The Art of New Beginnings… Making Short Term Resolutions for Long Term Success


“No one can become a real master in the saddle who has not for years and years seriously endeavored to gain a new experience every day: and even he will have to say, ‘I live and learn.’” – Wilhelm Museler

Para Equestrian Dressage Athlete Katie Jackson on board ‘Scrabble’ Photo Courtesy Susan J. Stickle

Setting goals for long term success is easier said than done. As one of our semi-modern day gods of equestrianism, Museler knew what he was talking about when it came to living and learning.

He also stated that ‘the simpler the task the easier it is to reach the goal…the higher the ambition, the more hard work and industrious zeal will be required.’ We have Museler to thank for continued inspiration. Yet, before Museler, there was the ambitious mythical zealot, Janus.

Around 700-ish B.C., Janus got the ‘setting new year goals/making resolution’s’ ball rolling.

Not an equestrian god per se, Janus had some horse related claim to fame. He was the mythical Roman god of motion, who gave us January and started the tradition of making ‘better conduct’ promises at the first of every calendar year. Considering the fact that Janus was two-faced, simultaneously, he could see into the future and reflect on the past. Talk about 20-20 fore/hindsight!

He was also the gatekeeper of time, new beginnings, transitions and the future. Responsible for keeping the collective cosmic peace, Janus frequently symbolized change and transitions, moving from one condition to another, from one vision to another. Additionally, Janus presided over the beginning and ending of conflict, and hence war and peace. Even more interesting to me, in several languages, the name Janus translates as ‘go ride.’

As we modern day 21st Century humans “go ride,” as the gatekeepers of our own equestrian destinies, we continue to follow Janus’s lead and practice Museler. We make innumerable sacrifices and countless promises to ourselves of “better conduct.” As Museler stated, all those new experiences every day are what we learn to live for, reflect on and include in our next practice sessions.

Only one challenge slows us down…the challenge of unexpected change. Lucky for us, one of the best skills we learn on a horse is to adapt. We embrace repetition, are well practiced at new beginnings and making sacrifices as we adapt to the sentient beings of locomotion underneath us.

Focus on well-being and ability…

Katie Jackson. PC: Susan J Stickle

Para Equestrian Athlete, Katie Jackson, has faced unexpected challenges and changes. Yet, she exudes the epitome of what it takes mentally to master each level of skill to the best of her athletic ability. In a recent conversation with Katie, I asked her what her approach to learning was? About setting goals and making resolutions?

“I like putting my short- and long-term items on a sticky note that sits on my desk for the rest of the year. Every so often I can check in and the little piece of paper helps me hold onto the ‘It’s a new year, let’s do this!’ mindset a new year creates.”

Katie finds putting a check mark next to each goal she has accomplished fulfilling.

“I have task/goal-oriented objectives, I also find myself enjoying a shift in perspective to focusing on setting my intentions and my mindset for the upcoming months. Maintaining a sense of gratitude for the journey that leads me to achieving my goals, enjoying the day-to-day interactions with my horses and the amazing people that are by my side through it all, is very important to me. Listening to my gut and my horses helps me make the best decisions for us both as the year evolves.”

Making time to review and reflect on what she is learning, watching videos of her rides is what she finds most helpful. Intention, attention, application…they all lead us to a joyful experience within our horse human bonds.

The Gates of Opportunity…

Horses are opportunists. And we should follow their lead when it comes to learning. Critical to improving ‘conversations’ with our horses, it is crucial we walk through open gates of opportunity with an open mind, willing to listen and learn. Learning to apply new skills in a subtle manner takes practice, perseverance and a can-do attitude like Katie’s.

Saying “I’ll try” leaves too much room for error. When we think “maybe” is when we make mistakes and impede reaching goals. When our brains fire Yoda signals of “I will” is when we make progress. It is up to us to follow through to the best of our ability. Focusing on whatever ability we have at our disposal means everything to the outcome.

Indeed, many of us make sacrifices we never counted on and face unexpected challenges that leave some of us wondering, “Will we ever walk, let alone, ride again”’ We begin over and over and over, as many times as it takes to get back on and get it right. We borrow against life insurance policies to buy horses that have stared a hole right into our souls, trying to communicate magic messages of “You’ll do…until we meet again.” We look to masters like Museler for inspiration and education. We practice 3000-year-old traditions of making resolutions just so we can experience the mystical rhythm of an equine.

Dedication encourages us to move beyond our current challenges and define our attitude toward facing them. Looking to coaches, mentors, and medal winners to emulate, ultimately, motivation is an inside job. No matter our challenges, we can stare change in the face and adapt with a positive mental attitude. Our “I WILL!” spirit becomes the gateway to well-being and the key to progress.

What we give up, what we sacrifice, we don’t measure. To create the next future with our horses, all in the name of love, we treasure every moment with them and value sacrifice as part of the relationship. Gluttonous learners, we crave the next lesson, next book, next opportunity to learn, to better ourselves as educated communicators.

Why We Ride…

In love with our equine partners and our equestrian sport, we are relentless in our quest. Horses are our lives… in our lives for comfort, for connection, for companionship, for the thrill of feeling alive as well as inspiration for our souls. And sometimes, they transform into lifelines. It is why we ride.

