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Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

This article is for those riders who feel they are in a plateau.

You know....

When you feel like there's little progress being made.

When it seems that all you can do is ride the same thing over and over again.

When there is little external influence to make you change anything in your program.

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When you feel you know it all! (Is that even a possibility?)

When you find yourself going round and round in circles, just doing whatever comes up. Maybe a trot here, a canter there. Then back to trot, and then walk.

*Note: You can use these ideas whether you do ring work, jumps, trail obstacles or go on the trail. Just take these ideas and make them your own in whatever way you are riding (or doing ground work).

Develop A Routine

To be sure, there is something to be said for developing a routine in your daily rides. Both you and your horse can feel assured that your ride will be within your means, comfortable and enjoyable. Riding in a routine can give you opportunity to fine tune your skills. You can work from a place of confidence and emanate that feeling to your horse.

Routine allows you to become predictable with your requests. This in turn will earn your horse's trust in you, the riding session and his overall riding experience. Developing a solid, predictable routine will help your horse (and yourself) especially if:

  • you are a new rider
  • you are riding a young or inexperienced horse
  • your horse is new to you
  • the environment is new to the horse

Earn Trust

You can earn trust by being a predictable rider.

If you can ride with consistency, your horse will begin to know what is coming next. In many situations, there is nothing better than able to predict what is going to happen. This way, your horse will not associate scary, uncomfortable or distressing feelings to you and your ride.

Routine can promote confidence from your horse (which will, in turn, develop your confidence in your horse), allowing both of you to know that you're working together as a team. You boost each other up, you develop mutual strengths.

If you ride consistently enough, your horse may even begin to help. He may take more initiative and anticipate the next movement, or to maintain the gait until you do something else. You won't have to set up the conditions as much and enjoy the ride more. There is something positive about letting the horse take more responsibility in the movements of the ride.

But there is a time when things become too routine.

There will come a time when you want to challenge yourself into new frontiers. Let's face it. Doing the  same thing, being predictable, and sticking to a routine - permanently - might also have a few drawbacks.

Pop Quiz!

Here's how you keep things interesting.

Stepping out of your comfort-zone can be nerve-wrecking at times, but it can also be invigorating. Being less predictable encourages you and your horse to become more tuned into each other. It also allows you to try things you don't normally do.

Do the regular routine ride, but throw in a few pop quizzes! It's ok to create a little challenge every now and then to see where you're at. It also gives your horse a chance to come out of his routine-induced snooze!

Change It Up!

Do something completely off-topic. If you've been working on transitions, switch it up and go for a 2-minute canter around the ring! Or conversely, work on developing your turn on the haunches after a stretch of steady movement.

Essentially, do something you haven't done in a while. Get creative. Push you and your horse out of your comfort zone - even for just a few minutes. Try something from another discipline! If you rarely do pole work, get that pole out and try a sidepass in each direction! Or if your routinely do the sidepass, put that pole higher and go for a small jump!

Do something that will completely take you out of your established zone. Let you and your horse deal with a little bit of discomfort or insecurity. You can always go back to your routine work and re-establish your sense of comfort.

That pop quiz will help in more ways than one. Aside from the obvious skill development, it will also help you and your horse develop a deeper sense of focus. You'll have to communicate at a higher level because of the unfamiliarity of the pop quiz movement. The sense of togetherness (or "tuning in" to each other) will also be improved as you try something new.

Timing Is Everything

Use the pop quiz when your horse least expects it. Spread it out - do something after your first warm-up. Do something different after your main lesson part of the ride. And save one for the end as well - after you've cooled down! Maybe after you've walked for the last 5 minutes, shorten your reins and go for a quick "canter-walk-canter in the new lead - walk" transition sequence - on a straight line!

Then call it a day.

Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!

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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More reading here:

20 Ways Horse Riding Becomes Life Itself: You could say that horses are our teachers. Not only do we grow in terms of physical ability, but perhaps even more so, we grow in character.

First, Plan Your Ride. Then, Scrap ItEven though you are inspired to get that horse to do the next cool thing, your horse might simply not be ready.

What Responsible Horse Ownership Really Means: We need to keep in mind that horses are prey animals and long-time domesticated livestock. If we listen well enough, we discover that what we think of as giving might not be what the horses truly need.

Do You Want to Own A Horse? Answer 'yes' to these questions and you are on your way!

5 Life Lessons From HorsesHow can horses help us grow and develop in our own lives?


  1. Plateaus can be really hard to deal with.

    I was on one for eighteen months, riding four times a week (school horses, I’m not an owner) with great instructors, and just didn’t feel I was making any improvement. I had to work really hard to find the positive points, and the learning points from each lesson. Keeping a riding diary helped with this (I’m really strict about filling it in every time I ride, and I use an app on my phone called oneday to do this, which supports tags, so I can easily see every time I’ve ridden a particular horse, had a particular instructor, anything like that). I’ve got nearly three year’s of entries now, with only one ride that I filled in too late and couldn’t even remember who I’d ridden! I’d really recommend all riders to keep a diary. I only know one other person who does this. I always tag the horse, the instructor, the type of ride (flat, jump, xc, hack, etc), and anything else interesting that I want to track (eg fall!!?), and then occasionally only write one line, occasionally wrote an entry as long as one of your blog posts, but more usually somewhere inbetween.

    You REALLY have to keep a positive attitude to keep going through the plateaus. What can I take from this lesson? What did this horse teach me? Is there a pattern in what my trainers are saying that gives me pointers on what I need to work on?

    There wasn’t really a breakthrough moment, but by looking back over my diary I could see that I was riding in a way that I wouldn’t have been capable of eighteen months ago, riding more advanced horses, getting more results, getting results quicker, and it gradually dawned on me that I was out of my plateau. Such a relief. I hope my story can also help other riders who are on a plateau (or feel they are). It IS hard to keep motivated, but you WILL come out of it – and hopefully quicker than I did!

    I truly believe that working with/riding horses teaches you more about yourself than anything else!! My plateau taught me about persistence, looking for positives, and ditching my “defeatist” attitude.

    Thanks, as ever, for the great blog!!

  2. Every ride, do a 15 minute warm-up then work on different school figures and poles. There are literally hundreds of different things you can do that will improve your horse and yourself, both physically and mentally. You can get exercises from books (the “101 Exercises” books are great) magazines and on line. If you’re going to get on the horse and ask him to work, you owe it to him to be focused and actually accomplish something for both of you.