Well, its official. 2017 is history and 2018 is here, just WAITING for you to put your stamp on it. If any of you are like me, you have already feverishly written down the entire show schedule for the year, strategically planning your schedule to reach your year-end goals. And of course we are going to post it all over social media to concrete those plans. But, unfortunately there is this big unknown in this equation, one that has four legs, fur, and cannot speak English. One that does not understand what finals and indoors has to do with their eating and napping schedule. But, this is your teammate. The one that can make or break the plan. If any of you have been in this business long enough you know that the only thing you can plan on in the horse world is the unexpected. Even with that said, so many of us continue on with our plans towards glory, that just because your horse is turning 7 this year it absolutely has to jump the 7 yr old/1.30 classes in January. Because that's all this is, right? It makes sense on paper, my horse is 5 so he does the 5 year olds right? Easy enough.
Man, you couldn't be more wrong. We have been conditioned to push our horses towards goals that make sense for us because its what the herd is doing. It's what social media is doing. If they are successfully jumping the age classes then we can definitely ask more money, post more successful pictures, hang up more ribbons and trophies. And there obviously must be something wrong with the ones that aren't on a level playing field with their peers.
Take a classroom full of first graders. Boys and girls. Present them with a test and I guarantee you are going to have scores all over the place, regardless if they studied for it or not. Some will ace it easily anyways, others will be able to study and do well, and the final group will struggle no matter what you do. Now put all of those kids in the gymnasium, and present them with a physical test.... results? Yea, you guessed it, all over the board. But we are so conditioned to accept this with our children, and we are encouraged to give them the time and assistance they need to succeed in life, and ensure they develop their mental and physical skills IN THEIR OWN WAY THAT WORKS FOR THEM.
Why are the young horses any different? Why are we so wrapped up in what everyone else is doing and keeping up with the Joneses and getting on a podium instead of actually listening to our own horses? Now, some are all about moving up, they are correctly prepared mentally and physically and rise to the occasion. Some are not quite ready but try really hard anyways (yes this is usually the set of horses that could have been super later in life but end up fried before the second half of their 6 yr old year). And others flat out let you know this is NOT in their life plan at the moment. The last two groups are not ones that are worse off then the first group, they are just an inconvenience to us and our plan. An most of us do not have the patience to deal with the inconvenience.
Society has rapidly turned into instant-gratification. No more slow, deliberate planning for anything. School, relationships, sports, work, riding... Have you been to dinner and seen couples so enthralled with their phones they cannot even have a conversation? The deterioration of communication skills is adversely affecting our training. Our relationships with our horses are suffering the same way our human relationships are. Patience, discussion, and dedication is a thing of the past.
Do yourself and your horse a favor. Put the phone down more and focus on the present. Focus on what you DO have, not what your expected to have. Slow down, and have a more meaningful program with your horse. LISTEN to them. If they need to move down a few levels, to re-solidify their foundation, its not going to strip you of your "riding-hood". If we feel like we are failing ourselves by stepping down, we fail them. Set them up for as much success as possible later in their life, even if they do not end up meeting your own goals. They are more then capable of meeting someone else's. Remember, nothing worth having comes easy. 2018 is your opportunity to put them first. And who knows, maybe they will surprise you and turn out to be much more then anything you could have ever imagined... but if you don't even give them that chance in the first place, you will never know.