It is why I boldly ask equestrian athletes like Katie Jackson, Olympic Medal winners and coaches like Jimmy Wofford and others, why they ride? (Jimmy’s answer is on page 395 of his latest book.) Like all roads lead to Rome, everyone’s answers lead to one destination…the heart and soul of a horse, the feeling of freedom, the connection to nature, the ultimate feeling of peace and well-being.

Our bodies find connection in a rhythm we cannot produce ourselves. As our brains open up to plentiful organic opportunities of cognitive engagement, a satisfying sense of well-being keeps us coming back for more.

Willingness to practice and the desire, drive and determination to let nothing “interfear,” we reach to the gods for strength while we learn. All our hard work toward improvement isn’t such a bumpy ride if we are open to opportunities and the process of learning.

Experts on Opportunity and Improvement…

Life-long learners will tell you recognizing opportunities to learn more about our horses is literally around every corner, in every ride, grooming session, lesson, audit, and read. Basically, upping our learning curve lives in and between every stride. We have the opportunity to walk away from each experience with a greater understanding of our horses, ourselves and what our next steps are.

“The overall emphasis in my mind should be on the opportunity to improve. We can improve ourselves, and we can improve our horses. The end goal for most people will certainly be to compete better – but to compete better through better riding, through better training, better understanding. Improve in every aspect and every level.”

‘Carawich’ Jimmy Wofford up Lexington,Kentucky 1978. Photo by Karl Leck.

Jimmy’s statement is right up my alley, all day long.

In my experience learning with horses, in the world of Woffords as my coaches, and as many others will attest, opportunities are abundant and we never ever stop learning. That is our most humbling opportunity and gift.

Katie’s thoughts on opportunity also reflect that philosophy.

“I rarely turn down an opportunity to ride a new horse! Every horse has something they are meant to share with us and something to teach us. The same can be said for the people who come into our lives.”

Overlooking opportunities is the catch. Alas, we humans must accept that in the here and now, the ‘opportunity’ to improve is in every ride, every trip to the barn, every time we are spectating, taking Pony Club tests, reading every book we can get our hands on. Skipping opportunities doesn’t mean we digress. However, we can never skip forward in our learning curve and skill level if we don’t put in the work.

The opportunity to improve is what I believe all our “resolutions” should point to, no matter the specifics. Our end goal is improving ourselves, as well as our horses. Yet, to reach the end goal, beginning with a basic purpose and emphasis on every opportunity, we must openly and willingly listen, prepare every day, and align ourselves with ‘best practices’ to apply our newly learned skills.

Improvement is our beloved reward.

Subtle Rewards…

Photo Courtesy Rick Eckhardt. *Rick and Gallopade The Footbridge Element Burghley 1966
**Rick Eckhardt was a member of the Gold Medal Winning Team at the 1967 Pan American Games,
Winnipeg CA. Gallopade and Rick were 1 of 2 Americans who completed the cross country course at the 1966 Burghley World Championships, Rick is an Equestrian Coach practicing in Virginia. He has
multiple mentions in ‘Still Horse Crazy After All These Years’ by Jimmy Wofford.

I love this early photo of Rick on Gallopade. Rick is such a fluid rider, full of technique and finesse. As he will attest, it took lots of practice to master the skills toward subtle delivery.

Embracing opportunities to enhance our skill level, practice and proper application elevates our ability to deliver our messages more subtly. With our ultimate goal of improvement to create synchronicity, we learn along the way that horses are happier when we are direct and clear without drama in our movement and aids. Being ‘invisibly’ responsive to our aids, horses ask us to deliver them with finesse instead of force.

As Rick so eloquently puts it…

“It’s amazing how responsive horses can be if we are subtle in our movements. Everything shifts when we slightly move one way or the other… slightly being the key word. The more subtle you are the better it is for the horse. Dramatic body movements throw everything of.”

As Museler so eloquently put it… “The end of all schooling and dressage is perfect harmony with the horse-Beauty. The horse must show that he feels comfortable, and the rider must not betray how hard it is to achieve this!”

Conclusions and Resolutions…

As an everyday learner, practicing the art of subtle delivery takes considerable practice applying Museler’s zealous advice. Taking advice from our horses, coaches, and experts in the field, what we need to practice improving begins with identifying opportunities to learn as we set goals and dream big! Inspiring us all to dream past our fears and reach for the ideal ‘perfect 10’score, Katie Jackson’s promises of “better conduct” for 2022 are supported and fueled by her attitude of gratitude and determination!

“If the stars align or more accurately, if this one-legged lady can master her one tempi changes, pi/pa, and the dreaded zig-zag, it would be more than a dream come true to ride down centerline at the Intermediate II and possibly the Grand Prix later this year!”

You go, Katie!

As for my own New and Every Year Resolutions? They are always the same and remain my all-around practice mantras for learning, improving and being a better communicator with horses and humans, alike.

Keep the gates open to the abundant and endless opportunities to learn. Be humble enough to see them all and grateful to have more than I can imagine.

Practice… so I learn to be ever more subtle with horses, and humans, too. For they will be grateful in return.

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