In December 2016 I started to offer an online course about Equestrian Goal setting. It’s one of my fun projects and my students really liked it.
What is your goal?
I enjoy helping other enthusiastic equestrians with splitting their goals into achievable steps. It has been so rewarding for me to see people achieve their own goals with a bit of help. I’ve been a riding instructor for decades and it always surprised me that experienced riders assumed I would set their goals. Their homework was: ‘Think about what you want to do with your horse” so I can help you achieve it.
I can help clients become a better dressage rider, but if they really want to be a jumper and I don’t know about it, they will never become be a good jumper if we don’t focus on some jumping techniques in the lessons.
One client wanted to ride competitions, but her stallion hadn’t left her property for years. We trailer loaded him and drove to a nearby competition ground to practice. It was the day before the competition, so no one was there. It was a very good experience. We kept going to competitions until he was more settled being in an unfamiliar surrounding with unfamiliar horses. At home we worked on riding techniques. The day she was ready for a dressage competition, her stallion was ready, too.
Another client lived near a forest and she bought a horse for trail riding. She didn’t have an arena at home and trail riding was her dream. Her horse was really herd bound and on top of that he was terrified to walk pass the mailbox at the beginning of her drive way. She couldn’t get him of the premises without being afraid to land in the ditch next to her mailbox. After a few clicker training lessons and some groundwork we went out for rides together: she on her beloved horse and I rode her bike. Mission accomplished.
Other examples of goals my student have are teaching their horse to stand for the farrier, align their horse to the mounting block/standing still while mounting, Spanish walk, cantering under saddle and trailer loading.
Some goals are simple (just one behaviour) and others are much more complex (a chain of behaviours), but they all give you that satisfied feeling when you accomplish them. I always encourage people to celebrate their successes: big and small. In hindsight the small steps are big ones!
Are your struggling with goals you want to achieve with your horse?
Do you have the feeling you haven’t made much progress or you could have achieved more if you only had some help? This is the course for you!
- Discover what your equestrian goals really are
- Learn techniques to set achievable goals
- Learn how to brake down a big goal into training sessions order to make it achievable and realistic
- Learn how to stay motivated and on track, even if you ‘fail’ or if ‘life happens’
- Learn to track your achievements
- Celebrate your successes with like-minded people!
Once you master the tools and techniques I hand you in this course, you can benefit the rest of your life from it.
What students said about the course
“I had a really empowering online coaching from Sandra, helping me put my problems in perspective. Now Iliana and I are really focusing on not grabbing for food wherever she goes, and with baby steps we are getting there. Lots of other things to train too, but one thing at a time I think. Thank you, Sandra, you are in inspiration!” Patricia, Spain
“Through her online course on goal setting, Sandra has given me excellent help in how to set achievable goals for my horse training. I’m now better able to see what I need to work on and enjoying achieving my goals. Thank you Sandra!” Ananja, The Netherlands
“I have enjoyed all of it. The course has really helped me think about what I actually want to do with my horse. You do a good job of helping focus on a goal. Loved the advice and support.”
“I have gained a lot so far. I’ve always had a bit of butterfly mind and tend to jump from one exercise to another too fast and not getting anywhere! Sandra have taught me to focus and take things in small steps. And its so helpful to read everyone else’s progress as well” (student is referring to the Facebook support group for this online course)
“What I like is that they (the exercises) are very doable as you have to answer to one thing at a time. I appreciate the way you give support a lot. You are critical in a good way, not letting me feel like everything I do is already perfect but also giving advice in a good way and helping to keep sharp.
I also got a little more insight into why I find it hard to succeed with training plans and what I could do to help myself with this.”
“I think this course is an excellent idea 🙂 You are always very supportive Sandra and make this feel like a safe place (the Facebook support group) to ask questions. Funny, but I’ve met a lot of R+ trainers who a very encouraging and positive with their horses but extremely critical of their human trainers. Sandra you walk and talk R+ in all areas – with horses and people 🙂 “
Here is why and how I started to set goals for myself:
If you scroll to the topics on my blog you might have noticed that I am writing a lot about planning and journaling. The reason is, that it helps me a lot in training my horse efficiently and therefor I reach my goals. Which I like! Often I reach them even sooner than I expect and that works very motivating.
