We can all think of a rider we know that seems to always do well, has calm, happy horses, and steadily improves their horse's physical and mental state in an almost effortless manner.

We watch and admire from afar, but in fact, we can all stand to learn from their regular habits and "way of being" in order to develop our own horse riding mantra.

What do great riders have in common that makes them appealing to watch, steadily develop their riding skills and become role models for others to aspire to emulate?

1. Persistence: Great riders are willing to try, try again. They know that there will be more rides, more days, and the slow and steady approach always wins the "race".

2. Open-mindedness: Great riders know there is something to be learned from everyone, even if to see proof of why NOT to do something. These riders are not discipline exclusive, and are always aware that good riding is good riding is good riding, regardless of the saddle or style.

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3. Patience: Great riders are willing to wait to reap the rewards. They know that even if something falls apart today, there will be more days to come and small steps even backward are more beneficial than quick fixes or shortcuts.

4. Quitting: This may seem counter-intuitive, but great riders quit while they're ahead. They ride for short periods of time to their highest ability and then call it a day. They seem to intuitively know when enough is enough.

5. Effectiveness: Great  riders seek maximum effectiveness with minimum harm. They make every step count, and they resist overriding the horse for the sake of performance.

6. Self-Improvement: Great riders regularly seek to upgrade their riding skills and general horse education. They are willing to spend time, money and humility in the quest for constant self-improvement.

7. Seeing the Big Picture: Great riders enjoy the "work" and the path as much as they do the goal achievement. They know that each day and each step is as important as the other and is a natural progression in development.

8. Role Models: Great riders know great riding when they see it and seek to surround themselves with those who will not only help them improve on a riding level, but also on a more personal and inspirational level as well.

9. Problem Solving: Great riders can trouble-shoot through problems to come to gratifying solutions. They have many tools in their "tool-boxes" and know there is more than one way to approach a situation. They are always willing to try new things.

10: Horse Listeners: Great riders are expert horse listeners! They are sensitive to the feedback from their horses and adjust their responses accordingly.

It's as simple as that! 🙂

And now that I have humbly created my own ten habits of a competent rider, please take a look at the following video for a much more eloquent description. I was so thrilled to find the new Facebook page of one of my most revered writers and riders of all time, Charles deKunffy, that I thought I'd share it here for your viewing and educational pleasure. He always has a depth of understanding that surprises, even in answer to the most simple questions, and this video is no exception.

1/7 What Are Common Traits of Excellent Riders?

Now it's your turn. What is missing from this list? Please add to the comments below.

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If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy:

Horseback Riders Do Nothing Anyway! Well, at least, that's what they say!

The Dynamic Dependency of Horseback Riding: Why riding can seem to be such a complicated sport at times.

Demystifying Contact in Horseback Riding: Contact is not some "other worldly" skill!

From a Whisper to a Scream: How Loud Should Your Aids Really Be? The simple answer: it depends! 


  1. Very good!! I love reading things like this so I have something to work for! Any more let me know!!:)

  2. I think you have quite the complete list there. My only complaint is that the list is for Competent Riders… hopefully we all aspire to be more than competent. It seems to me anyone implementing all these steps should be much more than competent, depending on their aspirations. This list screams to me to be the traits of the best true horsemen.

    1. Funny enough, I had a hard time finding the right adjective. I started with just plain “good” but then thought there is really more to that. I also didn’t think my post covered everything required to be “excellent”, since I don’t think we can ALL be absolutely excellent. I thought I should go somewhere in-between, because that’s probably where most of us will ever be! I’ll keep thinking on it, because the beauty of the Internet is I can change my mind and update anything! Thanks for the feedback! 🙂

  3. Any successful partnership requires a solid sense of humour – because there will be days when it will be necessary to ‘laugh at yourself’ and apologize to your equine partner.

  4. Love this!

    Our list of “what makes a great leader” is very similar. We would reframe “quitting” as celebrating success – or knowing when to let learning soak in. It’s a timing thing – quitting at exactly the right moment creates learning – too soon or too late and you miss the moment.

