Have you ever realized that “goal” is a four-letter word? The irony and appropriateness of that amuse me (but my amusement threshold is incredibly low after a year of pandemic life).
According to Wikipedia, a goal is “an idea of the future or desired result that a person or a group of people envision, plan and commit to achieve.” When I was running my training barn, I created goals tailored to each horse. One stallion that came to me for training clearly needed to relax his topline use his back more freely. He had been started by a rider who tried to control him by taking a death grip on the reins. By the time the poor horse came to me, his defense mechanism was to just tuck his chin against his chest, totally dropping behind the contact, and then just tank off. He clearly needed to be ridden sympathetically, and learn to seek the connection rather than fearing it.
My solution for him was to take him out trail riding. He’d never been out on trails, so it would be an experience he wouldn’t associate with having his head cranked in, and he was fascinated by all the smells. He walked along like a bloodhound, nose to the ground, and stretching over his topline nicely. As the days went by, I gradually asked him to walk on very light contact, then a bit more contact, and he was perfectly happy to comply. After about 3 weeks of solely being hacked out, I took him back in the ring and he happily stretched over his topline and reached for the connection with the bit. How did I achieve my goal? I used 3 steps that can be applied to any goal – horse-related or not.
- Begin with the end in mind. I learned this from the late Stephen Covey, a leadership and productivity genius, in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, (although the original idea is attributed to philosopher Seneca around 50 BC). So, how does that relate to goals for horsewomen? You’ve got to know what you want to achieve. In the case of the stallion above, my goal for him was to have him relax his back and trust the contact. I couldn’t do anything with his training until we achieved that objective. So, I started there.
- My second step was to establish exactly where we were starting. If I rode him on a loose rein and didn’t attempt to pick up contact, he was calm. He responded well to aids from my legs and seat, and would half-halt nicely just without any rein contact. That was good, but as soon as I picked up the reins, he would get tense and start to duck his head back against his chest. So, my starting point with him was that he was responsive to seat and leg, but the whole idea of contact really freaked him out.
- My third step was to reverse engineer the journey that would take him from very tense and tight to relaxed and trusting. I worked backward from my goal and brainstormed some ideas to use as goalposts along the way. I wanted him to seek contact, but before that, he’d have to trust contact. Before he could trust contact, he’d need to trust me, and learn that I wasn’t just going to pull on his face as hard as I could. Before he could trust me, he had to get to know me a bit better. I spend a lot of time on the ground with him. Hand grazing, grooming, a bit of lunging – all of those experiences let him began to see me as someone very unlike the original person who started him. It all began with trust.
If you’re having any training issues with your horse, take a step back and decide what your end goal is. The steps required to help a horse relax his topline may be quite different than if you’re wanting your horse to be more responsive to leg aids. I always ask students if they want to ride in the Olympics, or would they be happy taking relaxing trail rides or entering some local shows. Be crystal clear about your goal will help you attain it that much more quickly and easily.
In the words of the inimitable Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you‘ll end up someplace else”, so make sure you know where you’re going!
Until the next time, Love Your Horse, Love Your Life, and Love Yourself!
We all know those people who are always looking for the next shiny thing. They’re always trying new diet and exercise plans, doctors, grocery stores (and, in some cases, husbands), because the previous one had some glaring fault or another. It’s called SOS (Shiny Object Syndrome), or FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Add a horse to this person’s life, and suddenly there are thousands of new things – and suddenly, other people at the barn start ducking into the bathroom or pretending they’re talking on their cell phone when they see this never-happy person coming.
