Sunday, December 28, 2008

Goals: 2009

I'm going to take the calendar part of this post from my training log for Pandora, but the first bits are new.

I like goals, I really do. To be more general, I like planning. I'm far more likely to carry through with something if it's all mapped out on a calendar, especially if it's color-coordinated. I'm also pretty bad about setting horse-related goals, so this year I decided to get on top of the ball and sketch out what I want my year to look like.

This year is going to focus mostly on Pandora. I've tried focusing on both horses at once, and I just can't do it. This is disappointing for me, because (as I'm sure you can all tell) I adore McKinna. I think the world of that mare, and I love working with her because she progresses so quickly when she's in consistent work. However: she is my mother's horse, and it's not going to kill her to spend the next six or seven months doing mostly walk-trot work with my mom and a little jumping with me, instead of intensive work.

So -- my goals pertain to Pandora. I am letting go of my desire to make progress with McKinna, reluctantly, and focusing on bringing Pandora's skills up to par so that I can proceed to sell her this summer. After that, by all means I'll focus on the wonder-pony ;)

Here's my philosophy on goals: first, they should scare you, just a little. You should look at your goal and go, "Hmm...Can I really do that? I mean, I think I can. But can I?" It's sort of along the principle of, "Shoot for the moon - even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." So I select pretty ambitious goals. I aim high, but within reason, and I fully intend to accomplish that goal even if it's a little unrealistic.

Second, your goals should be measurable. Sure, "I want Dobbin to be broke" is good. "I want Dobbin to do what I ask, at home and away from home" is better. But if your goal is "I want Dobbin to do turns on the forehand and haunches, to walk/trot/canter without spooking in the face of show-ring distractions, and to complete a 10-mile trail ride with no issues" is best, because they're all easily measured. You can look back and definitively say whether or not you accomplished your goals.

And, for me at least, your goals are a starting point. By this I mean, I take my goals and work backwards. Take Pandora's year, for example: the main goal of my year with her is to successfully ride, at either BN or N depending on our level of preparation, in Inavale's annual Horse Trials in June. To me, success means I feel good about the performance we put in. I'll be able to define that more specifically as we draw closer to the actual event, because I'll know what I can reasonably expect from my horse.

So I take this goal and I work backwards from it. If we're going to be ready to compete at a recognized HT in June, what needs to be happening in May? April? This month? What landmarks do I need to find along the way? These landmarks may be training landmarks (can canter a 2'9 course smoothly, can nail canter-trot transitions), competition landmarks (score well at the Pony Club show in March, come prepared to the Combined Test in May), or more general ideas.

With that in mind, here's my rough calendar for the next seven or eight months with Pandora. Obviously things get more flexible as we get further away from the present. I've included some landmarks and planned everything to funnel us toward our Big Goal, the June Horse Trials.

Also, please note that my 'year' ends in midsummer, since that's when I'll probably be selling Pandora. Once that happens I will make a new set of goals for McKinna.

Big Goal: Successfully compete, at BN or N, at Inavale's Horse Trials in June.
Other Goal: Sell Pandora sometime over the summer. [Progress towards this will naturally come by way of progress towards the other goal.]

Dressage to the max! January will be the month of flatwork, flatwork, flatwork. Time to get the girl up off her forehand and really working from behind.

This will be a month of working intensively on things at home. I'll haul out for a couple lessons, but the focus will be on making lots of progress in our own arena. I also plan to spend a lot of time exploring clicker work and seeing how I can use it to resolve issues we come up against.

However, the main focus will always be dressage this month.

There's a Pony Club show on the 31st that we will attend. Also, I will take one or both mares to a clinic next weekend.

The month to ramp up our jumping skills. I have several books that are full of grids, patterns, and exercises, so it's time to start using them. We'll do some free-jumping, do lots of gridwork, and practice smooth courses.

I plan to take her to one or two PC jumping lessons. I would like to haul her somewhere to practice some jumping schooling on my own, but there are several PC clinics this month, so that may not be feasible.

There is also another PC dressage lesson which we'll go to, just to make sure our flatwork is still up to par.

A return to flatwork! There's a PC dressage lesson on the 1st and another PC show midmonth, which will be a good place to check progress. This month I will be focusing on flatwork as it specifically applies to jumping: smooth balanced turns, rating at all three gaits, obedience to the leg. In general, I want to spend this month truly sharpening her response to the aids -- clicker work may come in very handy here.

There's also a Showjumping Rally late in the month - definitely a possibility, but we'll see how things are going.

Time to start thinking about XC, as soon as the weather turns and courses are open for schooling. This will be the month for putting miles on Pandora: lots and lots of riding down quiet roads in the area, trailering to places for real trail rides, and just getting out of the arena.

Since May is when things start heating up, we might relax a little more this month, too. This would be a good time to really shore up weak areas in Pandora's training and behavior if she has any. April would be a good month for playing with obstacle courses and similar things, as well.

I plan to ride in a Combined Test at Inavale. Things should be going smoothly by this point. This month will probably have an emphasis on lessons -- I'll take advantage of the weekly PC jumping lessons offered. Can't forget the flatwork, of course.

It's a bit hard to know exactly what I'll do this month since it's so far out! Since June is such a big month, we'll probably just work on whatever it is that needs an extra boost.

June is competition month! Inavale will have Eventing Derbies on the 6th and 7th, though I may not make it to them because this is right around the end of school and I remember being very busy around this time last year.

Inavale's annual Horse Trials is the 26th through the 28th. This is my major focus point for the year. It's most likely that we'll run Beginner Novice, but if we blaze through the year and I manage to put a ton of riding time in, it's possible that we could go Novice.

According to my Pony Club's website, there's an Eventing camp from the 17th through the 20th. Dunno anything about it, but if it's local and not too expensive, that would be an excellent way to prepare for the Recognized HT.

