Amy Blount is a dressage rider and coach based in Andover and has been around horses her entire life. She has competed in many different spheres from Endurance to Eventing to Dressage. She is a UKCC Level 3 Dressage Coach, and British Dressage Accredited coach.

Her journey has been unconventional, which has meant she has achieved things others didn’t think she would be able to. It has taught her resilience and allowed her to overcome challenges and create something innovative along the way.

When preparing for competition it’s important to remember to think about what you want and own your own goals. Read on to learn from Amy’s experience doing just that!

Jenni: I brought you on to talk about goals, as you haven’t taken the most obvious route. You’ve taken unconventional horses into conventional disciplines, going further than you thought you would with them. You’ve also achieved goals in many other ways, but you haven’t done that by setting SMART goals, have you? So tell us a little bit about the things you’ve managed to achieve.

Amy: One of the horses we bred was a 15.1hh Anglo Arab. He was bred for endurance and to be honest, he hated it. He hated getting his feet wet. He hated going the distance. He was not interested at all. So I tried eventing him, and he didn’t really like that either. Then we tried dressage. He showed more promise than in the other disciplines but he was the most difficult to ride because he was the sharpest ride.

When I moved down here, I had to choose which horse I was going to take and I chose him and decided to give dressage a go. He was working at Novice/Elementary level. He moves very typically of an Arab, quite wide behind, croup high and quite on the forehand. So I decided to work with him with the people I work for, and I started to train him up the levels. At that point, I was going with the flow as I’d never really done dressage before. I got him to Medium level and we plateaued and I got a bit stuck there. Mainly because I wasn’t setting any goals. I wanted to keep improving but hadn’t got a clear path. And because he was an unconventional thing, I probably set my own limits.

The story I used to tell myself was that “he’s not going to be a world-beater but he’s teaching me loads”. It wasn’t until I went to a lesson with one lady that this changed. She was having none of it, so we got on and she pushed us into a really good lesson. From there, I started to build on the idea that maybe we were not limited to Medium. So I went back. I wanted the changes. I wanted to crack on. But then once we got those, I was thought “We’re going to get to Prix St Georges”, and I started to get a vision. I thought the impossible was now possible!

That’s how I go about life, I tell my clients, and myself, “don’t limit the challenges, challenge your limits”. He taught me to believe that what you believe, you can achieve. Suddenly, I felt like I could actually do this. He went from being my Pony Club pony to a dressage horse. He didn’t just then go to Inter I, he placed at a National Championship at Inter I against some strong older horses. That was the point I really started to knuckle down.

You have to have a structure in your systems. It’s no good saying “I want to do that” but not putting the processes in place. That’s what you should be doing. And actually, it’s once he did the changes and he was good at them that it clicked. I thought, what can I do? What are the options here? What are the opportunities for me? And then I thought, actually I can do this. We can do this!

J: I absolutely love that you changed “what should I be doing” to “what could I be doing?”. This idea of “should” is external isn’t it? It’s either people saying it or us thinking it. And let’s get away from shoulds and switch them to could but more important than could is “do I want to?” What have you actually wanted to do?

A: Where do I start? Particularly with him at that point. I asked myself, “do I want to ride at the top level?” and I thought, “absolutely”. I did want to ride at the top level. I remember my employer saying to me, “what’s your ultimate goal? What do you want to do?” And I said, “I’d love to ride at Grand Prix”. But here’s the thing, everyone wants to do that. I also want to find the key to every horse that I work with. Which is unconventional.

Whilst I do want to ride at Grand Prix, working out how every horse “works” best is more important than any level of competition. That’s exactly what I want to work on and I want to help people and inspire people. That’s the question that I asked myself more recently: “What is my why?” Whilst I love competing horses, I want to inspire people to believe that the impossible is possible. That they can do it.

J: That’s interesting. Because that doesn’t mean you can’t do other things. It’s your bigger why. When we talk about goals, the first thing that comes to mind is an outcome goal, which could be placing at a championship. They’re useful in some ways, but if they’re the only goal, too often we don’t achieve them, which sets us back. Instead, you can come up with goals relating to the bigger picture, which is about what you want. 

A:  That is why I feel like it doesn’t matter if something goes wrong. I went to a competition the other week with a mare and she was really naughty. I laughed all the way through it and told myself, “we have to do this”. It has to go wrong for it to get better. Two weeks later we went again and it went well. But that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t taken had the right mindset. There is life beyond competing and Regional and National championships.

J: It’s very common, particularly in dressage, that people think you can’t move up the next level until you’ve got to the Nationals or you’ve placed at Regionals or whatever it is. But there are people like you that kept going out and competing, regardless of what you qualified for.

A: I always remember somebody I used to work with saying to me, “Oh, I never move up a level until I get 70%”. That is the very reason I got stuck at Medium. That’s why I plateaued. That’s why my mindset had to stop and change. Because if you get caught up in your score, your way to your goals is in someone else’s hands. You don’t know what kind of mood the judges are in and if it’s bad your 70% is out of the window. You can’t rely on that you have to control the controllable. It was once I had that realisation that I realised that if I’m waiting to get 70%, it may never happen. So why should that limit my horse’s ability and stop me from being able to do what I want?

J: How has this change in outlook affected you over the past few years? What impact has that had upon you, your riding and what you’re able to do for others as well?

A: I kind of feel free, every time I get on the horse, I’m training for the next time. It’s all part of the bigger picture. I’d love to get one of, if not both, horses to Grand Prix, but they all have their own struggles and that’s fine because that’s how I roll. It’s not a journey if there aren’t any issues. But having that outlook means there are no limits. And if there is a limit, it means I’ve put it there. It means I can control it.

J: So if you put the limit on it means you can control it. But what’s changed? Because you didn’t automatically have that mindset, you had to work on it.

A: Partly because I’ve been showing myself that it is possible. If I can do on a 15.1hh that wasn’t bred for it, I can do it on whatever I want. But I’m much happier now in how I’m going by things and the time that I’m allowing myself to complete them. Also now I  purposely practice stuff. Then the bad days aren’t so bad and the good days are great and it flows easily. Whilst that has been a lot of mindset work, that helps my clients as well. Because I say to them “actually, you can do this”.

J: Yeah, it can be difficult to believe in other people, if you don’t believe in yourself. You’ve got to breathe it, live it and set that example. There’s no point in being the one that starts the stuff that but doesn’t walk the walk!

This is part one of a two-part blog taken from a Q+A that was recorded in 2021. 

Find out more about Amy Blount via her website.