The competitive equestrian knows how to set goals and dream big — but there are new rules of success that can’t be measured with scores, points or ribbons. Julie Saillant explains.
How do you measure success with your horse?
- If you have no time faults on cross country?
- If you have an extremely high dressage score and are able to move up to the next level?
- If you have the fastest clear jump-off round?
- If you mark above a 70 in your reining class?
- Your horse went around the arena and didn’t spook at the “dragon” in the corner?
- You didn’t sprain or break your finger lunging your horse?
- You were able to trail ride with your friends and your horse didn’t take off and no one died?
Do any of those count as wins in your book?
If they don’t, they should.
The definition of “win” is: victorious, a successful result in a contest, conflict, bet or other endeavor.
This means you have the ability to be victorious and successful in any endeavor you attempt with your horse. I would prefer not to use the world conflict, but many times that is what I help people with.
The definition of “conflict” is: a serious disagreement or argument, be incompatible or clash.
When you as a rider expect only one outcome from your horse, you are not leaving any allowance for a different version of success to come to you.
In dressage, for example, when you are learning to go from First Level to Second Level, there are a series of added movements you and your horse must perform to go to that next level. You and your horse won’t be perfect when you start schooling those maneuvers, so don’t have “perfection” as your only positive outcome. Common sense, right?
Here’s where it gets sticky.
Horses physically have good days and bad days. They also have days where they aren’t on their game, and training sessions where they can do no wrong and you hear angels singing. It’s rare, but it happens!
If we go into our training session with just one outcome that we expect to happen, and that outcome is not achieved, many of us feel like we have failed.
From this failure comes lower level feelings like frustration, anger, shame, worry and even hopelessness. All the feelings the rider feels, the horse feels and reacts to, which usually results in a poor performance and very upset rider and confused horse.
How can we change this scenario?
ADJUST YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Before you go bananas and tell me that you need to stay on your game and that you have a plan, that you are prepared and you are definitely on track for an upcoming show, I understand. I am not asking you to derail all your hard work or lower your expectations.
What I am asking you to do is to allow both you and your horse the grace of having a slightly different outcome that you will still be happy with.
How does this work? You go in with your Primary Goal and then set up a Secondary Goal – a backup plan.
Keeping it very simple, if my goal is to get my horse to canter around the arena and not stop where the dragon is, that can be my Primary Goal.
My backup Secondary Goal is that if he doesn’t canter past the dragon and trots past instead without spooking, I will still be happy with that scenario.
You want to establish a secondary goal which allows both you and your horse the opportunity to take positive steps towards where you want to be, but gives you both breathing room and the chance for your horse to execute in a different way that you are comfortable with.
As one of my friends used to say, “it wasn’t pretty, but he did it so be proud of him that he took that step.”
As equestrians, we are supposed to always reward every time our horse attempts a try. When they are learning, it can be frustrating for us as learning anything new takes time, yet no one is perfect. If your horse is trying his very best and isn’t quite where you want him to be (it’s not pretty yet), but he is on course and making strides towards your Primary Goal – praise him for it.
When you do this, you allow flexibility to come into the picture, which removes the rigidity of practicing the same technique over and over again (aka the dreaded 20-meter circle), which gets boring for both horse and rider.
MIX IT UP
So many riders I meet do the same practice sessions consistently day after day. They get bored, their horses get bored, and riding doesn’t seem fun anymore.
This is when you need to bring out the cones, or the rails on the ground, or anything fun and different for you and your horse to play with. It shouldn’t be serious and it definitely should make you laugh.
You could take your horse to the beach or lake if you live near water. You might want to go for a trail ride as a reward for some hard work done in the ring. This is your chance to bring back the joy in riding and also give you and your horse a break in training by being more playful.
TAKE TIME TO STRENGTHEN YOUR BOND
Almost all equestrians have goals and many amateurs take their riding very seriously. Day after day, we drill and practice to get that perfect canter, clear jump, etc. — you fill in the blank.
Yet when was the last time you actually allowed yourself to just be with your horse?
When did you last hang out together while he grazed? Or practice being 100% present while you are grooming and took the extra time to make tacking up fun instead of a quick chore that needs to get done?
Taking time to realize how lucky we are that we get to be with these magical animals every day – and showing them that they are appreciated when they are not working – is one of the best things you can do for your relationship with your horse.
You and your horse are 50/50 partners. One cannot go forward without the other. Why not give them the benefit of having some one on one time with you? You can also add in extra bathing time now that we are getting into the warmer months.
I guarantee that if you do this, it will change your relationship with your horse.
All three of these new rules are easy to apply into your time with your horse. The biggest benefits will be bringing in flexibility, fun secondary goals and a stronger bond with your horse. Humans get frustrated and unhappy when all they do is work, work and more work. Horses also experience those same feelings.
To have the best experience possible for you both as a team, introduce these new rules and you will see a positive difference in your training and have more fun!
Julie Saillant is a Certified Life Coach, Empath, Equine Communicator and Lifestyle Influencer. Her goal is to empower you to awaken your intuition and motivate you to take inspired action to live your best life. She is the bridge between horses and people and is here to give you the knowledge and tools to interact with your horse on a deeper level. Using her empathic intuition, Julie will guide you towards a stronger understanding of what you want your life to look like, while giving you the means to manifest your biggest dreams and make them a reality. Learn more at www.motivation-addict.com.