Creating a SMART Goal for your Riding Plan!
Let's build on the idea of planning for improvements in one area or another. I pick Transitions!
As a quick recap, we want to frame what we want to accomplish using S.M.A.R.T.S, creating a goal that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound/Stretch.
For the S=Specific step in defining a S.M.A.R.T.S goal, you might write something like this – I will ride fluid and responsive transitions from my horse and get regular scores of 7 in my dressage tests in 2017. By choosing transitions, we are targeting a specific area for improvement. Transitions are the one thing you can work on that effects all levels from Intro tests to Grand Prix. It also crosses disciplines – reining horses need to do transitions too! Specifically in the dressage tests, the importance of transitions starts as a separate score in the USDF Introductory Test C. There are plenty of separate scores from then on to help you increase your scores with the horse you have. It's a way you can demonstrate great communication between you and your horse and it's not dependent on flash such as flashy gaits in the lengthening, mediums, or extensions. It is, however, how you set the medium up and demonstrate a difference back to the working or collected gaits. With your transitions goal stated it's time to think about how to do it.
The M=Measure will be commitment to ride at least 10 transitions every day within the gait and between the gait. Having that commitment gives us a way to measure the effort we are making towards meeting the goal.
To check if your goal is A=Achievable, you will want to do some research on where you are with your horse. Do you need to read up on the definition of Transitions in the USDF or FEI glossary? What about the also reading the directives of a test on the transitions boxes – have you really read those, or just your score and comment? (Guilty!) Commit to finding one exercise per week—either by Googling it, from a book or magazine, or friends and trainers—that you use to work on transitions. Perhaps you spend time riding from letter to letter in the trot while going forward to one letter by speeding up your posting and then bringing the tempo back by slowing down your posting at the next letter.
Is this goal R=Realistic? A goal has to be adaptable, accept where you are now, and stretch you to where you want to be. There’s not much point in setting a goal for yourself that you can’t realistically reach. Right now you can work in the trot but if you work in the canter your horse just gets so hot, it’s unmanageable. So, focus on the trot first and then check the canter later. Or can you pick up the canter, urge it forward from M to B, and then bring it back to sensibility from B to F? Give yourself more room and maybe do a calming 20m circle to adjust the stride.
Let's take into account T=Time. The first time commitment is daily transitions of 10. The second is dedicating one ride to just a transition exercise. When you go show the next time you can use the input from the judge and the ride to see if your transitions are becoming smoother and more fluid.
And there's that little thing I like to do called S=Stretch. It's where you stretch yourself once you've built a foundation of aids and the horse coming forward and back more easily to challenge yourself to see if you can create 'whisper' aids to bring the horse back or send them forward. That's when it really gets fun and thrilling since the communication between you and your horse becomes so deep and intense you almost feel like you’re thinking and the horse is just responding. It's those moments that give you goosebumps when you’re riding, either just training or at a show, when you can't help but smile and whoop it up that those transitions just totally ROCKED!