A promise of perseverance
Winter is a time of year for sitting in front of cosy fires, reading long books and hibernating!

The last thing your body wants to do on a freezing January morning is get down to the yard before it’s even light for a morning training session – particularly when there are ominous clouds above threatening sleet every two minutes, as was the case last Wednesday.

But, the beginning of the New Year is EXACTLY the time for getting out on to the yard early (or whenever you can,) sneaking in a whole load of hours in the school before the busy summer season, and getting a head start on your training whilst nobody else is crazy enough to be using the arena. I quite like this time of year because, despite the mud and rain, there’s a whole year of possibility and potential in front of you – it’s just up to you to make it happen.

So, with this New-Year-motivation in mind, and dressed in more layers than I could count on one hand, I headed off to Student of the Horse, thoroughly excited to continue my academic equine education. The Private Mentoring sessions are really great for keeping motivation up over the winter months and meeting up with Arran provides little beacons of inspiration. To have an environment with such a positive vibe really encourages you to progress further in your education.

I was absolutely raring to go… I just needed my horse.

After retrieving Harper out of the field (mud, hair and all), the first thing that we did with Arran was to think about what it is that we wanted to achieve, and subsequently set some goals for the year. The concept of setting these goals was a bit like deciding on New Year’s Resolutions…. except I am actually going to stick to these ones!

For each training component (Basic Horsemanship Skills, The Art of Groundwork, The Art of In-hand Work, The Art of Lunging, The Art of Riding and The Art of Liberty.,) we set an individual goal and a timeframe to aim for, as well as laying out how we would implement them and also (and possibly most importantly,) how we could measure our success.

In the past I’ve always set myself wishy-washy goals; for example, lose weight, learn to play the guitar properly or learn a new language. In the case of Harper’s training, previous goals have included things like ‘more harmony in liberty’ or ‘improving our relationship’. These may sound nice but really, what do they mean exactly? And how will I determine whether I have reached them?

In the private mentoring session, I learnt that you are far more likely to achieve goals when you have specific methods of measuring your success and when there is a solid structure in place in order for you to succeed.

Lesson Number One. It doesn’t matter if you do not reach your goal – you have not failed. Goals are set, not to burden you with the fear of failure, but as valuable tools for your continued training and development. Goals should be flexible, and you should be transparent in your attitude towards how you view them.

I think this is one of the main reasons why, in the past, I have always set myself vague, fluffy goals –I do it to fool myself into thinking that I haven’t failed. Take my NYE resolutions for example; I have no clear intention on what exactly it is that I want to achieve, no clear time in which to reach it and no way of checking on my progress, so therefore (in my subconscious) I cannot fail! The problem is however (and this is scientifically proven), that you are more likely to not reach a chosen target by setting ambiguous goals like these. Lesson learned!

Lesson Number Two. When you’re thinking about your goals, by all means make them achievable (taking my 5-year-old Lusitano to the 2020 Olympics may be a bit over ambitious), but it’s also important to make sure that you’re pushing yourself far enough. When setting out goals for my liberty work with Harper, I told Arran that I liked to use the end of the session as ‘liberty chill time’ for Harper, basically implying that I just let her do what she wants to do. I follow her around and think that it’s great because we’re doing it in harmony – it’s lovely to have this chill time with Harper, but in terms of ‘liberty’, it’s a bit of a cheat really!

But, what’s actually happening is that consciously or subconsciously I was afraid of failing because it might mean that my relationship with Harper isn’t as harmonious as I imagined or desired. The harsh reality is, I was too afraid to even try.

During the mentoring session I found it incredibly hard to pin a specific liberty goal down. And truthfully, I believe that I was just really scared to fail. Liberty is actually the section of horsemanship that I am most eager to understand and capture, and so I suppose naturally I want to be the best I can be, without falling flat on my face.

By setting a solid goal to work towards and having a structure to work towards, I now know what I need to work on. I’m still nervous of failing, and I may do, but that’s fine. It’s all about being transparent and totally honest with yourself – you won’t fool others, yourself or your horse!

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