Positively Riding!
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Positively Riding!

Goal Setting 

Your Roadmap to Success With Your Horse

As equestrians we are constantly analyzing  and  re-evaluating our achievements - large or small.  It's what we, horse people, do.  I've always felt that horse people are cut from a little different cloth than "regular" people and, as such, expect more from ourselves.

You may feel somewhat disappointed with where you are right now in your riding.  You thought by now you would be, somehow, further along, But, if you look back to where you thought you would be right now, did you REALLY know?  Did you have a clear, measurable model of how to gauge success?  You might have had a vague notion that "things would be going well" or you "eventually wouldn't be as nervous" riding.   Or, maybe you thought you would begin competing, at some point.  This wishy-washy method of goal setting is very common and rarely effective.   This plan  doesn't give us a tool for recognizing milestones nor a direction or timeline of achievement.  I suggest you buy yourself a white board or teachers planner to chart out your goals.   Commit yourself to checking and updating it every day you work with your horse. There is great satisfaction in seeing your progress in writing. 


Instead of saying, "I want to be less nervous riding" we could say, " In then next 30 days, I see myself riding my horse down the road, alone, passed the mailboxes and barking dogs and the occasional passing car.  My horse and I will remain calm and confident as we do walk-trot transitions to the stop sign, where we will turn and ride at a relaxed walk back to the barn."

This type of goal setting is very precise and measurable.  A 30-day plan, such as this, can now be broken down into manageable steps.  Let's assume our horse is trained and experienced, but somewhat nervous about riding out without other horses.  Let's also assume that the rider has been riding for about a year and has recently felt ready to begin doing some riding without her friends.  The  timeline for this scenario may look like this:



Success Measure 

Days 1-3 Walk/Trot Transitions in enclosed area without other horses & without distractions Horse responds to cues and both horse and rider are calm by end of session.
Days 4-10 Walk/Trot Transitions, alone, in enclosed area with distractions ie. people walking outside arena carrying unusual objects, or unusual objects in arena - be creative Horse responds to cues and both horse and rider are calm by end of session.
Days 11-13 Ride to stop sign at a walk with a friend on a seasoned horse Horse responds to cues and both horse and rider remain calm
Days 14-17 Same exercise as above, adding the walk/trot transitions Horse responds to cues and both horse and rider remain calm
Days 18-22 Ride horse to stop sign alone at a walk, Start with short distances and return to barn before horse gets upset.   Gradually add more distance until riding directly to stop sign and returning. Horse responds to cues. Both horse and rider remain calm as additional distance is added, reaching stop sign by day 22.
Days 20-30

Ride horse to stop sign, alone, adding walk/trot transitions.  Start by riding down the road for short distances and returning, gradually adding more distance.

Horse is ridden to stop sign using walk/trot transitions, responding well to cues and remaining calm.


Of course, all goals and timelines are meant to be only a guide.  You may set your goals and find that you haven't built in enough pre-requisites.   Or, you may reach your goals much faster than anticipated.    You may even decide that another aspect of riding has become more important to you.  It's fine to change your roadmap - but do it officially.  Take the time to physically change your written goals.  With your goals in writing, you won't make changes lightly.


In my tackroom, I keep a large white board listing my short and mid-term goals.  They range in time from a week to three months and I refer to it and update it daily.  (I get such a thrill out of putting those little smiley faces beside a completed task.)  But, at home, I keep a little black book with my long term horsey goals.    They range in time from a year to 20 years.  When writing these goals, you can allow your imagination to run wild.   Ask yourself what it is you REALLY want?  After all, with a well-thought out plan and relentless commitment, you can achieve anything anyone else has. Really open up your mind and don't rule anything out.  Maybe you would like to be a world-reknowned horse trainer or a Friesian breeder with a 1000 acre ranch or a  trick rider or a  Grand Prix champ. Maybe you want to buy that 4 horse trailer with living quarters. Or, you might just want to have a nice two stall barn with two healthy and sound horses that your grand children can safely ride.  Whatever your dreams might be,  I absolutely believe any of us can have any of these dreams. 

The table below outlines a 20 year plan one might have to become a nationally recognized and respected clinician. Here's an example of how a long term plan might look.


Timeline (Years)


Success Measure 

Year 1

Take lessons regularly in my discipline of interest & begin competing.

Overcome trailer loading issues.

Trim expenses and pay off credit cards 

Take 6 lessons/mo. and make consistent improvement.  Have participated in, at least, one lower level event.

Horse loads calmly traveling to events.

Credit cards are paid off.

Yr. 2

Move to advanced level lessons. 

Compete regularly and improve performance.

Save $3,500/yr. 

Advancing well in schooling and have reached milestones set by instructor.

Participated in 10 events.  Placed in  top 5 in half.

Have $3,500 toward trailer purchase in bank account.

 3 - 5

Achieve advanced riding level on multiple horses.

Improve performance at events.

Begin trainer certification program. 

Purchase new trailer.

Have become proficient with all skills offered by your  instructor and advanced beyond her.

Place in top percentages in all events.

Receive trainer certification.

Buy the trailer of your dreams.

 5 - 10

Establish business as a  riding instructor. 

Develop unique riding instruction style.

Ability to support yourself from the income of your business.  Your students perform well at events.

Your unique style is instrumental in helping others achieving their goals more quickly.


Publish books   and  create own  instructor  certification program.


Travel the country, presenting National level clinics.

Your publications and methods are known and highly respected among riders and instructors nationally.

You have created a need in the industry where there was none, therefore, you are one of the most sought after clinicians in the country.

If you know the backgrounds of many of the top clinicians today, you know that many of them started from very humble beginnings.   The principals of Sports Psychology (NLP) teach us that anything that can be accomplished by one person can be accomplished by any other.  

Plotting out your goals in this manner will make you aware of the skills and direction you will need along the way and you will develop short and mid-term timelines to help you build those skill sets. You will begin making decisions based on whether or not those choices will or will not be beneficial to your long-term goals.  If you just drift along in the sea of choices, allowing the tide of every day life to chart your course, it would only be by happenstance that you will reach your destination or even recognize it when you arrive.   

Remember, there is no such thing as failure.  There are only results. No goal achievement is without trial and error and setback.  As Anthony Robbins states in his book,  Ultimate Power:

"The super successes of our culture aren't people who do not fail but simply people who know that if they try something and it doesn't give them what they want, they've had a learning experience and simply try something else .  They take some new action and produce some new results."

These people do not see failure.  Instead, they see "outcome" or "results".  The word "failure" does not exist to them.   That's the axiom we must adopt in order to mirror their success.   There will be times when you will have to readjust your timeline to allow for additional learning or new methods.  That's part of the process and not to be viewed as a negative.

Get out a pen and paper right now and start brain storming.  Just throw down every single dream you've ever had and start from there.   Then, rank them in order from least to most desired.  Take a few of the top ranking dreams and start jotting down some of the pre-requisites, ie. skills, facilities, tools, money that would be required.  

Really do this.  You won't believe the immediate boost in your motivation.