Just like every other competitive athlete, I am the type that makes goals for everything I do. Goal making is recommended by pretty much every sports psychology book I've read. From what I gather, it's also a good practice for making progress in any portion of life, and it's something that comes pretty naturally for me.
For every show I enter, I make two types of goals, what I term as Big Goals and Little Goals.
Big Goals are the purpose of why I am entering the event. I don't enter an event just to run; each event has a purpose in the grand scheme of things. Whether to gain experience at a level, or to get qualifications to move up a level, the Big Goal is the specific reason that I am spending my horse's legs. He only has so many jumps, so I am careful about why and where I run. Big Goals generally have short term implications.
Little Goals are the individual goals I have for each phase. These goals are generally feedback on whether my training regimen is working. I try to pick achievable goals for each phase, marking baby steps in my march towards improvement. Little Goals are ongoing and generally have long term implications.
Both my Big and Little Goals for Loudoun Prelim in April and Waredaca in were very similar. The Big Goals were identical; get my qualifier. The new USEF rules require at least one QR within a year. Since Dante hadn't competed in almost a year by Loudoun, and had last gotten a QR in February of 2012 (thanks to my appalling SJ riding at both Poplar and Greenwood last spring), I needed a Prelim to run an Intermediate, and an Intermediate to run an Advanced. This being the natural progression of an Advanced horse coming back into the work, I wasn't put out at all, as this was what I had planned anyways. However, it did put a touch more pressure to not make any stupid mistakes.
The Little Goals for both events varied slightly for dressage. I generally pick improved relaxation as my goal for dressage, which I evaluate by how I feel after the test as well as my score. Dante knows all the movements very well and can generally impress in the warmup. His relaxation is the only barrier to us scoring much better, so the better the score generally, the more relaxed he was. For Prelim I wanted to score under 35, and for Intermediate I wanted to score under 40. These are scores that I have rarely previously achieved, and Dante has been achieving a maturity in his work that I have never felt before, so I thought them very doable. For show jumping I wanted to not choke, and jump clear. I'm fairly certain that jumping clear is pretty much everyone's goal for this phase. For cross country, I wanted a confident run and to make sure all the rust was knocked off.
At Loudoun, I achieved my Big Goal and none of my Little ones; I got my qualifier so I could run Intermediate, but Dante spooked in the ring after a stellar warm-up and became quite tense in the dressage, scoring a 39. We had a rail in SJ when I let him get down in his shoulders to a square oxer with a long approach, and while Dante was game for XC, I made a few rusty decisions that bothered me. I left Loudoun feeling a bit down about our results, although we had achieved our Big Goal.
Waredaca was the opposite; we had another stellar warm-up for dressage, and translated a good portion of it into the ring, only becoming a bit tense. We scored a 36.8, which is his best score at the level to date, and were placed 5th out of 15. I had a great stadium round and jumped clear; then Dante and I were gangbusters cross country. At least, we were until I was pulled up after fence 10 for jumping the wrong trakehner at 6A....And yet, I left Waredaca feeling quite positive about our progress, even though we hadn't gotten the qualifier.
So two events, opposite results. At Loudoun, I accomplished my Big Goal, but none of my Little Goals; at Waredaca I walked away having accomplished my Little Goals but not my Big Goal. I felt happier and more confident about my day at Waredaca than at Loudoun. My training regimen is working, I feel prepared to run Advanced again. Unfortunately, thanks to the big TE, I still need an Intermediate qualifier.
So Advanced just needs to wait until Millbrook now, instead of HP of NJ at the end of this month. In the meantime, we'll hit up Surefire, which is only 10 minutes from my barn.