Progress is important to all of us. If we don’t feel like we are getting anywhere, we begin to wonder about what we are doing, and why, and more importantly, what we are doing wrong. Making progress makes us feel good about ourselves, and motivated to keep working. Lack of progress makes us feel bored, frustrated, or depressed, and saps of us energy and enthusiasm. It’s easy to see why progress is important, especially with the dark, cold winter months looming ahead. How can we keep ourselves on the right track, especially when the weather does all it can to get in our way?
One thing we can do is set goals so we can chart a plan of action toward achieving them, and then view our progress as we achieve the small goals that lead to the bigger goals. Winter is a perfect time to make a 3 or 6 month plan because many of us are cooped up in an indoor arena (if we are lucky anyway!), and if we let ourselves get lulled into trotting endless circles, come spring time we will wonder what we spent the whole winter doing! On the other hand, with the show season starting in the spring, winter is a perfect time to work towards show ring goals, and along with the show season comes the better weather that allows us to get out on the trails, which gives us another opportunity to set a different kind of goals.
Show ring goals may involve getting the rider and horse ready for a first show ever, or training the horse and rider up to the next level. Another type of show ring goal may involve improving one particular score, like the rider position and effectiveness score, which will improve the entire ride. Winter is perfect for that kind of work since there is no pressure to keep the horse doing any particular work, so the rider can do a few weeks of lunge lessons or no stirrups work, and then pick right back up with the horse’s training with an improved seat. Winter is also the perfect time for bareback rides, allowing the horse’s body heat to keep the rider warm, but also giving the rider the chance to work on balance and developing a following seat that moves with the horse’s movement.
Trail goals may include the same types of rider improvement exercises described above, or may include more training type progress. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could open a gate from horseback? Learning to do lateral movements with your horse will make this possible. Or maybe you’d like your horse to neck rein, or stand still so you can mount from the ground. Working your horse over ground poles is a great way to help him become more careful with his feet and minimize tripping on the trail, and making your horse’s gaits more adjustable will give you more control over the pace out in the open.
Goals can be simple or extravagant, easily achievable or a life time of work. Each rider will need to think about what sorts of things would be fun and exciting to try, and about where the horse/rider combination’s current skills are at, considering both strengths and weaknesses. Once goals are identified, many will need to be broken down into intermediary goals, and often even those can be broken down. Continue making goals smaller and smaller until a week by week plan is made, and then set off on your journey through winter checking off each little goal one at a time until you find yourself at your spring time goal just in time for the sunshine, warm weather, shows and trails!