"One of the great mistakes people make is to not ride often enough and to try to accomplish too much when they do." -Ian Francis
Through my Horsemanship Journey, and through helping others with their Journey, there is a common barrier to success-and it is one I struggle with too!
This barrier is Lack of Consistency.
If you want to become a better rider, and if you want your horse to be a better horse, you need to work with your horse consistently.
Horses learn by repetition, and they learn best from short, frequent sessions. It is better to ride your horse 5 days a week for 15 minutes than to ride him 1 day a week for 2 hours.
It is better for the rider also to have short frequent sessions. Riding is an athletic activity, and riders that are out of shape that attempt to ride 1 day a week for a long period of time will find that they get sore. It will also be difficult to develop balance, rhythm, timing and feel if the rider is tired and sore. If the rider is tired and sore, they will not be balanced, and they will bounce in the saddle, pull on the reins, and/or generally get in the way of the horse.
Besides the horse and rider learning better from short, frequent sessions, what people sometimes don’t seem to understand is that riding is a partnership. It takes time to develop a partnership, and once that partnership is developed, it must be maintained. A football team does not practice together only once a week, and then expect to win the game on Friday night. They practice 5 days a week. This ensures that they are prepared to work together, as a team. I believe it is even more important for riders that have goals becoming a Horseman, or goals of competing, to work with their horse consistently. Why? Because the horse is a 1,200 lb flight animal that doesn’t speak the same language, and it takes more practice on both the horse and rider’s part for them to work together as a team.
When I ride my horses, I strive for them to be 1% better than the ride before. In 100 rides, they will be 100% improved.
Consistency. It makes a big difference.
Another part of consistency is Expectations.
Let’s say I have two riders that both have the same goal-say they want to show in western pleasure.
The first rider puts in the time and effort to ride consistently, let’s say 3-4 days a week, even if most days they only ride for 15-20 minutes. This rider strives for that 1% improvement every ride. This rider is not only going to be better, they are also going to be happier. If their expectation is that their horse gets just a little bit better every day, they are able to enjoy the small improvements. They stay motivated, because they are reaping the reward of small successes every day. This rider’s horse is usually happy and tends to have a close relationship with their rider.
The second rider only rides one day a week, usually for an hour or more. This rider is usually tired and sore during and after their rides, and therefore lacks the balance of the first rider. Their horse is sometimes confused, frustrated, and often does not perform at their best. This rider also tends to expect more than 1% improvement on every ride, after all, they have the same goal-and deadline-as the first rider, but they have less time to achieve it in. The result is a frustrated rider and frustrated horse, each pushing to achieve more than they are capable of. This rider is a perfect example of the opening quote by Australian Horseman Ian Francis: “One of the great mistakes people make is to not ride often enough and to try to accomplish too much when they do.”
Which rider do you think will do better at the show?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that we all have other things besides horses in our lives-families, jobs, school, etc. I live in WI, where winters are cold, snowy, and long, and the spring is cold and wet, the summers are hot and humid, and there are a few beautiful riding days in the fall. If you don’t have access to an indoor arena, it can be hard to work your horse consistently. I have a job besides horses. I have two little boys and a herd of cattle to care for. I am blessed that I have a husband who rides and loves horses, so it is slightly easier for us to set priorities so that our horses get worked consistently…after the rest of the work gets done, of course.
And that brings us back to expectations.
If, for whatever reason, you can only ride your horse one day a week, you can only expect 4% improvement every month. If your goal is to compete, you need to understand that other riders that are able to put in more time are going to do better than you. There is nothing wrong with riding 1 day a week, if you recognize and are happy with 1% improvement each ride. You can certainly enjoy your horse, and develop your riding skills. It just will take longer.
If you can only ride 1 day a week, then you need to set realistic expectations for you and your horse, so that you do not get frustrated and discouraged.
Some things that would help a rider that wants to improve, but can only ride 1 day a week:
-Consider breaking up your one hour ride once a week into three 20 minute rides, three days a week.
-Put your horse in for training. If you are not able to ride everyday to get that 1%, consider having someone else ride your horse for you.
-Get the best broke horse that you can, so that your horse is at the level that you want to be at. A green horse or a prospect is not the horse for someone who can’t put in consistent time with the horse.
-Take lessons as often as you can.
-Consider video coaching if do not have any trainers/instructors easily available.
If your expectation is to become a Horsewoman, or to win at a competition, you need to be consistent. You need to set your priorities to allow you to spend time with your horse. That is why I call it a Horsemanship Journey (and it is a Life-Long Journey!)
Becoming a Horseman doesn’t happen overnight.
So get out there and ride your horse!
