Maybe you made a new year’s resolution to ride more, or possibly you’re encouraged by the impending arrival of Utah’s longer days and want to take advantage of that extra daylight by spending more hours in the saddle? Whatever your motivation for increasing your riding time, it can take some work to build up or recreate productive riding habits if, for any reason, you’ve become a little less active with your equestrian pursuits.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you’re working on making a lifestyle change; this isn’t a temporary, quick-fix program. Rather, it’s a far-reaching goal that demands a significant degree of self-discipline, possibly even requiring that you reconsider and revise your self-definition.
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” In conjunction with this proven philosophy, “What you believe becomes truth.” So, you not only need to create a realistically viable program of action, but also sincerely believe that you’re going to be able to maintain that level of activity.
Being entirely realistic and practical in your goals is absolutely paramount to satisfaction and improvement. Having a big dream and visualizing the big picture is wonderful and inspiring, but it’s the reality of the daily achievements that have the greatest impact on your habitual progress and success.
Your long term goal may be to do a 50-mile endurance ride, jump 3’ or drive your pony cart in a parade, but those lofty endeavors require a significant number of baby steps, careful, well-informed and well-performed bite-sized pieces and calculated repetition of skills, before you build up to something that you cannot do today.
Rather than getting bogged down by the grand idea of what you want to do “someday” or (worse yet) beating yourself up over something you used to be able to do, invest your time, thoughts and energy wisely on the here and now.
The time you have today is the only time you have to make improvements and work on productive habits. Yesterday is long gone, tomorrow is a world away. What are you going to do right now?
If you’d like to ride 5 days a week, at least an hour a day, begin with the plan to ride 3 days a week, 30 minutes a day. Creating a very manageable goal is a great way to set a solid foundation for your desired habit. Once your good habit is established, you can build on it.
One of the greatest causes of set back and disappointment is when someone cannot achieve their initial goal. Make sure your plan sets you up for success and self-encouragement.
Habits are built on the back of motivation. Motivation is highly personal. You are far more likely to do something, do it well, and continue doing it, if you want to. As you create your plan of realistic action, think very honestly about what motivates you.
Along these lines, become aware of and admit to de-motivators. Common culprits are fatigue and stress. Don’t approach your goals and practices with such inflexible rigor that you don’t permit yourself to have a backup plan. For example, you may tell yourself, “I’m going to be at the barn by 6:30pm and on my horse from 7 until 8pm.” However; some days you may have to work late.
If you get home with a headache, feeling drained and exhausted, is it really a good idea to rush your frazzled being out to the barn? Maybe not. In this instance, you and your horse may be better served if you allow yourself to wait until the next night. Be considerate and a bit flexible with yourself. It’s certainly acceptable to say, “OK, that was a rough day and I need a little down time before I ride.” Consider getting a cup of coffee (decaf?) or tea, relax for 30 minutes at home or the coffee shop before you change into your riding attire and head to the barn.
Making the experience enjoyable helps create habits you’ll be happy to retain.
Keep in mind too that a setback is not failure. At worst it’s a minor detour. Deviating from your initial intent does not obliterate all the progress you’ve made to date. Never become consumed with all-or-nothing concepts.
Hoping to reduce the interference and negative impact of stress, make the habit easy. Do whatever you can to make the necessary steps surrounding your activity both simple and fun. Don’t get bogged down with an unnecessary assortment of details or manufacture inconveniences. Make sure your tack is kept as close as possible to the horse. Be organized. Wasting time looking for something can be distracting and terribly frustrating. Have your bridle, reins, saddle, girth and pad in the same place every time. Keep all grooming implements together and in an easy-to-handle container. Simplicity is a proven stress-reducer, and the more calm you are, the more your horse will enjoy your company.
The rewarding accomplishments and feelings of success that will quickly result are sure to reinforce your behavioral changes and make it easier to keep building on your new training habits. Good luck and happy riding!