This weekend I did a thing … and maybe not the smartest of things I’ve ever done.
This weekend, the weekend of Daylight Saving Time, I decided it would be a great idea to attend back-to-back horse shows for three different horses over two days. To say I was exhausted at the end of the weekend would be an understatement.
But regardless of my level of exhaustion, the weekend could not have been more successful. To take two baby horses to their first show and one still-thinks-he’s-a-baby-but-he’s-really-not to his first show of the season is a big deal in my book! Because even more than the physical challenge of tackling two separate shows, multiple different rides and losing an hour of sleep, is the mental challenge of how to make each individual ride the best it can be for that particular horse.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — there is no one-size-fits-all approach to horse training. And because each horse is an individual, and needs to be treated as such, each ride had totally different goals.
And because there’s no such thing as too many goals, I personally like to make three separate goals for each ride. One easily obtainable, one a bit more difficult and one possibly pushing it but not out of reach. That way you can easily prioritize what you’d like to achieve and feel good knowing you obtained at least one, if not all of the things you set out to do.
Ride number 1: Danielle
Danielle was my first ride of the weekend. This GORGEOUS girl is pretty much as fancy and talented as they come, but had a late start in her dressage training. Even though all the fanciness is there and doing Intro/Training Level seemed almost beneath us, I was determined to not skip any steps.
For Danielle, this weekend’s goals were…
- Have a calm, confident first show experience.
- Complete each test (complete with bending and supple-ing moments).
- Score in the 60s.
Being Danielle’s very first show, I wanted to prioritize a calm, confident experience and not worry so much about the score. Even though at her best 75%+ is completely obtainable at these levels, it’s extremely important to me to not put too much pressure on my baby horses.
So, when she tied to the trailer all day long, pranced around the warm-up like a total champion and scored in the 60s for her first test, I was thrilled. And when a line of spectators watching her second test was a bit more than she bargained for and kept us out of the 60s in Training Level, I wasn’t too concerned. Mission accomplished — onto the next show!
Ride number 2: Tiny
Tiny, my 2018 RRP horse, has been with me since August. He is a huge boy that has been slow to mature and has a lot of growing up to do in the months before I could start his training for RRP. He came to me very unsure of himself, always questioning my motives and never wanting me to touch his face. Very slow and steady work, with lots of easy tasks to accomplish boosted his confidence more than I ever could have expected. So when I signed up for this show, I was both thrilled and questioning whether he was ready, or I would break his trust in me and he would revert back to his nervous ways.
For Tiny, our goals were:
- Haul off the property for the first time.
- Have a quiet and thinking warm-up, not worrying about the new place.
- Complete Intro Test B.
I wanted Tiny to tell me if he was ready to step into the arena. I didn’t want to push him or make him nervous, so I was completely ready to scratch if he told me to. So, when my big baby of a horse trotted around a busy warm-up and into the indoor arena for the first time, I was thrilled. When he finished the test and was awarded a 70%, I was ecstatic!
Time to start asking for more, as I think Tiny is telling me he’s up to the challenge!
Ride number 3: Lou
Oh, Lou.. what to say about you? Even though I’ve had Lou for years longer than the other horses I’m competing, he gives me the most trouble. A very worried and nervous horse at his core, Lou is also a bit of a bully and thinks he knows better than his rider. We have been working a lot on obedience and walking the fine line between communicating and arguing.
Lou’s goals were:
- Get him off the property. As much as possible!
- Have a calm, happy experience.
- Stay obedient in the warm-up and through the test, especially in transitions.
Like our first goal says, Lou just needed to go places and do things. The only way to get him over his nerves and ensure his listens to me off the property is to just take him off the property. But this guy also has my number because he makes me question myself as a rider and trainer. He is so incredibly talented but can be so argumentative that I shut down and stop riding.
I planned for a long warm-up so we could have time to see the sights but also have some difficult conversations about listening and being obedient. When he was calm and focused the second I got on, we skipped right to the conversations and were able to head into the ring early. Lou and I worked very hard — him on listening to me and me on being there for him, and we ended our test with a 65%!
I’ve found that only by setting specific goals for each individual ride – and multiple ones at that! – do I do my horses and their individualized training program any justice. And it’s just as important to set goals as it is to reflect on them, continuously adjust them and use them to grow and adapt your training.
So there you have it — nine goals, three horses, two days, one exhausted trainer. But overall a very successful, goal-oriented weekend and a wonderful start to the show season!