When riders set goals with their horse, or for a particular competitive season, it can look like this:
- Win X show(s)
- Start jumping Y height
- Get a Z% in my dressage tests
The problem with setting these types of goals is that you have no way of guaranteeing success because there are too many factors out of your control. You could have the perfect horse, put in a perfect ride and still not meet your expectations. Essentially, a rider is dealing with a 1,200 lb animal who has its own set of ideas and moods. The horse show environment is also often unpredictable; including the quality of other competitors, the weather, scheduling and visual distractions. Rider performance is additionally in flux, with factors such as physical fitness, time in the saddle, mental readiness and more. (Let’s just assume the horse hasn’t injured itself at the worst possible time, such as right before a big competition!)
When working with long-term goal setting, start by asking yourself the following questions:
- Have I discussed an achievable game plan for myself/my horse with a trustworthy source (coach/trainer/knowledgable horse person) who knows my skills?
- Is my horse able to meet the expectations I’m setting for us as a team?
- Do I have the finances and time for training to meet this goal?
- Will I have the support of friends or family (help groom at shows, provide transportation, assist with child care, etc.) to help me?
- Am I geographically located in an area with the right competitive venues (or are willing to travel)?
If you have set some long-term goals, and have a show coming up, create a reasonable short-term goal for your performance. While you can’t guarantee the perfect striding through your lines or get the big expressive extended trot of your dreams, you can create success by planning for it.
In your lessons, you know that to get your horse to meet a distance, you get that powerful canter by sitting up, putting on your leg, etc. While at the show, instead of saying “I will have a perfect round”, use the factors that are in your control (your own body position, the cues you give to your horse) to create the success you are looking for. Make a plan before your round or test to focus on the tools you have as a rider, and practice them during your warmup.
You can also mentally prepare by envisioning success prior to the show. Visualization is an effective way of rehearsing your round in advance, by creating a video in your head of how you would ideally like your ride to go. See yourself tall and proud in the saddle, your horse performing to the best of his or her abilities. Sometimes riders accidentally create negative images during this mental exercise (“my horse is going to refuse at the birch oxer” or “my mare always gets spooky near the judge’s booth”) based on past experiences. If this happens, be sure to “rewind” that image in your head, and see yourself confidently and positively riding through the challenge, with your horse performing perfectly.
Make this show season a great one by setting appropriate, achievable goals for your riding and mentally preparing yourself for success! (When all else fails, you can hit the tequila afterwards.)