I don’t believe in goals, myself.
I know that sounds a bit odd. Competitive riding is, of course, the only sort I’m interested in. I don’t ride for “fun,” if that makes any sense. I don’t much like trail rides, unless I’m accomplishing something like teaching my horse about passing abandoned washing machines without exploding into a quivering mass of overwrought equid, or about not lying down in a river infested with alligators, however tempting it may seem.
During one of my frequent and abortive attempts at teaching Bon Appeal to be a riding horse (see Union Square Stables for details on this beautiful broodmare) I asked a heavily certified trainer what advice she had for my lovely, troubled mare and myself. Typically vague, since she wasn’t being paid, she hemmed and hawed, and the only thing of any substance that was said was that I should pick a show date and work towards that.
The fact that this terribly qualified and elite trainer did not have the human resources skills to allow me the entire forty-five minutes I would require to run from the tack shop down to the barn to show my horse at our “goal” dressage show, despite having lured me into the job with promises of free showing, is not the only reason why I think this is a terrible idea. Not to mention I’m pretty sure I read it in a Pony Club Manual when I was eight.
The fact of the matter is, when you set a date as your goal, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Ask the trainer of Take Control, the famous son of Azeri who won impressively a week or so again, was obviously on the Derby trail, and now is sidelined with bucked shins. Okay, I’m sure that if you have a top-tier two-year-old in the winter you can’t help but be thinking of the first Saturday in May during January. But it just goes to show you that dates mean nothing to our self-destructive friends, the horses.
The weather doesn’t help, either. I’ve had Final Call for twelve days. I’ve ridden him twice. If I had a calendar set up, it would have called for me to have ridden him six times by now. But the weather hasn’t cooperated, and I doubt I get to ride before Tuesday. That puts me a week behind.
I keep a record of my riding – in this case, a blog! – and I work off of that. I work off of what we’ve accomplished in the past week, not what I want to have done at the end of the week. This way, I don’t put pressure on myself, or him. Pretend you have all the time in the world or, better yet, believe you have all the time in the world. What if he isn’t ready to show in March? Then maybe he’ll be ready in April. What difference could a month possibly make? Enough to push him – and myself – enough to work in a dangerous slippery paddock and risk injury – enough to upset his little brain and set us back?
Horse training is stringing a pearl necklace – with a faulty clasp on one end. One pearl on, two slide off. Two pearls on, one slides off. And so on. It takes a very long time to bring it all together. Concentrate on the now, take your cue from the past, and the future will come together.