It's been a busy winter. With the unseasonable cold weather in early December, then Christmas hustle bustle, riding has taken a back burner for us. As the New Year approaches and visions of all the cool things we will do with our horses keeps us warm at night, it's a good time to get refocused and set some goals for the shiny brand new year.
1. Ride More
This one should be at the top of every single horse person's list. There are very few of us that actually get to spend all day every day in the saddle. If you are one of those lucky ones, you have to come up with a new number one for yourself. As for the rest of us, we don't ride near enough. The epidemic of overfed, underworked horses is growing. Put those horses to work! They will be happier and healthier for it and so will you. Make riding a priority and you will find the time to make it happen. The very worst thing you can do is start making a list of excuses for why you can't ride. Start making excuses for why you must ride. I used to have to write time in my schedule for it to happen then guard that time with my life! If you are a member of a breed organization you might want to check to see if they have any programs for recreational riders. I know that both AMHA and AQHA have such programs that allow riders to log hours in the saddle for prizes at the end of the year. Or take the 100 day challenge and make it your goal to ride 100 days in a row.
2. Take a lesson/attend a clinic
Every single one of us can benefit from riding with a person that is more accomplished than we are. If you already take lessons in some equine sport, branch out and try something new; or even try someone new. It's not disloyalty to your trainer to learn from other people and you never know when you are going to pick up something that will really help you or your horse. Taking a lesson in a discipline far from what you usually do is a great way to challenge yourself and your horse and discover new venues to accomplish resolution #1. The only horseman that no longer has something to learn about horses is the dead horseman. All the rest of us could stand a lesson or three.
3. Participate in at least one local horse show
Especially if you don't show your horse, this is a really good motivator for improving your equine excellence. Local shows are great for this because you can usually find a good cross section of folks that are not the standard horse show crowd. If you are a circuit showman and think the local scene is below you, you may find that helping out at a local show is rewarding. It is in the best interest of every single horseman to find a way to support the local horse industry and encourage kids and other folks that may be new to horses that owning a horse is a great thing. Welcoming those folks into the horse community strengthens the industry and helps carry the horse into the future. Many of those folks first discover horses either on a dude ride somewhere or at a local horse show. Believe me, I get plenty frustrated with the "horse show scene" but still recognize that good that supporting these local events brings to our horse community.
4. Ride your horse into new territory
Gus McCrea in Lonesome Dove said, "Ain't nothin' like riding a fine horse in new country." How true that is. Even if you aren't an avid trail rider you will enjoy the feeling of seeing this beautiful country we live in from the back of a horse. There are so many wonderful places to ride out there. As horse folks we need to continue to support and protect our trail systems so that generations of horse lovers can continue to enjoy those trails in the future. Whatever you do with your horse on a regular basis, trail riding can help in your cross training program. It's a great way to strengthen muscles that aren't used in the arena. It can help a horse that doesn't feel much purpose in his work find purpose again. If your horse isn't broke enough to ride outside on a trail he isn't broke enough.
5. Learn how to build one piece of tack.
It used to be that most real horseman made some or all of their tack. This is especially true of the cowboys who were often not within riding distance of any towns for most of their working season. If something broke, you mended it. Not only was this a great way to keep tack in working order longer but it helped pass the time. Now, the lost art of making much of the tack we use is in the hands a few remaining craftsman and the numbers of folks out there making good quality gear continues to decline every year. So, while teaching yourself how to build a saddle this year may be a little out of your reach, tying a rope halter, braiding a set of reins or weaving a cinch may be a little closer to something attainable. I want to learn how to make cinches this year.
6. Read the words of an inspiring horseman
This is a good one while the weather is still not really conducive to long days in the saddle. Reading the words of some of the great horseman is a wonderful way to get re-inspired to better your horsemanship in some way. There are so many out there to choose from and you need not choose only one. Here are some suggestions from our reading list Buck Brannaman's Faraway Horses or Believe, Ray Hunt's Think Harmony with Horses, Tom Dorrance's True Unity or True Horsemanship Through Feel or Mark Rashid's Horses Never Lie or Nature in Horsemanship. There are many, many others out there. Pick something that inspires you and read! Better than watching RFD tv or a DVD because it is more interactive and will help you to think, which is what Ray Hunt was always telling us to do anyway!
7. Clean your tack
I"m sure most people out there are better at this than I am, so this one is mostly for me. Keeping your tack in good working order means not letting dust and grime build up. Good tack is an investment and can last you for much of your life. I have tack I've had for 30 years that I still use regularly. It's important to remember to not procrastinate this important task. Winter is a great time to get that done. Again, another benefit to committing to a local show is it motivates you to clean your saddle!
8. Teach your horse a trick
This is a great exercise in learning timing and feel. Horses are great at learning tricks and can respond well to positive reinforcement. It doesn't have to be anything extraordinary and can be something even quite useful. You can teach them to put their head down, or smile, or bow. I would like to learn how to teach my horse to lie down. That's my goal for this year. The lessons that both you and your horse learn through the little trick training sessions should carry through into other learning opportunities under saddle. And it may help you with the next one on the list.
9. Fix one of your horse's bad habits
Be honest, all horses, no matter how perfect we thing they are have at least one bad habit that we just live with. Maybe your horse is a hard to catch. Maybe he's a pawer. Maybe he likes to chew on the end of the lead rope. Maybe he doesn't take oral medications very well (this one is INCREDIBLY common!). Each of my horses have a bad habit that I just live with. It's time to really attempt to fix those. What if your horse ended up in the hands of somebody else who really didn't like that habit and decided to fix it once and for all and not in a nice way? None of us are immortal and it's up to us to be sure that our horses are good citizens incase the unthinkable happened and they ended up being somebody else's horse. Each of my horses have at least one bad habit for me to work on. Chico hates clippers. He's 11 and I've never fixed it. Shame on me, I know. When you are a veterinarian it's easy to reach for the sedation rather than fix poor horsemanship. So, that's on my list.
10. Fix one of your bad habits
This one you may need some help to fix. Many of us have bad habits that we aren't even aware of. This is when taking a lesson from someone who can spot these habits can help you identify and correct it. Maybe even just having somebody on the ground who can yell out at you when you do it so you can become aware. I learned last year that I don't keep my heels down when I ride. Really? How is that possible after all the years I've been in the saddle trying my dangedest to keep my heels down? I thought they were down. They felt down. But, alas, they were not. If I hadn't branched out and taken a jumping lesson I never would have known! That's just one of my bad habits but it's the one I'm conquering this year. No need to try and tackle them all at once! I've got riding to do!
Of course, this is just a list of suggestions and you can add your own to the list. Many people pooh-pooh resolutions because no one keeps them anyway so why bother. Just setting yourself up to fail, right? Good heavens, no, that's not right at all. Resolutions are like little goals for your year. Setting goals, both big and small is how all great people succeed in life. Set your goals so that you have some that are easily attainable and others that take some reach and some that you may not be able to quite get done this year. Reaching for that next thing is how we continue to improve in life and horsemanship. As Buck says, "Horses and life. It's all the same to me." Happy New Year, horse friends, and here's to many long dusty days in the saddle!