  5. And once again, as another rider (and editor) who writes, I found I could substitute the word “writer” for “rider” and most of these habits still applied! Except perhaps for #10, being a horse listener. But come to think of it, you do have to “listen” to the story or piece you’re writing, because sometimes it doesn’t want to go where YOU want it to go and it’s trying to tell you that. Or, just as a horse might “tell” you you’re stuck and need to find a good coach; as a writer, your story might be trying to tell you that you need a good editor. 😉

    1. Thanks, Marie-Lynn for the insight. I have experienced how an article “takes you” from where you thought you were going to a new place and idea. It is a lot of fun, and much like letting the horse express itself! Please keep commenting/editing! 🙂

  6. Big thing missing: Good riders are good horsemen on the ground. Safety, diligence, and thoughtfulness about the horse’s mental and physical state are essential. I hate to see riders who think that time in the saddle is all that’s needed to master the craft, or riders who treat the horse like a machine or a piece of gym equipment, there simply to enhance or facilitate their ability to ride. Good riding begins on the ground!

    1. Yes!! I could not possibly agree more! (Is an ongoing, regular and expected argument w new, especially adult students for many years now…..)

  7. “Good riders focus on improving themselves and their horses rather than comparing themselves to other riders who may have more at their disposal.” I say this because time and time again I hear young riders complain or make excuses because they don’t have the perfect facility or the perfect horse. The best riders I know had many obstacles to overcome and had to “make-do” with what they had in their journey to reach their pinnacles. I am going to print this list off and post it in a very visible place at my house-lol!

  8. Love the “discipline racist” comment! As a rider who did a major discipline switch as an adult, I am often surprised by the amount of “my discipline is the only RIGHT one” attitude that people can have instead of trying to learn from differing approaches to communication with the horse. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to see different approaches and use knowledge from each and feel that it has contributed to my development as a whole horseman!

    1. I was lucky enough to be exposed to many disciplines fairly early in my riding career, and so I learned to respect all. EVERY riding style has good riding/bad riding and there is something that can be learned from each “hat” (literally! – although nowadays, it’s helmet)! Thank you so much for reading.

  9. Kathy, Fantastic article! Love your site. Like the writer above, I am a business and equestrian life coach as well as a rider and trainer and substituting the word “coach” for rider worked in each case. Your article is clear and succinct and right on. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Thank you SO much for this list. It sums up everything I have been striving to do with my horses and teach to my students.

  11. Great post. I would add that great riders have very little ego when it comes to working with horses. Rather than focusing on what they want, how they look or on winning, they focus on what is best for the horse. When ego is involved, the horse suffers because the focus is only on the end result and getting there as quickly as possible.

    My mantra is “balance, harmony, harm to none”.

  12. Always good things to see and remember, especially when about to start with a new horse! The rider and horse are better together when slow and steady wins the race!!! Thank you for the article!

  13. Great riders compassionatly know when to be forgiving and patient to the horses lack of understanding at that specific moment, they can tell ahead of time what problems are there’s or the horses.

  14. I really like this list. I would also say under “self improvement” that many (but not all) great riders are even more so because of the wonderful wisdom they share with others about riding. What better way to understand a concept than to explain and see that concept understood by another person.

  15. Wonderful article! All riders could greatly benefit from your list but those just beginning their life in riding could really learn from applying these 10 principles. This list is full of common sense and a true concern for the horse who would also greatly benefit in what is supposed to be a partenership. I’ve heard those talk about not having the best horse before but really it is more that the horse does not have a competent rider who looks out for the horses best interest. Ive seen examples being shown to complaining riders when the step down off of their supposed uncoopetative horse and hand the reins over to a calm and confident rider who is considerate if that same horse and have witnessed immediate ‘miracles’ of a difference when the horse goes from that frustrated blaming everything except themselves rider to the rider of competence and confidence who rides with heart. Proving immediately it is the rider who needs the work and not the so called lazy uncooperative horse. Love your article and advice.

  16. Competent Horsemen are self-centered. Not like that…… they tend to have a certain awareness of their still center bringing them into and keeping them focused in the present moment. They will tune in to their being, breath and focus then guide a horse as an extension of themselves. Competent horsemen know how to love and guide another being.
    We are in love after all, that’s why we are doing this in the first place.
    Thanks for a well thought out and written list. I wish to republish on Horse2Heart.com with links and due credit if I may.

  17. I’ve read ths somewhere else.. aren’t you supposed to include the original author when you repost something in a blog?