In one of my Get Gritty Facebook Groups, we have been discussing grit, and the first two parts of grit, passion and purpose.
We've defined grit as passion and perseverance for long-term goals.
We've reconnected with our passion for horses-what made you fall in love with them in the first place.
We've also uncovered our personal purpose for our horsemanship journeys.
Now I feel is a good time to step back and consider this question:
Is it possible to be too gritty?
Yes, it is.
There is a dark side to grit. We can get so focused and be so driven on our goals that we can start to believe that we can only be happy if we achieve them. So we get caught into the happiness trap, that is the "I will be happy when I can do .... with my horse," or "I will be happy when my horse and I win ......"
Here is where I caution you to not connect your happiness to your achievements. And I get it, this can be tough, especially along our horsemanship journeys! We all want to be able to do amazing things with our horses, and indeed, it wouldn't be very motivating to go out and put in the hours of effort and work required to develop a relationship with our horse if we wouldn't be able to achieve some of those goals!
And I've also studied the science of goal setting and hope, and I understand how we are naturally goal-driven beings. It is natural for our happiness to be connected to our goals.
That is where getting really clear on our passion and purpose, and making sure that our horsemanship journey and our actions align with our core values-that we are becoming the best horsewoman that we can be.
And remember that the true test of whether or not you are a good horsewoman is simple:
Does your horse trust you?
Not a ribbon. Not being able to perform a flying lead change.
Having a positive relationship with your horse. Isn't that what we all want?
So don't get so focused on your goals that you get too gritty.
A great quote from Winston Churchill sums it up pretty well:
"Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never— in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."
Keep true to your values, your personal purpose, your honor, and I take good sense to also mean horse sense. You can get gritty, be happy, and enjoy your horsemanship journey all at the same time!
What do you think-is it possible to be too gritty? Share you thoughts in the comments!
P.S. For help setting goals that connect you with your passion for horses, consider joining my Get Gritty Goal Setting System. This online group coaching course is only open for a limited time, and starts on July 14th-so don't wait!
In 2004, Stanford University Researchers Liberman, Ross and Samuels* asked undergraduate students to nominate their classmates that were the most cooperative and their classmates that were the most competitive. They didn't tell these students that they had been nominated to participate because they were thought to be cooperative or competitive by their classmates. The nominated students then were assigned to two test groups, with money as the prize. Test Group One was assigned to a task called the "Community Game," and Test Group Two was assigned to a task called the "Wall Street Game." In each group, the individuals needed to make a choice-either a win-win choice that benefited everyone, or to make a win-lose choice that only benefited themselves.
No matter if the individual's initial quality was cooperative or competitive , the students in the Community Game group were more likely to be generous and choose the "win-win" and the students in the Wall Street Game group were more likely to be selfish and choose the "win-lose."
The only difference between the two groups?
The name of the game.
Burdens, hardships, crisis and other negative situations will happen. It is simply a fact of life.
How we handle these negative situations, however, is our choice.
Sure, it is natural to complain when bad things happen, especially when things happen that we have no control over.
Does that really help though?
It’s cold. The snow is falling, the wind is blowing, and the tractor won’t start. After you have finally finished thawing out frozen water tanks and struggling to feed hay, let’s be honest-you are too exhausted to even consider riding.
You start to feel guilty. That inner critic voice starts chiming in-how are you supposed to be ready for competitions this spring if you don’t practice consistently? Your horse will get fat and out of shape if you don’t ride. How are you supposed to achieve your goals and improve your horsemanship if you don’t put in the effort and ride?
Let’s put an end to that nagging voice, and show yourself some self-compassion.
The reality is that some days you simply can’t ride. Whether the weather makes it unsafe to ride, you are simply too tired from other obligations, or maybe you or your horse are even experiencing a lay off to recover from injury-whatever the reason, it is ok.
There are still things that you can do on days when you can’t ride to keep moving forward towards your horsemanship goals. One of the simplest and easiest is to practice the mental skill of visualization.
I used to think “I’ll be happy when...”
When I graduate college. When I am a successful horse trainer. When I have enough money to buy a fancy reining horse prospect. When I have the big barn, indoor arena, acres of pastures. When I have a barn full of amazing horses and clients with endless bank accounts. Wait, I’ll be happy when I marry a cowboy. When we get the farm set up better for beef cattle. When the fences are done and we have more time. When the kids get a little older and it is easier to do outside activities with them. When we sell a bull to a registered herd. When we sell a heifer. Later, when things settle down at work, when I have more time to ride, when I can start showing horses again, then I’ll be happy.
