The 5 Stages of Team Building in Horse-Rider Relationships (and how to get to the performing stage smoothly!)
The first stage of team building is Forming. This is the stage of starting new. This can be buying a new horse or starting training with a new project. During this stage you both are getting to know each other. Common feelings during this stage are excitement, dreaming of new possibilities and enthusiasm. It is also common to feel anxious and uncertain of the unknown, and to be unsure of yourself and your abilities to make this partnership successful. To overcome this hurdle and make the most out of the forming stage, focus on identifying your strengths as a rider and the horse’s strengths, and give clear direction to build on these strengths.
The second stage is Storming. This is the stage where most teams fail. It is also the stage where authority is determined, and the stage where many riders quit with a new horse. The horse, and the rider, start testing boundaries and limits. Common feelings during this stage are frustration and resistance. However, this can also be a stage where creativity can flourish, if the rider has the mindset to be flexible and is open to trying new things to build the relationship. To move from the storming stage to the next stage, norming, it is necessary to set clear boundaries and expectations. Focus on how you communicate with your horse to ensure that the horse understands what you are asking. Also be sure that you are the leader of this team! If you are struggling in this stage, seek the help of a trainer or instructor.
The third stage is Norming. During this stage your working relationship with your horse is formed, and you can start to learn new skills. You feel comfortable with each other, and you enjoy spending time together. You start to feel like you are on the same page with your horse, and you both know what to expect from each other. In this stage it is also common to get stuck in a routine, and for feelings of boredom to occur. To make the most out of this stage to continue to build your skills and move to the next stage, performing, you need to be disciplined. If you are feeling bored or stuck in this stage, seek feedback from a trainer, instructor, or friend to continue to improve your skills and your relationship with your horse.
The fourth stage is Performing. At this stage, you and your horse are consistently performing the skills needed to compete or perform in your chosen discipline. You feel trusting and confident in yourself and your horse. You feel able to problem-solve and overcome riding challenges. You are focused. It is also common to have tunnel vision in this stage, which can lead to burn out for you or your horse. Make sure to take breaks and mix up your routine to keep you and your horse fresh. Focus on being flexible and open to new ideas to maintain your team’s motivation and keep you both performing at your best.
The last stage is Adjourning. This stage can be very sad, if you and your partner are no longer able to perform due to illness or injury. It can also be a time for celebration, if you and your horse have achieved all that you set out to achieve, and you are both moving on to start new partnerships. At this stage it is helpful to look back and assess your relationship with your horse. What went well? What did you learn? Recognize your achievements and what you accomplished together. Then, ask yourself, What do you want to do next? And get ready to start the cycle all over again!