I have a love-hate relationship with this time of year. I hate winter. On the flip side, I like to dream up a cleanly laid out competition schedule for the next year. I like to have a clear path to my goals. I like when someone asks me what I am planning on doing this year and I have a pithy response.

But in the jargon of move-ups and “CCI” or “CIC” I sometimes think, who am I fooling? Even the best laid plans will be derailed. With horses, one step can change a trajectory of the next year (or more). If I try to zoom out I start to wonder: What is really the point of all these goals? Most of my friends don’t know the difference between a Preliminary level horse trial and a CCI4*. Even just a few months ago when I broached the idea of riding full-time, my friends parents asked if they should book their tickets to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics. Ha.

Certainly for some riders, the Olympics is a reasonable goal, just like for me a worthy goal may be a two-star. But even those achievements still don’t make much sense, especially since once you reach those goals, you’ll feel a few hours of beaming pride and then you’ll be back in the barn at square one the next day. A certain achievement is not the reason I am going to eventually close my laptop, bundle up in snow boots, and go to the barn. So, really, at the end of the day what is the reason I keep doing this?

I love how with horse sports, there is such a clearly defined path for how to achieve qualifications to move up levels. My logical and analytical personality type thrives off of this. But constantly measuring myself against those levels is also not great either. It means I constantly question my abilities. I constantly question my potential. I constantly feel inadequate when there are riders my age winning competitions two (giant) steps ahead of me on the international stage. If I am stagnating at a level, am I even improving?

I think for competitive riders, it’s important to have an idea of where you are headed for obvious, logistical reasons. They can also be an important factor in deciding whether to keep training an equine partner or finding a better match. But I don’t think a death grip on these goals at the end of the day benefits ourselves or our horses.

So, perhaps we need to change the language about how we define goals. I know what combination of C’s and stars I want to be aiming towards, but I am going to try to wean myself off that mindset. Instead I’ve found a more holistic answer for the question “why do you ride?”. And I think, for the time being at least, I’m going to keep it to myself.