BY JESS CLAWSON
While non-riders across America are gearing up to go to the gym every day and eating more salads in the start of 2020, equestrians likely have a different set of resolutions for the new year. Apparently, 80% of people have declared their resolution a failure by the second week of February, but horse people are nothing if not determined. We know that January certainly isn’t the only time of year to set goals, but how can we take advantage of the momentum a new year brings?
We need to first consider the kinds of resolutions we’re making. They have to be specific. “I’m going to get my horse to go better on the flat” is vague, but “I’m going to maintain the connection in the canter transition” is specific. Goals also have to be achievable. If I’m uncomfortable at 2’6” right now, it’s not likely that I’ll be happy at 3’6” by the end of January.
Beyond that, good resolutions are measurable and time bound. “I will be able to trot without stirrups for 10 minutes at a time by March 1” is both. Without having a specific way to measure your goal, you’ll have a hard time determining if you’ve achieved it or not. Nobody wants to have a lingering sense of failure accompany them throughout the year.
Resolutions have to fit in with your life as well. If you resolve to ride your horse five days a week, but have only ever been able to manage three because of your job, family, and other obligations, you either have to find a new resolution or restructure your entire life. Just nagging yourself without structural changes isn’t going to work.
We often give ourselves an out mentally when it comes to sticking with resolutions that are hard. “It’s already dark out” is one that will keep us from meeting many in-the-tack goals until springtime, so make sure you plan around that kind of excuse. It’s easy for any of us to tell ourselves we’ll do it tomorrow, or start another day. Anyone who took a look at my tack can tell that my “I’m going to clean all of the tack I use every ride in 2019” resolution certainly didn’t take, but I’m still hoping to start… next week!
So instead of waiting to begin our resolutions on January 1st when we’re likely tired from the holidays and overwhelmed by all the peopling we had to do, why not start now? Right now, a few weeks before the start of the year, before another day can escape us.
Consider it a warmup round. It doesn’t count for anything officially, but it does show you that you can do it, and perhaps even illuminate things you hadn’t considered but still have time to sort out before the new year. Pre-game your goals so when January 1s rolls around, you’re prepared.
Here are five examples of good resolutions, and how to spend the last few weeks of the year gearing up to hit them out of the park in 2020:
Overcome my fear of the single oxer in the show ring by developing my eye while I’m stuck in the indoor until March.
The very best way to get a better eye is to ride horses over fences all day every day, but most of us can’t do that. What we can do is canter over poles every ride, whether it’s a flat or jump day. This is a great thing to get started now, so that when January comes you’ll have a dozen more rides of practice under your belt before the rails are actually in cups.
Ride the sitting trot without stirrups for 10 minutes every ride.
Missed No Stirrup November? Me too. Riding without stirrups is a good exercise for developing good balance and strength. However, if you haven’t been doing it, starting right at 10 minutes is going to wear your legs out, and worse, will make your horse’s back sore. Start today with one minute and gradually work up so that 10 minutes is achievable in your first ride of the new year.
Get my trailer organized, keep it that way all year.
There’s no reason why you have to wait until January 1 to begin this project, and you’re not going to want to. You’ll likely be recovering from travel or taking down holiday decorations and preparing to go back to work. So get a head start, and spend 15 minutes a day going through your trailer tack room and sorting things that need to be washed, donated or sold, or re-packed. You can also determine whether you need any organizational things like boxes or drawers that you can get while everyone is still doing holiday sales.
Learn how to do perfect polo wraps by the clinic in April.
Perfect polo wraps take time. Determine what size you need (some fine-boned short-cannoned horses need the pony length, which you can buy, or you can alter your polos to fit your horse). I find that polo wraps are better after they’ve been through one wash and dry cycle, so I do that before I even begin using them. Then, start watching videos about perfecting the polo wrap. If you start practicing now, you’ll be a pro by the time you go to that clinic you’re looking forward to.
Thoroughly clean and condition my tack once a week.
Here’s what I’m doing in December to set myself up to get this done in 2020: I’m buying all of my favorite tack cleaning products while they’re on sale, and setting up a bucket with everything I need in one place. I’m also putting a little pocket calendar in my tack trunk so that I can essentially give myself a gold star every time I take care of my tack.
At the end of the day, I want all riders to agree on one more resolution: being kind to our horses and ourselves. Riders and horses all need a break sometimes. Give your horse carrots, a hug, and a good wither scratching and enjoy the bond you’ve built with your amazing animal.
About the Author: Jess is a professional historian and educator who lives in northwestern Virginia. They completed their undergraduate degree in English at William & Mary, and did their masters and doctoral work at the University of Florida. Jess is an event rider with a passion for thoroughbreds, and has extensive experience in community organizing around queer identities, racial marginalization, and labor.
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