To make progress, in any area of life, requires focus. Going in many different directions at once simply creates overwhelm, not real progress. But focus on one thing, and you can achieve real results.
This concept can be applied to most any area of life and is as useful for improving your riding and horsemanship as it is getting fit, or having success in your career.
I often find that my best insights regarding horsemanship come from sources focused in other fields, such as psychology, learning, business, or health.
This was once again true as I recently read a book titled “The One Thing.” This book made the case that success is about our ability to determine one important thing to focus on and do.
Of course, we can have different definitions of success in regards to riding, but that is unimportant.
You can choose your own goals, and it doesn’t matter if you want to safely enjoy trail riding on the weekends, ride a low-level dressage test, or if you have ambitions for higher level competition.
The concept in this book was that to improve, and to feel the satisfaction that we are making progress, we must prioritize – identify and focus on what matters most. When we try to do it all, practicing ten riding tips as once, learning three different disciplines, using everything we’ve ever been taught…we can end up not really improving anywhere.
The trick is to work sequentially, by figuring out what needs done first and then focusing there until a level of proficiency is reached before moving on.
The challenge is, with seemingly infinite options, what is the one thing that does matter most? How do we know when that one thing has shifted?
The key is to ask good questions.
In the book, The One Thing, a simple but genius question is proposed that can cut through overwhelming choices and help you figure out what is most important.
Here’s the question: What’s the ONE Thing I can do that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?
We can’t do everything at once, so when making a choice between reading a new book, enrolling in a course, taking more riding lessons, practicing your 20 meter circles, improving your fitness, looking for a new saddle, etc, etc. What’s the one thing you should do first that will have the biggest impact?
Asking this question, and asking it often is what will keep you on track and in focus.
Here’s how to apply this to improving your riding. You want to be more effective and feel more “at one” with your horse. You begin by envisioning a goal. Perhaps you want to feel confident cantering out on the trail, you want to ride a better leg yield, or you want to canter the whole jump course.
When you determine a goal, you begin looking for where to focus first. Start asking the question, what’s the one thing I can do that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?
A good place to start is always looking at the comfort of you and your horse. If your saddle throws you in a chair seat and pinches your horse’s wither, a better fitting saddle will make everything else easier. The first one thing could be buying a new saddle.
If your horse has long toes and is overdue for a trim, making him more comfortable and balanced will help him move better, making the ride smoother for you and again, making everything else easier. The first one thing may be as simple as calling the farrier.
If you’ve got a healthy horse and good equipment, we start thinking about training. Frameworks help direct us, I strive to provide frameworks in my courses, so there is direction to learning in any topic. There are also commonly taught frameworks, such as the classic training scale. For this example, look at the training scale consider where you’re at. The goals I provided as examples earlier all tie into the base of the scale – rhythm.
Rhythm is a cornerstone to all riding, any discipline, any style of riding, any more advanced movement from the horse, first requires rhythm. Even many riding “problems” such as a horse that won’t maintain gait, drifts to the center, or head tosses, improve when the rhythm improves.
Without a feel for and an ability to maintain, rhythm, from both horse and rider, moving on to more advanced exercises is pointless.
Rhythm could be your one thing. But what do you do next to improve it?
We’ve considered three different examples of asking the question “what’s the one thing that will make everything else easier or unnecessary”, and finding an area of focus, but now we want to make sure that one thing gets done, and fortunately, there is an easy way to do just that.
There are three steps.
We’ve already done two of these steps and considered various examples.
1. Envisioned a goal – cantering confidently through an open field, riding a great leg yield, or cantering an entire jump course
2. Identified an area of focus to get us there – a better fitting saddle, improving health of our horse, improving rhythm while riding
The third step is now to create a specific new habit, once again, the most important one, to keep us making progress in that area of focus.
To find your new habit, brainstorm a list of what you could do.
Continuing with the example of improving rhythm, what’s next?
We can brainstorm a few possibilities: developing better balance and stability as a rider (work on our posture) or refining the “go forward” cue for our horse, so we can ask for forward movement, or improving the strength and fitness of our horse.
If we ask the question of what’s the one thing that will make everything else easier or unnecessary, your answer could be any of those three, or another possibility, but let’s say that improving your balance and stability as a rider stands out, because when you ride better you will be more consistent with your cues, and will be able to ride your horse in a way that his strength and fitness does improve. In this example, better balance as a rider = everything else gets easier.
So now we can go one step further and pick a simple habit to develop.
Perhaps you could do exercises at home that will apply to our riding, or attend more lessons, or take a course to better understand what good posture is.
When questioning what to focus on first, your individual answer will vary. But here’s an example of a good habit: taking 15 min a day to do simple exercises at home that will translate to our riding can make those future lessons more beneficial and will have you in the habit of daily practice, so taking future courses will be easier too.
You’ve envisioned a goal, identified the area you need to focus on, and then chosen a specific habit to create – 15 minutes of daily riding related exercises.
Results come from focus. When we focus, we can improve. The key is to make sure we are focusing on what is most important for us.
The old Chinese proverb states that “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”, and with this awareness of focusing on what is most important we have made sure that step is in the right direction.