Setting and Achieving Goals (even in the midst of a global pandemic)
A conversation around goals isn’t the same today as it would have been a year ago. For context, this blog post is will be published in 2021, in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic. The year 2020 did not go according to plan for anyone. Goals have not been accomplished, dreams have gone unfulfilled. For many equestrians, the barn has been the place we have been able to go throughout the pandemic when we can’t go anywhere else. It’s been a place we can go to connect and converse with people during a time we’ve been told to avoid everyone.
This year has forced me, along with so many other equestrians, to reframe our goals and in some cases, completely reimagine them. However, while the goals may have to change this year, how we set goals, and how we make a plan to achieve them hasn’t changed.
Readjusting Our Goals
Riders who compete tend to reference a particular level, class, or division they wish to compete in during the coming show season when they are asked about their goals. With so much uncertainty surrounding competition these days, this year may not the time to attach our success and progress to whether or not you’ve moved up competitively. This year is, however, the perfect time to dive back into the basics. There’s nothing wrong with taking a step back to better move forward.
Think about the progress you have made in the past few years. Ask yourself what helped you advance, and what slowed you down. For example, did you just more time in the saddle, or more lessons? Was your fitness or your horse’s fitness a limiting factor? Then, ask yourself what you need to change before being able to move forward with your goals.
Think Short Term and Long Term
You aren’t just setting goals for this year. You should also be setting goals for your next ride, next week, and next month. The easiest one for me is that day. I know what was hard during my last ride, I know what was easy. Try and organize your rides in such a way that the exercises build upon each other. This does not mean you need to make your rides more and more difficult, this means you want to make sure that you are reinforcing what you are taught your horse last time, and revisiting what still needs work.
I love it when new clients come to me with big dreams and ambitions. Nothing motivates me more as a teacher and mentor than having a student that is ready to learn. However, it is important to realize that not everything is going to happen at once and to plan accordingly. As you are setting your goals, make sure you are evaluating your horse’s fitness as well as your own. For example, if you’ve been out of the saddle for a while, you may have a month of conditioning ahead of both of you before you can start building on what you already know. That needs to be factored into your planning. If you don’t have a horse of your own and need to find a horse to lease or find the lesson horse that is the right fit for what you want to do, this can also take time. Consider all of the things you need to be successful in your chosen discipline, and ask yourself what you need to add to your program to make it happen!
Write It Down
When I’m setting goals for the year, I divide my year into quarters. The first quarter is January-March, the second is April-June, the third is July-September, and the final quarter is October-December. I then set two or three goals for each horse and two to four for myself as a rider. Some of these goals are related to riding, some to competing (though, most of those were changed this year). Others are related to education (for example taking lessons, attending clinics, or completing online courses). I use quarters because the goals have to be specific and small enough to be attainable in three months. For example, the goal of attending one clinic and two shows in a three month period is specific and easily measurable. Setting a vague goal in January to go to shows and clinics this summer, less so. I look at the whole year because it means I can easily see if my goals make sense and build on one another (for example, your goal of improving your and your horse’s fitness and finding a feed regimen that works for your new horse should come before your goal of jumping bigger and more complicated courses).
Keep a Record
Keeping a record of your progress towards your goals is as important assas setting them in the first place. There are a lot of ways to track your progress, I’m going to share what works for me. Making notes that help execute your plans has more to do with whether or not you’re successful than how you make notes.
After each ride, I make a note of what I did, what was good, and what I felt most needed improvement. I look back at my last ride's notes. Was there an improvement? If so, what did I do to make it better?
For example my ride yesterday:
Worked on: Changes of bend and transitions. Figure 8's, serpentines, demi- voltes
Good: Relaxation and self- carriage
Needs Improvement: Upward canter transitions need to be more fluid, lack engagement.
Compared to Last Ride: Less heavy in downward transitions. Helped to use the bend/ changes of bend to improve engagement in transitions. Downward transitions were better, less heavy!
The best advice I can give is don't be too hard on yourself, and figure out what works for you. If you only jot down a few words, that's okay! You'll figure out what's helpful for you, and what information isn't as important. There are many apps if you prefer to journal electronically or buy yourself a cute, horse themed notebook and pen.
Have the right tools at your disposal
The right equipment and supplies make a big difference in the outcome, as does the right knowledge. Discuss your goals with your trainer and vet so they can advise you on what changes may be necessary to ensure your horse remains healthy. For example, an increase in calorie intake may be needed if your horse’s workload is going to increase significantly. Let your farrier know of your plans as well, they may eventually suggest putting shoes on your barefoot horse or adding clips to your horse’s shoes. Make sure your tack fits well and is in good repair. Your saddle should be evaluated by a qualified saddle fitter regularly if a problem with saddle fit is suspected. Check that the footing in your riding arenas are appropriate for what you will be doing in the short and long term. If achieving these goals will require travel, ensure that your truck and trailer can safely transport your horse.
Surround yourself with positive and motivated people
All equestrians know the importance of a “barn family.” These are the people we interact with every day when we go to the barn, and they see us on our best days and they see us on our worst days. Consciously seeking fellow equestrians and equine professionals who encourage us to move towards our desired goals makes us more likely to reach them. These people can be accountability partners as well as friends. Seek those who cheer you on when you succeed and help you find solutions when you hit a roadblock.
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