Top 10 common goals for riders
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Part Two

What would be the Top 10 Common Goals for Riders?  

This is post is the continuation of the previous post, mainly because I felt that each goal should get equal consideration (and the post got pretty long). As I was thinking of the steps most of us go through on our riding journeys, I realized that my "top 5" goals became increasingly less concrete and more based on character development. I think at some point, a rider's attitude becomes as necessary (or more necessary) as a rider's aptitude. 

We can all learn skills. The tough part is when we must get past just the skills, and more into how we develop as human beings. 

5. Forward

We all need to be more "forward" in our riding. It happens to all of us - from the very basics at Training Level where we're learning a good walk/trot/canter all the way up to the most sophisticated movements. Moving forward is something we often don't recognize or find difficult to achieve.

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Besides trying to maintain forward during flat work (and dressage), there's also the concept of "forward" in every riding discipline you can think of - from jumping (what happens when your horse isn't forward coming to a jump?) to reining, and anything in between - we all can inject a sense of being forward to improve our horse's way of going.

It takes two to be truly forward - you have a significant part in this game. If you have a lack of forward in your own body, your horse will feel you being left behind and become less willing to move "ahead of your leg." This reluctance can affect pretty much every riding problem you can think of.

Practice it in every aspect of your ride. Be more forward during figures or patterns. Be more forward in each gait. Keep asking for more forward during the transitions. Really, the possibilities are endless.

What area of your riding needs a little more "forward"? Be specific and commit to working on that in your upcoming rides. 

4. Connection

When you find "forward" in your ride, you'll be on your way to achieving the next big riding concept: "connection". Connection falls into the top 5 of the most common goals because it really is essential to finding balance and responsiveness, but it takes you toward something that I think all riders aspire toward: harmony.

Physically, connection involves the horse stepping deep underneath the body (balance), being "forward" through impulsion (energy), allowing the energy to travel over the top line (throughness) and finishing with a light but effective communication to the hands (contact).

As your connection improves, you'll notice that your ride (and your horse) will become softer, easier to move with, more supple, and more precise. Both you and your horse will benefit.

What aspect do you need to work on over the next while to positively impact the overall feeling of connection?

3. Patience

Riding with patience means knowing how to break down the skills required for an exercise or movement. It's being able to wait that extra second longer to let your horse work through something. It's calmly giving it another try if something didn't go as planned. And conversely, riding with patience is knowing when it's ok to leave an exercise for another day.

Just as with all the other goals presented here, developing patience can be a skill in itself. It must be actually learned - by making mistakes, listening to the horse, and then changing things the next time. A patient rider is usually a kind, successful rider. It is a very valuable skill to foster and work on.

What can you add to your ride to make you a more patient rider?

2. Perseverance

Learning to ride is one thing. Over the course of a couple of years or so, you will be able to stay on the horse well enough at all gaits. You will be able to "get" the horse to do what you want most of the time, and you'll have achieved enough understanding between you and your horse to be able to enjoy most of your rides.

But then you get past those beginning stages. When once you enjoyed the walk/trot/canter however it came, you realize that there are other goals to aspire to: balance; harmony; precision; riding forward and round, in connection. Concepts that were inexplicable come within reach and then you set on the long journey that is "horse riding."

Fine tuning your rides comes with a price. It seems like the better you get, the harder it is to make more progress. Steps become smaller and harder to reach. When once you made huge changes and realized significant improvement, now you must work on small, incremental, almost unnoticeable modifications which result in difficult-to-identify changes in your rides.

Progress can be difficult. It can challenge your confidence. It can cause you to imagine that you'll never get "there" (where ever "there" is). But you will, with perseverance and commitment. 

Your most obvious guide will be your horse, who also will improve step-by-step with you.

What concrete, achievable steps can you put into place that will keep you going when things become difficult?

1. Listen-ability 

(Yes, I made that word up! I guess you can call it attentiveness, compassion, consideration, carefulness, watchfulness, reflection... and probably many more.)

It takes empathy to be able to consider the horse's perspective in your training regimen. This is the epitome of "horse listening" - because it is quite true that if you listen, you really can get so much information from your horse. Of course, listening can mean that you have to pay attention so many things - from physical responses to social hierarchy to emotional signals.

Why did the horse buck?

What does he mean when he turns his head away every time you reach to put on his halter?

What is causing the horse to pin his ears the moment before he changes gait to the canter?

I think the ongoing exchange of information between horse and human is one of the key reasons we become "horse people" in the first place. This is why I think "listening" is the most important aspect of becoming a well-rounded, effective, and empathetic rider. 

What can you learn today to help you understand and interpret your horse more than you already do?

So there you have it! My Top 10 Common Goals for Riders. I've seen all of these in others as they progressed on their riding journeys and I've gone through them all (and still continue to) at various stages of my own "ride". 

One last observation I can share is that these goals are not necessarily "mastered" in a sequential order. Nor are they limited to one level of riding or another. All of them are as relevant to novice riders as intermediate or advanced riders. I might find myself working on Goal #9 while I continue to develop Goals #3 and #2. While the basics are truly the basics, nothing is really written in stone. Everything is simultaneous and variable.

Which is why horses and horse riding are so valuable in our lives. 

Now that I've listed my version of the top 10 goals, what are your horse and riding goals for this coming year? Share with us in the comments below. 

If you’d like a structured, but personal tool to set goals, take a look at the new 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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Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions. 

This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.

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If you enjoyed these tips, you can find many more in our new book, Horse Listening – Book 3: Horses. Riding. Life. now available for purchase! 

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You might also enjoy:

"Go and No": The Connection Between Forward and Half-Halt in Horse Riding: There seems to be no other way: if you want to control energy, you have to have energy in the first place. If there is no energy, there is no controlling.

#1 Rider Problem: Riding In Tension: The thing is, tension happens all the time. The real problem is that too many riders don’t address tension when it arises.

10 Ways To Spot A Horse Person: Here’s how you can spot a horse person from ten miles away!

The One Answer To Most Riding Problems: There is one solution that will improve if not completely resolve the issue – whether it be straightness, slowness, speed, or any of the other problems listed below. Click on the image to see a mind map of behaviors that can be improved using one back-to-basics technique, in any discipline and riding style.

The Top 8 Biggest Riding Mistakes: Making mistakes isn’t always a bad thing. It’s quite natural to make mistakes while we learn new skills, and often, they send us onto more appropriate paths. However, in horseback riding, there are mistakes and then – there are Mistakes.

One Comment

  1. These are wonderful ideas. I have been training my thoroughbred in dressage for a few years. He is 8 now. I have had him since he was about a year and a half. In September he spooked and I came off and broke my back in five places. Now I feel like I am starting all over again. At least I know a lot but now my body has to relearn what it knew before. So it is a journey and I don’t think we ever arrive at the “there” place.