If you’ve been following along with this series, you’ve already learned about Knowing Your Why, Understanding Yourself (and your emotions), and the steps to Clear Communication with your horse. Now it’s time to talk about some of the work that goes on behind the scenes when we’re setting and working toward our (realistic) goals. Yay. Just what you wanted, right?

Setting goals can be a driver that helps us improve in all areas of our lives, including our Horsey Life. (Read how I engineer a path to my goals in this post.) 

If you’re anything like me, setting goals always seems to end up with large amounts of “should”, “why can’t I” and “WTF’s wrong with me?” I should be back riding by now. I should be showing again. I should be a size 8 and be flexible enough to bend over and put my hands flat on the floor. I’m batting 0/3. 

I do want to say right here that I have achieved some important goals, both horse-related and in “real life”. But those goals I listed above? Not so much. Let’s take a little stroll through my broken, abandoned, and unrealistic goals, and see where things start to unravel. 

We’re going to visit the soft underbelly of goal setting – beating yourself up when you fall short. That’s due, in part, to setting unrealistic goals for ourselves. We’ve all done it at some point in our lives. We set these ridiculously high goals for ourselves, only to watch them crash and. burn as a consequence of our self-sabotaging behaviors. But ditching just one word from your vocabulary will do more to help you achieve your goals than the best planner/goal setting software/sticky notes with positive messages stuck on your bathroom mirror ever can.  The banished word? 

Should.

It’s a simple word. One syllable, six letters, no weird silent consonants – but it’s a minefield rife with soul-sucking pitfalls.

According to Oxford Languages, the definition of should is: “used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.”

Obligation, duty, correctness, criticizing. Wow – doesn’t that sound like a fun way to be motivated? All I have to do is think the word and I feel myself begin curling into the fetal position. I have enough things on my plate – I sure as hell don’t want to tarnish my Horsey Life with any “shoulds”. Ever notice that “should” is almost always associated with a goal that’s: 1. Unrealistic, 2. Not really connected to our Why, and 3. Something that someone else thinks we “should” do.

  • I should ride every day. (When I’m working a 60 hour week and it’s rained for 11 days straight…)
  • I should spend more time grooming my horses. (When by the time I get to the barn, there’s not a lot of daylight left, so grooming consists of cleaning hooves and grooming where the tack will go.)
  • I should enjoy the time I spend with my horses. (When I have a migraine and any setting other than a dark, quiet room makes me want to vomit).
  • I should make more time to spend with my horses. (When … well, when life happens!)

Sound familiar? I don’t know about you, but taking that one word out of each sentence creates an entirely different feeling. To go one step further, substitute “get to” or “Able to” for the word “should”. 

  • I get/am able to ride. It may not be every day, but how lucky am I that I have the opportunity at all!
  • I get/am able to spend more time grooming my horses. Making a few tweaks to my schedule means I get an extra 15 minutes at the barn every day and my horse is loving the extra grooming!
  • I get/am able to enjoy the time I spend with my horses. I know that when I go to the barn, it’s better for everyone that I’m not dealing with a migraine or any other condition that makes my time with my horses more of a chore than a joy. I allow myself to be human and not go to the barn, or just handle the basics when I’m not up to par.
  • I get/am able to make more time to spend with my horses. I’m doing some batch cooking, asking my husband to take over some of the things that limit my time in the barn, etc.

I don’t know about you, but those sentences make me want to spend more time at the barn and with my horses!

Yeah, Yeah I can hear you saying. That’s fine for you, but I have to yada yada yada (fill in your excuses here). I work too many hours. My family doesn’t understand me. I don’t have enough money to buy one of those awesome $200 saddle pads/take more riding lessons/compete in horse shows. 

You may hate me for saying this (I know I can get pretty pissed with myself when my “higher” self brings this up), but every situation in your life right now is because of a choice you made. 

That’s a hard one to swallow, isn’t it? It takes away all of that lovely blame we can send toward the circumstances or relationships we’re experiencing at the moment. I’m not going to get into a whole discussion of this right now (because it’s a book, not a blog post), but there are literally thousands of books, coaches, YouTube videos, podcasts, etc. who will explain this to you if you decide you’d like to learn more and move past the shoulds, the blame, the frustration and the resignation you’re currently experiencing. 

So while we might want to try to dump “should” from our vocabulary, there’s a word we could add that we rarely use in relation to ourselves. Grace.

In 9 Ways to Extend Grace to Others, author Dawn Klinge suggests acts like Let It Go, Forgive, and Watch the Way You Speak. While Klinge’s post suggests these examples as ways to offer grace to others, they’re just as appropriate (but much more difficult) as ways to extend grace to ourselves. We always find it easier to beat ourselves up than to let it go – move past situations of the past that we carry with us like a heavy cloak of darkness and guilt, forgive ourselves (another way to release some of the guilt we all lug around), and watch the way we speak to ourselves. 

That’s a lot to think about. We’re learning a new way of thinking about our goals, our relationships with our horses, and more importantly, with ourselves, and that doesn’t come overnight… or over a weekend… or a week… or… well, let’s just say that this learning process continues throughout our entire lives. And we should get to see every moment as an opportunity for grace.

Until next time, Love Your Horse, Love Your Life, and Love Yourself!