Every year, I list out my riding goals for the year. Every year, I feel like I've fallen short of my intentions, or that I've forgotten what I was thinking about way back in January. I always start out with the best of intentions. Somewhere along the way, though, things fall into a rut. Does this happen to you?

It's not that I stop riding. Far from it. It's more like the goals I had set become far-away fleeting thoughts that eventually float off into the distant sunset - and the days go by, weeks turn into months, and soon enough, here I am yet again, at the beginning of a new year, looking at continuing on with the same goals as last year.

Showing helped a lot. When I was competing regularly, I had to consistently challenge myself and my horse. My horse and I stuck to a program and got feedback from the judges. Then we used the feedback to improve specific skill sets that were required in the level we were riding at. We had frequent riding lessons. We got fit. We memorized tests and movements, we practiced until things became easier.

I lost that structure when I stopped showing. Maybe you can relate? The system dissipated and I started falling into a routine of non-routine. My rides became more "whatever happens, happens" instead of being specifically focused. My horse and I spent more time riding along according to whim and tide.

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Not that there is anything wrong with that. There are plenty of reasons why we should often be in the moment, enjoying the company of our four legged friend, mostly doing things that feel good and please us. The only catch is that in general, when we don't step out of our comfort zone, we don't learn new things.

The rides become the same after a while, and we fall into a thoughtless rhythm of doing basically the same thing time and again. It's comfortable, and in general, you feel like you are doing something, after all. But you know, deep down in your heart, that you could be doing something more - working on new skills, trying things you think you'll never be able to do.

This is why this year, I'm going to try something new. I'm going to structure my goals better, and work at setting clear, concise goals that will be measured over time. If you would like to do the same, here are some tips to be keep in mind while you set your goals.

Habits versus Goals

There is a clear difference between setting goals and creating habits. The former requires behind-the-scenes thinking and conceptual development. The latter requires action. The only way something becomes a habit is by repeating the behavior over and over again. Repeat enough times, and you will find a habit is formed.

I personally need to work on opening through the hips and letting my leg become longer. If I can repeat the leg stretching exercise on the horse, I can definitely make a difference in my overall seat, position and leg over time. It's just a matter of making it a habit.

Once the habit is formed, the goal is achieved. 

Develop Momentum

The most difficult thing to do is start something from scratch. The second hardest thing is to continue doing it after you start. But here's the deal: every effort you put into something helps make it easier the next time. Momentum arises from repeated efforts (not necessarily the same efforts) over time.

If you're not in a lesson groove, it can be difficult to get going the first time. But do it the second time, the third time, and soon enough, you won't want to miss a lesson because you'll lose the momentum you've built up.

Going to a clinic might seem like a big step into the unknown. You might not be familiar with the clinician, the surroundings, even the directions to the farm. But it seems easier the second time. The third time, it starts to feel like a routine and soon enough, it becomes just another thing you can do with your horse.

Add a show in here and there, or an outing of some sort, and soon enough, both you and your horse become old hats at doing new things. It's really all about developing momentum.

Get Out Of your Comfort Zone...

This is one of the toughest parts of learning new things. Although we all say we're good to try something new, when it comes down to it, we will rarely put ourselves into enough discomfort to really change anything. Horse riding (or doing anything with horses) can challenge you to the core of your existence and to the boundaries of your physical abilities. Just when you think you know something, you'll discover something completely new that you need to adjust to all over again.

Sometimes, you might need to produce an attitude change in order to be successful in riding your horse. Other times, you might need to do something physical, such as remember to breathe in every stride, in an effort to just keep breathing through the canter. What seems difficult or uncomfortable at first becomes easier as you turn the skill becomes a habit.

...But Not Into The Danger Zone - Safety At All Costs

Through all the changes, it is essential to keep safety in mind. It can be so easy to overlook something and put yourself or your horse into a situation that is too difficult to handle. Let's say you rarely canter but you decide to finally get down to cantering one day. Even while you're successful, you would have to keep in mind the fact that your horse hasn't cantered much and long sessions of canter might be too hard on him physically. In that case, many walk breaks in between canter sessions might be in order.

Only a Handful of Major Goals For The Year

Set a limited number of overarching goals. The thing with horses is that if you truly focus on one major goal, and become more successful at it, you will likely address another bunch of problems that you might not even have been aware of.

So it's good to settle your mind on a select number of specific, measurable goals. Don't think that you have to set 20 or 30 goals over the course of a year. As few as 10 goals, especially those that address the development of the basic skills, might be plenty to achieve over the course of a year.

Personal Goals - Compare To Yourself

When deciding on goals, make them personal to yourself and your horse. Your combined skills might be completely different than another horse and rider, and that is perfectly fine. You might want the help of your instructor in identifying exactly what you can work on to develop your weak areas, but in the end, the best measure of your success is to compare how you are doing now with how you used to be.

How do you plan on structuring your riding goals in the coming year? Comment below.

If you’d like a structured but personal tool to set goals, take a look at Goal Setting for the Equestrian: A Personal Workbook. The pages are designed for you to set and keep track of your progress over the course of a year.

Goal Setting For The EquestrianIncluded in the book:

  • design your overarching goals
  • long- and short-term planning,
  • debrief your special events such as clinics or shows
  • reflect on, plan and evaluate your goals
  • sample goals and pages

The Workbook is available for instant digital download so you can print the pages right off your computer. There is also the option of a paperback version if you’d rather have a professionally bound book to hold in your hands.

Click here for more information.


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You might also enjoy:

Top Ten Goals For A New Year: Here are my personal goals for 2014.

Listening Corner - Riding Goals Defined: These are several excerpts from dressage authors on how to identify and prioritize your riding goals.

11 Unexpected Side-Benefits of Riding Tests (Or Patterns):  If you rarely ride a pattern, you might initially be surprised how difficult it can be to ride according to specifications. But it is very much worth the effort.

5 Things Your Horse Doesn't Know About You:  Our stress, or exuberance, or lack of energy affect our interactions with the horse from the moment we grab the halter and lead rope and head to the field.

Focus On Transitions - Week 4: This is the final week of our transitions series. Practice these exercises to improve your transitions.

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