Kate Fenner riding black horse. SMART goal setting

Get 2019 off to a Great Start with SMART Goal Setting

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SMART goal setting

It’s that time of year again when we set goals and make resolutions. It’s an exciting time and setting goals can be invigorating. However, more often than not, such resolutions only last a few short weeks or a handful of days. In this article, we’ll discuss your goals and provide ways in which you can, not only achieve your goals, but have fun doing it!

During the holidays we sometimes don’t ride as often as we thought we would and we also usually eat more than we told ourselves we would. Come January, we then have two goals to set – a riding/training goal and a health/fitness goal.

Have you got a horse sitting in the field that you’ve been promising yourself you’d get to work with?
Also, if you’re anything like me, you’ll have put on a few pounds over the holidays, confident in the idea that you can lose it later.

Does this feel a bit like déjà vu, only that extra five pounds is now an extra ten and the three-year-old in the field is now six?

As equestrians, we often need to set both riding and fitness goals for ourselves at this time of the year.
So, how do we ensure that this time we achieve our goals and not throw them into the too-hard basket after a few days?

Some of the best ways are to set yourself SMART goals, to write your goals down, to track your progress, to acknowledge your small wins and to get an accountability partner or join a group.

Let’s start with the SMART goal setting formula. In order to set yourself up for success, it’s important to address each of the five categories listed in the SMART Goal Formula.

By working through each item and writing your goal down you can really begin to see how you will achieve it – this is your action plan.

In the example here, the basic goal is to train a horse to do good canter transition because the horse currently rushes into canter and throws its head up (see image of Completed SMART template in the attached PDF).

Our example rider has just signed up for the Kandoo Online Training but this would work equally well with an instructor or friend to help and support you when needed.

1) Specific
Here you need to define exactly what it is you are aiming for. It’s not good enough to say “I want a better performance” because we can’t measure that and so won’t know when we’ve achieved such a vague goal.
Define what the result is you are looking for – clean flying changes or a horse that loads on to the trailer in 30 seconds.

Write down where and how you are going to do this – are you doing it yourself or could you enlist some help?

2) Measurable
If we can’t measure our goal, we won’t know when we’ve achieved it. With this example we will want every transition to be clean and for the horse to maintain posture and tempo. Our trailer loading example is similarly measureable as the horse either loads or doesn’t load in the allowed time.

3) Attainable
This is an important consideration with horse training as it’s unfair on the horse to expect it to perform maneuvers when it doesn’t have the foundation work in place. If there are steps that you need to teach your horse before you can achieve your goal, then these need to be stated here. With the trailer loading example, we would need the horse to have learned ‘go forward’ and ‘go back’ before presenting the trailer.

4) Relevant
With the canter transition example, we can see that the goal is relevant as the horse’s behaviour has become dangerous and difficult to ride.

Making your goal relevant is important because it makes it more likely that you will continue to work towards it. If your horse isn’t loading on to the trailer and you have a show to go to next month, you will definitely be working towards that goal.

5) Time-based
It’s important that you set a time to accomplish your goal. If it’s a particularly big goal, you might consider breaking it down into more manageable chunks and putting a shorter time frame on each of the phases.

Break it down
Breaking your goals down is, of course, a wonderful approach for those ‘big picture’ people who like to take the five-year view, three-year, one-year, six-month view. There is no doubt that the more you can break your goals down, the more likely you are to achieve them.

The next factor that greatly increases our ability to attain our goals is tracking.

Working towards your goal is simply a matter of forming new habits and repeating these behaviours. If your goal is to teach your horse to trailer load, you will have a list of behaviours that the horse needs to do and you will need to work on establishing these behaviours over time.

When we are training our own horses it’s often difficult to see our progress because the horse makes small behaivoural changes.

For example, the horse rarely goes from not loading on to the trailer to suddenly loading. Rather, with each session of practice the horse will become more relaxed, step further up the ramp and stand longer in the trailer.

