I am a planner. I always make my schedule for the next day the night before, as this helps to keep me organized and make sure that I get done what I need to. If I do not have my schedule, I feel lost and notice that I don’t accomplish nearly as much. This has carried over into my riding and breeding with the understanding that a plan may have to change. Without a plan, I think it is difficult for a horse to be the best they can be. The horse and rider are most likely not as focused nor maybe working on the things they should be.
The place to start when creating a plan is to determine what your “first” goals are and what a reasonable time frame is for you to complete them on a particular horse. Every horse should have goals; whether they are a pleasure horse, a young horse, a jumper, etc. A goal can be as simple as walking across a bridge, getting on your horse for the first time, or you and your horse jumping the fence straight. They do not have to be big, fancy goals. They are created to give purpose to your riding and to help better both your horse and yourself. Just like a plan, goals will change as you accomplish them and look to the next ones. It is good to have both long and short-term goals because you will build the short-term goals on top of each other to reach the “top of the mountain”.
Once you have your goals determined, you can begin to set a plan on how to achieve them. When I start a young horse for the first time, I always outline my plan on how I am going to safely and confidently have them accept a person on their back. Many of the horses that I start for others have not been handled much before and so it is like starting from scratch. I have checkpoints that I feel the horse needs to reach before they can move onto the next step.
My plan is usually as follows:
1. Teach them to respectfully lead at the walk/trot and also stop when asked
2. Get them accustomed to hands being all over their body; head, legs, etc.
3. Start to teach them to lunge in a halter and lunge line. I like to use the rope working halters.
A.) They must walk and stop before trotting
B.) They must trot and walk before cantering
4. Put the saddle on and lunge with the saddle
5. Move onto a bridle and saddle to lunge in
6. Teach them to stand quietly at the mounting block accepting you standing over them
This is my plan for a young horse; it is obviously a little more general than what actually takes place. However, it shows an example of a plan; it is a guideline. A plan doesn’t have to be specifically spelled out for your horse day by day unless you want it to be. When I set a plan and individual goals to try to reach, I feel so accomplished with my young ones. A plan with goals allows me to know what to work on next and helps me so that I don’t get frustrated when something goes awry.
As with a horse of any age we have all come to that point when we feel like they just do not understand what we want. In fact, this happened to me just the other day when I was riding an older horse and it felt like the problems just kept mounting up. My quote when I came into the office was, “I’m climbing an uphill battle and I just keep getting pushed back down.” I was very frustrated and feeling down, but I kept working for the next week on my goals I had set for her. The fact that I had created a plan for her is what helped me to stay on track and work through these battles. You cannot just focus on the end goal or it will always seem impossible to reach; it is all about the baby steps. These baby steps are what a plan creates for you.