Friday, January 11, 2013

Keystone Horsemanship Habits.

So I'm re-reading (ok listening) to a book called the Power Of Habit. Very intersting stuff. I was thinking, of course, about how it relates to horsemanship.

The author Charles Duhigg talks about keystone habits. The ones that once established create a cascade effect and can reshape our whole lives. An example of a keystone habit is exercising regularly. Even once a week. This one activity seems to cause people to eat more healthfully, to smoke less and even to be on time more!
My best buddy Beth and I have long been using habits to help us progress in our horsemanship. There are many people who dream of success with horses. They can talk a ton about it, belong to all the right clubs, read a pile of books, watch a million dvds and yet...somehow they don't get anywhere. We really really didn't want to fall into that trap.

Our most famous habit forming system was the gold star program. We kept it simple. If you get on your horse, even for 5 seconds, you get a gold star. We just tried to fill up our calendars with them. We focused exclusively on this one action.

It worked. It was what is know as a "small win". The more of these we racked up, the more we became accustomed to the pattern of making time to ride our horses and feeling successful doing it. We weren't measuring success by our ability to do anything fancy. Just get on our horses. If we did this we were successful.

The thing is...if you get on your horse, I mean, you're already up there right? Might as well get something done. I think we were both shocked at the wave that carried us to our Parelli Level 3, off to exciting courses, riding in excellent clinics and doing some of the things we'd always dreamed of with our ponies.

Its like a virus when you hit upon the right habits. The action spreads. Brilliant really when you think about it. Just do one thing and it will cause you to do a whole bunch of other things that you've been wanting to do. The hard things become easier and then easy things become effortless.

So this year, we decided we'd start a 12 Week Horsemanship Challenge. Beth just got a new horse and I have one that I've been meaning to get to. So again this time we kept it simple. Spend 50 hours with one horse. Saddle them 40 times and bridle them 40 times. Plus load them into the trailer 25 times. These can seem like such small things. It can also seem like cheating to pull your horse out of its stall at 9pm saddle them, bridle them, undress them and kiss them goodnight. But we know better.

The habits we are creating are precious. They are carving out extra horse time in our lives. They are proving and prioritizing our goals into real tangible actions. We designed this challenge with Keystone Horsemanship Habits in mind and we think they'll have that cascade effect. It ended up that 41 people joined us in this challenge and I just can't wait to see the results that we all get with our ponies.


  1. this is so awesome and I wish I had this template while in JL program....don't get me wrong we had goals a plenty but they where to broad in someways and stressful but of course back then my mind set was a bit different...thanks for this challenge emma, its fun and I cant wait to see what Leo and I can do!

    1. Thanks for doing it with us Beth. I can't wait to see what you guys can do either. Its a little bit like waiting for Christmas!