What’s a plan? A plan is simply setting a goal. Any goal. Deciding on it and going after it—then holding yourself accountable for it, whether you achieve it or not. It’s basically a measuring stick that you can use to gauge your progress. If you have a goal, you can learn from what you’re doing. Without a goal, you won’t.
What’s escalation of pressure? Using as little pressure as possible to start then increasing that pressure quickly until the horse responds appropriately. Stopping that escalation as soon as you get the correct response is just as important as escalating quickly as possible. Horses can respond to a cue just about immediately—they just have to believe (and understand) the cue. Escalating pressure focuses the horse on your signals, and enough pressure makes him believe you. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a rider fail to get a horse to respond as desired when the horse almost believed the rider really wanted it, but the rider didn’t escalate the pressure effectively or quickly enough. The escalation should only take a second or two—if it takes longer, the plan failed and you’ll have to come around and try again.
Without a plan and an escalation of pressure working in tandem, you and your horse won’t have a goal to achieve, and active, purpose-driven riding will give way to wishy-washy passive riding. Don’t be wishy-washy. Make a decision, set a goal, and go after it. If you fail to achieve it, identify what didn’t work and then try it again. It may be cliché, but the road to success is always paved with failures. Just remember that failures are also progress—each one can teach you something if you let it, and you’ll be that much closer to your goal.