An example – how many horse owners do you know who spend a lot of time on forums asking everyone and their uncle for opinions on caring for an insulin-resistant horse; whether it’s better to have your horse shod or barefoot, or whether cold-laser treatment is worth trying. They perceive an issue, and (rightly) turn to their vet for an answer. The vet gives a straightforward evaluation, (backed up by years of training and experience), but the owner isn’t satisfied. They read on a forum that when horses have symptoms of ABC, they have to be treated with DEF. So then they have a chiropractor and/or a massage therapist work on the horse (on the basis of someone on a forum saying that’s what saved their horse’s life), then, when the (occasionally nonexistent) issue doesn’t resolve to the owner’s satisfaction, they decide that it’s really a shoeing problem, and they ask all their friends who the best farrier is. Hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars later, the owner circles back around to the vet’s original suggestion – at least until they read the next forum post touting a new supplement or therapeutic treatment. Don’t do that, OK?
Here are some of the problems I have with that sort of behavior – in no particular order.
- Why in the name of all that is good and holy would you take advice from anyone and everyone with a clever screen name on an unmoderated horse forum. Seriously?? Do you even know if FriskyFilly1999 can tell the front of a horse from the back? What’s their training? Just because they’ve seen their neighbor’s son’s girlfriend’s horse get cured of something does not mean they have any actual knowledge – trust me on this!
- You need to have a support team you can trust – and then you need to let them do their jobs. Your veterinarian has spent years (in many cases, decades) acquiring the knowledge and wisdom it takes to provide exceptional care for your horse. What’s FriskyFilly1999’s horse experience? (having read all of the Black Stallion books 25 years ago does NOT count…) If you’re not comfortable with your vet, figure out why, then figure out exactly what you are looking for and get recommendations. Want a vet with a hospital including surgical ward, treadmills, pools, etc for rehab, or are you happy with the vet that’s been working with horses since 2 years before you were born and arrives at the barn in her slightly battered pickup? Neither one is necessarily better than the other, they’re just different – like a brand new Camaro vs a 15-year-old pickup truck. Gotta get hay, you’ll have better luck with the truck. Do lots of driving for work? Maybe the Camaro is a better fit (especially a red convertible, just sayin’). If your horse benefits from chiropractic treatment, acupuncture, and massage therapy – go for it – but do it as part of an overall plan – not just because you want to try the next shiny thing that comes along. Over my 50 years as a horse owner, I’ve relied on professionals in all those specialties and more to keep my horses healthy and happy, but I’ve never done it on the advice of SaddlePalGal on some forum or another – I’ve actually trusted the professionals I enlisted to help care for my horses.
- Need another reason? You seriously get on people’s nerves – namely your vet, chiropractor, massage therapist, farrier, and horsey friends. For goodness sake – pick one thing and actually give it a fair shot before you decide it isn’t working! Few things in life are fixed within the first 5 minutes of a new treatment. Learn the facts about the modality you’re interested in, (notice, I said facts, not opinions), and give it a long enough trial period to be able to evaluate its effectiveness.
- Final reason? Probably the most important one. You’re doing a disservice to your horse. Even if your heart’s in the right place, constantly trying the latest thing, only to abandon it a few weeks down the road, or when the next shiny thing pops up, can stress a horse, physically and mentally. Horses are creatures of habit, and constant upheaval doesn’t usually settle well with them. Please note: I am not saying that you shouldn’t ever try new modalities, supplements, or stretching exercises – what I am saying is to work with your trusted professionals to establish a plan to help your horse feel and perform his best.
Still dealing with FOMO? Go ahead and read those forums and check out what FriskyFilly1999’s latest suggestion is – read everything, then go to someone reputable (like your vet), and get the real story. Chances are, you’re not actually missing that much.
Until next time, Love Your Horse, Love Your Life, and Love Yourself!
I don’t know about you, but I sure as heck don’t need a Stress Awareness Month to become aware of my stress!! Seriously, between losing my Mom in February, COVID, furloughs, loss of my job, and having to drop my husband off at the ER when his doctor called at 7:30 am and said he needed to get to the hospital because his kidneys were failing. It turned out to be something fixable, but for 2 1/2 days, I didn’t know if I’d ever see him again. Then my own brief visit to the ER (again, easily fixable), and leaving my job in September – 2020 is a year I certainly hope remains in the record books as Worst Year Ever (I don’t know how we’d cope if there was a worse year!!)
