In the previous article, you created your realistic and smart goals by reflecting on the past year and looking towards what you wanted to accomplish with your horse this year. So now, you’re ready to create your training calendar where you’ll fill in the step by step daily practices that turn goals into reality.
For me, if I get specifics on the calendar and design my plan for success by including the many stepping stones I’m going to use to reach my goals, then the big goal is just a logical progression through each week and month, and not a huge scary leap! And when working with horses, logical progression is the only way to go.
Start with looking at your goals and what you listed as the goal that would give you a “huge sense of accomplishment” at the end of this year. Also, select one thing that you wrote down as wanting to try this year. Make note of how you were going to measure if you accomplished that goal and check that it is realistic. These are two of the letters you worked on in your SMART goals.
Next, open your calendar. Whether you use an electronic calendar or paper based one, having one calendar to hold everything from your daily rides to your schooling plans to your show plans is key. Here’s a PDF of a blank calendar, to get you started. Print off 6 copies for your next six months. Put on your calendar one of your goals. It can be a particular show, or a ride with an instructor or some date that you’re going to measure if you’ve accomplished one of your goals.
Next work back from that goal and create at least 4 different mini-milestones or “sub-goals” that are building blocks toward that goal.
Let’s use an example. One rider I know is confident over single 2’6” fences and gymnastics but not courses, and wants to accomplish the following “BIG GOAL”:
Complete a full course (10 fences minimum) of stadium jumps at a schooling or recognized show at 2’9”
So in this case, she might create the following 4 “sub-goals”:
1) Practice cantering a course of “rails on the ground” as if they’re fences, at least once per week, working on smooth changes of lead through the trot and holding a steady pace and balance throughout the “course”. Start this practice 12 weeks prior to the big goal. The “course” consists of at least 12 rails on the ground, strategically placed around the arena. Do this without stopping if possible.
2) Do cardio workouts for myself (rider) 3x per week. Measure “out of breath” recovery time in jump lessons with my instructor.
3) 2x per month, practice with an instructor or knowledgeable ground person a course of 6 fences at 2’9” height. Build to an 8 fence course in month 2 and 10 fences in month 3 at home.
4) 1 month prior to goal, go to a schooling opportunity away from home and practice several 2’6” courses. This can be a clinic, a schooling show or a lesson with an instructor.
5) 2 weeks prior to goal, in a schooling situation, practice a full course of 10 fences, with a couple at 3’. Identify weaknesses and what steps need to be done before “big goal” day.
As you can see, if the rider does all these stepping stones prior to the “big goal day”, the big goal is just a logical progression of all the homework done up to that point. The tricky part is using your creativity to design and accomplish your stepping stones that are your homework, and then fit them in on your calendar as part of your weekly plan.
I have a horse that showed successfully at First Level dressage a few summers ago, but hasn’t shown much since then. Here’s my plan for his dressage to get him back in shape and show 2nd level by the end of the season. Note that all these sub-goals are 2 or 3 weeks apart so this means, in my case, the whole plan will take nearly 4 months to execute. But that’s what is realistic to fit in to all my other life activities. And it allows my horse to progress slowly in building up his muscles.
Sub-goal 1) April Dressage clinic with upper level clinician, followed by monthly lessons with nearby dressage instructor (trailering out).
Sub-goal 2) Spring Ride-a-Test with a fellow rider – video tape each other and practice 2 of the new dressage tests
Sub-goal 3) Early Summer Schooling Show at 2nd level – identify weakest movements and find exercises to help.
Sub-goal 4) Recognized show at 1st level and one 2nd level test.
Sub-goal 5) Do another ride-a-test with video at 2nd level and review it with another rider or instructor
BIG Goal: Compete at a recognized dressage show at 2nd level, and achieve scores above 60%
Again, these sub-goals are a step-wise logical progression to the goal, not a big leap and they set me up for success. They don’t ensure it, but create the possibility for it. At each sub-goal step, I have an opportunity to see how I’m tracking to achieve my “big” goal and make minor changes to my weekly plan to get there.
The last big piece to all this planning, is to fill in your weekly training calendar plans and plot all the big goals and stepping stone sub-goals on each date you aim for, AND to put down what days you’ll be riding and what the focus of every ride will be. Having a plan is the start. Then realize plans change and be somewhat flexible within the big picture plan.
To help you, here are 2 additional links.
The first contains training calendar guidelines for Eventers. It includes a weekly schedule on what to focus for each day’s ride, and has interval training guidelines for your gallop / conditioning days.
This second one is modified from the eventing weekly training schedule, to target horses with a dressage focus. Adjust it based on your horse’s personality.
Are you willing to share your training calendar? Or your creative ideas around your stepping stone sub-goals?? Would love to see them! Post your ideas below if you dare! Happy Trails.