In a recent discussion with my trainer, I asked her what’s the most challenging situation she faces from her clients and she immediately said “The expectation to be perfect in record time hurts more rider’s results than anything else by far!”
I was not shocked, but it made me stop and really think about how we go about getting the most out of our riding experience.
She went on to say that “If riders could understand that milestones don’t happen in a minute and that we can’t slay all your dragons in one session, it would help get rid of the expectations and intense pressure that many equestrians place on themselves and their horses.”
In a world of fast food, even faster technology and the common theme that everyone wins a prize for “just being you”, it isn’t a surprise that we would transfer those same behaviors to the way we ride.
A COMMON SCENARIO
Let’s pretend you are going to the gym for the first time since last summer. You have set your goals and you tell your trainer you want to:
1. Lose weight
2. Have a completely flat, toned stomach
3. Gain 10 lbs. of muscle
I want to accomplish all of this in one training session!
Your trainer would look at you and laugh. Of course, that’s impossible! No one can get the results you are looking for in just one or even three sessions. Yet isn’t that what so many of us do with our horses?
Transferring that same scenario to the horse world, how do you approach your training?
Below are some sample goals:
· Lunge my horse perfectly
· Be able to ride in the indoor without him spooking
· Desensitize both of us so we don’t get nervous around loud noises and lots of commotion
If I told you I wanted to do all of the above in just one session, what would you say to me?
Chances are you would tell me that it’s too much to accomplish in one lesson, and you would be right.
Remember that you and your horse are a TEAM, meaning you are only one half of the equation. You may be on point to train today, but he may not be feeling very participatory.
Every time you raise the bar on your expectations and put them in a short time frame, the following happens:
You put an extreme amount of pressure on you, your horse and your trainer
You may fail to reach your goals due to your short timeframe
You become frustrated and angry which could cause you to be even harder on yourself and potentially abandon your goals
Your horse could shut down or act out because of too much pressure
CHARTING A COURSE TO MEET YOUR GOALS
How can we change this behavior so that you can accomplish your goals with less stress? Below is a foolproof process that will help you decide what you want to accomplish with your training, and potentially have fun too.
Write down your top 3 goals with your anticipated completion dates.
Rank your goals in order from highest to lowest and choose ONE Goal. Start your journey with ONE goal in mind, not three. Concentrate only on that one goal until you and your horse have it down pat and can complete the task at any given time with little prep work. Repetition will be your new best friend.
Ask yourself: Are the dates associated with the goals realistic? Meaning, can you truly achieve the goal in the time frame specified, or do you need more time? Note: If you have a trainer, you may want to ask what the average time frame is to learn ABC move. Every horse and rider are different and depending on what stage you are at, time frames will vary.
If the dates are not realistic, adjust them so that you will have one goal with a time frame that allows for flexibility.
Have a Plan B. Horses are like people, they have good days and bad days. The training you are beginning can be stressful for both you and your horse. The task you want to learn is probably at a higher level than where you are currently at. It’s always a good thing to learn new moves but ask yourself “Am I jumping two or three steps ahead of myself”?
We usually need to learn to walk before we can run and the same is true with horses. Make sure you are choosing a movement that would be a best next step for the training that you are currently doing. If the new goal is too advanced, go to plan b and choose an easier task to learn.
SIDE NOTE: You can also work different movements into your plan just for fun. Horses like variety and they get bored to tears going around and around in circles doing the same thing every day.
The whole goal of training is to make it fun for both you and your horse.
Throw in some ground work. So many riders poo poo the idea of ground work, but I believe that all good behavior starts from the ground. Ground work allows you both the room to learn new moves and correct bad habits. It also gives you the chance to have fun and throw in new learning tools while you are in a secure, happy place.
MAKE TRAINING FUN
Some new training tools you can incorporate could be cones, ground poles, using mounting blocks for figure eights etc. You can also teach your horse the Spanish walk. The point is to make training fun! You may be surprised how much your horse picks up in just a short amount of time and it will give you both a well-deserved break in your routine.
When was the last time you had FUN with your horse? When did you actually have a smile on your face instead of the mask of intense concentration and the thought of this-must-be-perfect-or-else!!!
Your horse feels everything you do and the more you can laugh and have fun training, the better it will be for them too.
Destress yourself and lighten your load by making training fun, include different exercises that you both enjoy and offer a variety into your routine.
PROTIP: Releasing stress BEFORE you begin training is a must if you want the best results from your horse. When you bring all of your stress from the bad day at the office to the barn, it upsets your horse and causes friction putting pressure on you both. Learn to drop your baggage at the door before you even walk into the barn.
BONUS EXERCISE TO RELEASE TENSION:
Take some deep breaths.
Consciously release any negative energy and open your heart to love and light. You can do this by closing your eyes and opening your heart. Say “I consciously take all of my negative energy that I have picked up today and release it into the light. I let go of the negative thoughts, frustration and anger and release it into the light.”
Take another breath and feel your body relax.
Visualize going into the barn and greeting your horse with light and positive energy all around you. See your horse accepting your calm and happy invitation to work together while remaining in a positive, happy state as much as possible.
Open your eyes and walk into the barn to approach your horse. You will notice a big difference if you greet your horse this way vs moving towards your horse with aggression, pressure and resistance from your bad day at the office. Drop that junk at the door. This is your Zen time! Make it the place you both can enjoy, learn and most of all have fun.