A goal without a plan is just a wish.

Don’t you wish you:

  • Did not have to work at a job for a living
  • Could spend all day at the barn
  • Had no money worries
  • Could do anything you wanted with your horses

Well, sorry. I can’t help you in this column with all of the above. You can stop reading now and go back to Facebook….but…. we don’t have to relegate ourselves to less than our potential.

If you got into horses because you liked learning, riding better, getting some place worthwhile with your horse — you don’t have to wait years and years until you retire to get to where you want to be. It’s OK to dream! Set your goal at a lofty plane — but get your plans written out on Planet Earth.

Expectations: I know lots of people write about goals and plans, but as a working amateur rider you and I know there is a whole ‘nuther factor involved — time management. For professionals who have all day in the barn, time management is also important, but for us — time management means basically managing two jobs in one day; our horses, and our living outside the barn. (And if you’re a mother/father, or head of a household, count three major time constraints.)

Bernadette Palmeri has some good tips here: Time Management For Equestrians. I particularly like her questions about what time you get up, the hours you spend at school or work, and doing the day’s typical schedule. You have to find the time for horses in your day and then make it a regular habit.

So, starting with a plan involves taking a look at the time you have in your life to get to working on the goals for the plan. Next, I would think, is getting the goals mapped out. I heard something recently: “write your goals in stone, but your plans in sand,” and that notion holds very true for me. Often family and work have to take precedence over horse time, and while I don’t like that, it happens. Several of the things I need to personally work on: Being able to change, to go with the flow, to not get so worried over plans not going the way I want.

What am I doing? Ask yourself this constantly to keep on the “road to Rome”.

Another saying I noticed online, written on a barn chalkboard: A goal without a plan is just a wish. I don’t think it matters what road you take to Rome, as long as you have a plan for your road that takes you there! Break your plan down into bite-sized pieces.

What can I do this day, this week, this month to further myself? If you only get to ride one day a week, make it positive and useful. One thing I know I must do – remove any discouragement, because the more depressed and negative I feel, the less time I ride, because I feel I am not doing my horse any good when I can’t ride. I have to stop the negative vibes and simply enjoy my horses, and not worry about plans and goals until the fun comes back.

Part of planning is being creative. Fit it in! Just because you’ve always done it one way, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. A good “for-instance” is grooming. Some people will say this is heresy but you know, a blanketed horse is fairly clean. Don’t waste 30 minutes on a thorough grooming on a work night. Brush off the saddle area, the legs, and the head and tack up,and get schooling. Use an unlimited day off to do the thorough grooming job that they need. I found I had only one set way to work with my horse — groom, tack up, ride, cool out, clean up, put away. I took a hard look at my schedule and found a bunch of places I could shave time by changing my set pattern at the barn.

Yes, use your friends: I’ve found the wider my circle of friends, the easier it is to get help in times of need. For instance, a group of riding friends can help find a trailer ride for my horse to a local show or clinic, have a better idea about saving time at the barn, or help with schooling or training ideas.  Sometimes, just having a supportive group of friends will help to keep you on track, too. Make part of your planning with your horse to widen your support group this year.

Lay out a workable schedule: Take a look at what has been fun and enjoyable in the past, and what new places, or competitions, you’d like to get to this year. Often this might be the hardest part of the plan — finding the funds to travel to shows and clinics, or affordable entries, or shipping, schooling, and stabling costs. I take a look each year at the least expensive events, then I add the closest events to the list, and finally, events I’d like to attend that are further away or more expensive but that have some attraction for me. I sort the list two ways — one based on money, and the other list based on the “I want to go” factor. The events that shake out at the top of both lists are the ones I’ll focus on trying to attend this year.

Educate yourself: if your goal is to compete at preliminary level in eventing, or jump a three-foot course, or move up to First Level in dressage — take a look at the rules, the tests, and the requirements for the level. Talk to your instructor, your trainer, other trainers, friends at the barn about what is expected at that level. Review videos online, watch others ride at the level. Do your homework. Know what you need to do to perform at the goal level, then do the smart thing — break each part down to small increments. If you know you will need to sit the trot throughout a 4-minute dressage test, then start small — 30 seconds of sitting trot, then a minute, then 2 minutes. It’s not exactly that simple, but if you give yourself increments, then you can positively say you’ve reached a rung on your goal ladder when you master it. Don’t compare yourself to the best riders at your barn. Compare yourself to you a year ago!

Dream big: I found out that I didn’t have an exclusive on a secret fun thing I do every spring. We all love to watch the beautiful horses and riders at the Rolex three-day event online, and especially exciting is the first day or two with all the fabulous four-star dressage tests, with everyone dressed up and the horses all sparkly.  I get off the computer and go out in my front yard grass dressage arena with the little plastic flowers in the buckets for letters, and practice it! Well, guess what. I’m not the only one! Last year I found out other eventers do this too, because it’s fun, and it’s inspiring to think you can actually do half-pass (even though mine probably looks more like an uncoordinated spook.) While I sure wouldn’t enter an upper level dressage show, it’s fun to pretend and ride like a champion. Why not?

There’s no summary, or ending to planning and goal-setting — because you keep going and you keep riding. You keep learning and you keep getting better and finding more ways to have fun. So….get going! What are you doing today? 🙂

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