Do you have long, medium, and short range goals for you and your horse? Are they written down where you see them often or are they more at the back of your mind?
A good goal is one that is attainable and measurable. I have many long term goals but the more that I focus on them, the more I feel like a failure, because they are so far away. So I focus on what I can do this month, week, and day. This keeps me highly motivated!
One of my many long term goals is to ride Grand Prix level dressage. I have obsessed and driven myself crazy over this goal with little success for many years. I have tried to use the USDF dressage tests and the training scale as my intermediate goals, but for me this did not work. It may work for many people, but to me it felt more like math class then riding, and I wasn’t motivated to ace lower levels.
To set a path I first needed to find out where I was, so I asked myself what happens during my rides on Rave. To be honest, my self talk drives me crazy and causes me to nit pick on my horse. First I think his back is too stiff, so I work on getting him rounder and longer in the neck to cause his back to open up to me and swing. It works. But then he gets too low in the poll and behind the vertical- oh no! So I bring him up and lift him. Good, his poll comes up. But now his back is stiff again. And on and on I go searching, when I don’t really know what I want.
So I decided I can’t get it all at once and I have to pick my battles. Relaxation is first on the training scale, and depsite my disdain for those riders who purposely put their horse’s noses on their chest, I felt my horse was actually happier and went better when I left him long and a little too round. So my goal for the next thirty to sixty days is too keep Rave round and swinging through his back in all three gaits. For now we concentrate on basic gaits and circles and changes of direction, staying loose and round. Next week we will add more transitions and leg yields. My goal is to keep him loose and round during all the lateral movements and all transitions within 60 days.
We already do those movements- I just want to do them better. So I feel this is very attainable. I want to do them better in a very specific way (loose and round with a swinging back). Since I know EXACTLY what I want, I can measure my goal to the picture in my head. We will not reach Grand Prix in sixty days, but in that time I can build one stepping stone to Grand Prix- a loose swinging back. Of course, I will never be done teaching my horse to keep his back free, but by concentrating on one component that has eluded us for years, we will be much further in our quest for higher levels of dressage.
At the end of our thirty to sixty days, I will again analyze where we are at, and will build a new intermediate goal. Most likely I will need to lift him more, but after 60 solid days of traveling with a loose back we will be much more likely to keep that relaxation as I bring him more up. But maybe the transitions and laterals at the end of the sixty days will have already brought him more up and we can go onto something else. I have already found that since I have quit nit picking, he is staying more calm and loose, and he is not near as behind the vertical as I thought.
The best goals are custom goals built for you and your horse, but the following short term goals may give you some ideas.
~ Ride without stirrups for ten minutes a day. Build until you can post the trot for the full ten minutes by the end of __ days.
~ Decide your horse is going to move forward off your leg by the end of today’s session.
~ Ride away from the barn and turn and come back before your horse gets scared. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Go a little further each time until you can take him for a solo trail ride. Decide how far you want to go by the end of the month depending on how buddy sour your horse is.
~ Pick one equitation flaw (“I need to get my shoulders back”) and make that your only focus for a week. You can even work on most equitation problems off your horse.
~ Make a goal of watching those training DVDs you just bought.
~ Groom closer and closer to your horse’s hind feet until you are comfortable picking them up.
~ Spend a week making sure your horse stays arms distance away from you unless you have asked him to come closer (I know lots of people who need to practice this one!)
~ Build from one ground poll at the walk to an entire course of ground polls at the canter. Give yourself time limits (i.e. Must be trotting over two lines of ground polls by end of this week and cantering over single polls by end of next week.)