So basically, June will be focused around these things!

It's likely that sometime in June it will be time to start preparing to sell Pandora. Therefore, I'm pretty unsure what July will hold. Taking her to a show or two, if I can find them. Advertising, advertising, advertising. It really all depends on how the rest of the year goes.

Ideally, Pandora will be happy and competing in a new home by this time!

The later it gets in this calendar, the less sure I am of things, of course. These are more like guidelines -- and they're pretty ambitious guidelines -- but it gives me something to work off of.

To finish, here's a few non-time-specific goals for the year:
  • Get Pandora accustomed to many different riders, so that after a brief adjustment period she is comfortable under a strange rider. This should be pretty easy to accomplish in Pony Club, since catch riding is an important part of things anyway.
  • Use clicker work to establish a wicked solid "come" command. I mean, really. Who doesn't want a horse that gallops up and stops politely in front of you from a whistle??
  • Develop an "old hat" personality about shows -- I think that without too much work, Pandora can easily become a "been there, done that" relaxed type of horse.
So there we have it. Let's see how things turn out.

I would love to hear the goals you guys have for the year. Bonus points if you write a post and map out a rough calendar, then link it here for us to see!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Motivation, or, Know Thyself

First off, apologies for the long wait -- all my ambitious plans to post once a week were squashed a little bit when I got stuck away from home for almost a week due to weather nastiness.

Anyway, here I am.

Today I want to talk about motivation, which is always a big subject in the winter for me. I'm swamped with schoolwork, I'm working to pay for the horse, it's cold and windy and rainy, and it gets dark at 4:30. All this combined means that sometimes I'm dragging my feet to even get to the barn, let alone find the energy to ride after I've mucked the stall.

So, over the years, I've learned how to give my energy a little boost right before I go out to the barn so that I'm more likely to want to ride.

For me, the most effective is reading about horses and training. I have always been this way: learning has its biggest impact when I'm absorbing it by reading. I get excited by training ideas, I get inspired to try things.

So, first in my arsenal is to go read, whether it's a horse magazine, one of my numerous training books, horse blogs, or one of my favorites, the Eventing or Dressage boards in the COTH Forums. Usually I can get inspired to go ride even if I don't latch onto a specific idea, though I often do grab one idea and use it in my ride. I've thought about keeping a notebook tailored to my own preferences and filling it with simple exercises to do throughout the ride -- cavaletti work or just certain things to focus on, but with ride lengths kept in mind. Has anyone done that sort of thing for themselves? I know there are books out there with that purpose.

If I've got the time and I'm feeling tired, I'll just take a nap about an hour before we go out. Simple, but this has always been effective for me. No matter where I am or what I'm doing, if I take a nap, I'll feel a lot better.

If I think my motivation will wane by the time I set foot in the barn aisle, I wear riding clothes - breeches, riding shirt. Since I normally ride in jeans and whatever t-shirt/sweatshirt I happen to be wearing, the breeches help get me in the riding mindset.

Finally, I'll try to grab something to eat and drink right before we head out. Ideally you want carbs: sugar will give you a temporary boost but that comes with a drop in energy later. Something like a couple pieces of whole-wheat toast will usually do the trick, or an apple with peanut butter (though the apple does have natural sugars). And in the winter, a nice cup of hot tea never hurts.

When winter motivation is hard to come by, I've learned to just take what I can get. If I suddenly get the idea that fine-tuning some groundwork and longeing would be nice, then I do that. It's easier to do something I'm excited about, even if it's not necessarily riding, than to try to force myself to do something else.

So, now it's your turn. What do you guys do to keep yourself motivated, especially in the winter? I'd love to have more tips to use when I'm feeling lazy!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Here We Go!

Okay, I'm back. For real this time!

Thankfully, my horses have seen more of me than you guys have for these past couple months. I haven't ridden a whole lot -- good weeks it's a two or three times, bad weeks it's once or not at all. But, they get exercised pretty much every day.

So here's all that's happened since last time I was around:
  • I'm now officially done with my first term of college. I got three A's and one A-, so my 4.0 is toast until I pick up a few A+'s to make up for it. It has been a lot harder than I expected.
  • It's COLD at the barn. I hate winter. They're cooped up, wearing blankets, water's frozen, ugh.
  • Both horses are doing wonderfully. Pandora is in perfect weight, and while you can tell she hates being cooped up, she's never rude and she always has a pleasant expression on her face. McKinna is a little more upfront with her cold-weather displeasure, but she too is doing well.
  • I went to a few more lessons and then took quite a bit of time away from lessoning just to work on school. I should be taking a lesson tomorrow though (unless the predicted freezing rain tonight makes it impossible to get out to the barn), so I promise pictures from that!
  • I passed my D-2 rating for Pony Club, which required basically no studying or anything. Next up is D-3, but I'm not too worried about getting it done right this very instant.
That picture up there is from last weekend, when the cold started to really kick in. I feel like a bear -- I don't want to go out to the barn to ride, I just want to be warm! Nevertheless, duty calls.

Pandora's been doing just wonderfully. The more I work her, the smoother she gets, and her canter is really improving. I'm going to take my first lesson on her tomorrow night, and I'm hoping we can try her out over a few low fences to get a feel for what she's like.

So here's the deal. Next term is going to be about as hard, if not slightly harder, than last term. But I want to stick with this blogging thing - I've really missed it - so I'm going to promise you guys one post a week. Some weeks it'll be more, but I'm going to maintain a minimum of one per week. Hopefully I'll get back into the swing of things and writing posts up will get easier.

Here's a video from one of the lessons I went to last month. McKinna was doing wonderfully! Lately I've been focusing more on Pandora. It's hard to work with two horses at once, which I'll talk about in my next post.

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