Plan and Scrap


Has this ever happened to you?

You know exactly what you want to do during your ride. Your horse is prepped, you have all the gear you need, and you head to the riding ring with high hopes and a set plan.

You get on, get going, and then discover that your horse has something entirely different in mind!

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At this point, you have two choices: keep going with what you were planning to do, or scrap it and work on what your horse needs to work on.

Goal Setting: Step-by-Step Development

There is no replacement for goal setting in the quest for improvement in riding. When you have an idea of the path you want to take, and the skills you want to develop, it is always good to plan out what you want to do before you get on the horse's back. Each ride should be a development from the last, setting up a series of successes for (yourself and) your horse as he progresses in his training and education.

What are you going to work on today? What went well last ride, what would you like to develop, and what movements will your horse enjoy? How will you warm up? What is the "lesson" for today? How will you cool down? Make your time count, make it a quality ride and then get off.

You need to know what you want to do during a ride. There is nothing worse than wandering around and around in circles, aimlessly pounding legs into sand for little purpose other than perhaps a little conditioning for the horse.

Be clear on the basic skills your horse needs, develop them into the intermediate levels and then finally (over the course of a number of years), move up to the highest levels of training in your discipline.

When to Scrap the Plan

However, goal setting can only take you so far. Even though you are inspired to get that horse to do the next cool thing, your horse might simply not be ready.

Alternately, he might be able to do some parts of the new movement, but loses the basic, most fundamental aspects to riding - enough that the movement becomes labored, difficult and unappealing. Maybe the horse puts up a fuss and even quits.

This is when you should scrap your grand ideas, and get back down to the business of the basics.

Many of the basic movements, like maintaining rhythm, looseness, or the simple act of moving forward, are integral to all levels of riding and therefore should be worked on regularly even if you are also working on something else at the same time.

It is much more important to develop solid basics - and only after your horse is fluidly performing those, move on to more difficult exercises. Have the patience and awareness to reestablish the important aspects of movement.

Because the basics are where it's at. Without the fundamental skill set, there will never be soft, fluid, responsive, enthusiastic work from your horse.

Have you ever scrapped your plan and listened to your horse? Tell us about your ride in the comments below.

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If you enjoyed the above article, find more below:

23 Ways to Solve the Riding Problem: Of course, we rarely speak of the one “true” way…

Perfecting Perfection in Horseback Riding: We will never really find the perfect horse, nor will we ever be a perfect rider. However, of course we try for perfect! 

Riding is Simple, But Not Easy! Let’s face it – all we want is for the horse to do what we want, when we want, where we want, with suppleness and strength!

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

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


  1. I laughed when I saw your title. So close to home in recent experience. First ten days ago or so when a pulled stifle stopped me starting riding for the season. Scrap that timetable. Then yesterday all saddled up, tied with halter when an incident occurred scaring my horse so he pulled back, fell, scared himself, etc. Thankfully no injuries except to parts of the stall. We reverted to what we had been doing, a nice two miles or so of handwalking. He was so shook up, of what happened, and I think of possible repercussions from humans that it was almost one mile before he felt like his usual self. We may not have worked to plan but lots of learning occurred.

    1. Exactly! So many of those types of moments have happened to me over the years… but isn’t that what being with horses is all about? Thanks for your comment.

  2. Horses are intelligent, emotional creatures. Of course they might have a different idea than what you have in mind–though in general they seem to like their humans’ ideas. Yesterday there were a bunch of us at the barn, some taking lessons, some just riding for an hour. Two of the horses doing lessons decided it would be so much fun to jump around and gallop instead of learning the extended trot. (Hey, it was a beautiful day.) Into the round pen–still misbehaving. Major change of plans for the girl prepping her horse for a show–and a potential change for me, too, since the other misbehaving horse (the instigator, I think) is supposed to be my partner for some Western Dressage tests this summer and we had a lesson scheduled together for this Saturday. My little Paint mare was a very good girl, working on her lope leads (even if she wasn’t always getting them).

    I always remember a lesson a couple of years ago when a well-trained horse suddenly decided that the hay delivery truck, which he saw regularly, was evil. He refused to calm down for his (quite skilled) rider, and she had to forfeit a lesson that day. (She eventually bought that horse.)

    One thing my mare does NOT like are cars. (She may have witnessed a serious accident a few years ago, and might even have been a near-victim of the same accident.) It took all last spring and summer to get her used to the practice ring, which abuts a busy road, 45 mph. Brought her out in late March for a ride in the ring, after a long, snowy, winter of no riding. We had to give up, she was so spooky. I started walking her around the ring before my lessons, talking to her quietly. One time she spooked and knocked me down trying to get away from the road. But after a couple of weeks, she’s calmed down beautifully. One afternoon a truck went by with a huge flapping tarp on its back on a windy day. She spooked (and ran to the trainer for protection)–but it only took about five minutes for all of us to feel calm enough to continue our lesson.

  3. Horses learn faster when doing what they want to do. It is okay to let the horse decide what you are going to work on provided it doesn’t become a habit or a situation where the horse is directing you. We agree some of the best training has come at a point the horse wants to do something other than what was planned.

  4. I’m sure the girl who volunteers here didn’t plan on falling off our horse and dislocating her shoulder today. Every ride is a risk.

  5. My horse is so good at politely ignoring me that sometimes it takes me a bit to figure it out. She goes through the motions but is thinking about something else. So I don’t really have her throughness. At times like this I scrap my ride and do what she finds irresistible..Long and low stretchy trot and canter spirals. This gets her with me and back in her body. Then I sneak a little of my agenda on her at the end. So helpful to be reminded to scrap my ride…and it’s OK!

  6. My mare follows me from the paddock. No halter or lead needed. On most days she leans down and picks up her bit. On some few days, she looks at it and most deliberately turns her head to the far right and stares into space. Given a verbal reminder, she complies. But..I know that when I put my foot in the stirrup from the block, she will wait for the weight shift and take a step away in the rear. Each of us has a bad day once in a while. They do too. Those days I promise her short work. Her huge heart is somewhere else.