Theme:  Riding Goals Defined


At some point, you're going to find yourself wondering: why am I riding? 

Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

No two answers are going to be the same, and your own answer might change as time goes on. Regardless, the moment that you find yourself evaluating your successes and considering your challenges will be the moment that your decisions will be impacting both you and your horse.

In effect, you're going to identify and set some horseback riding goals.

Horseback riding is distinguished from all other sports due to a very unique characteristic that no other sport can match: the relationship between two beings so different from each other seeking to combine into one elegant whole. When setting your sights on bigger/higher/better/rounder, you must consider not only how to improve your own skills (as in other sports), but also how you can be the best possible teacher/leader for your partner, the horse. 

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Although as the human partner, we have options on what we want to do when, we must keep in mind that the horse does not have a similar choice. In fact, the horse is dependent on the rider's decisions. This is when goal setting takes on even more significance. The rider's responsibility to the horse becomes a key factor in determining the progress (and health) of both partners and should not be underestimated.

Many people have written in the past about developing solid goals - both for the horse and the rider. Below are some short excerpts from excellent authors. Read on for a few thought-provoking tips and suggestions on the whys and hows of goal setting in equestrian disciplines.

First of all, evaluate your horse physically and mentally.... Moderate faults do not ordinarily disqualify a horse, but if you have no idea where you might find the horse's weakest link, it will be more difficult to plan a program.

The second step is to write down some reasonable short-term goals.... The earlier you can start and the smaller and steadier the progressive increases can be, the more opportunity you will have for review and revision.

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Thirdly, plan a one-week, a one-month and a three-month program.... Use your one-month and three-month plans as references only. If you look too far ahead, you may miss what is going on under your nose. Review everything once a week and make progressive adjustments up or down in your programs.

Finally, get started today. Since the benefits of progressive training are continuous, any delay could put a cap on your horse's eventual achievement. If your untrained horse is not sick or tired, he can do a little more today than he did yesterday.

Equus Reference Guide, Principles of Successful Conditioning - Training Your Horse For Any Sport. Fleet Street Publishing. (1989). pp.45-47

Ideally, the rider uses the minimum amount of work to the maximum advantage. She structures her sessions so well that each step builds on the last, and this kind of build-up makes even the most difficult exercises seem comparatively much easier. She achieves her aim without any unrealistic goals threatening either herself or the horse, and this requires her to base her work on a recognition of the horse's needs and limitations, rather than focusing solely on her own. Her attention shifts away from herself to the horse. And thoughts such as, I wonder if I can get this horse going as well as I did yesterday, or, I'm not going to give up until I've put those extensions through, are replaced by, He's bound to feel stiff today, so I must work him lightly, or, If he feels ready, I'd like to work again on the extensions.... She has a far more genuine love for the horse and can put herself in second place, knowing that the time she spends preparing the soil will result in a strong and beautiful planet.

Wanless, Mary. The Natural Rider: A Right-Brain Approach to Riding. Trafalgar Square Publishing. (1987). p. 243

Riders must promote their horse's well-being by maintaining their state of comfort, which incidentally, fosters the extension of the horse's serviceable life. Therefore, riding should consist of three goals:

1. RESTORATIVE RIDING is designed to reestablish the purity of the horse's natural gaits, his balance and regularity of rhythm under the added weight of his rider.

2. THERAPEUTIC RIDING aims at developing the horse's ambidexterity....

(a) Straighten the horse by aligning his spine parallel with the line of his traveling on the ground....

(b) Load the horse's hind legs evenly by applying properly functioning driving aids and appropriate exercises....

(c) Ride each hind leg toward the corresponding forehand and prevent attempts to cross over, or track inward.

3. ATHLETIC RIDING goals may be pursued only after the restorative and therapeutic ones have been addressed. However,... these riding goals must be mixed and blended successfully. They overlap, run parallel, and support one another. The art of riding is not severely compartmentalized.

de Kunffy, Charles. Dressage Principles Illuminated. Trafalgar Square Publishing. (2002). p. 123.

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Enjoy more Listening Corner themes:

The ‘Art’ of Riding: When does riding transform from being a purely physical endeavour based on skills and technique, to “sculpting while progressing through space?” (de Kunffy, 1992, p.3)

Studying the Circle: The circle is used so frequently, not only in dressage, but in almost all disciplines, that we would be remiss to not include it in our “studies” about riding and training.

The Rider: Although the world around the horse has changed over the years, the horse itself remains essentially the same, and therefore the requirements of riding are essentially unchanged.