Setting Goals and Sticking to Them

Riding with Intention will Improve Your Equine Experience and your Life in General

We all do it for different reasons.  Some of us simply find pleasure in the moment, while others have lofty dreams that propel them forward through their journeys in life.  What am I talking about?  Riding, of course, and more importantly “why” we do it and how we can get the most out of what we are doing.

Why is Setting Goals Important?

Humans, by nature, tend to work better when they have something to work toward; something that they can put effort into and feel good about.  Think about it…when you get up in the morning, you usually have an idea of what you’re going to be doing or where you’re going to go.  If you got into your car, drove to the corner and didn’t know where you planned to “go”, you wouldn’t know whether to turn left or right or go straight, or even make a U-Turn and go back in the other direction; how would you ever “get anywhere”?  This same idea can be applied to riding.

If you don’t know what you want or where you are planning to “go”, you’re going to end up either stuck in the same place or going around in circles trying to decide what you should do.

For horse people this can be terrible; I’ve seen far too many people jump from one thing to the next or one horse to the next because they don’t really know what they want.

It doesn’t matter if you “ride for fun” or if you compete – if you have a young horse that you’re bringing up or an older horse that has been your partner for years – the simple idea of setting goals for yourself and for your horse will help to take the stressful guesswork out of your barn life.  There have been periods where I have been so stressed and overtaken by the pressures of “life” that I get out to the barn and I’m literally in a fog; I know I need to be out there to take care of my horse, but without a “plan” I end up just doing the basics – feeding, grooming, turning out, etc.  And if I do manage to get into the saddle, I’m just going around in circles for 45 minutes without any real “direction”.  This can easily become a routine, and before you know it, you’re either not going out to the barn as often as you should, or you’re just completing a task rather than enjoying yourself.

We get pleasure when we feel as though we have accomplished something, and we feel guilt, stress, and displeasure when it feels as though we have failed to accomplish something; that’s just the nature of life.  From our horse’s perspective, goals are just as important, because horses are at their best when they have a strong leader.

How do I go About Setting Goals?

I know what a lot of you are thinking…isn’t this going to take the fun out of riding?  Why can’t I just simply enjoy my time at the barn and being in the saddle without having to “work” toward something?  Setting goals doesn’t have to be work, and the goals that you set can be simple ones.  Maybe at this time in your life, it’s enough for you to set a goal of just riding for 30 minutes three days per week, and maybe after you’ve achieved that goal you can set a new one.  On the other hand, maybe you already ride five days a week and have a big show season coming up, in which case your goals may be to work on specifics like “transitions” or “speed control”.

The point is that if you know where you are going, then you’re moving forward and you’re not standing still.

I have found that when it comes to my time with my horse, my goals are often in a state of flux – yes, you are allowed to re-evaluate and change your goals as you go.  This month, my goal is to just get my bottom in the saddle and “leg up” my horse at least 4 days a week, and once I’ve achieved that, I’ll move on to specifics, like working on bending and flexing, turn-arounds, circles and changes, etc.  This is what works for me.

Having a Goal Changed one Lady’s Purpose

There is a lovely lady at my barn who I was speaking to on this very topic the other day.  She comes out to the barn almost daily, but she feels like she’s not “doing anything”.  Her horse is currently “laid up”; he can’t be ridden, but he can be hand walked, lounged lightly, etc.  She’s not sure what she should do, and so she’s just been biding her time with grooming and the occasional “hand grazing” session until he heals up enough to be ridden again.  I could tell that she was a bit depressed about things when we spoke, so I suggested that she set some goals.

This week, my lovely barn friend is going to take her gelding out and hand walk him for fifteen minutes every day on the flat, and next week, she’s going to begin introducing some fun and easy work with ground poles (all approved by her veterinarian, of course), and the following week, she’s going to transition into teaching him some new “tricks” – working on backing him in hand through some “L Obstacles”, teaching him some new stretches, and maybe lounging him a bit over a single pole.  All of these little things, and having a plan laid out for her, completely changed her demeanor.  She has a purpose again, and she feels good about what she is doing, and in turn her horse is getting a regimented rehab (which is exactly what he needs).

Goals and Rewards

The entire point of having a “goal” is not just to reap the rewards of achieving that goal, but to benefit from the effort and focus that you put in to attaining it.  With horses, we have to constantly keep their minds busy in order for them to feel comfortable and confident.  By putting in the effort of setting goals and maintaining a “routine”, of sorts, we are giving our horses something that they can count on; we’re exercising their bodies and their minds.

By having goals that incorporate different activities – like one day working on “trot to canter transitions” and the next day working over ground poles, and the next day working on loping circles, before going back to “trot to canter transitions” – we are keeping our horses on their toes and allowing them to achieve goals as well.

So, try to “ride with intention”, and when I say that, I mean give yourself something to work toward and focus on and you’ll find joy in the achievement.  If you have to, write out your goals – one month, six months, one year – and then re-evaluate as you go along and progress.  In a year’s time, you’ll look back and realize how much effort you’ve put in and, trust me when I say, you will feel good about yourself, and your horse will feel good as well.

Main photo: Sarah Williams

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