by Tonya Johnston
Appeared in Eventing USA May/June 2008

“Why do you ride and compete?” Ask two people that question and you are sure to get different answers. However, what is most important is for you to understand your own reasons for eventing. Therefore, in this article we will explore why you ride and compete. We will examine both the value you place on competition (your philosophy) and your drive to take action (your motivation).

“Why do you ride and compete?” Ask two people that question and you are sure to get different answers. However, what is most important is for you to understand your own reasons for eventing. Therefore, in this article we will explore why you ride and compete. We will examine both the value you place on competition (your philosophy) and your drive to take action (your motivation).

Most often it is the challenging or unpleasant situations that will trigger spontaneous reflections on your reasons for competing. Such as: 1) Your horse decides the far end of the show jumping arena is riddled with dangers that make cantering through the corner impossible. 2) The new angled track to the spooky corner catches both you and horse by surprise, even though you walked it four times and schooled it last month. This unexpectedly spirals into three stops and elimination. 3) You ride a beautiful beginning to your dressage test that unfortunately coincides with a loud and prolonged tractor breakdown in the ring adjoining yours. These scenarios, somewhat predictably, can lead into the question: “Why am I even here?” (There may of course be more colorful language thrown into the mix, but you understand the point.)

While it is often challenges that crystallize and help us identify our reasons for doing what we do, what I propose here is for you to take a different track. I suggest you be proactive and forward-thinking with respect to your motivation. As you read this article remind yourself, or uncover for the first time, how you value competing in the sport of eventing and your motivation to both participate and improve.


Your personal philosophy of competing in eventing will sum up the reasons you value it as part of you and your horse’s training program. For example, if you hold the opinion that your skills as a rider are enhanced by competing, then that is part of your philosophy. There can be many other facets as well, such as:

  • Competition as part of your horse’s growth and development as an athlete.
  • Method for charting progress over time.
  • Value of community, social support and validation.
  • Travel – keeping you and your horse fresh and challenged by new places, courses, climates, and locations.
  • Enjoyment and desire to learn new skills.
  • Measuring yourself against your peers as a way of examining your training program.

As you read through these examples you may find yourself resonating with certain ones. Take note of your values and accept the way you regard your sport. You may want to write some notes to be able to reflect back at a later date.


How to create a Motivation Statement

Brainstorming and creating a Motivation Statement is an enjoyable process. You will visit all of your reasons for eventing and crystallize them into a concise and powerful statement.

  1. Brainstorm your motivation with a technique called clustering. Put a small circle in the middle of blank piece of paper. In the circle write “eventing” or “riding” or your horse’s name.
  2. Consider your answers to the following questions:
    • What specific things do you love about riding?
    • What type of rider would you like to be?
    • Why do you want to achieve your goals?
    • What are the positive feelings you get when you are riding?
    • What do you enjoy about competing?
    • Which memories from your competitive past remind you of why you event?
  3. Draw a line that reaches out from the circle, like rays of the sun, for each answer or response to the above questions. Give yourself 30 to 45 minutes to write anything that occurs to you, being careful not to censor yourself at this time. No matter how big or how small, everything is important.
  4. Step away from your brainstorming for one or two days.
  5. When you come back to your brainstorming choose the top two or three items that are so important they seem to jump off of the page at you.
  6. Using these items write a short and dynamic statement or motto that encapsulates why you ride and compete. Remember that this needs to make sense to you alone, use powerful language that makes you smile. An acronym is also a good idea – be creative and have fun! Examples include: “Confidence + Courage + Commitment = C” or “Riding is a challenge, my fire fuels my goals – every day we improve.”

Why Write a Motivation Statement

There are many reasons you will benefit from brainstorming and writing a motivation statement. These include:

  • Making sure your goals line up with your core motivation: It is a wise rider who ensures that the choices they are making about their schedule and training matches up with their fundamental passion for eventing. In this way you can put your best self forward to both create and work toward your goals.
  • Reacquainting yourself with your enjoyment of the sport: Although you may think that this is obvious, you might be surprised how what you enjoy can change over time. What do you love about participating? Appreciating special moments, positive emotions, ways you value the challenges of competing, noticing how you look forward to certain aspects of your events – all are acknowledged and valued through a motivation statement.
  • Having a motivation statement can help you get through a tough time: On a cold, dark morning, getting up to ride before work can feel like quite a chore. Reminding yourself of your passion for the sport and your desire to accomplish your goals can help you find the determination you need to get the job done.
  • At major crossroads a motivation statement can show you the best route to take: When you are faced with a decision, such as which horse to buy or choosing a trainer, you can use your motivation statement as a yardstick with which to measure your options. Choices that are in alignment with your core motivation will illuminate themselves and provide assistance in navigating your options.

What to do with a Motivation Statement

Be as creative as you can once you have written a motivation statement that helps you connect with your passion for the sport. Place it strategically within your training and competition routine so that you will run into it often and be reminded of your drive to succeed. Inside your tack trunk, written on an index card and placed in your coat or boot bag, in your training log, on your calendar – the ideas are endless!

When Your Motivation is Tested

Sport is by nature unpredictable. Unfortunate events can crop up and catch you by surprise, testing your resolve, and your reasons for participating. It is important to respect your reactions and allow for dips in your enthusiasm and desire. Accidents and setbacks, that happen to you or people you know, can create both minor and major questions that will need sorting out. At these times it is crucial to allow yourself to adjust your goals as necessary. This will keep you feeling comfortable, realistic and ultimately safer with respect to the challenges you are seeking to conquer.

Also trust that riders around you have their own personal inspiration for taking part in the sport. Be aware that projecting your motives onto other people will lead to frustration and angst. Talking with friends and supporters, who may also ride, is a great way to work through how you feel about things but be clear to value everyone’s opinion as unique and relevant to their situation, values and motivation.

The Optimal Idea

Hall of Fame football player Tony Dorsett’s quote summarizes the goal of a motivation statement, “To succeed, you need to find something to hold on to, something to motivate you, something to inspire you.” When it comes from within you, its power will be amazing. When you combine it with your other mental tools and strategies you will be able to handle your competition challenges and shine when it counts most.

Tonya Johnston, MA, is a sport psychology consultant and hunter/jumper competitor who has specialized in working with equestrian athletes for the past 15 years. Her consulting sessions provide support and insight for riders while helping them develop personalized routines. Tonya’s clients have attained competitive success at every level, including national titles and awards. She conducts “Sport Psychology for Riders” clinics throughout the country as well as phone consultations with individual clients. Phone: 510.418.3664.