I wish that every passionate horse enthusiast can achieve their equestrian dreams. It’s such an awesome feeling to tick of a goal off your list and reread your journal or look at your photo’s.
When I just got Kyra, I made a detailed plan to tame her. My long term goals were: I wanted a horse that I could ride in demos, a horse that would be comfortable with music, could do trick training and could show people expert exercises of the classical dressage.
Kyra was really wild and really scared about anything and everything was new when I got her. She was born in a nature reserve and she was just several weeks before she was separated from her mom and her herd. It must have been a very stressful time in her life: losing the two things she relied on for her survival.
Kyra was 10 months old and nothing she saw around her was familiar: tractors, people, running children, peacocks, dogs, cows and calves, a stall, radio and so on. Everything scared her, she was stressed about everything. It was sad to see her so frightened all the time. I wondered if she could be tamed at all. I never saw a horse in so much distress. I could feed her from my hand but it had to be through the bars of her stall and only if I didn’t make eye contact. As soon as I opened the door, that behaviour was gone!
I started thinking about a training plan. If I wanted to halter her I had to be able to approach her. If I wanted to approach her, I would like her to face me instead of trying to run from me and trying to climb the walls in her stall or threatening to kick me. I thought about safety, too. She was in a stall but I didn’t want her to get out before I could approach and halter her. I also didn’t want to get kicked, since I was pregnant at the time.
My list helped me to make a training plan. The plan kept me on track and helped me set a logical order to do things.
Taming a wild filly was my biggest challenge until then. I had started horses under saddle before. I had known my first pony since the day he was born and I had taught him all kinds of husbandry skills, groundwork and had started him under saddle. That was different because we grew up together. Kyra was born in a nature reserve in The Netherlands.
This was a new challenge and it felt like a big adventure in which the assignment was ‘tame a wild filly’. That is why I decided to keep a training diary. Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could recall how long it took me and what difficulties I would encounter? I thought it might take me a year or so. I started this adventure very open minded and I took it day by day.
Every day I wrote my results down in my training journal. I made pictures of my achieved goals. Writing about my experiences kept me going. It was so motivating to read about what we achieved in such a short time. I got hooked on journaling. It only took me three weeks to tame Kyra, read here what she was able to after 23 training sessions.
I never stopped making plans for Kyra and I never stopped keeping some kind of logbook. Sometimes I write detailed reports about our training, sometimes I just make a video or a photo of our achieved goal.
I found an accountability partner and we made detailed plans for our green horses to prepare our horses on the ground for their future under saddle. We started making future plans which contained our ultimate equestrian dreams and distilled our 10 year plan, our 5 year plan, our year plan and 12 month goals from it. Every month we got together and showed each other our achievements, talked about the problems we encountered and helped each other with a listening ear and sometimes with advice.
I started a Facebook group Happy Herd. Join us if you need an accountability partner.
My blog is called Making Equestrian Dreams come true. Fast forward 6 years. I now live in Canada. I brought Kyra with me. She is under saddle now (prepared her with +R only), participated in Horse Agility competitions, an online clicker training competition and I made a few trail rides in the Canadian wilderness. I have plans to ride her without tack more frequently (watch the video on my YouTube channel).
I have made a lot of my dreams come true.
What are your dreams? How do you accomplish them?
Sign up for my online 4 week course ‘Set Your Equestrian Goals and Achieve them‘ and I will teach you how to set your goals, make a planning, how to stay motivated and celebrate your successes!
1 Think about your dream
What would your ultimate dream with your horse look like? What are you doing? Who is involved? Are you excited (eventing) or relaxed (trailriding)? Take your time to figure out what your ultimate dream really is.
