When we talk about goal setting, there are several factors that can have an impact on our level of success. One of the biggest, in my mind, is discipline, but I believe this is closely followed by — and works hand in hand with — flexibility. We can plan as much as we want and set ourselves goals, but at the end of the day anything can happen, especially with horses!
If we are discussing goal setting as it relates to equestrians, one’s ability to adapt is vital. There are things that we can take into account when making plans, setting ourselves goals etc, but it is our ability to stay focused and disciplined whilst “going with the flow” that I believe is the hardest balance an equestrian athlete can achieve.
I set myself a goal after the Paralympics in Rio 2016 to represent Australia again at the Tokyo Games in 2020. My plan was nearly put on hold soon after my commitment, when I came close to losing my incredible competition partner, Zidane, to a severe case of colic caused by a benign tumour that had wrapped around his small intestines. I had to rehab Zidane for six months after his colic surgery before starting our campaign for the 2018 World Equestrian Games.
I wanted to use the WEG in Tryon, USA, as a stepping stone and preparation for our performance in Tokyo. This was an incredible experience that I believe helped Zidane and myself learn and grow as international competitors. However, certain judging issues caused dramas in our Freestyle event and potentially cost us a medal. As difficult as it was, I put this behind me and focused ahead on the goal of getting that Tokyo medal in 2020.
Zidane and I had all but qualified for the Tokyo Paralympics earlier this year prior to the Covid-19 outbreak — a huge, global pandemic isn’t exactly something I had factored into our preparations moving forward. When it was announced that the Tokyo Paralympics were to be postponed for 12 months to 2021, I was beyond devastated. I felt that Zidane and I were right where we needed to be five to six months out from the Games, both physically and mentally. We were ready to really amp up our training and hoped to bring our absolute best to Tokyo in August. Now we have had to completely back off Zidane’s work and I have had to come to terms with the fact that our opportunity to compete on the world stage later this year is gone.
I am disappointed for many reasons (as I’m sure all athletes are) but mainly because Zidane isn’t getting any younger and my plan was to retire him at the end of this year. He is fit, healthy and sound, so our training continues, but my number one priority is Zidane’s wellbeing. If at any point during preparations moving forward, me or our amazing equine veterinarian, Mike Tweedie, feel that Zidane isn’t up to the task, I will withdraw him from our Tokyo campaign.
It is at times like this when things are completely taken out of our control, that it’s important to discuss motivation surrounding our goals. It’s easy enough to make a goal, but how do we stay motivated when curve balls are thrown our way? I’m the first to admit it has been difficult to keep focus during isolation with the news surrounding the postponement of the Games. Sometimes we focus on the negatives, or the things we can’t control, but I’ve made it my mission to try and focus purely on the things that I can control.
Emma on Zidane and Ethan on Pakaya Prince aka Ben training during the pandemic.
Initially, I found my mind imagining circumstances that could occur in the next 12 months that might have a negative impact on our path towards Tokyo 2021. I had to switch this train of thought off and put my mind to areas I can control. During isolation, I put my focus towards keeping myself fit and healthy. This gave me a sense of purpose and made me feel in control of my goal. I made the decision to continue Zidane’s training, but with his workload significantly reduced. I made the concerted effort to just slow everything down and enjoy him as my horse and not as my means of getting to the Games.
Emma riding one of her new horses, Ben.
Emma and Zidane in their matching gear, training during the pandemic.
Emma and Galliano.
Emma has been focused on her own fitness over the past months.
I also shifted my attention towards a couple of younger horses I own and used this time of no competitions to really accelerate their training. They’ve come along in leaps and bounds and have given me something really positive to concentrate on during this strange time.
Things in our control keep us consistent, persistent, and driven. I’m a real sucker for a cliché saying (sorry) and I truly believe it, that if we look at the glass as half full, not half empty, we notice a huge difference in one’s level of success. As I said earlier, things can happen that we don’t plan for, but it is how we react to these situations that can ultimately impact the outcome.
The word “adapt” is defined as “being able to adjust to new conditions”. When something enormously unexpected occurs on the path to achieving your goal — like the Paralympics being postponed for 12 months – your ability to adapt is really put to the test. The difficult thing with equestrians is taking into consideration that we are not solo athletes. We work in partnership with our horse and this is what makes equestrians so unique – I genuinely love this about our sport.
Some people have asked me if I believe Zidane has one more Paralympic Games in him, and my answer is yes. Hope can also be what drives us. He may be getting older but his attitude is only getting better, he is only getting more experienced, and he has worked so hard up to this point to get us to where we are that I know he wants one more chance on the world stage just as much as me.
He proved himself at the final Tokyo qualifying event prior to coronavirus at Boneo Park, where he scored 78% in our Freestyle. I know that he still has more in the tank, and with the knowledge behind both of us now, we are ready to keep pushing for the same goal despite the change of date. As I said, it is a big hurdle we will have to overcome, but we have done harder things along the way so will aim to thrive despite the circumstances. EQ