December is an important month for us horse people. At least those horse crazies like me who spend practically every moment of every day thinking about horses in one way or another.
December is the last month of the year, a time to look back on all we have accomplished with our horse and riding. It is also a time to look forward to what the next year might hold for us and our horsey life.
Did You Set Goals For The Year?
Did you set goals for yourself and your horse for the year? I hope you did. Setting small achievable goals does a lot for your morale. It keeps you motivated to work towards something and then feel the success of making it happen.
Maybe you set goals for the month and broke them down week by week and step by step. Maybe you just set a generalized goal, something like "by the summer, I will be ready for a horse show". Each of us works differently when it comes to working towards goals; there is no wrong way to do it.
Just like everything else in life, our success with horses is only going to be as much as the effort we put into it. You can't set high expectations and then not do the work in between to make it happen. That is why setting small goals, amongst your overall goals for the year, will help you and your horse succeed at whatever it is you might want to do.
So Did You Achieve Your Goals?
The year is winding down; you are running out of time to accomplish this year's goals (and we all know that when it comes to horses there is no rushing things). Make a list of the goals that you did meet this year, then write a second list of the goals that you did not meet.
Hopefully, there are plenty of things on your accomplished side of the list! If there aren't as many as you had hoped, no big deal. Now you are aware of what you need to work on and you can take steps towards accomplishing those remaining goals.
Pat yourself on the back for what you have achieved. Now, for the things that you did not achieve, break them down into smaller steps to help you figure out how you can accomplish them moving forward.
You Should Have Separate Goals for Yourself and Your Horse
I know this sounds really odd since riding is a partnership between the horse and rider; the thing is, neither people nor horses take well to being overwhelmed or multitasking with things that are new to them.
If you have a goal for yourself to improve your position in your dressage saddle, you should be doing easy things for your horse when you are working on that specific skill—things that allow you to focus on yourself and still ride effectively.
For example, if you have a lofty goal for both you and your hourse—like improving your position in your dressage saddle and getting your horse to stay on the bit—well, that is a lot to accomplish all at once. Attempting to do so sets you both up for miscommunication.
What Does Miscommunication Lead to with Horses?
Frustration. That's right, miscommunication leads to frustration for both horse and rider. By setting our goals step by step and working towards things progressively, we are helping to ensure minimal miscommunications with our horse.
Obviously, we all have bad days, and sometimes it is inevitable that we won't get it right and neither will the horse; that is just part of the learning process. However, by being strategic in our execution, we can avoid a lot of those moments.
Evaluate Your Year
If you had goals set for this year, evaluate them and see where you stand. Did you achieve them? Are you close to achieving them? Or farther away than when you started?
Write it down. Write down what you did accomplish as well as what you hope to accomplish in the upcoming year.
Try to Write a Detailed Goal for What You Would Like to Accomplish
Break down your goals into specific steps. For example, maybe you are a new horse owner and your goals are to gain confidence in riding without your instructor and to go on a trail ride or to a local show.
These are fairly loose, unspecific goals. This is where, throughout the year, you can break it up into steps that will help you reach the overall goal.
Maybe in January, your goal would be to communicate with your instructor what you want to accomplish and have him or her help you decide what the first step would be.
Once the two of you decide on that first step, you can then break down that step throughout the month of January. Small tasks are less daunting and easier to stay enthusiastic about since they are easier to achieve than vague, unspecific goals.
Write It Down, Check Things Off, Make Notes
Write things down, check things off your list and make notes. Having something to visually look at can be very helpful, both to see what you've accomplished and to see what you have left to accomplish; you can circle and highlight your notes to make it clear what to work on next—or what to continue to work on.
Having it written down in a journal is also helpful for when you have a hard day you can read back on how far you have come.
Get a Notebook
- Write down what your goals were in 2018 and whether or not you achieved them
- Write down what your goals are for 2019.
- Start with January, and break that first goal down into specific things that you can do each week. Your instructor should be able to help you with this if you need help.
- At the end of the month, take note of what you did accomplish and then what needs to be carried over into February. Then when you turn your journal or calendar page to February. First, list what is left over from January that you still need to accomplish.
- Break that down over the course of the month into weekly steps. If you think you can move on to another goal as well, start to incorporate that.
- Continue this process through the year, setting goals and tasks for how to accomplish them. Most importantly take a lot of notes along the way: what you did, what worked and what didn't work.
This Goal Notebook/Journal Will Become Like a Toolbox
If you keep a goal notebook and journal for you and your horse throughout the year, it will become like a toolbox. You will be able to look back and see what exercises worked and what didn't and use that to help you keep moving forward.
It will be fun to see how far you have come throughout the year, and it will be encouraging to look back on how far you have come when you have a particularly rough day.
If you have a particular problem that you know you've dealt with it before, then you can look back through your notes and see what you did to fix it before. You can learn both what to do and what not to do from your notes.
It Seems Like a Lot of Writing
It sure does! I know that not everyone has the obsessive personality trait that I have about wanting to write down, document and take notes on everything.
It can be as in-depth or as basic as you need it to be; do what works for you. To each their own, of course. Once you start documenting your time with your horse and are able to look back at the steps you took and the steps you still need to take, then you will be glad you took the time to do it.
Find Someone To Hold You Accountable
A riding buddy, peer or instructor can all help hold you accountable. Find someone who is going to ask you about your goals and the steps you have designed to meet them—someone that will make sure you stay on track and can give you suggestions if you get stuck.
It's easy to get started with something like this, but a lot harder to keep it going. That's why having someone to be accountable to and check in with is such a huge part of finding success.
If you ride in a group lesson, maybe you can sit down with the people in your group and discuss what you are each personally working towards. Just tell someone and show someone your plans so they will check in on you and keep you moving forward.
There is No Wrong Way
There is no wrong way to set your goals or document your riding journey. Whatever works for you is perfect! Remember horses are creatures of habit, and they thrive with routine and knowing what their riders expect of them.
By taking the time to come up with a plan and set goals, you are setting yourself up for success with your horse. Remember, horsemanship is a journey; never stop learning!