Setting (Reasonable) Goals

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past two months is that this chart is spot on:

Don’t get me wrong, life with Donny hasn’t been THIS dramatic, but we definitely have been working our way through some ‘who’s the boss’ conversations since the temperature dropped. He’s a charming, kind & hardworking dude that has been going through a ‘omg jumping is so fun, I need to show you how fun it is’ and ‘omg there are five other horses in the ring, let me show everyone I’m the alpha, or perhaps my latest rendition of river dance’. The first time it happened I thought it was because it had been raining and he didn’t get turned out, the second time I chalked it up to young green horse funny business, but by the third time my trainer and I were over it. It wasn’t something we were willing to let accidentally turn into a bad habit.

So we went back to basics and focused on flatwork. Flatwork. And some more flatwork. By getting him to focus on the ‘here and now’ and not allowing him to be mesmerized by the small pony/alien trotting around the other side of the ring, we’re having a working conversation where he needs to be listening and participating. It’s been a good reality check for me as growing up I was fortunate enough to have great not-as-green horses that didn’t test me as often as Donny does. They taught me the ropes and gave me great confidence which I am so grateful for. Without them I wouldn’t be the rider I am now with the respectful yet firm ‘I’m the boss’ mentality needed to help build a successful partnership with Donny.

It’s important to set small, reasonable goals. How else do we as riders expect to build our (and our horses) confidence if we set too lofty a goal that just seems constantly out of reach? It’s also important to not expect to reach all of them in one ride. The one time I tried to do that, Donny and I were exhausted, both mentally and physically. Focus on one thing per ride, and afterwards, reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and remember what you did to get both of you to the finish line. Slowly, you’ll build up an arsenal of tools that will become second nature.
So we’ve been schooling the basics through January & February. I had this insane notion that March 1st would mark the end of cold weather and snow and we’d be happily hacking around grassy fields without a care in the world. I was rudely awakened from that dream with temperatures in the teens this past weekend… so needless to say we’re still indoors and still working on flatwork. Flatwork. Flatwork. It’s only normal for the both of us to have cabin (indoor) fever, so I’m taking it in stride (ha ha see what I did there?) Amazingly… and this is a shocker I know… Donny and I are really clicking. The simple goals and asks have worked and he’s really coming along wonderfully. Don’t knock the basics, people! I was feeling pretty blue a couple of months back, but I’m so excited for Spring with the dappled beast.​

Fingers crossed in a couple of weeks we’ll be able to ride outside on a more full-time basis. It’s easy to get bogged down with the cold temperatures and lack of sunlight, so when you can relax and get outdoors, DO IT! I really think it’s just as important for your horse to have a mental health day as it is for you. Also remember to TREAT YO’SELF (and your horse!) Reward them for standing quietly. Give them a pat and a ‘good boy’ or ‘good girl’ when they perform for you, even if it’s the most simple of tasks. I am a firm believer in POSITIVE reinforcement.
Anyways, quick confession: I started writing this in January and am just picking it up to finish now. Life has been crazy (I’m sure most can relate) and I’m embarrassed at how I’ve let this part of East Coast Equestrian go. I’ll be putting more effort into weekly posts starting NOW!
Hope everyone had a fabulous Monday & my fellow East Coasters are staying warm & hanging in there. Spring is just around the corner!T

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