Goals are great for life and they are great for our horsemanship journey. They keep us focused on the path ahead and motivate us to keep trying. However, goals also make us rush and forget about the journey that we are all on.
When we become too focused on where we want to be we tend to forget where we are in the moment.
For instance, if we want to be competing in show jumping we might rush through our flat work to practice over fences. After all, that is the practice that most directly relates to our goal of showing. As a result our flat work gets sloppy and we struggle to make it to the fences in an organized fashion. If we are still focused on our goal we will continue to drill the fences in an attempt to fix this problem. If we step back and look at the bigger picture we might notice that the problem has nothing to do with the fences.
In my training I tend to emphasize ground work, relaxation, and suppleness. Over and over again I tell my clients that they can’t do anything else until they can get their horse relaxed, supple, and stretching during their ground work. When they have accomplished this I tell them they need to do the same under saddle. Only when they have all these elements on the ground and under saddle can they move on to their goals.
People are always asking me why I don’t just get on, why they need to do this, or when they can hurry up and “fill in the blank”. My response to this is generally that I would like a relaxed, willing partner. Although I may have tons of goals for the horse or the owner may have goals for the horse, the most important goal is to develop the horse into a relaxed willing partner.
Although this may take a lot of time and try your patience, I promise it is worth it. Trust me, I have been the rider who rushes through the ground work to ride and I have been the rider who drills fences when I should clearly be working on my horse’s relaxation. Looking back I see so many instances I’ve failed the horse by not taking the time to get my foundation solid. I’ve learned from all those mistakes, which is why I am so adamant that my students focus on their foundations.
Once you have this foundation of relaxation, suppleness, and willingness everything else is easier. I’m not saying it doesn’t take work to accomplish your individual goals, but it is much easier when you aren’t fighting with a stiff, resistant, uncooperative horse. When you really have a willing partner you can focus on explaining to him what you want from him. Over time you refine that image until he knows his job and understands your cues. However, your whole perception of horsemanship has to change in order to get there.
Although you can still have goals and dreams, you have to throw away your timeline when it comes to horses. The pieces will fall together whenever they fall together and rushing them isn’t going to make anything easier.
If you are really on this journey to learn horsemanship your primary goal has to be to get your horse relaxed and willing to work with you. This might take years if your horse has a lot of baggage. If you are learning at the same time you will invariably have setbacks and failures. However, this goal is within every horse and rider’s reach, regardless of how disastrous it may look in the beginning.
If you stick with this goal, you will eventually feel a moment of that willing partnership you are striving for. Once you feel it you will want to feel it again because there is nothing quite like being in perfect harmony with a thousand pound animal. This is when you will truly believe that your partnership is the foundation for everything else.
When you start to rush you lose this fleeting feeling of partnership and it reminds you to slow down. You are constantly going back to your basics even while moving forward. Eventually this balance of willingness, suppleness, responsiveness, and relaxation seems like less of a struggle and more like a dance. Over time, your goals seem easy and the partnership keeps your interest.
Slowly, your goals in horsemanship will shift if you commit to this journey not because goals are bad, but because your goals change with your knowledge. What seemed intangible becomes easy and what seemed fruitless or boring becomes exciting. Still your goals drive you to continue to ride, try new things, and learn, which is the foundation of good horsemanship.