At the start of 2017, I had one very straightforward goal in mind for the year. I’d done a few combined tests—dressage and stadium jumping—but I’d yet to work up the nerve to add in the cross-country phase at a show. So I pledged to complete all three phases of a mini-trial.
I have a lot to work on, for sure, but I’m having trouble coming up with an equestrian goal for 2018. With Snoopy fully retired, I have the horseless rider syndrome so familiar to lesson kids, including and especially us grown-up lesson kids. I ride a variety of lesson horses, which has its perks, but it means my own goal has to be unrelated to any one particular horse.
Honestly? My goal is to be a better rider 12 months from now than I am today. That’s always the goal. But how do you quantify that? How do you know if you’ve achieved it?
So I started looking outside of the equestrian-specific goals I could work on for 2018 and thought about the more traditional (boring) resolutions that people tend to set. It occurs to me that a lot of them would work toward my ultimate goal of being a better rider.
1. Set a budget, and stick to it. Ultimately I would like to do a partial lease on another horse so that I can work on progressing with one horse rather than the aforementioned patchwork of lesson horses. But I’m hesitant to do that because, beyond regular life expenses, I’m still paying board, farrier, etc. for Snoopy. If I actually sat down and worked out how much of my income is tied up in current expenses and where I could cut some costs to send some cash to the lease fund, maybe I could make this happen. Or prove that it really isn’t feasible, and move on. Either way, it’s an important first step that sounds very boring. But I’ve got to do it.
2. Get in shape. I’ve reached an age where I never don’t have some weird pain or stiffness that I can’t quite explain. I think this is holding me back as a rider in more than just the obvious way. Walk with me for a minute. No one wants to fall off, but on some level it’s a bigger threat when you already have a stiff neck or a sore shoulder that seems one impact away from a more serious injury. Since I always feel a little off, I worry more about falling, and that makes me ride more conservatively (timidly). I collapse my shoulders and go to some in-the-saddle version of the fetal position when I should be thinking, “shoulders up, leg on, forward!” I’m hindering my own progress because I’m fearful, and I’m fearful—in part—because I’m not very strong or flexible. I feel like I’ll shatter rather than bounce.
You can’t stop the aging process, but you can stretch and strength train. I’m pretty good about doing my cardio but sticking to a cross-training routine has always been a chore. I’m committing now to twice weekly strength and stretch sessions and not letting them taper off when the days get sunnier and warmer around April. Sitting on the porch enjoying the sunshine will not help prevent injury when I’m careening through the air into a jump standard, but stronger muscles and better flexibility might. They might also help keep me out of that scenario in the first place.
3. Read more books. Lately most of my reading has been news articles that generally make me feel pessimistic and helpless about the state of the world. It’s important to be informed, but at some point it crosses the line to beating yourself over the head with the news. So instead of reading whatever distressing articles people post to Twitter all the time, maybe I’ll pick up an actual book before going to sleep at night. There are quite a few horse-related titles that have been on my list that will, hopefully, inspire me to keep working on my riding.
So that’s it. Three super-basic, not-at-all creative resolutions that I’m going to work on in the year ahead, and hopefully reap some rewards in the saddle.
Happy New Year!
Back to The Near Side
Leslie Potter is a writer and photographer based in Lexington, Kentucky. www.lesliepotterphoto.com