Feature image: Tim Bourke (IRL) at the 2017 Rolex Three Day Event
Sandra Poppema is a certified riding instructor and has been an equine clicker trainer for the past 18 years. Her goal is to empower equestrians to achieve their equestrian dreams and help them train their own horses.
We all have dreams in life. When we start horseback riding we want to walk, trot, canter and maybe we envision ourselves jumping or riding dressage competitions. What were your dreams when you started riding or when you bought your horse? Take a moment to vocalize them. Do you have a plan to get there? What if I told you that there is a success formula you can follow to help you achieve your dreams. Start with the following steps:
#1 Write down your dreams
It may seem simple but this is the place to start. In order to become successful and achieve your riding dreams you need to start writing down what you want. Crystallize your dreams and make sure you known them. Splurge on a beautiful notebook and start using it for your equestrian dream. This is important, these are your dreams.
Start easy and don’t let yourself or anyone tell you that some of your dreams are not realistic or are impossible. Brainstorm your wildest horse riding dreams and just write everything down in this phase.
#2 Look at your accomplishments
In this phase make a list of all the goals, big and small, you’ve accomplished with your horse. Put it on your list. Have you entered a competition? Awesome, write that down.
If you really want to be thorough you can also make a list of all the things you taught your horse. Have you trained him to align along a mounting block, have you taught him to ground-tie properly or have you taught him to lift his hooves for cleaning? Write them down too.
The reason to make a list of your achievements is to give yourself the feeling of a head start. Studies have proven that if you give yourself the feeling of a head start it is much easier to move on with your goals. If you skip this step you might get the feeling that you’re starting from scratch. No one starts from scratch, unless you’ve never seen a horse before. Don’t skip this step. Just revel in your accomplishments for a little bit.
You might have noticed but a large part of this formula to accomplish your goals is staying motivated. Keep it positive and keep it going.
#3 Determine your goals
Now that you remember why you started riding and what you’ve already accomplished it is time to take the next step and think about the near future. What would you like to accomplish in the future with your horse? If you have a young horse you might want to start him under the saddle yourself, maybe you want to turn your horse into a bomb proof trail horse, a reliable children’s pony or a Grand Prix horse.
Don’t forget to write down your goals in your training journal. Remember it is OK to change your mind about your goals.
#4 Accountability partner
Your accountability partner will help keep you on track and brainstorm with you about your goals, help you divide your goals into baby steps, cheer you on if you are successful and motivate you when you are stuck in a rut.
Ask a friend who is into horses and you can become each other’s accountability partner. Or you can ask your spouse or riding instructor. Pick someone who is not afraid to ask you critical questions about how your process is going, but can also help you when you lack motivation. The best choice is an accountability partner who has already achieved the goals you envision for yourself or has similar goals so you can challenge each other.
#5 Split your goals into smaller steps
So: you have a good overview of the past, present and what you want to accomplish in the future. You also have found help.
Now it’s time to pick one of your goals. Choose an easy one until you are more familiar with this systematic process. Choose one small goal that you can achieve within the next month and divide it into baby steps. Write down all the steps to achieve it and discuss them with your accountability partner.
Pick a date for a monthly meeting at the barn in order to show your progress and get help where needed. A fixed schedule makes working on your tasks much easier. Plan the meetings ahead of time. For instance every first Saturday of the month. This will give you a deadline and extra motivation to practice.
Keep a training journal. Use the beautiful notebook you bought to write down your goals. Here is the secret of making your training journal a successful tool: Keep it positive but objective.
Don’t keep track of your failures, keep track of your successes, big and small. This is the only way you will enjoy reading it. A training journal can be a real eye opener and help you realize that you already are successful in achieving your goals. It will be a life changer to focus on the positive. Here are some examples:
Instead of: I fell off again, I’m such a lousy rider.
Write down: When I fell off my horse came and checked in on me. I wasn’t injured. Learning point: I noticed that my horse tensed up before he bucked me off. I will focus on how I can prevent him from going into flight mode.
In this way you are keeping track of your goals and your progress in a constructive manner.
#7 Celebrate your Successes
Think about how you’re going to celebrate your success. Science has proven that it is really important to take the time to contemplate and celebrate your success.
This is why it is important to write down your goals. We are easily tempted to fall into the trap of making a ‘sliding goal’ and changing the criteria for success along the way. But keeping your goal on the horizon isn’t making you better or keeping you motivated. On the contrary, it will make you feel unsuccessful.
Just as you can’t reach the horizon, a sliding goal will always stay beyond your grasp. It is better and smarter to divide your large goal into sub-goals and work on each sub-goal separately and determine before you start how you define your success. This is why it is really important to write it down, and not keep track of it in your mind only.
Make sure you celebrate every success you accomplish. Have a cupcake and congratulate yourself on a job well done. Share the victory (and maybe the cupcake) with your accountability partner.
When you’ve followed all the steps it is simple to rinse and repeat step 2 – 7 until you’ve accomplished your dream.