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When Performance Counts -
Goal setting

Goal setting is a systematic planning process used to perfect your skills and train and condition your horse. All you need to do is decide what needs to be accomplished – these are your goals or objectives – and then work to accomplish them. All you need to do, listen to me. They call it goal setting because it's an art form; if it's not done right, it can make you feel as though Sonny's dragging you around by the ankles every time you work with him.

Most people use two types of goals, long-term and short-term, which work like stairs that go to a hayloft. A long-term goal is the final destination or what you want to be able to do eventually, and a short-term goal is a step that helps you get there. Usually you have to master several short-term goals before you can reach a long-term goal. For example, if your long-term goal is to jump a course of eight, three-foot jumps at the canter, one short-term goal may be to trot a course of eight, two-foot jumps. Your next short-term goal may be to canter the same two-foot course.

Goal setting helps you develop skills and train horses because every time a goal is met, you see that hard work is rewarded and you're truly talented. In addition, you're reminded that you can stick to a plan, which kicks your ego even higher. The better you are at goal setting, the better you can tell good goals from bad, the more motivated, focused, confident, persistent, audacious, and industrious you are. On the other hand, shabby goal setting creates stress and squashes desire.

This is because people unwittingly see themselves as either successes or failures based on their ability to meet goals. For these reasons, every long and short-term goal you set must be: Personal – goals set by you increase your level of commitment. An instructor, coach, or trainer can help. A challenge – difficult yet achievable goals motivate you to accomplish them.

Trying to do your best or as much as you can won't challenge you enough. Specific – observable, measurable goals are obvious to you when they're met, such as the number of strides or amount of time it will take to complete a course. Time dependant – determine when goals will be achieved to make them more challenging or specific. Written – record goals in a journal or log. Review it regularly and use your goals to plan practice sessions. Positive – state what you plan to accomplish to help you focus on doing it correctly, such as I will post two laps around the arena, rising with every other beat. Realistic – attainable goals based on your, and your horse's, past performance ensures that you'll meet them with some effort. Performance based – state goals as specific skills to be mastered, not the outcome of a competition. Judges' whims and competitors' skills are beyond your control. Adjustable – change the goals if they become unrealistic because of lameness, illness, or vacations.

Goal setting is for everyone, regardless of your skill level. In fact, elite athletes tend to set higher, more challenging goals. And they know that if they don't reach a goal it's because they didn't try hard enough. "Setting specific goals and pursuing them in a systematic way separates those who want to meet challenges and excel from those who actually do." (Terry Orlick, Ph.D. (1990) In Pursuit of Excellence:

Johanna Harris
The Equestrian Athlete
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