I think that, as horsewomen, we have an advantage over so many people during this anxiety-ridden time. Our horses become our safety nets, our confidants, and our warm shoulder to cry on when we need to just let it out. Horses have an innate sense of when we need emotional support, which allows us to go to them for comfort (which I have done hundreds, if not thousands, of times). But sometimes even our horses(or a steady diet of Stouffer’s Mac & Cheese) aren’t enough – sometimes we need help in figuring out where to go from here, wherever “here” may be. You just need that next best step…
If you’ve ever had riding lessons, your riding instructor probably helped you with your position, your aids, and how to communicate with the horse you’re riding. That’s all vital information about riding, but honestly, it’s never just about the riding!
It’s layer upon layer of goals, dreams, fears, and hopes. It’s about understanding why you want to have a horsey life. It’s about reaching your dreams and discovering who you are, in the barn & beyond. Sometimes you need someone to just hold a flashlight to illuminate your next step. That’s where The Horsey Life Coaching programs come in.
As a coach, I’m able to help my clients understand stress, anxiety, fear, lack of confidence – all those fun emotions that seem to appear when you consider trying something new. I also facilitate a path forward for women who wish to explore and deepen their connections with their horses, their lives, themselves, and the Divine.
I want to be straight with you right here and let you know that I am NOT a therapist. If you need to heal from past trauma or have clinical depression – go to a medical provider. There is absolutely no shame in needing help. When you need help with the really hard things – please go to the appropriate person/people for help. I can help you figure out your goals and your next best step to achieve them, but our starting point is always where we are right now.
In case you’re wondering about the name: The Horsey Life Coach, I came up with it almost by default. To be honest, I’ve kind of shied away from the term “life coach”. It’s generic and has become a bit of a cliche. I like Confidence Coach, but that’s too limited – I help women discover so much more than confidence. I finally decided that adding “Coach” to the end of The Horsey Life was a nice segue into the coaching part of my business. I’m excited about the service I’m offering horsewomen – I believe I can help you live your best Horsey Life!
If you’d like to learn more about coaching, please fill out the form below. By joining my mailing list you’ll get special promotions on coaching packages, courses, etc. You’ll also get my monthly newsletter, where I share more in-depth content than I do on the blog.
Did the title of this post get your attention? If you’re like me (and at least 97% of all the horsewomen in the world), you may be wondering what on earth I’m talking about. Of course he’s better cared for! He depends on you to feed him, keep him in a safe and comfortable environment, and scratch that spot right near his withers that always makes him do that funny thing with his lips.
Read the last sentence in the previous paragraph again. (Just humor me and do it, OK?) Anything stand out? How about the word “depends”? (I’m not even going down the bladder control rabbit hole)! He depends on you. So what happens if you get sick? What happens if you injure yourself? What happens if you’re so tired when you feed him at the end of the day that you don’t even notice that little lump…?
Do you see where I’m going with this? You can’t be the best horse owner if you don’t care for yourself. You need to be healthy, at least somewhat fit and rested to be there for him.
The Ugly Truth
Remember the movie A Few Good Men, when Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise get in a shouting match and Cruise says he wants the truth? And Nicholson replies – “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” Can you handle the truth about yourself? Can you look yourself in the eye (in the mirror, of course) and say that you’re doing everything possible to take good care of yourself?
“You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”
“Taking care of yourself” means different things to different people. Understand I’m not talking about massages, girls’ night out, or mani-pedis – I’m talking about your health (which also means different things to different people). For the sake of this post, I’m taking a lead from the World Health Organization, which describes health as, “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
So you don’t have to be running marathons every month (or at all), you don’t have to adopt a vegan diet, you don’t have to spend hours in the gym or drink gallons of green smoothies, but you should at least establish your baseline. Caveat – I am not, nor do I claim to be, offering any medical advice. I am not a doctor, nurse, nutritionist, or personal trainer (or marathon runner, although I do love green smoothies!). I’m simply a 62-year-old woman who has spent the last 50 years, yes – 50 years! – as a horse person, and I have the surgical scars and cantankerous joints to prove it.
