Every time you interact with your horse, there is the possibility of improving your communication and understanding. However, planning and intention must be present for each ride to be an actual stepping stone. Having one without the other will not give you the outcome you are hoping for.
Creating the plan and setting the intention is key to each ride becoming a valuable link in the chain of progress as you train your horse.
And this begins with you deciding where you are going and how you want to get there…
1. Decide on a Goal or Outcome
Getting clear on what you want to achieve in your riding and training is key to creating intentional rides with your horse. And yet, so many riders fail to do this. Some have a wishy-washy version of what they want. Others have no idea at all and never really think about the future of their riding and training. And then there are the riders who have set unrealistic and unattainable goals. And continuously feel disappointed and frustrated when they fail to reach them!
Think of yourself and your horse a year from now; what would you like to be different from today? This is a great place to start when setting goals
By noticing what is different, you can begin to identify what needs to change or happen in order to bridge the gap. And it is these things that will make up the first draft of your plan for your riding.
2. Keep Things Aligned
Once you have a goal or desired outcome, it is important to make sure that it is realistic for both yourself and your horse. If your chosen goal doesn’t work for both of you, it will never be sustainable or enjoyable! And these are both key to remaining committed to your riding and your horse’s training journey.
Your goals must align with your values, resources, and beliefs in order for you and your horse to make them happen.
For example, let’s say you choose the goal of competing every weekend with your horse. If ‘family’ is one of your top values, this goal and your value, potentially, won’t work well together. Both will compete against each other for your attention and focus, rather than complementing each other.
Now, if you tweak the goal slightly so that your goal is to compete 4 or 5 times each quarter (12 weeks), this goal becomes much more likely to happen. And it won’t be directly competing with your value.
Pay attention to how much time you have, your other responsibilities, commitments, physical limitations, and resources (arena, trainer, etc.). Your goal must work and align with all of these things.
3. Identify the Crucial Steps
From here, you can now begin to really define the differences between ‘here’ and ‘there’ in your riding. If you had achieved your goal right now, what would you have to have changed, started doing, or stopped doing in order to make it a reality?
These ‘differences’ are the basic points in your plan and when put in sequential order and fleshed out, will create your stepping stones.
Start with what must happen first. Maybe it is changing a schedule so you can ride 3 days a week instead of 1. Or it could be bringing your horse back to work after a break. What is the first thing that must happen in order for you to begin on this journey with your horse? From here, simply put each ‘difference’ in order of where or when it can be worked on, introduced, changed, etc.
Once you have laid things out, double-check them by working backward. Imagine you have achieved your goal; do these things make sense in helping you get there?
4. The First 12 Weeks
Horses are great at helping us to become more supple; physically and mentally. I say this because it is very rare for any rider to create their first riding plan – and for it all to work out perfectly! There will be days when your horse will have other thoughts about how the session will play out for both of you.
Rather than feeling frustrated when things don’t go exactly to plan, use this information to create better plans going forward.
I am a big believer in creating a loose 12-week riding plan. This can be working towards one specific thing that you will need to improve, introduce, or change that will help you achieve your longer, bigger goal. I personally also enjoy ‘themeing’ my months. I create each month so that it leads to the next one.
Once you have your loose plan for the 12 weeks, you can begin to dive in deeper and really flesh the plan out. This is where I recommend looking closely at the upcoming 4 weeks.
5. The Next 4 Weeks in Detail
This is where you can really begin to create those ‘stepping stones for you and your horse. Start with figuring out what days you will ride (or work with your horse) and how long you have on each of those days. From here, begin thinking about exercises you can use that will help you develop or work on whatever it is you need to improve or change.
Remember, the exercises themselves are not as important as the intention or focus you use when riding them with your horse
For example, if you choose to ride a serpentine or work on serpentines, the sky’s the limit regarding what the focus or intention will be. It could be rhythm, relaxation, straightness, bend, flexion, transitions, etc. Spending 30 minutes riding serpentines without an intention won’t benefit you or your horse. However, 20 minutes is devoted to serpentines to improve bend, suppleness, and flexion; this will help move things forward.
6. Setting Up Each Ride
From here, it is simply a matter of showing up and being consistent. If you have created a plan, it is important to try and work that plan. Even on the days when you don’t ‘feel’ like it. Obviously, there will be occasions when you will need to tweak, or even change the plan for a particular ride, and it is important to be flexible and supple on those days.
But, for the most part, your responsibility will be to show up and keep both you and your horse focused for the time you are working together.
By doing this consistently, you will begin to not only see results. But also, as you learn more about yourself and your horse, you will become better at creating plans that work for you both as well.