Thursday, May. 30, 2024

A New Year Means New Goals

Our columnist believes that horsemen should first consider the welfare of their horses when setting goals.

While January sparks New Year’s resolutions for most, for riders it should also be a time for setting goals for the coming year and beyond. With more and more options in the form of shows, clinics and training opportunities for horse and rider, goal setting is a necessity to move forward rather than get sidetracked by these distractions.

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Our columnist believes that horsemen should first consider the welfare of their horses when setting goals.

While January sparks New Year’s resolutions for most, for riders it should also be a time for setting goals for the coming year and beyond. With more and more options in the form of shows, clinics and training opportunities for horse and rider, goal setting is a necessity to move forward rather than get sidetracked by these distractions.

Riders who are confident that their goals are for the best of their horses’ welfare have the confidence to make the right decisions for their horses’ schedules.

My wife Beezie and I tend to look at each year in four sections: (1) the winter circuit; (2) Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Alta.; (3) a mixture of late summer shows with time in Europe; and (4) the indoor circuit. We look ahead to the year knowing that the best way to manage our horses is by reassessing their goals at the completion of each quarter and adjusting the goals we have initially set, when need be.

A trap that many people fall into is creating goals that have too much focus on the rider, owner and trainer and their egos, rather than the horse. True horsemanship, I think, is empathy for the horse. Therefore, in setting goals—both long term and short term—it’s paramount that they benefit the horse and set the horse up to excel.

Of course, this is probably easier to do from the standpoint of a rider who has an established career, such as Beezie, rather than from a rider still moving up the levels or establishing a career. I tend to find, however, that even the most novice rider who is still learning will find success when her mindset is focused on goals that are for the benefit of the horse. These are goals that focus on becoming a better rider for the sake of the horse, such as mastering a skill or fixing a bad habit.

My Philosophy

As we look at 2009 for Team John Madden Sales, we have some very different goals than in 2008. To start, we go into the winter circuit with Authentic and Judgement having time off up at the farm in Cazenovia, N.Y. It would be easy to be negative on this point, with so much prize money and so many important classes on the line during the first few months of the year in Florida with our veterans out in a field.

The reality is that this is really a positive situation for us. With the veterans at home, it’s time for our younger horses to step up to the spotlight. For us, it’s a fun challenge to carefully move new horses up to higher levels.

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We’re also able to keep in mind that this is what is best for Judgement and Authentic, as their long-term goals are to stay healthy in order to continue to have successful careers. Judgement’s goal this year is to really excel at Spruce Meadows, both in the summer and fall. Authentic is having a break now so we can properly have him fresh and ready when it comes time to qualify for the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.

We have a strong group of horses ready to step it up in the big ring, with Play On, Onlight, Danny Boy, Crème Brule, Prima and Integrity. Also, we plan to bring back DeSilvio, who’s returning to competition after 11⁄2 years off due to an injury. DeSilvio’s goals for the year will need to be the most flexible of all, in order to pay close attention to bringing him back slowly and safely.

We also have a new horse, Exclusive, who is 8, and while we have lofty goals for her, these must be tempered by the fact that she is a new horse to us. Our real first goal must be getting to know her well.

Several young horses round out our group, including Capri, Verona and Special Edwina, all 7-year-olds, whose goals remain to develop slowly and thoroughly. This feeds into their long-term goal of being prepared to challenge more technical courses in the future as they move up through the levels with confidence.

Along with another young horse, Amadora, a new 6-year-old, the goals of these young horses are broad and never limited to a specific day or competition. I’ve found that setting targets and artificial deadlines for young horses never work to their benefit. At this point in their career their time is spent learning the process and gaining profitable experiences that will yield results in the future. This is not the time to solely focus on getting results.

One of the most important aspects of setting goals lies in recognizing that you cannot allow one horse’s changing circumstances and goals to affect the course of a second horse.

For example, if an injury sidelines your main horse, it may seem natural to look to the second horse to move up into the main horse’s position. The reality of this is that, while it may be good for the rider to have a fill-in for their main horse, this may not be the best thing for the second horse. A smart rider recognizes that the second horse should only move up when he is ready and prepared, not because of an artificial timeline resulting from unfortunate situations.

Probably the second most important thing to remember when setting goals is maintaining a clear vision. This does not mean one sets goals and then stubbornly follows them, without letting input from outside sources (especially the horse) modify the goals. This only means that when you set your goals, you can’t let things that pop up along the way distract you from the big picture.

Maybe your horse is going great when summer comes along and competing in a new series of shows with big prize money in August seems like the thing to do. However, if it puts you off your plan of having a horse that is fit and fresh to go to indoors, maybe the better decision is to take the time off you had originally planned.

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When In Doubt, Practice

In my experience, if you are struggling with coming up with goals for the coming year, one that never fails to deliver is to practice more.

Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of treating your horse like a Barbie doll and getting too carried away by the accessories, such as excessive veterinary work, chiropractors, masseuses and psychic intervention. While properly used, some of these things can be very valuable (except for the psychic), but they can also interfere with training schedules and practice. The best thing most people can do for their horse is to spend more time in the saddle.

Proper conditioning for both horse and rider and proper schooling at home tends to be the best means to attain competitive goals. While it may not sound as glamorous as a goal like “winning in the amateur-owner hunters at Devon (Pa.)” or “being top 10 at the Maclay finals in Syracuse (N.Y.) in 2009,” in reality, it’s the best way to set yourself up for success.

Our job, as horsemen, is like that of a baseball team manager, who assesses the strengths and weaknesses of each player and uses them accordingly. They also must try to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the opponents in order to win while putting the least amount of stress on their team. As managers of horses, we try to put horses into positions where they will excel. I recommend that more riders take the time to think about how they can do this, whether they manage a whole barn full of horses or have just one.

Goals should be changeable, when the situation dictates, and should be reviewed often. Looking at your goals in January is a great way to start the year, but don’t just forget about them after that. As the year goes on, keep your goals as an outline as you continue to reassess them.

In considering attainable goals, don’t get sidetracked by trying to cut corners to see fast results. People may win a little bit by not doing things properly, but the best way to win consistently is to consistently do things properly.

Finally, and most importantly, remember that when your goals aren’t developed with consideration for what is best for your horse, you’re starting off headed in the wrong direction. 

John Madden


John Madden, Cazenovia, N.Y., is married to international grand prix rider Beezie Madden. Together, they operate John Madden Sales Inc., where they train horses and riders. The horse business has encompassed John’s entire life, and in addition to his business he’s the Organizing Committee Chairman for the Syracuse Sporthorse Tournament (N.Y.) and on the USEF High Performance Show Jumping Computer List Task Force. He began contributing to Between Rounds in 2008.

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