (your love of the animal and the sport) may get lost in the shuffle.

So, go ahead and achieve something in your sport. Have a plan, work hard and make progress. But, don’t lose site of enjoying the sport and your purpose for doing it. If you focus on this balance, sustainable achievement will be possible and you’ll maximize your time in the sport.

This is transferable to everything you do. The more you enjoy something, often the better you’ll do!

Photo by Irene Elise Powlick

John Haime is President of New Edge Performance.  A former professional athlete and current bestselling author of “You are a Contender! Build Emotional Muscle to Perform Better and Achieve more … in business, sports and life”, John understands how athletes think and feel … he’s been there – under the most intense pressures of amateur and professional sports. As a world-class specialist in the area of performance and one of the world’s leading authorities in Emotional Intelligence, as it relates to performance in sport, John coaches some of the world’s leading professional and amateur athletes in a variety of sports (including equestrian).

Twitter: @johnhaime
LinkedIn: johnhaime

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