The Bengt Ljungquist Memorial Championships are going on at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, VA as I write. The first weekend of November will see the Great American/USDF Regional Dressage Championships take place in Williamston, NC. Although qualifying for both of these championships was my “big goal” for 2012, Atlas will not be attending either event.

Oh, it’s not for lack of good intentions – I must have a 6 lane superhighway to hell paved by now. It’s not for lack of time – I have 24 hours in each day, just the same as the hundreds of riders whose horses are stabled in Lexington right this moment, and the hundreds more who will descend on Williamston with their horse trailers packed with tack, feed, rain gear and dreams.

My reason isn’t even lack of planning – I planned beautifully. Early in the year I wrote out training goals, checked the omnibus for mileage to each show, measured my calves and pored over tack sites on the internet in a nearly vain attempt to find a non-custom pair of dressage boots that were not 3″ too tall or 2″ too narrow. I filled pages in 3 ring-binder with action items, each built on the one before, progressing nicely until I would be ready for my first show in May – my own version of the Training Pyramid. Yup, the planning was pretty darn good.

It just seemed that life conspired against me. First there was Atlas’s “Mystery Lameness” which turned out to be caused by a hoof imbalance. A few trips to Virginia Tech for radiographs and corrective shoeing and that problem was taken care of, but it was then June. It would have been pretty difficult to bring Atlas back from 12 weeks off and be ready for shows. Difficult, but not impossible.

After the lameness came the extreme heat, which neither of us like very much. And then there’s the ring, which is really only a corner of the paddock fenced off. It’s a bit lumpy, hard as all get out in the summer, slick when it rains, and with his recent lameness…

Then there are so many horses to ride at work, it’s nearly impossible to carve out enough time in my week to ride Atlas regularly. Add to that my volunteering; which this summer consisted of being board member for Brook Hill Farm and the Southwest Virginia Dressage Association (as well as newsletter editor for the latter), organizing the Lipizzan event in late June to benefit Brook Hill, scribing and stewarding at various horse shows; and the biggie – volunteer coordinator for Dressage at Devon. It seemed that all of my waking hours were filled to the brim.

Then, just when I thought I might finally make it to a show at the end of August, I realized that it would be held the day my daughter and I left for our annual Labor Day trip to Dragon*Con in Atlanta. It looked like I had run out of time. Notice a trend? I (finally) did.

I didn’t let my goal die – I killed it with my bare hands. My hands are the ones which wrote the to-do lists and placed the “A” priority designation next to other items day after day, week after week. Eventually, my goal moved so far down the list, it slipped right off the page.

How did this happen? First of all, I didn’t keep my goals, plans and action items front and center. My beautiful notebook with the carefully written pages languished somewhere (I’m not even sure where it was or how it got there) for about 3 months. Meanwhile scraps of paper and hours of days and days of weeks filled with the myriad of minutiae that make up a life. By not keeping my eyes on the prize, I relegated myself  to non-starter status. Well, non-starter no longer.

I’m learning to (I hate to even type this), Put. Myself. First. Shades of egotistical, self-centered, selfishness – putting myself first isn’t something I’m that all comfortable with. I’m a natural caregiver. That whole nurture thing really works for me – until it comes to nurturing something just for me.

I don’t know why it’s such a difficult thing for me to grasp. There are plenty of good examples of the need to put oneself first – we’re reminded that we “can’t give from an empty well”. Stephen Covey, author and time management/personal growth guru advised us to “Sharpen the Saw”; take time each day to nurture ourselves. He wisely noted that a worn out body/mind/soul is like a dull saw. It’s not an effective tool. Time spent sharpening it is an investment returned many times over.  Heck, even the airlines remind us to put the oxygen masks on ourselves before our young children.

For me, even though it’s only October, next year has already begun. I’m dusting off the 2012 goals and re-tooling them for 2013. The action items are being revised and followed. Yesterday, I didn’t think I’d be able to carve out time to ride Atlas between work and teaching; but I did, and it was a great ride. Short, but great. More of these “little victories” will build on the ones already established and before I know it, it will be show season 2013, and we’ll be ready. My big goal for next year is built on all the little actions I take this year, and I know that when the time comes, we’ll be ready.