Reaching the Goal!
By Betsy Kelleher
Through the years, I have often wished I could study and ride Dressage. So why don’t I? I’ve also longed to go on another competitive trail ride. Why don’t I? In Don Blazer’s book, The 9 secrets of good horsemanship, his second secret is to determine what you really want. That’s the first step toward any goal, if we are serious about our decision.
Recently, I have been praying to learn to walk in the Spirit, to depend more completely on God for strength and guidance. And then I open my eyes and go on about my business and find my life going in the same old direction.
Got the picture? We all want certain things for our lives. But we often sabotage the results by simply not making a serious decision. Maybe we don’t really believe we could ever reach the goal. Or we aren’t willing to make changes. Or we put it off until later (it’s called procrastination!). It’s just easier to follow old habits. Right?
OK, we’re only a month past the beginning of a whole new year. But each day is a new beginning of its own! We can start over whenever and wherever we choose. As long as we are alive, we have that opportunity and we have hope. The first important thing is to decide what you want and the second important thing is to keep going in the chosen direction. That simple. The decision may be difficult, because each choice means giving up something in order to get what you want. If you want greater success with your horse in competition, for example, you have to give up doing something else and spend a little more time with your horse! And your effort must be in the right direction, because spending a lot of time with your horse won’t reach the goal if you’re doing the wrong thing.
So after the decision you need a plan to make the decision work. A realistic plan you can stick to, not a plan that is so inconvenient or extreme that it fails after the first try. Realistic goals should consider your age and your health and energy level, your horse, your family, your current responsibilities.
So far, this is all general terms. So let’s be specific. Last year, I finally took Lady (my TWH) to two horse shows. She did better than I expected, as far as behaving and listening to me instead of getting excited. But I need to work on her gaits and her form and on my own riding skills if I want to be a serious contender. So first we identify the goal, and then identify what needs to be done in order to reach that goal (that’s part of the plan to make the decision work).
Actually, winning at a horse show was never my prime goal (I would have been pleasantly surprised, however!). I took her for the exposure to traffic and people and other horses and I found she didn’t freak out as I had feared! So maybe I did reach my goal, after all: the goal to give Lady more experience in different situations, to help her become more reliable, more versatile. And I also overcame my fears of what Lady would do tied to a trailer and being in a distracting arena.
But what about that inner desire to ride Dressage or to go on another competitive trail ride? Why don’t I pursue those goals? So often, we never get around to doing the things we harbor in our minds because it would require big changes in our lifestyle. If I was really serious about a goal, I’d be doing something each day toward that goal. But as long as I put off doing something, never getting around to the serious beginning, then the goal doesn’t really exist. As long as it doesn’t exist, then I have no fear of failure. And as long as I don’t get started, I am not having to make those big changes that call for greater effort, sacrifice and discipline, and giving up something I now enjoy. Sometimes a personal dream (speaking of a desire) can lift us above our seemingly physical and mental limitations, but that usually happens only when there is a great desire or need and great determination.
Maybe I’ve purchased a book on dressage as a start (actually I’ve bought several). And when will I take the time to sit down and read the books? I do understand I can’t learn dressage by buying a book and never reading it. I need to get on a horse and ride it!
Basically, I don’t have a good dressage horse. Traveller is a great trail horse, and I could learn something about dressage while riding him. But I have this image in my mind of a gorgeous, athletic steed with its head tucked in graceful submission and those legs moving out in an extended trot and I’m stuck there in my dream world, even knowing that the image is not the beginning, it’s the result. I can never begin with a result; I must begin where I am now and move forward. Successful results come only after hours (or years) of consistent work, patient learning and skillful instruction. And only if I continue to work toward that goal until it appears one day that I have really made it happen! And when the goal is won, it’s time to plan for a new goal.
We tend to make goals that are too far away from our present state. We need both long term and short term goals. Each short term goal will help us get a little further, with the encouragement of being able to reach that goal, while still reaching for the long term goal that may take years to attain. One short term goal might be to find a different horse. Or to get our present horse more fit. Or to find the right instructor. Or to arrange a schedule that fits our lifestyle so we can make time to ride and work with our horse. We must learn to take one step each day, knowing that small steps gradually add up to the total journey.
Short term goals should be attainable within the time that you personally can make it happen before getting discouraged. So if you get discouraged easily (like me), you set your short term goals each day or each week! Today, I will ride for 30 minutes. Or today, I will groom my horse thoroughly and clean his feet and brush his mane and tail (after turning our horses out in the mud yesterday, that may take awhile!).
Did I forget to mention that my goals should be made in line with God’s will? I started out this morning to make my quiet time into something more than usual, and I ended up writing this column. So here is another problem we have in following goals, namely distractions! Life is full of them! Identifying our serious long term goals can help us avoid some of them.
The meaning for me in all of this is to explore my own need to actually decide what my goals are. In dressage, one goal is to teach a horse to consistently work on the bit. So, exactly what is working on the bit, how do I get my horse to work on the bit consistently, and is it really necessary? Answering those questions could be one of my short term goals. Truthfully, I am sure my dressage goals are quite limited in scope, and that is OK.
In my book, "Sometimes a Woman Needs a Horse," I compare the principle of working on the bit to a spiritual principle called walking in the Spirit. So what exactly is walking in the Spirit, how do I get to that point, and is it really necessary?
If I want to walk in the Spirit, that means I must learn to identify and follow the Spirit’s influence in my life. I must learn to sense His guidance, to be aware of what He is trying to do in my life. I must understand who the Spirit is, as an actual part of the Godhead, and what is His place in my life? I must decide to follow His leading, to obey, to depend on Him, to take the time to seek His guidance and to listen and be aware of His answers. I must choose to submit to His Sovereign leadership!
We want our horses to learn to depend on us for direction, to rely on us in fearful circumstances (instead of running away or reacting in fear). We want our horses to listen for our direction through cues, to seek our guidance through the bit, and to obey.
Are our horses meant to be our examples? Because only when they do learn to depend on us, to listen and to obey, only then does the horse and human relationship become a true partnership with harmony and success. Only when horse and rider perform as one, can the beauty of harmony be seen. It is a glorious submission of horse to rider that results in such beauty. And could it be that the same glorious submission of man to God could result in a powerful witness of God’s reality?
For those who might have the long term goal of becoming an effective witness for God, we must consider the need to pursue such a goal with more sincerity and purpose. We must set our short term goals as steps toward the larger goal. Paul tells us in Hebrews 12:1-3: "...let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
Those who have ridden competitive trail rides know the slogan. It is "persevere."
(Originally published in the February 2006 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)