How to Set Attainable Goals
By April D. Ray
Have you considered what you want to be doing with your horse in five years’ time? Or settled on your primary goals for the coming year? Or thought about the progress you want to make before your next riding lesson?
The horse world can be a very goal-orientated place, and achieving your goals starts with defining them. How can you reach your goals if you don’t know what they are? Goals help you focus on your path and determine the direction and effort you’ll need to reach your targets.
Set S.M.A.R.T. goals – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound. Photo: Shutterstock/horsemen
Although you can set goals at any time, the start of a new year seems the perfect time. First, reflect on the year gone by, your accomplishments, your disappointments, and think about what motivated you and why.
Goals can be short-term, long-term and anything in-between. The important thing is to determine what they should be, and then put a plan in place to achieve them.
Think about what you want to accomplish by the end of the year, or by another milepost that has meaning to you. Goals should be specific, measurable objectives that will help you and your horse grow from where you are now. They should be relevant and in your own best interests, not designed to please someone else. Think about the time and effort it will take to attain your goals and make sure they are realistic and that you are prepared to do the work. Set yourself and your horse up for success, whatever that means to you.
Write It Down
Putting your goals in writing establishes your intention and builds focus and commitment, increasing your chances of success. Define your goals in specific terms and include a timeline. Instead of I want to have a successful show season, outline in some detail what that would look like for you.
Break It Down
Break your larger goals down into manageable sections with shorter terms. Think about the steps along the path to the larger goal, and create a timeline for those steps. These smaller milestones will help you track your progress and give you a feeling of success as you reach the lesser goals along the way.
Review your goals with your coach, and a friend or fellow rider who understands your aspirations and can help you achieve them.
Sharing your goals increases your chances of accomplishing them because it makes you more motivated and accountable.
Your goals involve an animal with a mind of its own, whose health and welfare must always be top of mind. Photo: Soul Touch Photography
Plan your First Step
The famous Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So, once you decide on your first step, just get going! It might be something as simple as trying to find more riding time, or making a change that contributes to the bigger picture ahead.
The process of achieving your goals can at times be downright frustrating, especially when they involve an animal with a mind of its own. If you get stuck or feel that what you are doing isn’t working, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is more than one way to reach a goal and sometimes getting an outside perspective can help you to see things in a different light. If you are really stuck, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break or reevaluating your objectives. Sometimes the goalposts need to move or change, and that’s okay too.
And once you’ve reached the goals you set, savour the moment and celebrate! Thank everyone who helped you to get there, and especially your horse. Then when you’re ready, set new goals and start all over again. Enjoy the process and everything that you learned along the way. With horses we should never stop learning and growing, that’s part of what makes this sport and working with horses so very special.
My Goals From Last Year
At the start of last year, I was asked by my coach to set goals for the show season which I describe below. I am happy to report that I achieved all of them – and then some.
These were my goals for the past year:
1. I want to get to a place where my horse and I are comfortable hauling out and going to new places, where she can behave like a lady and not a large orangutan – both on the ground and under saddle. Any successes on top of that will be just icing on the cake.
Photo: Soul Touch Photography
2. Once we have tackled the first hurdle, I want to put in consistent, solid rounds, where I can walk away feeling I’ve done the best I could do and honoured my horse. I am not married to the idea of staying in the Baby Green ring all year given that my horse is rising five, but also don’t mind taking it slow with her if needed. It would be great to take her in the jumper field this summer to play around a little, too.
3. I would be lying if I said I don’t want to win, or at the very least place consistently. But for me, that can never be the goal, or I will put so much pressure on myself I would pretty much self-destruct. I need to work on my own anxieties when it comes to horse showing, and make sure I don’t pass them along to my horse, or abandon the skills I have worked so hard on the moment I step in the show ring.
4. Oh, yeah - and HAVE FUN! I want to have ALL the fun.
This article was originally published in Canada’s Equine Guide 2019, the January/February issue of Canadian Horse Journal.