Hi there, humans! MARE-Y Christmas — or a happy horsey holiday, however you may celebrate.
I’m enjoying some vacation days, roaming with my friends and rolling in the mud, and pigging out on the treats in my stockings. I’m also thinking about my goals for the new year.
Winter holidays are a great time to reflect on your horsey journey and figure out what comes next
A lot of the students I teach have big dreams, but they aren’t really sure how to make them a reality. Goal setting is a skill that has to be practiced, just like sitting the trot or tying a quick-release knot.
Since my job description as a lesson horse is to help you make your dreams come true, I thought I’d share a few tips for setting goals – and actually reaching them.
Step One: Don’t be afraid to dream BIG
A good way to start your goal setting is by letting your imagination completely run away with you, full gallop.
(If you think about it, a horse is kind of like a fairy tale creature, just with poop stains and farts.)
You’re never too old to have fun, fantastical dreams, and if you ask me, “serious” equestrians need to practice this the most.
Write a horsey bucket list full of all of the things you would love to be able to do with a horse. These could be dreams for SOON or SOMEDAY.
They could even be things that sound kind of impossible, like galloping across an open field bareback and bridleless and having your horse actually stop when you ask!
MY bucket list includes living on a banana farm and going to a games competition where we only play Balloon Race, no turning games allowed.
Step Two: Learn the difference between want and WANT
Sometimes you think you want something… until you realize exactly what it would take to get it.
I’d kind of like to prance around and do ballet like Valegro.
It looks fancy, humans love it, and I’m sure he gets a LOT of cookies.
But I’m not sure that I’d like the workout regimen of an Olympic dressage horse.
I don’t like waking up early in the mornings, and I’d rather work up my sweat by galloping around poles, not practicing my crunches in an empty arena.
Basically, I want to be like Valegro, but I don’t WANT it with a capital W.
Now, playing Chase the Tiger? That’s something I always WANT to do.
I don’t mind if it involves climbing up hills, or if I have to use a lot of core muscles to do it. I’ll even practice it early in the morning. Just give me a chance to pounce on that Tiger and earn a treat!
It’s important to know the difference. Horses are awesome, yes, we know — but we can also be expensive and time consuming, so it doesn’t make sense to pursue goals you’re not even sure you want to work for.
Better to pick just a few things you are sure you WANT so badly, you’ll do whatever it takes to make that dream come true!
Step Three: Set SMART goals
So you’ve identified a few things you really WANT to do, but… how do you make them happen?
This is where a lot of riders get stuck.
You’ll need to break your big goals into medium-size goals, and your medium-size goals into even smaller pieces. Before you try to turn these goals into action plans, make sure they are SMART:
Got all that? Then list your SMART goals in order of importance.
Get out your calendar and start planning some action. Need to practice without stirrups? To ask your instructor for a specific lesson? To watch some videos of leg yielding to help it make sense?
Schedule it all, and put it in writing.
Step Four: Share your vision
Your goals might be personal, but achieving them doesn’t have to be lonely.
Create a support system by inviting your friends and family to be your cheerleaders and accountability partners.
Who can give you a pep talk when motivation is low? Who could be your workout partner or study buddy?
You’ll also need to communicate about your goals with your instructor. Be honest, even if you are worried about what others will think.
Your instructor’s goal is to help you achieve your dreams, so she needs to be one of the first person to know if your plans change, or if you’ve realized you don’t WANT something with a capital W.
Don’t forget to show off your accomplishments when you’ve worked hard to earn them!
Step Five: Trust the process
Learning to ride, train and care for horses well is a long-term project. You’ll have some fun little breakthroughs and “lightbulb” moments, for sure, but horsemanship mostly rewards long-term commitment.
The best way to make progress? Show up, put in the hours, listen to your horse, and adjust your path as many times as you need to without losing sight of the destination.
Take consistent baby steps instead of occasional leaps. As my Girl tries to explain to me every time we play the Ball & Cone game, slow and steady wins the race.
Step Six: Look at where you’ve already been
When you’re making big plans and practicing patience, it’s really important to look back at what you’ve already achieved.
Make a second list full of good horsey memories and milestones that make you proud.
My Girl and I have done some pretty cool stuff. We’ve played mounted games all over the Southeast, and were part of a Breyerfest exhibition. We’ve won blue ribbons and been to Pony Club Championships.
We’ve pranced down Main Street in our hometown’s big festival parade, and ridden to another festival — where I tried to eat her boiled peanuts. We fox hunted in first flight and jumped some big, scary coops.
We’ve gone on a bareback sunrise ride— where I totally ran away with her, for extra excitement — and made some art together.
But me being me, I think the thing she’s most proud of is teaching me to come when called!
Dreams don’t work unless you do
For my next goal, I think I’d like to train my humans to come when called. I’d like to be able to stand at the gate, nicker, and have them come running with a cookie.
I know this will take some consistent work and some patience, especially since humans are unpredictable and can be slow to train.
I’m going to have to show up at that gate every day, rain or shine, even if I’d rather be out terrorizing ponies.
But I’m not worried about how long it will take. The time’s going to pass anyway – and if I keep my dream in sight, by next Christmas I’ll be getting so many cookies, there won’t be any left for Santa!
A Little Christmas Present for All of Your Horses
Use my free PDF downloads to add some groundwork goals to your plans this year and make your horse happy!