horse lunge rider development
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

It's tempting to watch other horse people and feel either somehow deficient, or somewhat rushed. Many of us end up avoiding new learning because it takes us out of our comfort zones.

However, it helps to think of  "competition" not as an aggressive, winner-take-all, loser-get-none scenario, but as a process of self-development and education. In other words, the quickest route to winning might be to "compete" against yourself instead of others - in all areas of riding and horsemanship.

Not just in the show or competition arena, but in everything from horse management, to ground skills, to training and skill development, to doing the most fun things you've always wanted to do with horses - like a weekend camping trip, a trail challenge, or a swim at the beach.

If you regularly look for ways you can expand your skills, you will surely be on track toward making progress as you build in step by tiny step into your regular routines. Here are 6 ways that you can improve by competing against yourself.

Watch Others

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In this day and age, you don't even have to watch a rider in person (although you certainly can do that too). Search for your topic of interest and you'll likely find many videos on YouTube. Watch them and see what you would like to emulate, and what you would definitely like to avoid doing. Then take some of those ideas back to your horse and start practicing.


You can't avoid instruction when it comes to horses. Not even for ground work.

Find a well educated instructor who understands your goals and needs, and commit to a regular riding schedule. If you would like to develop new skills, you have to find the information you need, and then dedicate time and effort into your "homework."


Break down your goals into small, manageable steps and be satisfied with making incremental progress. Learning is a funny thing. Once in a while, you might make a huge leap in your skill development all at once. Other times, you might have to claw your way through each phase, feeling like it's one step forward, two steps back.

Stay devoted to challenging yourself and build your repertoire of skills one after another.


One way you can develop new skills is to put them into your regular riding (or ground work) routines. So if you want to work on canter departure, for example, make sure you integrate this specific skill into each and every ride.

You can work on the transition toward the end of your warm-up, in the "lesson" phase of your ride (when you do something new or something you're still working on) and then maybe do a little "pop quiz" at the end of your ride, just before you get off the horse.

In this manner, you can weave the new skill into other more comfortable movements.


Get feedback from a clinician or judge (who maybe doesn't know you at all) and work on their recommendations.

Alternately, self-assess. How did your ride go on the trails? How well did you get along with your horse at the beach? All of the results are a form of feedback that you can use to inform your understanding of your progress and training with your horse.

Track It

Finally, it is important to keep track of your progress. Use a journal to reflect on the new skills and plan your next steps week to week. Or use the Goal Setting For Equestrians workbook I've designed specifically for equestrians to document rides and events. Later on, you can come back to your notes to gauge your progress, areas that need special attention, and achievements.

Don't think about competing against everyone else. Rather, compete against yourself, step by step. One sunny day, you may come to the realization that skills which seemed unreachable have become your new everyday comfort zone. Soon enough, you will have to challenge yourself even beyond those levels!

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.

Click here to read more and to join one of the most complete programs on the Internet!

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Now is the time to re-evaluate your goals and path to riding success!

If you’d like a structured, but personal tool to set goals, take a look our 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.

Included 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.

Goal Setting For The EquestrianRead more here:

7 Great Tips For Beginner Horse RidersIf you are new to riding, you might be overwhelmed by all the opinions that are out there. Here are a few ideas to help you navigate your way through your first steps (walk, trot and canter).

Ten Habits Of Competent RidersWhat do great riders have in common that makes them appealing to watch, steadily develop their riding skills and become role models for others to aspire to emulate?

24 Reasons Why Horsin' Around Makes Us Better Human BeingsWhile there's likely plenty of physical improvement, there's the even more important aspect of development of character.

12 Quick Riding Tips – #8: A Transition Exercise To Jazz Up Your Riding RoutineTry this "simple" (but not necessarily "easy") transition exercise just to add a little pizzazz to your normal riding routine. 

Crystal Clear About Canter Leads and a Quick Fix: Everything you always wanted to know about canter leads. Plus how to get the correct lead.



  1. Several days before my most recent dressage show I told my trainer that I only wanted one thing out of that show from my notoriously distractible horse. I wanted her attention. I didn’t care about how perfect we looked I only cared that she was listening to me and willingly giving me what I asked for. The results were astounding. She did everything I asked without protest and the only mistakes were rider error. The score was dismal, because my horse is not a spectacular mover and this was an “S” judge. But the fact that my horse who specializes in getting totally wigged out at horse shows actually behaved like a pro was the best reward I could have asked for.