Malcolm Gladwell put forth a theory in 2008, in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success that sounds to be entirely relevant to us horse riders. In it, he proposes that it takes 10,000 hours of practice in any task to become exceptionally good at something.

That breaks down to approximately 3 hours per day over a course of ten years. He goes on to explain that it's not just about having talent - less talented people can progress beyond their more talented counterparts through repeated, directed practice.

Another key component to his theory is that one must be in the right place, at the right time, in order to achieve one's highest potential for success. In the horse sense, I have always thought of this as being influenced by the right people at the right time - preferably very early in your riding career so that the correct muscle memory can be created early on (we know how hard it is to undo bad habits - especially physical ones!).

Although not everyone agrees with Gladwell's theory, and the criticism is that he makes broad generalizations based on a relatively small amount of data, I suspect there is something to be said about regular practice. It does not take a genius to recognize that repeating a skill tends to develop the skill.

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This could be especially relevant to riding horses, as there are so many small muscle contractions that act within split-seconds in order for us to keep ourselves in the saddle and moving in tandem with the horse. Anyone who has ridden for even a short time can attest to the development of 'muscle memory', or blueprinting.

Things just become easier with practice. Once upon a time you thought you'd never be able to perform a movement, but with regular determined repetition, one day you discover that it just happens. Somehow, you do not even have to think about the movement and your body just performs.

Yes, I imagine that if I could squeeze in three hours of riding a day, I would get to my goal of being efficient and effective in the saddle much quicker. This certainly holds true for riding, as well as anything in life, including success at our daily jobs.

On the horse side of the equation, I have one particularly expressive horse who has distinctly TOLD me that this theory stands true for horses as well. He is the one that thrives on daily anything (insert riding, grooming, tail brushing, lunging - you name it) and if it happens that he gets a day or two off, he emphatically denies that he has ever been ridden. He tells me his slow and fast twitch muscle fibers have absolutely no memory of ever having twitched that way before...!

What do you think of this theory and how it relates to horse riding?

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If you liked the above article, you may also enjoy these:

3D book 2Blueprinting – the Good, the Bad and the UglyBlueprinting, in the riding sense, refers to the muscle memory that is developed in both the horse are rider. Going on “autopilot” when riding horses can be a good thing… or not!

How To Be An Active Horseback Rider (a.k.a. Riding With Intention)What do you do when your ride isn’t going as planned? How do you respond when your horse scoots out from under you, spooks at the horse-killing object, or flat out ignores you?

When “Good Enough” Just Isn’t Good Enough In Horseback RidingWe come up with all sorts of excuses to explain why we don’t want to or can’t get past the problem.

The Dynamic Dependency of Horseback Riding: Why is it that riding can become so difficult at times? In riding, nothing can be done in isolation.

Finding Your Comfortable Un-Comfort in Riding: Being uncomfortable is often a good place to be in riding.


  1. When beginning dressage lessons, I was told that hours in the saddle would make the difference. (Does that go for really ‘weak-core’ people, too? Because I was). Considering all the directions to Sit Up Straight, Pay Attention To Your Legs, We Don’t Want Chicken Legs—-and No Chicken Wings,either—I decided to exercise to a ‘riding-exercise’ tape I had discovered. Each morning faithfully I did those exercises which anyone knows, who has had to work HARD at even the most basic riding.
    My thought was that, being so floppy and prone to slump from fatigue, and all that, I must strengthen my muscles, all of them, so I could begin to keep these Spaghetti arms and legs where they had to be, to do the most good. Otherwise….what was the use? I thought I’d be training my body wrong, and soon the mis-trained muscles would ONLY do it wrong. So why not get strong thru exercise, then start trying to train my muscles while riding?
    Those exercises made a big difference! I kept them up even when I began to see fewer episodes of Chicken Legs/Wings/whatever else. What a difference, eventually, and how much more fun it was to ride! I love how you brought out that horses, as well, are affected by muscle memory or lack of it.; that is something that was never told to me. I believe your posts are invaluable to all who want to do well by their horses.

  2. I have one of those horses. My Arabian boy has to have repetition everyday, or his memory forgets. Lol weather is finally beautiful, will be seeing how good my muscle memory is. Lol

  3. Hello, encore4deb; I bought that video tape in the mid 1980’s and used it for a long time. In 1991 I moved, am sure I had it with me then. Betwee 1992 and now, I’ve moved 3 more times, ending with March of this year 2013. Looking through every single tape—all stored in my tv stand—I can’t FIND it. I don’t know when or where it was lost, just that I don’t have it. Tried searching through Amazon just now, didn’t see it at all. So sorry not to be able to tell you the name of it. Please excuse the long delay in my commenting. Somehow I missed seeing your question in my emails from Horse Listening, but today I saw it. This last move is a huge downsize (I now have about 30% of the space I once had.Organizing is key. I really hope you are able to find that tape. It’s a good one, wish I could be of help!

  4. I have a horse exactly like that. I have to do something with him everyday or he can be difficult.