  18. Knowing when to quit is one of the hardest lessons to learn. We often forget horses, like people, absorb limited amounts of information at a time. A horse in training needs to build confidence that comes from successfully completing simple tasks often. Teach them something new, then spend the rest of the time just riding. Just our thoughts.

  19. This is a list that will help a lot of riders I think. Very well done. On ‘Patience’. To round it out a bit more. “Just like people, horses can have their off days. Competent riders will realize this and simply put the horse away for the day. Realizing that it’s better to do nothing than to create mistakes.”

  20. I am just reading this now, but you have presented timeless info. I would add “flight check” to the list. Make sure your horse is sound, receiving proper nutrition, well groomed, hoofs picked, saddle and bridle well fitted, vaccines up to date, teeth well-maintained. Know your horse well, so you know when he or she is off, be familiar with body and legs so you can detect unusual swellings or heat. Make sure you are wearing the proper equipment – certified helmet, boots with heels, etc. These things sound fundamental, but I am surprised how many of these practices I see ignored every day. Thank you for this valuable resource.

  21. Great article! You just cannot over-emphasise the importance of patience! It is the foundation of everything else. Aside from that, I would also like to see ‘intuition’ on the list. It is an important guide when facing contradicting opinions by trainers, vets and books or when you are stranded alone in an unfamiliar situation.

  22. A consistent ride. Consistency. All too often I see riders ask their horses for the right things the right way but the horse doesn’t hear them the first or third time. So they change the request. Thanks like switching to another language. As the same way, the right way, every time until you get the right response.

    Then – the other thing you are missing – REWARD. Reward the correct response. That may mean taking off the pressure AND petting, treating, quitting, moving on to something else, whatever. If we never reward or stop asking, the horse doesn’t know the difference between right at wrong.

    Next – pick the right horse for the job. Match COMPETENCIES with tasks.

  23. This is great! Really love it! I respect that you respect that each rider should be respected. Haha sounds funny but it’s true. I’m going to a fun dressage show that is regognized the next day, I KNOW people will look at me funny because I have a western pleasure horse. No ever respects that, it isn’t unnatural they are bred for it, just like dressage or jumping horses! My horse has to be warmed up western pleasure before I ride or she gets all jittery! 🙂 great to read 🙂

  24. Very insightful! I enjoyed this article. However, one key element was left out – always thank your horse for the good ride! Keep up the good work.

  25. I have always said for training/handling horses the one most important trait is to be consistent. No matter what methods you use, you will confuse a horse if you are not consistent.

  26. I agree with all 10 if your points – nicely written! I would add Compassion. A person must have compassion to be successful in anything they do. Horses must first be viewed as living creatures that have personalities, good and bad days, feelings, sensitivities, and intelligence. We, as humans must have the wisdom to understand horses are prey animals that have overcome all instincts to run from a predator (us). With compassion for riding, our horses, and life, we can provide our horses the best life possible which, in turn, greatly improves our own lives. When it’s all said and done, that’s what life is all about.

  27. Sitting here with my broken toe and bruises from my mare who just literally walked over me when I was trying to have just a moment with her (she has been with me for 9 months) I search and search to find what I am doing wrong. Sadly, other than her being very pliable with tack and being approx. 16 yrs old, I don’t know anything about her (she was a rescue). But at least this site encourages persistence.

    1. I’m so sorry this happened to you Robin. Unfortunately, horses are big and instinctually can hurt us if they become frightened (fight or flight). I would recommend that you both enroll in a Natural Horsemanship course (Parelli or Anderson for example). She needs to learn to respect you and your space. Best wishes, stay with it, and heal well.

  28. Great list, can only think of one more really important thing every outstanding horseman/woman has: really good timing. This applies to when to release, when to praise, when to wait, when to keep up the pressure, when to be quiet and bring down the energy level and when to go all guns blazing. The most important of these is recognising and using the perfect moment for releasing pressure / praising, that intention in the horse to do as we ask which may not even be quite manifest yet in its body, feeling that “give” and instantly releasing to it / praising the horse’s willingness to do as we ask.
    Creates magical moments and great results.

