Goal setting is important — but so is enjoying every small victory, every step on the way to achieving a dream. Juliette Cimetiere reminds us that the journey is equally important, if not more so, than the destination.
November 12, 2017: I’m sitting by the fireplace, having my breakfast and a cup of hot coffee while reading Anna Blake’s Relaxed and Forward. I come across a quote that struck a bit of a chord in me: “Remember that HOW we train is more important than WHAT we train. In the end it’s the journey that makes the destination worthwhile” (133).
In the modern horse world, it seems the focus is always on the “end goal.” Many of us set extravagant goals for ourselves and our horses. We strive to be the best, to jump higher, to move up the levels, etc… So, we rehearse, study, train, take lessons, send our horse to a trainer, even buy and sell multiple horses — all with the same idea in mind, to reach this target we have set for ourselves.
However, what happens when we reach our objective, or more importantly, what happens if we never reach it? When we look back at all we’ve done, are we proud of the road we took to get to where we are? Is our horse? Or did we take shortcuts here and there, muscled our way through dressage tests, put on a stronger bit or draw reins to quickly fix a problem before a show?
As humans it is in our nature to get lost staring off into the distant future. Years go by while we are blinded by immeasurable standards, never satisfied with what we have now and always searching for something bigger and better. Don’t get me wrong: goal setting is extremely important. The only thing worse than getting lost looking ahead is being caught endlessly looking backwards. Goal setting allows us to move forward, to improve, and to grow. On the other hand, setting substantially large, sometimes unrealistic goals can also cause us to overlook what we have here and now. We must learn to enjoy the trip just as much as the destination.
Instead of focusing on what we want to achieve with our horses, I think it’s time we concentrate on why we choose to spend our time with these magnificent creatures in the first place. Remember the horse crazy little girl (or boy) in us; find that deep fiery passion and aim to feel that every time we work with our horse. Devote ourselves completely and entirely to our horse whenever we are there with them. Savor every breath and every moment. No matter what our goals are, treat every ride, every moment with our horse as if it was sacred. Riding should never be “work”; it should never be a chore to go spend time with our horses. Every minute they allow us upon their backs should be considered a gift. If we treat our horses should be with tenderness and respect, and we will earn the same in return.
“All good things begin with a healthy lowering of expectations” (Anna Blake, Relaxed and Forward, 132). However counterintuitive this may sound, it has a lot of truth to it. By lowering our expectations, we can give our horses and ourselves a chance to be successful. This does not mean giving up our long-term goals and aspiration, but simply dicing them into bite-size quantities that can be easily digested. You would not expect oneself to eat an entire meal without cutting into pieces first; the same should be done with our goals in the saddle and in life.
Success is the best motivation for humans and horses alike. Our best training tool should be celebrating every success no matter how small. By setting short term goals we give ourselves a chance to reward more often and succeed more often, and nothing builds motivation in a horse more than praise and appreciation. No reward is ever too small. Sometimes just loosening your fingers on the reins is enough. In the words of Gerd Heuschmann “We must become ADDICTED to giving”. We are constantly told to “do more”: more leg, more contact, more forward, more, more, more… What if we try to do the opposite for a change? Give an inch of rein, relax our gripping thighs, soften our stiff back, ask our horse instead of telling, and most importantly say thank you over and over again.
The past teaches us a lesson, the present helps us in our decisions and the future helps us dream. Let your dreams run wild and set your imagination free, but keep one foot on the ground (or in the stirrup) and two eyes on the road — because getting there is half the fun.
Juliette Cimetiere is a 20 year old horse trainer based out of Redmond, Washington, specializing in classical dressage and liberty. She is also a rider on the show Cavalia, currently touring in China. Her mission is to share her passion and inspire more people to use gentle and positive training methods with their horses. Learn more about Juliette at her website.