The whole “self-care” thing has become a bit of a cliche – which is one reason why I didn’t use it in the title of this post! For a lot of horsewomen, myself included, “self-care” means washing the cut you just got fixing the fence, or at least squeezing on it a bit so it’ll bleed out any germs. Horsewomen, we need to do better.
I’m challenging myself to do better this month, and I’m inviting you to do the same. March is Women’s History Month, so let’s make a little history of our own by becoming the healthiest horsewomen in the world (or at least at the barn).
Hello and welcome back!
Today I’m wrapping up this 3-part series on why resolutions suck for horsewomen. In the first two posts, I laid out why I think there are better alternatives to resolutions, and how to begin using them.
If all of this seems a bit overwhelming, I’ve got the solution to keep you from running off screaming into the night: chunking.
Yup, chunking. Chunking means simply breaking down your goals into small, manageable steps. For instance: You love trail riding but haven’t done much recently. Your friend has invited you to go on a 15-mile ride with her in 6 weeks, how would you ensure you and your horse are prepared:?What’s the terrain like? Are there a lot of hills? Is your horse fit enough? Are you fit enough? Does all of your tack fit my horse and me appropriately? Does your horse load into, and stand quietly tied to the trailer? Do you have enough Epsom salts for the 3-hour soak you’re going to need after the ride?
Answering those questions will give you an idea of where you’re starting. You have your why (you love trail riding and spending time with your friend), and you have your desired outcome – you and your horse having an enjoyable day out on the trail in 6 weeks. Now, all you have to do is get from here to there… before your eyes glaze over at the thought of trying to get this all managed, let me introduce you to my not-so-secret weapon. Chunking.
Yup, chunking. Chunking will help you break down the steps that are necessary to get you from today to the end of the trail ride. Let’s say that you’re not as fit as you’d like to be. Instead of putting down: Get Fit in your planner, break it down. Do you need more flexibility? Work 10 minutes of stretching into your day, gradually upping that amount. Need more endurance? Grab your smartphone and check how many steps you’re currently walking in a day and then add a hundred more each day.
Or maybe your horse doesn’t load reliably. Instead of waiting till the morning of the ride with your fingers crossed, break down your work with him into steps. 1. He needs to come to the trailer quietly, rather than yanking your arm out of the socket or dancing around or digging in his heels. That’s step 1 – just get him to approach the trailer quietly. Perhaps the trailer isn’t the real root of the problem – perhaps it’s because he likes to be a bit pushy at times, in which case you want to work on that aspect first.
Keep working backward from your goal to where you’re starting today until you have the smallest effective steps laid out. Taking a 15-minute walk followed by a stretch once or twice a day is much more manageable than hitting the gym for 3 hours a day the week of the trail ride.
As I suggested in the last post, keep track of your goals, but also of your progress. Check off the steps you’re taking every day in a journal so you can see how far you’ve come (and to point out that you’re not making the necessary progress should that be the case)!
Chunking is great for nearly every situation in life – whether horsey or not – overall health goals, home improvement projects, learning a new skill – they’re all much easier to manage when you have a baby-step that you can complete and check off in 1 sitting. If your chunk is much bigger than that, break it down again, and again, and maybe one more time until you can see yourself being able to complete the activity in 1 session.
I know someone out there’s saying to me, “For goodness sake, women – the damn ride is in 6 weeks, not 6 months!”, and I hear you. Notice I’m not limiting you to just 1 baby step per session (or per day), feel free to do one, and then another, and then another, go for it, but be sure to acknowledge the progress you’ve made!!
So, hopefully, when next December rolls around, you will be thinking beyond those same old resolutions to a system that really helps you reach your goals and celebrate your progress every step of the way!
Until then, love your horse, love your life, and love yourself.
