December 15, 2014

Let's Talk About Goals For A Minute

Gem and I went to another Hunter pace on Sunday. I'll tell that story along with a ton of pictures in my next post. Today I want to talk about goal setting. And then about goal un-setting (is that a word? It is now!)

I went into the Pace with one goal: do it in under 1 hour 30 minutes.

It was very doable. The trails were fantastic with a ton of open places with perfect footing for a gallop. The weather was pristine: bright blue skies and sunny with a chill in the wind. A lot of people were coming in around 1 hour 20 minutes and if I had to guess I would say that optimal time will be somewhere along the lines of 1 hour 15 minutes or so.

As I swung my leg onto my horse I knew she wasn't there. Her mind was elsewhere. Was she hot? Hurting? Hungry? Sleepy? In heat? Or just had plans already with a pasture mate that I ruined? I don't know what it was, but her brain had been left at the barn and I had two choices:

1) Grab my dressage whip and force her to do this thing at the pace I had assigned for the day

2) Throw my only goal out the window and make a new one

Goals are important. Every time I ride I have a goal in mind: a certain distance, speed, time etc.. I work hard to keep heading towards that goal. It keeps me focused and prevents me from being wishy washy on my rides. I follow enough people in real life and in blogger world to know that goal setting ranges from the obsessive every month set goals and review old ones to having none and whatever works for you is great. Until the process stops working.

Yes, goals are important. Sticking to your goals even when things are not going well is also important. If you cave into a temper tantrum each time, then you won't ever progress past that. However, there are times when sticking to your goal becomes more harmful than good.

Someone a long time ago once told me:

"Every time you ride you are teaching your horse something"

It is true. Good or bad, you are teaching them something.

So back to Sunday. She was slow and pokey. I've dealt with that plenty of times and always push her through it. Had that been the only issue we would have had a serious discussion as to what forward meant and got that thing done in 1 hour 30 minutes.

But she was also just mentally not there. She refused to go past the starting gate. She gave it the hairy eye ball and balked several times. Within the first 100 yards on trail she had spooked out of her skin a dozen times. Each tree stump, pile of sticks, pile of leaves, gate, fence line, dog, horse, person, puddle of mud, change to red clay footing, change to grass footing made her jump out of her skin. Yes, she is a spooky mare in general, but she hasn't been this bad in over a year.

I could have gone with choice #1 and forced her to do it at speed anyway. I would have accomplished my goal for the day: a sub 1 hour 30 minute finish. It would have cost me dearly though.

She would have been mentally spent, drained, and I would have lost her trust in me. It was frustrating at times as I looked down a beautiful grassy lane and just wanted to fly and instead we trotted slowly along ping ponging back and forth as one shadow would cause her to jump right and then next to the left.

Instead I quickly realized the foolishness in keeping stubbornly to my original goal and threw it out the window. I re evaluated our situation and relaxed into a long ride on beautiful trails under a gloriously blue sky. I took pictures. I let her munch some last remaining grass. I asked her to move forward and expected and required her to do so when asked, but didn't push the issue for speed. If I said trot, she needed to trot forward. I took the time to get her moving forward past all these "scary" objects without stopping and trying to turn around.

My goal morphed and ended up being: Get my mare to pay attention to me versus everything else.

After it was all said and done I had accomplished that goal. She was still annoyingly interested in her surroundings, but she moved forward at the gait I requested when I requested it. We didn't fight. We didn't get angry with each other. Our relationship stayed intact and most likely improved.

Sometimes in life our goals are not attainable. Or at least not attainable at the cost it would require. For me on Sunday it was not worth going backwards in our relationship to finish the Pace at a certain time. It was better to re-evaluate and re work the day.


  1. Oohh goodness. I know that behavior! Super bravo that you stepped back and tackled it for the day though. I need to take after you and do more of that with Q - I'm trying already, but boy is it hard sometimes! I'd never have guessed that Gem used to be such a pill in regards to spooking at silly things.

  2. Go with goals, not expectations. Not attaining the goal is not failure, regardless of what our upbringing and personality might say.

    I rarely ride with goals, other than to enjoy the ride. That is probably one of the reasons I don't manage to ride for very long in the indoor arena, since I get bored pretty darn quick.