Goal Setting for Riders: 5 Questions to Jump Start Your Progress

The arrival of a New Year typically gets riders thinking about their goals. If you’re like me, you have an idea of what you’d like to accomplish by the end of the season. However, determining the effective short-term goals that get you there – well, that could use some work. By asking myself a series of probing questions, I’ve discovered a helpful way to uncover the specific actions I need to complete in order to reach my long-term goal.

Meme: Dreams are where you want to end up. Goals are how you get there.

First, it’s important to establish a long-term goal for the season. This goal clarifies what you want to accomplish and provides a sense of purpose. Having a goal transforms the “I’ll see how it goes” mentality into a course of action. As a result, we’re more likely to use our schooling time effectively, move towards our desired result, and obtain a rewarding sense of accomplishment.

If you haven’t set a goal for the year, go ahead and dream! Brainstorm some realistic dreams and use the information to create a specific long-term goal. Then, answer the following questions (my favorites) to fine-tune your goal and identify the specific actions you’ll need to turn dreams into reality.  


 Five questions to jump-start your goal setting process:


#1 – What is it about riding that you truly love? Ask your heart. Really think about what makes you smile. Identify what YOU enjoy working on with your horse. 

Having a long-term goal that’s personally meaningful increases your chance of success. Focus on what you really enjoy, not what coaches, parents or peers expect you to do. Setting your goal from a place of internal motivation connects you to your passion and gives you a deeper sense of purpose. When challenges arise, you’ll be more committed to finding solutions and moving forward.

#2 – What simple action can you take to kick-off your journey?

Bring procrastination to a halt by completing an immediate action goal – one simple thing you can do in minutes or hours to start moving forward. It doesn’t even have to involve your horse! But it should spark your interest and motivate you to continue.  

Perhaps your goal for the year is to ride in four competitions that are part of an area series of shows. Your immediate action goal could be to join the hosting association, review their year-end awards qualifications, and add the show dates to your calendar. Easy! (Okay, that’s three simple things.)

Meme Quote: You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be Great.

#3 – What’s holding you back from reaching your goal?  

Be proactive! List any obstacles that could limit your success. Then, brainstorm solutions. This will help you create a course of action to manage or overcome challenges before they zap your motivation or derail your progress.  

This may include technical skills to learn in order to move up a level or tack to acquire in order to compete in a new discipline. Maybe you’re concerned about finding sufficient funds for a lesson program. Can you help with barn chores in exchange for lessons? Do you have tack you’re not using that could be sold?

#4 – Where are you stuck in a comfort zone? 

Sometimes we get so cozy in our comfort zone that it limits our ability to advance. Think about what makes you uncomfortable, but deep down you know you have to overcome it in order to achieve your long-term goal.

Perhaps you’ve gotten really comfortable schooling independently at home. You’d like to start showing, but feel uncomfortable riding in front of a crowd. Establish gradual opportunities to build confidence. Your first short-term goal could be taking two lessons in front of a group of friends, followed by riding in one semi-private session at a small clinic. Checking off short-term or process goals from your list creates a feeling of “YES! I did it!” – which further boosts self-confidence and the motivation to continue.

#5 – What can you do OUT of the saddle that would enhance your effectiveness IN the saddle?   

For example, a pleasure rider would really like to take her horse on an organized trail ride, but he’s terrible about trailer loading! Add short-term goals focused on ground work to improve the horse’s trailer loading skills.

I love this question, because many out-of-the-saddle goals provide us with activities to work on during Winter months, rainy days – or even from home! Unmounted actions also strengthen our mental fitness when behavioral and emotional short-term goals are part of the process.    

  • BEHAVIORAL – (short-term goals that build better behaviors)
    • taking a Yoga or Pilates class for better rider fitness
    • watching specific training videos or reading recommended books to advance your understanding of a training concept

(Click the above links to learn how to apply these suggestions)

Once you’ve uncovered what you need to work on, you’ll have an easier time writing specific short-term goals – your stepping stones – that will move you towards your desired result. To maximize your success, create technical, behavioral AND emotional goals. Add realistic deadlines to each short-term goal to create your intended timeline. This forms your personalized action plan that can be organized in a goals calendar or riding journal. A calendar or journal is a great place to mark important dates, record feedback, make adjustments (yes, manure happens), and monitor your progress.

Meme quote: The real value of setting goals is not the recognition or awards; it's the stronger rider we become by finding the commitment and courage to achieve them.

Dreaming about a goal is the easy part. Turning that vision into reality requires planning and commitment. So, go for it! Dream big, follow your heart, and get started by identifying the particular short-term goals you’ll need to move forward with confidence.

Enjoy the journey!

  -Liz Piacentini

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