  29. Great article and I love the “praise/release” comments. Horses love to please, but we have to make it enjoyable for them. Listening to their bodies to know when to call it “good”. And after the workout, cleaning them up and cooling them off. That’s a big part of their reward. They know they will be taken care of by you. Trust

  30. Although I rarely think to label myself as a “good” rider or otherwise, I realized while reading your article that I strive to do most, if not all, of these things. Thank you for presenting this list, and I’m so glad I found it today.

  31. I LOVE Charles de Knuffy. I smuggled his book ‘Creative Horsemanship’ into my high school classes. I met him once at an equine affair and was so tongue tied, you’d think he was a rock star. He was my role model growing up.

  32. I would add Timing and Feel to the list

    Timing because good riders know when to apply pressure and when to release it for the best result

    Feel because good riders are sensitive to the cues their horse gives back to them

  33. The expression of eyes and ears tell everything, about basic personality and how a horse you know slightly or very well is feeling on any day. Pay attention to these. It is as important as overall attention to every other observation-legs, appetite, etc. Windows to the horse’s soul.

  34. The adjective I would suggest is, “Effective”: as in Stephen Covey’s, ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’: many, if not all, of the same principles apply as well. Your ten points are also those that denote, ‘Effective’ parents. People, horses and dogs share many of the same many common traits for reflecting the benefits of effective interaction.

  35. Enjoy everything horsey! Even when they are misbehaving, are they enjoying it. Let them have fun if it is not malicious or harmful and revel in the beauty and majesty of the horse. Training should be rewarding and fun. for both of you.

  36. Hi I really enjoyed reading your article, I hope you don’t mind me sharing it on my website http://www.martinsmithracing.com
    We pride ourselves on getting the most out of our race horses through exceptional care and horsemanship and I have to say you described our ideal rider. I can’t wait to read more of your work 🙂

    Kind regards,


    1. Hi Martin,

      Glad you enjoyed the article. You have a beautiful website.

      If you do reprint this on your website, do you mind adding a direct link back to the original post?

      Thanks for reading.


  37. A good rider is always ready and willing to change their plans according to where there horses needs are at that moment.

  38. I know your original post was ages ago but I just came across it. I think there is a ‘biggy’ that you may have overlooked. in my opinion HUMILITY is the key to success (in almost every aspect of our lives in fact, but particularly when dealing with a sentient equine partner). a humble approach towards your successes and failures is key. when things go wrong in the show ring or the training ring i, without exception, ask ‘what did i do wrong? how can I (not my horse, my trainer, the judge etc etc) make it better. the onus is upon me to own mistakes and to come up with a solution to the problems that i have, at least in part, created or contributed to. i don’t think i have ever walked out of the show ring and felt (or stated) “what is wrong with this horse??!!”. i am the ‘thinker’ in the equation, and the problem solver. it is a privilege to me that my horse would be so humble himself to allow a small human being to take control of the decision making when he absolutely does not have to. hence the ultimate teacher of humility; my horse.

  39. As a professional dressage rider everything you stated above is very correct , however a bit robotic. I like to think that I hold most of your comments how ever I think you missed an important point and that is a realization if the real world. In a sense the fact that knowing you will loose your patience some days and you will loose good horses and when one day is going as bad as it possibly can it’s knowing to step aside assess what you have and “get right back in that horse” and try again. I think if we are all honest no one holds all of the attributes you stated we are only human and we are allows to make mistakes and so are out horses, it’s the process in which we learn, succeed and ultimately reach our goal.

  40. Great Article, but I feel that EVERY good rider must not be just a good rider but they must also know all the grounding of how to look after their horse be it their own or a school pony. Its soo easy just to call a groom to saddle up for them or to clean out the hooves, or to muck out the stable, to me, a good rider must know and practice ALL of this.

  41. Amazing article. MY new List for Life! The only things I can think of is sportsmanship and love of horse

  42. When teaching a horse, the sequence of the lessons is very important, each lesson should help the horse to understand the next thus helping the horse to learn quicker, with less anxiety.

  43. This is a great article! Thanks for taking the time to write this. In my experience, a horse that is actually ‘learning’ is also trusting it’s handler and is enjoying the task. My greatest gains in trust and learning came through teaching my horse to ‘play’. I don’t necessarily mean the horse should be a clown…though I’ve had a few…but they should look like they’re having fun out there. In summary, I feel like a good rider is playing. 🙂