In 1982 I quit school at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire and went to work for Lynn Salvatori Palm. Two years of undergraduate classes yielded passing grades but certainly less than stellar marks. My heart was just not that into it. Riding horses consumed my every thought leaving little time for reading textbooks or class preparation. As you can imagine, my father was furious. Disappointed in the decision, he vowed not to pay for any of my future needs, hoping this would keep me in college. It did not. But I would return… Two years after I left to work for Lynn, I moved to Argyle, Texas, hung my shingle outside a 32 stall barn and enrolled in the University of North Texas in Denton. Texas was the land of longhorn steer, the Dallas Cowboys and every great western pleasure horse trainer known to our industry. I was a single young woman riding hunt seat horses where ropers ruled, halter champions were born and bred and membership was required for entry into every establishment, including a bar! I may have been a long way from home but two years of working for Lynn Salvatori Palm taught me about hard work. The time also taught me the benefit of doing my homework. A horse under Lynn’s care never advanced to level two until he or she understood level one. We never simply hooked a horse to a cart and gee hawed off into the sunset. First we showed the horse the cart; let him or her feel the harness and crouper on a longe line, ground drove, put poles against the horse’s sides to measure the horse’s sensitivity, let the horse drag the cart around with handlers on each side, drove other horses around the arena while one of us ran behind him. Finally we hitched the horse to the cart with one person walking alongside. Students never went into a horsemanship class without first practicing and understanding the maneuvers they might see in a pattern at home. My students practiced every element they might be confronted with prior to getting to the horse show. They drilled the fundamentals of proper position, rode without stirrups, rode with closed eyes and without hands, on the longe line, off the longe line and everywhere in between. Whether a beginner, intermediate or very advanced rider, every rider practiced with the same focus on the core elements of good riding. The more advanced the rider, the more time they spent practicing and honing their skills. Mistakes made at one horse show became the subject for practice before the next horse show. Errors made on course were the topic of discussion on the long drive home and the theme of lessons once returned. Mistakes, miscalculations, faults and errors became the starting point of rides at home. Back at North Texas, this was round two for me. Now I paid the tuition. I spent my days in hot dusty arenas sweating up saddle pads, teaching kids to ride and horses to go around for their owners. Nights were spent reading text for the following day’s classes. A few years older and many calluses wiser, the time at Lynn’s taught me the importance of doing my homework. Miraculously, I breezed through college on round two earning a 3.8 GPA while never missing a Congress, Sun Country Circuit, Blue Ribbon Circuit or World Championship Show in the time it took me to graduate. During the years that I put myself through school I coached my first World Champion, earned my first ribbon in Western Riding at the World Show, had my first top ten winners at the AQHA Youth, Amateur and Open World Championship Shows, had my first All-Around Youth at the Congress and made many others happy with their rides and their horses. Homework has never been a four letter word for me. I am a student of life; learning is never-ending for my kind. We will always be curious, love to analyze and dig deep. We will never stop asking questions, testing theories or looking for answers to generate a different outcome. Homework will always be something to look forward to, not something to begrudge. Homework for horse people comes in all sorts of packages. Here are some ideas to make your homework more effective:
- Consider your goals.
- Assess your current skill set.
- Define your strengths.
- Identify weaknesses.
- Determine a short term set of goals.
- Create a plan with definitive steps for reaching your goals. (i.e. drop your stirrups for one lap the first week, two laps (each way J) the second week building to 15 total minutes. Teach your horse to move his shoulders, move his hip then sidepass. Begin jumping a single crossfence with a ground line, add the second element of a gymnastic with a pole on the ground, then a crossrail and finally a horizontal pole, etc.)
- Decide on a practice schedule (base this on reality, not how much you would like to ride but how much you actually will ride).
- Double the amount of time you think it will take.
- Do the same for your horse:
o Assess your horse’s current skill set. o Define your horse’s strengths and weaknesses. o Determine short term and long term goals. o Create a realistic timeline for your horse – at least double the time you think it can happen within. Write down all of your goals. Your success rate increases dramatically when write down your goals and the steps you will take to reach the goals. Do not skip this step! Writing it down confirms your convictions and brings clarity and solutions and at the same time holds you accountable. Writing it down is the first step in making it happen! Share your plan with someone you trust. This is another step toward achieving your goals. Be as specific as you can in determining your goals, assessing your skills and developing a plan. Drill down to the most basic aspect of each element. The tighter you can drill down, the better your results. Be realistic. Do not use the word try. You can, you will, you are…
Your success is hitched to purposeful practice