Setting Goals

Setting a measurable goal is important if you want to accomplish certain things in life. Working with horses is no different. While measurable goals are necessary for the big objectives, they’re also necessary for the small steps you take with your horse on a daily basis. If you don’t set goals every time you handle your horse, you run the risk of not only losing focus, but upsetting your horse as well.

Most of us that show have no problem setting a big goal for competition. That’s an integral part of competing, really. But sometimes what we don’t do is set a goal for every time we ride. Sometimes we get so rushed that we focus on warming up or doing our routine that we forget about the details. In the end, we ride mindlessly on our horses and /or we wind up drilling too much on certain things.

 Years ago a good trainer friend of mine said that horses have the mentality of a three year old child. That concept has come back to me time after time and it’s a good one to hold on to. While the image of a three year old child conjures up a limited understanding, it also brings up the subject of attention span. Most three year old children can’t concentrate on something for more than just a couple of minutes before they’re thinking, “Ooooohhhhhh…. Look at all the pretty colors!” Then most parents are struggling to get their attention back. Horses are absolutely no different.

 Your first basic goal should be to keep your training sessions short, especially when working with younger horses. You want to focus on the important stuff while you don’t have to fight for their attention. If you work for a longer period, they’re going to get frustrated because you’re going to have to battle that desire to “look at all the pretty colors.” Quit before that happens.

 You might think that short sessions don’t do any good. Horses learn by repetition and have a wonderful memory. It doesn’t matter how long the session is or really even how long it is between sessions. What matters most is the consistency and number of sessions.

Another goal should be to focus on only a couple of things per ride. Don’t start your ride thinking you have to accomplish everything that’s needed to do your class or event. Focus on only a couple of things and accomplish those. Then the next ride, focus on something else.

For instance, green horses don’t travel well in a straight line. They also don’t keep a consistent speed, and depending on how far along they are they may not know how to take a correct lead. The absolute worst thing you can do is go out there and try to make that green horse do all three of those things during your work session. Break it down and focus on only a couple of things, like a straight line and a good forward tempo at a trot. Then next time you can work on your canter.

A repetition goal is also important and needs to be determined before you ever step up into the saddle. How many times are you going to lope on the left lead? How many times are you going to ask your horse to back? How many times are you going to jump over that particular jump? Decide these goals ahead of time and then keep track of them while you’re riding so that you don’t over work your horse to the point of being sour.

Last, and probably the most important goal is to quit your ride on a good note. If you have to set your horse up to quit on a good note, by all means find something he’s good at and quit on that.This is especially critical if there’s something that your horse is struggling with because quitting speaks louder to a horse than drilling on what you’re trying to teach.

If I’ve got a horse that’s really struggling with something, I’ll make that the goal for the day. If my horse reaches that goal in just a few minutes, I’ll quit for the day right then. I can always ride tomorrow but that horse just tried and accomplished something he couldn’t before. Quitting on a good note tells him he did the right thing, and it boosts his confidence.

So what goals have you been setting for your rides? How do you determine those goals?

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In or Out?

There’s a lot of rain and snow in many parts of the country this time of year. Wet weather can make it a little tougher to manage your horses and usually the one question we all ask is do we keep them in or do we put them out?

When it comes to wet winter weather, there are generally two camps of thinking for managing horses. One is to keep them up and make sure they’re sheltered from the cold and wet. The other is to throw them out because they need to be out as much as possible and it makes them hardy. Which one is right?

For years if it did anything more than just a sprinkle, I kept my horses up for several reasons. I didn’t want my small pasture dug up. I didn’t want my horses getting rain rot. I didn’t want them getting cold and sick. I didn’t want them to be miserable – I certainly wouldn’t want to stand out in the pouring rain all day long.

Through the years, my thinking has changed, or maybe it’s just that I’ve got too many horses and I’m always looking for ways to minimize my chores. Either way, I’ve gotten a little closer to the camp that thinks horses should be out as much as possible.

One argument you often hear in our area is the general story about the worst storm of the century and how all the horses chose to be out the in the storm and not in the run in shed. By the way, I lived that scenario in 1993 when the blizzard hit and I was working at an Arab farm and all the young mares were out in the storm and not in the shed. But is that always the case and is that a valid argument to throwing horses out to the elements?

Now that we’re at our new place we have one set of horses out 24/7, I have found the argument that horses had rather be outside is not entirely true. While some of my horses will graze out in the rain, I have one horse that insists on standing under the shed. Every time he starts to leave the shed, he’ll get halfway out and feel the rain and then immediately back under the shed again. He just detests the rain.

The horse with the blaze is the horse that backs up under the shed. 

Staying Dry

These guys go out in the rain all the time. They don’t care if they’re out. 

Like To Be Out

I don’t think the question, “In or out?” is a simple question. I think for one, you have to know your horse well enough to know whether or not he’ll be happy out in the elements. Some don’t pay any attention to the rain, and then others like the gelding that I mentioned are miserable. If a horse is miserable they’re going to be stressed and stress, as we all know, can cause health issues in horses. So in the long run is it really worth turning that horse out into the wet weather without shelter if he’s going to be miserable?

Another thing to consider is just how bad is the weather? Years ago I read an article that I use as a guide for managing my horses in wet weather. The article stated that if it’s raining and the temperature is below 40 degrees that horses require additional hay because they start losing body heat. If the weather is dry, that temperature threshold drops down to 20 degrees.

I’m fortunate now in that both my pastures have run in sheds and the horses can decide whether or not they want to stay out in the rain. If I didn’t have run in sheds, I’d still use the 40 degree rule for when it rain to determine whether or not I would turn my horses out.

Even though you may have ample shelter for your horses while they’re out, you also have to consider how well your horses get along. Do they get along well enough that everyone gets to go under the shed? Sometimes horses will pick on each other when they’re in close quarters. That usually means one horse will have to stand out in the rain. It’s important to know your herd’s dynamics for this very reason.

Your horse’s hooves are another thing to consider when asking whether or not you should turn your horse out. If your horse wears pads or special shoes and your pasture has a lot of deep mud, it might not be the best idea to turn your out. Deep wet mud can get trapped under pads and can also pull shoes off. You also don’t want a horse with severe thrush or other hoof infection or injury standing in wet ground all day.

“In or Out?” seems like a simple question. After all, it is only two options. When it comes to horse management however, it’s not that simple. When the weather gets wet, herd dynamics, horse temperament, hoof condition, and temperature are all things that you have to consider before you answer that question.

How do you determine whether or not you turn your horses out?