You know what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately? Expectations for our horses, and how reasonable those expectations are- and by extension, what we can do to make those expectations more reasonable.
I admittedly have very high expectations of the Frankenbean. I expect him to jump anything I point him at, perform at consistently high levels, and to behave in a calm and civilized manner. So how do I set those expectations up for success?
Jump anything: create positive experiences for him. He came to me with a great deal of confidence (seriously forever grateful for the people who brought him along so wonderfully), and we work very hard to keep up that confidence. By creating a variety of experiences for him and setting him up to do well in all of those experiences, he knows that things will be ok even if they’re slightly different from the norm.
Perform at consistently high levels: give him the fitness, support, and knowledge necessary. He can’t jump the big jumps if he’s fat, has sore hocks, and lacks adequate body awareness. He can’t give me truly obedient lateral work if his hind end is weak, he’s stiff through his body, and dull to my leg. Those basic building blocks of conditioning, health, and training MUST be in place for any sort of progress to happen.
Behave calmly: manage his energy levels with a consistent routine. This brings me to the crux of this post, and is something that feeds into everything else I’ve already mentioned. Horses are creatures of habit, and creating a steady routine is key to creating expectations.
Yes, Frankie is a naturally very relaxed dude. But we don’t take that for granted- we work with that to create a program for him that allows him to meet (or often in his case, exceed) our expectations. He is worked with enough intensity to build fitness, with enough variety to build experience, and with enough frequency to maintain/improve condition. And when he’s conditioned up fully, to maintain a healthy energy level- we all know that a truly fit horse is going to have a bit more fire than a tubby one, no matter how naturally relaxed that horse may be. When other adult responsibilities get in the way of maintaining that type of schedule, the two options that make the most sense to me are (1) enlist help, usually in the form of a professional or (2) lower our expectations for a bit until we can support them better.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying hopping on once a week, five times a week, twice a month, however often. Everyone is on their own journey with horses, and no two people are going to enjoy being in the exact same program! But the expectations must fit that program. The higher the expectations are on the horse, the more consistent and deliberate that routine must be to help them succeed.
I will now get off my high horse, and get back on my big brown high horse 😉