I like to use a checklist (see the example on the opposite page) with a traffic light system to record the horse’s progress through the lesson.

In the beginning, the horse often has no idea what is wanted so I will put a red mark in the box.
After a while, as the pattern begins to become clear to the horse, I will mark the box orange.
I can then put a green mark in the box when the horse has mastered the lesson.

This gives me a quick and clear visual aid to see how I am progressing towards my training goal.

Another useful trick is to develop a gratitude practice around your horse and its training. At the end of every session, I think about three things that I really liked about how the horse behaved during the session.

This practice keeps you present and feeling positive. Even after a difficult session, you can always find three things and hopefully many more. By focusing on the positive we become more proactive and less reactive trainers and riders.

The final factor is accountability. Find yourself an accountability partner or buddy. This might be your instructor, a friend or someone online.

Sharing your progress and your trials is very helpful. If you do venture online for an accountability partner be sure to find a nice supportive community. You’re always welcome in the Kandoo Equine Community, come and find us on Facebook.

Well… That covers the horses, now for the people!

Your own goals
Research has shown that horses can carry a maximum of 20% of their own weight as rider (and tack) weight. Once you exceed this limit, you risk injuring your horse. While it is often argued that better, more balanced riders are easier on the horse’s back, this doesn’t alter the 20% rule.

As responsible owners, we owe it to our horses to do the very best by them and keep them safe and injury-free. That can mean making adjustments with our own diet and fitness regime to accommodate the horse.

Your horse’s welfare is certainly a good motivator for your own health and fitness journey. Riding uses specific muscle groups (something which can be obvious if you ride infrequently and cause repetitive strain injuries if you’re a very regular rider).

A fitness program designed to build good core strength, balance, flexibility, symmetry, cardiovascular strength and stamina, and which heightens your level of proprioception is ideal for the rider.

Core strength, flexibility and symmetry are particularly important for the rider because, even with the correct weight ratio for the horse, our posture and stability on the horse are likely to have a massive influence on its back.

If the rider is crooked, has on dropped hip or carries more weight in one stirrup than the other, then even a perfectly fitted saddle will not be able to compensate for such irregularity.

When we want our horse to lose weight, we put them on a strict diet. To gain weight we simply increase their calorie intake. To get our horses fitter, we design a training program. Why then, is it seemingly so much more difficult when it comes to our own health and fitness?

I think one of the major problems is the lack of planning and, as we all know because Benjamin Franklin told us, ‘if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail’.

Without a SMART goal you are not likely to reach your health and fitness targets so let’s see how we can go about setting you up for success.

When setting your health and fitness goals it’s a good idea to make a note of your benchmark figures. These include your weight, body measurements, physical capabilities, sleep and so on. From here you can begin to formulate your SMART goals.

Let’s have a look at an example:

  • Perhaps your goal is to be able to ride for a 45-minute lesson while maintaining good posture with your shoulders back, a pain-free lower back and without getting out of breath.
  • You also feel a bit heavier after the holidays and would like to lose ten pounds so your jodhpurs weren’t so tight and you were a lighter load for your horse.

Your fitness and diet goals should be formulated separately. Download the SMART goal setting template here: https://bit.ly/2PyNDsy, and write out your new horse training, diet and fitness goals. The new year has already passed, so when is the best time to get started on your goals? Right now!

Your support community
If you would like to join the Kandoo Equine Eat, Ride, Love Course, guiding you through achieving your horse training, health and fitness goals, then pop along to www.kandooequine.com and join the 100 Day Email series and you’ll be notified when the course opens for registration.

Kate Fenner’s article about SMART goal setting was published in Horses and People January-February 2019 magazine.

Kate Fenner, BEqSc (Hons)

Kate is an Equine Scientist (Charles Sturt University), PhD Candidate (Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney), equestrian coach (Equestrian Australia and British Horse Society) and horse trainer (John and Josh Lyons Certified Trainer). Kate has ridden, trained and competed in dressage, jumping, western and polo in Australia, Europe, the United States and Asia.

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