Do you ever get so focused on the goal you have with your horse that, after a few weeks, you’ve forgotten how to have fun together? Or start a schooling session and get lost in trying so hard to get a particular movement that all you both end up is tense and frustrated?
For many people, working towards a goal is a great source of motivation. Something to keep you going in amongst the repetitive work of horse care. And I am not about to write a piece about how having goals is not a great thing to do. What I am going to write about is that grey zone where your goal gets in the way of your progress.
Ambition is a funny thing, it drives us forward but it can become all encompassing and cause us to feel less in the pursuit of the achievement. And when we feel less, we are less aware, less present of where we are in space and time with our horses. And do you know what our horses really find hard- is when we aren’t congruent. When we aren’t mentally and physically there in the present moment with them. I wrote another piece on that which you can read here.
So, what are we to do? Throw all the goals out the window and just float in the present with our horses? While that is a beautiful space to be able to be in with them, it can be hard to sustain if you’ve grown up as a goal focused person. How about changing the goal instead?
There are several approaches to this. My favourite is to have harmony as the goal. How much of this session with my horse can I keep the harmony? Can I notice when it is slipping and regain it? As harmony becomes your normal, you can start to ask more and more challenging balance questions. Not with the goal of producing the movement but with the goal of seeing how close you can get to the movement without losing the harmony.
This way you can still have goals, “I want to master shoulder in/half pass/ rein back” but you set the condition that the movement only counts if it is done with harmony. So, the movement is a proof of the harmonious connection, not the why. (See this post on using movements as proofs not goals).
Bringing your mindfulness to the arena like this and setting a firm line on “only with harmony” might feel like it sets you back in the stuff you and your horse can do. Many riders are skilled in holding a horse up and producing the movements. But there is a cost. Each time you use more contact or more leg to make the horse do the thing, you are working against their resistance and bracing. At a muscular and fascial level this causes slow insidious damage. Joints moving under opposing forces will wear out quicker and lead to stiffness and arthritis in the long term. A bit like the effect of a subtle push-me-pull-you. And the body doesn’t learn to do the movement on its own if it has only ever achieved it while being held between hand and leg. Given that our input into the way our horses move accounts for maybe 7/168 hrs a week max (that’s 1 and a bit hours a day 6 days a week), wouldn’t it be great if the input we do have was able to influence their self-organised movements too.
By only doing movements in harmony, where you suggest and not tell; inform but don’t influence; ask questions and genuinely listen openly to the answers without judgement; you can achieve self-organised movements which will stick in your horse’s movement library when you aren’t together.
So I guess you have to ask yourself what goals you are truely comfortable achieving. This work is simple but it isn’t always easy.