I’m someone who carries two planners – one outlining the work I need to get done each week, and another outlining my daily schedule to the hour. Having these planners comforts me, showing me how everything will work and get done.
Routine and structure help me accomplish what I need to get done, in and out of the saddle.
But how much structure is too much structure?
I began exploring this question recently – specifically, when the question “What are you doing after graduation?” began flooding almost every conversation I was having. My answer of a summer job wasn’t enough to satisfy interest… many curious minds pushed to my plans for the fall, or next year, or even asking about a general career trajectory.
And I get it! I’m curious too. I’m excited about having something set that I can dive into. But I’m also trying to step away from my typical go-to of locking down plans so far in advance; by planning so precisely, I risk overlooking opportunities that may arise, or focusing too much on the future that I miss the present.
My training has been largely structured in the same way, setting a block of time every day to work specifically on dressage, or conditioning work, or a jump school. My pre-determined task for the day allows me and my horse to be physically fit for upcoming events. Following this structure is important to ensure preparedness.
While following structure and plans are useful, the rigidity in my schedule forced me to overlook so many subtleties. I recently shifted my outlook a little. The more flexibility I allowed myself, the less I stressed about everything being perfect. By taking that pressure off myself and my horse, the work became more enjoyable.
Allowing for flexibility in my schedule improved the quality of our work. By giving that space in our training, I’ve picked up on more communication from my horse. As she’s getting older, there are some days she’s a bit stiff. So, instead of our dressage school, we switch to a long walk and stretch work instead. When she comes out a bit fresh on a stretch day, we might do a jump school.
Maintaining flexibility in our training schedule allows me to focus on what my horse needs on that day.
Of course, I’m not advocating for a complete abandonment of plans – I love my planners way too much for that! But in recognizing the value in leaving the door open for new job opportunities, or finding the right work for the day, I’ve been able to relax more in my daily schedule, allowing for an increased quality of work while striving towards whatever comes next.