Rain, rain, go away! And don’t come back another day! Please! If you live in the northeast or anywhere in the United States, you can probably commiserate.
It’s been 3 weeks and it seems as though the weather gods have decided to rain on us more often than not lately, putting a literal and figurative damper on my riding time. To be fair, with a covered arena I don’t have much of an excuse but every time I look outside and it’s storming I pretty much feel like this.
And while I haven’t been riding as much as I would have liked over the last few weeks, it’s still a good opportunity to do some reflection on how far my OTTB and I have come.
Appreciating progress is important in the horse world because it’s the true measure of success. There’s no final level that you reach and defeat. In this game the learning is never finished. It’s a constant, dare I say, lifelong process. And when you’ve always got something to learn, accomplishments can be hard to gauge.
Ribbons and fastest times are wonderful and all, but if you can’t appreciate the little bits of progress on a daily basis, you’ll never see the broader changes or the proverbial forest through the trees.
As an amateur rider who doesn’t compete much, seeing progress during these past several months of training can be a struggle. Many days it feels like we go out, ride around, work on the same sticky subjects with some improvement, and round and round we go. This isn’t the reality of the situation, regardless of how hard it may be for me to see.
That’s because I tend to overlook the small changes. The incremental progress, especially when training or riding gets difficult.
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
– Frederick Douglass
When we’re talking about training horses, you’ll often hear big trainers say, “I’m really not training horses, I’m educating humans.” Because change really isn’t about modifying the horse’s behavior — it’s about changing yourself. Improving your skills through weeks, months, and even years of regular, consistent practice and lessons with a trainer who quite simply knows more than you do and can probably ride better too.
To make progress is to struggle. But how can you avoid losing track of progress? There are a few things you can do to help yourself in this department.
1. Keep a Daily or Weekly Training Journal
Keeping a journal is an excellent way of tracking progress. Whether you commit to a daily entry or even just a weekly accounting, keeping a journal gives you a place to note the small victories, vent frustrations, and identify things you need to improve. Realistically, that’s a huge part of why I started this blog!
2. Celebrate Your Accomplishments… Even the small ones
It’s important not only take note of your small victories, but to celebrate them! Surround yourself with people who can help you notice those victories and celebrate them with you. Supporting yourself and your ambitions with a good group of friends will often help motivate you during difficult times and force you to be accountable along the way.
3. Track Your Rides With An App
If you’re not into the idea of keeping a journal or log of your training progress, the next best and perhaps easiest thing to help you see progress would be to track your rides with an app on your cellphone. I track my trail rides and some arena work using SportsTracker but Endomondo, AllTrails, and others will provide the same basic functionality, tracking your ride’s mileage, duration, speed, elevation gains, etc. Using an app to track your rides can help keep you in a steady work schedule and help you see the results after each session.
4. Make Some Realistic Goals & Deadlines To Hold Yourself Accountable
Part of maintaining steady progress is holding yourself accountable to reach your goals. One way of doing that is by identifying a few tangible goals and setting a deadline for you to meet. While this is by no means any assurance that you’ll hit those goals, they will help motivate you to get to work and the work (and plenty of it) is what you have to focus on in order for those goals to be met. Whether your goal is to go to a show or just out on a trail ride, hold yourself accountable and put in the work. If you do that, you’re sure to see and feel the progress.
No matter how bad a ride you’ve had, always look at the bigger picture. This is where progress can be seen an appreciated and progress in the horse world is growth and success that should be celebrated and enjoyed.
Happy trails, everyone!1