As an action driven, achievement oriented person, I used to think that I would be happy when I crossed some of these things off of my to-do list. And some of these things I have crossed off my list, while others are no longer important to me. Either way, whether I achieved these tasks or not, I felt like I was spinning my wheels. I had fallen into the happiness trap. I was so busy and focused on the things I had to do now to be happy later, that I wasn’t enjoying the happiness in my life right now.
Confidence. Every rider knows that it is a must have trait to be successful with our horses. If we don’t have it, our horses know it. If we don’t have it, we will be a lot less likely to go after our big horsemanship dreams. Without confidence, we won’t ride at our best.
But what exactly is confidence?
I wish there was a magic confidence wand that I could wave and *poof* instant confidence would appear. Riders would feel sure of their skills and abilities. They would clearly communicate with their horse, and their horse would trust their leadership. They would approach challenging situations with calm and focus. Rider would believe in themselves, and their horses would believe in them too. Most people would agree that confidence is a positive feeling of trust in one’s self, and in their ability to achieve whatever it is that they want to do.
And developing that confidence takes time.
Certainly there are technical skills that riders and their horses must master. These are things like learning balance, how to cue and direct the horse, specific aids for maneuvers, developing a feel for the horse. This is learning to read the horse, to understand how the horse thinks and reacts. This is the horsemanship knowledge that we can spend a lifetime mastering.
Then there is the mental skills and your personal reason for riding. This is the passion you have for horses. This is knowing deep inside that part of your purpose in life is this horsemanship journey, and that you are going to give 110% to practice and learn and grow. This is perseverance to keep at it, this is where you reach deep inside yourself when things get challenging, and you get back up and try again. These mental skills help you to enjoy this journey. You can control your thoughts, the words that you say to yourself. You can change your attitude, shift your mindset, and get yourself in the zone to ride at your best. This is where you realize and understand that most of the time along our horsemanship journey, you are working on your own personal development, you are not working on the horse. Without these mental skills, without grit, you can have all the talent for the technical horsemanship skills in the world, but you will not feel confident and you will not achieve your horsemanship dreams.
Developing confidence takes technical skills, mental skills, and personal development. It is a conundrum. Because it is common to feel like we can’t go after our horsemanship dreams, that we can’t try that next thing, until we feel more confident. But if we never go for it, we will be stuck, and we won’t develop that confidence. See, we build confidence by taking ACTION. And we have to take action before we feel confident! Hence, the confidence conundrum. To build up confidence, both in ourselves and in our horses, we need to take baby steps. We need to little by little ease out of our comfort zones. We need to recognize that it isn’t going to be easy. That there are times when we won’t feel confident. We will have to try something new, to stretch ourselves, to learn and grow. And no one is perfect the first time they try something new! We will make mistakes. We will get it wrong. And every time that we step outside that comfort zone we are building that belief, that trust, in ourselves. Every time that we try something new and we recognize that we got just 1% better, and we recognize and celebrate that tiny little improvement, we build our confidence.
It is so common for us to want to have it all right away. To believe that if we are truly talented and good at something that it should come easy. That if we have to struggle to learn, then it means that we are bad, and for some of us when we don’t feel like we are good at something, we are tempted to just quit. We live in an instant world, where we want answers and knowledge and things, and we want it right now. We are not accustomed to waiting! As a result, we very often fail to recognize that 1% improvement! We think that anything other than drastic changes, instantly and without struggle, isn’t good enough. So we don’t recognize those little improvements in ourselves and our horses. We don’t make ourselves or our horses winners for these little positive changes. And when we don’t recognize these little changes, we don’t gradually build up our confidence, step by step, every day. When we focus on the negative, then we get negative back. Then we don’t even want to try anything new, because we don’t feel good or confident about it. Then we get stuck, or worse, we go backwards in our horsemanship journey. When we are in a negative mindset, we can’t trust ourselves or our horse, and our horse certainly senses our negativity and doesn’t trust us.
When was the last time you recognized and really celebrated a 1% improvement? When was the last time that you really praised your horse and made him a winner for that 1%? What if you did? What if you went 1% out of your comfort zone today? What if you took your big goals and dreams, and you broke them down into little baby steps? Would you feel more confident then, knowing that you only had to stretch outside that comfort zone a teeny tiny bit every day? If you stretched that 1% every day, in 100 days you would have 100% improvement! Fear disappears, and confidence appears, when we take action towards our goals. So get out there, make that 1% improvement, and get gritty!
P.S. Want to learn more about the mental skills and personal development pieces of building confidence? Check out my Confident Cowgirl Online Course!
Do you have little kids or grandkids that you want to share your love of horses with? Check out my latest article in the Performance Horse Digest on my top 5 Tips to get kids started riding-safely. You can read it for free at https://horsedigests.com/1HD/8-18/html5.html#page/35
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