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New Year, New Goals: Getting 2023 Off on the Right Hoof – with Nancy Cahill 

It’s a New Year, which means new goals, new opportunities, and new focuses are at the forefront of our minds. It’s a time for making resolutions in hopes of setting the best intentions for ourselves and our equine partners.

We spoke with Nancy Cahill, AQHA Professional Horsewoman of the Year and long-time member of the Texas Quarter Horse Association, to get her perspective on how non-pros can set 2023 up to be the best year yet for them and their horses.

Horses Don’t Have Resolutions

Cahill chuckles when she reminds us, “Your horse doesn’t know it’s a new year. They aren’t thinking: new year, new me. They’re thinking it’s just another day at the barn.”

Nancy believes it is a common mistake for amateurs to put their goals and intentions onto their equine partner as if they are equally invested in the new goals. Riders will come to the barn in the new year with “big asks” and expect their equine partner to go along with it. This typically ends in frustration.

“Often, people will give their horse a vacation around the holidays and then want to jump back in immediately after the new year. This doesn’t tend to work well,” Cahill admonishes. “You need to ease into your goals without over-asking your horse. Remember: they don’t have the same goals you do, and if you push too hard in the beginning, you are more likely to give up when you don’t get the result you hoped for.”

Instead, Cahill advises, “You don’t want to make any dramatic changes with your horse in any aspect of their training or life. You need to make change and progress at a pace your horse can understand and is physically capable of, regardless of the time of year.”

Get Your Mind Right

Cahill reminds us that success often begins with a mindset that sets up habits that lead to success.

“I like to tell people that, if you get 51% of what you’re asking for on any given day from your horse, it’s worth celebrating.” She says, “Unfortunately, many people focus on the 49% they didn’t get, which contributes to a negative mentality that will ultimately translate to your horse.”

If you focus on celebrating the small, individual victories on the path to greater “year goals,” you will find you are happier with your progress and less likely to give up.

“Horse training and showing is a journey. Some days are great, and others less so,” says Nancy. “If you don’t enjoy the journey with your horse, you will never arrive at the ultimate destination.”

Set Winnable Goals that Don’t Involve Winning

This piece of advice piggybacks on having a positive mentality because it is hard to stay positive if you keep setting impossible goals.

“Often in horse showing, there is so much emphasis on the final result and the opinion of a judge on one particular ride,” Cahill laments. “But, this mentality sets so many riders up for ruin. This isn’t to say the opinions of judges aren’t important, they are simply an assessment of a snapshot of you and your horse, and they will change from show-to-show and judge-to-judge.”

Nancy says that your goals in the new year should focus on substantive changes within your control. What can you work on personally to improve with your horse? Better responsiveness? Stronger pivots? More controlled departures? Etc.

The best way to define success is on an individual level. Success for one non-pro may be simply getting their horse to a show, while success for another may be perfecting a skill. However, if you define success as a “win” in a class, you are more likely to lose.

Cahill reminds us, “Riding is so much more than winning a class, it’s about the work you put in at home to get there.”

“Winning a class at any level is the gravy…it’s extra,” Nancy encourages. “But, your work in the new year isn’t in the gravy, it’s in the mashed potatoes – which is to say, it’s in the substance and work that you put into the class.”

You can never lose if you focus on setting attainable goals that don’t rely on anyone outside your partnership with your horse for validation.

Don’t Forget to Work On Your Strengths

Cahill cautions non-pros from focusing too much on the “bad” skills that they want to improve in the new year.

“Don’t stop doing what you’re good at, or it will quickly become something you’re not so good at!” she laughs.

Working on trouble areas can be difficult and frustrating for both horses and riders. Mixing it up with skills that you are strong in or that you can perform consistently well, will help reinforce those skills while reminding you that you aren’t bad at everything. 

These little “pick-me-ups” are great for supporting a positive relationship with your horse.

Make Sure YOU Aren’t the Problem

When performing at their best, horses can only do what you ask them to do. Therefore, if you are noticing consistent problems that you want to improve on in the new year, it’s important to make sure you, as the captain of the ship, aren’t the root cause of the issue.

“The best improvements come from riders who are willing to check their egos at the gate,” Cahill explains. “Ask your trainer or a trusted advisor to help you set personal goals for how you can improve as a rider in the new year.” 

Nancy reminds us that so many people in our industry are truly happy to help, but you need to take the first step and ask for it. People are often averse to offering unsolicited opinions out of fear of offending anyone. Therefore, if you hope to improve in the new year, you need to have the courage to make the first move.

“Trainers and top non-pros are a great source of information and opinions,” Cahill concludes. “If you are open to hearing their critiques, and also open to actually trying their advice, you may find that your horsemanship grows by leaps and bounds in the new year.”

Everyone at GoHorseShow wishes you all the best in your new year goals with your equine partners.

About the Author:  Megan Rechberg has been riding horses on and off since she was in sixth grade. She works as a full-time mom to son Jackson and daughter Sterling, part-time litigation attorney, and social media manager for up-and-coming APHA stallions. She will be showing her yearling APHA SmoreThanA PrettyFace under the guidance of Double A Performance Horses in 2023.