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?