It’s that time again – when we all look forward to a new year, a fresh start, a renewal of ideas. Many will make New Year’s resolutions or set goals that are personal in nature, but why not set goals with regard to your horse? It’s a perfect time to begin as you can easily keep track of your progress as the year goes by, remembering that you started on Jan. 1. Your goals can be as basic as spending more time with your horse, or keeping your barn better organized, or you can work up to learning a new riding discipline or even traveling and competing with your horse.

It helps to keep a journal of your goals. I tend to make lists for everything, from daily “to-dos” to a cleaning schedule before company arrives to the menu for a special dinner. One of my favorite things for the new year is a new journal/notebook in addition to a new desk calendar.

Start off with a list of your goals – both long- and short-term. In a study conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, it was found that people are 42% more likely to achieve their goals just by writing them down! Create a long-term goal of one year that you can work up to. Then come up with a monthly list, and branch off with weekly and daily goals. Make it a plan to record your efforts each day – and whether you achieved your goal or not.

For example, if your goal this week is to work with your horse on improving their behavior on not rushing out the barn ahead of you, or waiting before you let them into their stall, you can learn from a negative experience by reflecting back on what you did and what the consequence was, and then try to figure out how to turn it into a positive outcome next time.

By remembering your actions and your horse’s reaction, you can rethink your plan and how you can improve the experience. Repeat the exercise, perhaps with a small treat if it’s helpful in training your horse, until they master the task, no matter how small. And be sure to record your experiences each day, perhaps drawing a star at the top of the page on the day your horse responded positively. You’ll be surprised at how rewarding it is to look back and see those stars in your journal.

A weekly goal may have to do with the barn. Oftentimes during these weeks of holiday preparations we become so busy it’s easy to overlook some of the chores that can quickly build up to a disorganized mess. Rather than trying to do it all at once and becoming overwhelmed, break the jobs down into smaller tasks that can be accomplished in a shorter time period each day – one day for scrubbing and sanitizing buckets, one for clearing clutter out of the alleyway, one to get rid of those ever-present cobwebs, a stall at a time, etc.

By week’s end you’ll probably have finished all those overlooked items on your to-do list of barn chores for the week. Don’t forget to cross off each item as you complete it – a task that is very rewarding.

Another weekly goal might involve cleaning your tack – we often don’t ride as much during winter’s cold weather, and tack that is overlooked could use some TLC. Soften stiff leather, clean dusty or dirty blankets, etc. Try to do one piece of tack a day, preferably in the warmth of your house rather than in the freezing cold barn.

A longer-term goal might be learning a new riding discipline. Some of the most common are trail riding, cross-country riding/endurance, Western or English pleasure, reining, barrel racing, dressage and jumping. If you’re already learning to jump with your horse, consider show jumping – where the rider travels around the course with jumps set at specific heights and obstacles in the way of the track.

There are many different riding disciplines – U.S. Equestrian recognizes 17! In addition, there are different games and events you might want to consider learning that will be enjoyable for both you and your horse. Part of your long-term goal might involve entering your horse in a horse show or gymkhana event.

New Year’s resolutions – and keeping a horse journal

Making a resolution of entering a horse show is a long-term goal that can be accomplished in smaller increments. Here Diana Hartling demonstrates perfect posture on Red Town Gold Rush. Photo by Judy Van Put

You’ll need to prepare for the new discipline or event you choose to do. Start by doing research in books or online. Perhaps you have a friend or relative or know of a trainer who can start you off with lessons and then plan out a schedule to practice as much as possible, remembering that during this time of year there will be inclement weather and days when riding would be too difficult. On those days, you can work from home by improving your posture by doing regular stretching routines, building up your core strength and using both sides of your body on a daily basis to improve flexibility – such as carrying water buckets with each hand rather than just one. The more flexible you are, the easier it will be to to move more fluidly in the saddle while riding. Practice sitting straight and balanced in a chair and finally in the saddle so that you will ride with good posture and alignment. Both you and your horse will appreciate the effort.

And don’t forget groundwork exercises with your horse even before you get in the saddle. Working from the ground will do much to improve your relationship with the horse as well as the horse’s response to your directions. You’ll need an area of level ground, a rope halter and a lunge whip to move the horse by pointing or waving it (never using it to hit the horse). You can work on five basic exercises, including training your horse to stand still, to lead properly, to flex and soften to pressure, to move in a circle and to move their front end and hind end. Groundwork is important, as you will establish your authority in your relationship with the horse, and the horse will learn these skills without having the pressure or stress of having a rider on its back and can concentrate more on the task you are asking of them.

By setting daily, weekly and monthly goals over the course of the year, you can achieve the many little steps along the way to your main goal or resolution for this year – and recording them in your journal will provide a sense of satisfaction leading up to the final achievement.

by Judy Van Put