2 Set goals
- Specific – target a specific area for improvement (e.g. dressage)
- Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress (e.g. dressage test level 1 with X points)
- Assignable – specify who will do it
- Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources
- Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved
3 Learn more about reward-based horse training
Reward-based horse training makes the results (behaviours) very reliable. Antoine de Pluvinel (1552 -1620) already said: “You can never rely on a horse that is educated by fear. There will be always be something that he fears more than you. But, when he trusts you, he will ask you what to do when he is afraid.” In reward-based training the horse is allowed to ‘ask questions’ and make mistakes. He will simply learn quickly because he is rewarded by something pleasurable when he ‘gives the right answer’. That makes the horse looks actively for the right answers. In other words: he will be eager to work with you and do as you ask.
4 Divide your big goals into smaller goals.
Make a list of all the behaviours your horse needs to master. Make for each behaviour a list with as many steps as you can think of to describe all the building blocks of the behaviours you want to teach your horse. The smaller the steps, the easier it is to achieve them. Think about your criteria: when are you going to the next behaviour? And write down what rewards you will be using. Remember: it must rewarding for the horse. It is the receiver that determines the reward, not the trainer. You might be reinforced by money, I bet your horse doesn’t care about it.
5 Set up for success
Make sure the right answers are made easy for your horse and the wrong answers a bit more difficult. If your horse outsmarts you, change the setting. Remember: it is your goal to reward your horse as much as possible!
6 Start training
Try it and prepare to fail. Try again. Every time you fail is it just another step closer to your goal. Learning is a process. Not only for your horse, but also for you as trainer! Enjoy your journey. Keep notes, see #8.
7 Reward the slightest try from your horse
Yes it is time to reward! Ask again and reward his successes. His successes are yours! Go to the next step after 3 times. Increase the difficulty slightly.
8 Write down your achievements
See this post to learn about 4 easy ways to keep a training journal! [-> Click here <-]
9 Adjust training where necessary
And don’t forget to give your horse a break or holiday. My horse performs the best after a break. It keeps fascinating me how well a break works. I wish I could give my horse only breaks and still perform.
10 ENJOY time spent with your horse.
Smile! Make pictures, poems, write a blog and enjoy even more! Enjoy not only training sessions, but also spent some ZEN time together!
Are you running out of ideas what to do with your horse? Especially in winter? I am never out of ideas when I am with Kyra. I always have many suggestions what to work on.
How do I do that? Well, I make goals. Long-term goals and I divide those into short-time goals. Then I divide those into even smaller building blocks, which are my every day ideas to choose from. I write them down in my training journal and then I print out a list to hang in my tack locker.
When Kyra was a still a feral filly I had many little goals to work on every day. Coming towards me instead of jumping into a corner of her stall when I opened a door, touching my hand/target stick/halter, standing still while being touched and so on. These where obvious goals.
What about my daily goals after 5 years of training? Kyra is 6 years old now and she is almost fully bomb-proof, very athletic and sensible and knows a lot of tricks. Are there any goals left for us to work on? Yes, plenty. If I get stuck I take a look at my long-term goals (10 year plan, 5 year plan, 1 year plan, 12 monthly goals) and I know what to do.
Every ‘dream goal’ has many ‘pillars’, take for instance a dressage level 4 test as one of my ‘ultimate’ goals. One pillar is a collection of all the exercises in that test (half pass, half pirouettes, collected walk, trot, canter, etc).
Another pillar contains all the building blocks to prepare a horse mentally for a competition. At a competition terrain there are many unfamiliar things happening, like music, flags, strange horses, white fences, flower pots and so on.
A third pillar could consist of all the building blocks required to make your horse a happy traveller. A fourth pillar could contain all husbandry skills, like standing still while saddling, braiding, or saddling in a strange environment.
There are hundreds of building blocks one can distill from just one long term goal, like riding a level 4 dressage test. If you make a sketch, it would look like this:
If you do the same thing with one behaviour and divide it into very small baby steps, you’ve created a shaping plan.
A shaping plan for ‘targeting‘ can look like this:
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