It starts to feel a little bit like spring around here when the days get longer. When I say the days are getting longer, I mean that we are getting more hours of sunlight with earlier sunrises and later sunsets. So no, the days aren’t really longer, but it feels that way when you get more sunlight.
Spring is just around the corner, and we know that spring is the true new year. When babies like calves and fawns are born, the grass peeks out of the mud and the green returns to the trees. Spring is a great time for a new beginning for us as well, so I feel that now is a good time to think about planning out your horsemanship goals and what you would like to accomplish in this new year.
Photo by Trent Schlamp
No matter where you are in your horsemanship journey, there is always room for improvement! I'm a real believer that if you are not moving forward, in whatever endeavours you have embarked on, you are slowly sliding backwards. Forward is the natural progression of life. We are meant to develop, learn and grow.
If you are not striving to get better, you tend to become complacent and develop a “that's good enough for me” attitude. When you get a “that's good enough” attitude, you risk that the next step might be sliding backwards. You might say to yourself, “I’m just a trail rider, and I ride my horse for fun and relaxation. I’m not interested in competition, and I don’t need to set goals.”
Yes, you may not compete on your horse for a prize, but this does not mean that you shouldn’t aim for your horse and yourself to be the best you both can be. You might not do anything more exciting than ride down the lane to pick up your mail on horseback, but you can make a challenging journey out of it.
I encourage you to see how straight you can get your horse to be while heading down the trial. In your mind's eye, you want him to be as straight going away from the barn as he is going back. Can you feel it? Give it some thought. You know how your horse feels when they are heading home. There is a spring in their step, an enthusiasm in their stride and a willing straightness in their trajectory back to the barn or trailer. Now strive to obtain that same amount of energy and willingness as you head out on your mail mission.
If you have gates to open on your rides, then work on becoming the best gate opener-and-closer team ever, and yes, this is a real skill set. Get your horse handy about moving off your hands and legs so that when they are presented with these tasks, they become masters at them. And you become proficient in providing direction! Training a horse involves discipline and awareness within you as well as them. It’s a noble pursuit and one that will leave both you and the horse in a far better place than you first found yourselves. To be well trained is certainly life-changing for the horse, but don't underestimate the way it will change you as well.
Photo by Trent Schlamp
We have talked many times in the past about your relationship with your horse and your ability to be the leader of the herd of two. It has been said, and I often repeat it, that if you work 75% on yourself and 25% on the horse, that will get 100% better. What is meant by this is that if you get better and convey what you want your horse to do, your horse will get better at doing what it is that you are asking.
So if you become a better leader, your horse will become a better partner and vice versa. Now, remember that your horse is a herd animal and is always searching for a leader. In order for you to be a leader, your horse must believe that you have what it takes to be a leader. A leadership position must be earned from your horse, not taken. You can take the position of a dictator from your horse, but you must earn the position of leader.
To earn that leadership position, you have to have a plan. A leader knows where to go and how to get there. You have to ask clearly for what you want and follow up on getting it if necessary. You have to not only make good decisions for yourself but for your horse as well. This is why ponies so often pull stunts with children. They size the child up and decide that the position of a leader should be their own and not the childs. But a child who learns to be the leader of their herd of two will forever be at an advantage, having learnt how to be a trustworthy leader at a young age.
My daughter Shelby and one of her first ponies
So when working on cultivating the confidence that your horse has in you, it can be as simple as having a destination focusing on it and riding in a straight line to it with life and purpose in your body. Your horse will pick up on this and start to believe in you. You know where you are going and how to get there. If you just saddle up and wander around with no real direction or purpose, then your horse begins to question if you're truly leading the herd anywhere or just wasting energy.
Now I'm somewhat over-simplifying the cause and effect of the leadership of your herd of two. The horse's confidence isn't gained in you all in one day or lost all in one ride. It s a work in progress, but I can tell you that your horse can lose confidence in you a lot quicker than you can gain it back.
Think of how you can show up in your own life to be a positive influence and a leader. Think about how you might take on more responsibility and ownership over your life and then apply that confidence to your relationship with your horse. Certainly, don’t hesitate to set goals for both yourself and your horse this year, even if they feel small.
I encourage you to use your imagination and make your horsemanship journey an adventure. And remember, if you need some ideas on what to work on and some tools to achieve it, you can check out my videos on Youtube!