I’m writing about why New Year’s Resolutions suck for horsewomen a few weeks after the New Year. Sorry, but 2020 beat me up like crazy. I really wanted to look at the bright shiny New Year that was scheduled to arrive at one second past midnight, December 31, 2020, with the giddy hope of a little girl about to ride a pony for the first time.
And then came 2021. Most of the first week of this year (which I’d hoped would be so different), I was tending my very sick 30-year-old horse who had spiked a fever of 105.7º. Packing his feet in ice, medicating him, praying for him (and myself), and worrying about him. It was beyond worrying. Then came the bright orange mucous coming out of one nostril. I have never seen mucous that color before, and I hope I never do again.
Thankfully, he has recovered, but his illness, (along with the events in Washington, D.C. lately) has not been conducive to keeping that giddy hope alive. My hope is, alas, a bit in tatters. So while I have abandoned resolutions for something more user friendly, (which you’ll read about shortly), I had pretty well abandoned looking forward in any way, shape, or form. Each day brought its own challenges and left me with little reserves to plan my editorial calendar or launch my first mini-course.
After trudging, head-down, for the first 2 weeks of the year, I decided to take a deep breath and look ahead, and I realized some pretty interesting things. Number one – it’s OK to feel like the whole world has taken a dump on your doorstep. Struggling? I imagine you are – 2020 was that kind of year (and 2021 is already offering us some
challenges growth opportunities.) Offer yourself some grace and on the days you need to veg out with a trashy novel or binge-watching whatever it is that people binge-watch (my guilty pleasure is the Weather Channel, so I have very little frame of reference for binge-watching, other than Highway Through Hell…don’t judge, OK?)
Once you have given yourself some space to feel what you feel, the last thing you should do is to go and set a bunch of resolutions. That would be like getting over a stomach bug and then binging on Lobster Thermidor – NOT a way to keep yourself feeling better.
Here are my issues with resolutions:
- How many resolutions have you made that came from a negative place in your life? I should lose weight, I should work on my horse’s ground manners, I should declutter my house. Anytime you come up with a “Resolution of Should”, you’re less likely to stick with it, because it comes from a place of self-recrimination, and often you feel you “should” do things because you’re comparing yourself to some ideal. Please don’t do that, it rarely ends well, but that’s a subject for another post.
- How motivated are you when you start with your resolution? Again, we know that this will be our year to finally (fill in the blank). On December 31st we are so psyched to get started, we’re already thinking how great it’s going to be when we can buy breeches or jeans two sizes smaller, or our horse stops rushing the gate when we bring him in from the field, or we can eat at the kitchen table without having to move a mountain of paperwork or unfolded laundry.
- How often do you review your resolution and chart your progress throughout the year? Do you write it on a piece of paper and stick it up on the bathroom mirror only to have it blur with the steam from your shower, or come unstuck and get tossed away? Do you check in weekly or even monthly to see how you’re progressing, and alter course when necessary?
- How often do you stick with a resolution? There we are, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with our brand new resolution. This will be our year – we just know it… And then comes January 2nd. (Or March 23rd, or May 17th), and the stars are just not lined up for you to work toward your goal today. Or tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the next week… Damn, there goes another resolution down the drain. If you’re serious about making changes, here’s a process you
should do might want to try instead (see how insidious this whole “should” thing is)??
Step 1. Know Your Why
I wrote a post about this HERE, but I’ll give you a quick recap. Why do you ride, (or want to ride if you’re not already riding)? What’s your desired goal? I’ll give you a few minutes to really think about that, come back when you’re ready…
OK – got your reason(s)? Good. (It’s very helpful to “Begin with the End in Mind”).
Now we work backward from there to plan your path to your goals. Is your ultimate goal to compete in the Olympics? Would you like to trail ride through beautiful landscapes with friends, or, perhaps, drive a pony cart? Using your desired destination as a starting point, we’ll reverse engineer from there to develop the steps that will help you reach your goals.
Next week we’ll cover Step 2: Know where you’re starting
(Want a few quick exercises to help you manage calm? Check out my free offer – 60 Seconds to Calm.