On Grit and Goals

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How to Figure Out What You Want

By Laura Schonberg


My heartfelt desire is to grow up and be a cowgirl. My goal setting has had to include basic things like rope management and other things that are harder to articulate––like my horse being ready for anything. Reviewing and adjusting my goals is a necessary part of learning. Photo credit Rebecca Borror

It’s incredibly easy to be distracted from what we really want with our horses. I’ve spoken to dozens of riders about their equine journey and spent time with trainers across a wide array of disciplines. Those riders that get “good”, who have grit and aren’t distracted by talent, have held the same top-level goal for a very long time. The clearer and more specific this goal or philosophy is, the more interesting and important riding will be. Your philosophy should demand a great deal of your time, energy, activity, and resources.

I don’t know of anyone who rides who doesn’t “fantasize positively”. We indulge ourselves with visions of the future without figuring out how to get there. There might be short-term payoffs with this thinking, but long-term costs. Through my fantasy, I can feel pretty good about my aspirations to be a cowgirl or cross-country competitive jumper, but I might have to live with the long-term disappointment of never achieving that goal. To get real results, there are several layers to setting goals.

The most common setback is having a bunch of mid-level goals that don’t support a common top-level goal; they compete or even interfere with each other. In some ways, having goal conflict is necessary: I better have some necessary professional goals, so I can pay for my horse obsession. Yet work competes with time spent with my horses.

Even then, there are some ways to narrow my philosophy. I can still be productive and move forward, and not be discouraged by my lack of progress.

First, write down a list of 25 horse goals. These can range from pie-in-the-sky, been-dreaming-of-since-you-were-12-years-old kinds of goals to everyday specifics that you have on your mind or in your heart to accomplish. The more specific the better, but write down everything that comes to heart or mind. Spend some time putting words to the things you feel.

Second, do some true and deliberate soul-searching and circle the five highest priority goals. Only five. Set aside this list of five.

Third, take time to truly consider the 20 goals you left on the page. Avoid these 20 at all costs. They are distractions that take away time, energy, and personal resources from the goals that matter more. There are only so many hours in our lives. Time and energy are limited resources. Much of being a successful rider or horsewoman is deciding what not to do.

This kind of thinking and planning takes time to develop. There are so many things competing for our personal resources: job, home, family, chores, other professional and personal commitments, etc. When we have to divide our actions between a variety of very high-level goals (all of which may be perfectly valid and important), we’re extremely conflicted. In order to keep our sanity managing a personal life and a horse habit, there needs to be one internal compass.

The last step in prioritizing is to ask yourself, to what extent do these goals have a common purpose or outcome? Take a careful look at where goals might be overlapping, or even competing with each other. How can those be more aligned or narrowed? The more your goals align to the same overall purpose, the more you can focus your passion.

Establishing and focusing on a goal takes time and effort. Remembering to reflect on and monitor those goals takes practice. While taking the time to revisit your goals and priorities may not result in your being a Rolex competitor, million-dollar rider, or having a movie made about your horse, you’ll stand a much better chance of getting somewhere you care about with your horse and in your life.

All of this is dependent upon the fact that you’re developing grit. Goals need to be monitored and adjusted with some regularity and absolute honesty. We need to take into consideration our horse’s capabilities (not talent). My Percheron cross will never be a reiner and my mustang isn’t going to be on a pro cross-country series. But if I’m pursuing horsemanship that develops the abilities of my horse and makes me a better human being, I’m on the right track.


Published November 2018 Issue

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