Turn Riding Dreams into Plans with a Goals Calendar

By, Liz Piacentini

Spring is my favorite time to fine-tune the riding goal I set back in January. I’ve already determined where I’d like my horse and I to be by October. The steps I need to get there, however, could really use some work. Creating a goals calendar works best for me. It helps me turn what I should work on into a specific plan of action for improvement.

Opening photo of calendar

Whether on-line or on paper, a goals calendar helps me break down my objective for the year into bite size chunks. I use one calendar to summarize the clinics and shows for my discipline. The instant timeline makes it easy to build a plan and prioritize my monthly and weekly learning opportunities.

I start by gathering the latest newsletters and publications from my favorite riding clubs and organizations. Then, I follow these simple steps:

How to Create a Goals Calendar to Plan and Prioritize your Progress:

Outline Your Options

  • Write upcoming events for your discipline on a calendar – Select events you are realistically comfortable traveling to. If two are offered on the same day, list both! Include seminars and clinics, not just competitions.
  • Add basic details – Include the farm name or location. What’s the clinic theme? Are shows schooling or recognized? Details help you select the best options.
  • Enter closing dates – Don’t miss out! Mark the dates shows and popular events need your entry.
  • Include work, school or family obligations – Block off your summer family vacation, annual business conference, or important school trip. But, keep your options open. List horse events available during these dates in case plans change.
  • Include other equine activities – Add volunteer work or courses.
  • Save room for FUN stuff – Write down that beach ride or trail day you’re planning with friends.
  • Add new events throughout the season – Continue to look for new opportunities as barns and organizations add to their event schedules.

Identify Your Stepping Stones

Your goals calendar now contains your personal collection of opportunities for learning, riding and testing your skills. Review the options available for each month. Which ones provide the best ways to develop your skills in a progressive manner? Which ones offer ideal experiences for your horse?  How many can you realistically attend?

Quote, a goal should scare you a little, & excite you a lot.Highlight two or more events you can commit to each month. These become your short-term goals – stepping stones of learning for you and your horse. For example, let’s say your first goal is to ride in a stadium jumping clinic coming to a new farm. You’ll get to sharpen technical skills while exposing your horse to a new venue. Your second goal is to return to the same farm and compete in a jumper show later that month. Set yourself up for building success.

Your trainer can help you identify the experiences best suited for you and your horse. Remember, you don’t have to show to have goals! Between ground work clinics, organized trail rides, equestrian sport psychology seminars, and symposiums to audit, there are plenty of non-competitive ways to keep your learning on track.

Add Supportive Actions

Look at the opportunities you highlighted. Think about how you can maximize the time between these stepping stones with effective supportive actions. Ask yourself what you need to do to prepare for each short-term goal. What are the possible road blocks you may face? Then, think of how you can overcome these challenges. Discuss your thoughts with your trainer. Determine the best proactive approach and ideal days for lessons.

Get creative! You may have to think outside the arena to tackle your road blocks. Do you need to work on trailer loading? Are you a stiff rider who could benefit from stretching exercises or yoga? If weekly lessons are beyond your budget, try watching training videos to supplement your learning. How about health and wellness for your horse? Maybe it’s a good time for a visit from the equine dentist. Using a calendar helps manage your time and reduce scrambling at the last minute.

Be Prepared for Change

We’ve all been there. Just when you feel completely on track, your horse gets an abscess before show day. Or, maybe you’re the one with a setback that prevents you from joining friends on a special trail ride. Whatever the unfortunate circumstance, now and then we may have to make the best of a disappointing situation.

Facing setbacks is one reason why I list multiple events for the same day on my calendar. My Plan B’s are already visible. If I can’t ride in a show, maybe I can volunteer or audit a clinic. Setbacks don’t always mean our goals come to a dramatic sliding stop. They may just need postponing. Seeing other options helps redirect our actions into resilient comebacks.

Quote, Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and a plan.Other times we may need to change our short-term goals. You and your young horse may not be ready for that big show at the end of the summer. What are the other available choices on your calendar? Changing doesn’t mean failing. You simply have the good sense to do what’s right for you and your horse and chose a different path for progress. In the long run, a local schooling show instead of a large recognized show may be what’s needed for a stronger foundation.

Get Started!

Have fun organizing your riding plans on a goals calendar. But remember, a plan only describes your intentions. So, get busy! Start doing the things that strengthen and motivate you to become a better rider. Venture outside your comfort zone and embrace opportunities with your supporters. After all, while it is rewarding to achieve a long-term goal, our real growth lies in the experiences, challenges, and change we experience along the way.

Enjoy the journey!

Start a Riding Journal to Improve Performance and Well-being

-By, Liz Piacentini

Have you ever experienced a great lesson only to find yourself struggling to remember your trainer’s valuable insights a week later?  If this sounds familiar, keeping a riding journal may provide the ideal solution.  Journaling not only helps you retain technical instruction, it allows you to re-live awesome moments in the saddle, monitor progress and even improve your personal well-being.

Journaling photo

For five dollars or less, you can purchase anything from a hard-covered journal with an inspirational cover to a simple spiral notebook.  The best option is to choose something portable to keep in your tack box, truck or wherever you’ll have easy access.  Yes, you can use your favorite electronic device, but the key is to determine what you’re most likely to use.

After a memorable ride, lesson, or clinic, find a quiet place to jot down your meaningful memories.  Writing an entry within 24-hours of putting your horse away will help you capture the most detail.  Let your thoughts flow without worry of grammar or spelling.

Need help starting a journal?  Practice these brain triggers to get your pen busy writing:

List your trainer’s key instructions or repeated phrases.  In today’s hectic world, our minds are already on overload juggling work or school, family, and barn chores.  Instead of feeling anxious about trying to remember the sequence of aids you just practiced, write them down!  Make a simple list of the phrases that stood out during the lesson. The act of writing helps us process the information and retain the technical skills we’re learning.

Describe one meaningful moment in the saddle – As riders, we work hard to experience those few strides when our trainer shouts, “Yes, that’s it! Awesome!”  Describe what you did and how you felt leading up to that moment when your horse (and you) earned a big pat.  Don’t skimp on the details either.  What was the weather? Were you riding indoors or outside?  The more vividly you can describe the ride, the better you’ll be at re-experiencing the lesson mentally when you re-read your journal.

Write down three things you’re grateful for –  Practice searching for the positives and you’ll be more likely to ride with a positive mind-set. Studies by Harvard researcher, Shawn Achor, have shown that when we have an attitude of gratitude we experience greater optimism and increased happiness.  In fact, when we are happier, we can increase overall performance by 31%!  Now that’s a performance edge worth working on.

Reflect on time spent with your horse – Not every entry has to recount the technical elements of a lesson.  Sometimes we do our best planning, goal setting and decision making while enjoying a hack, grooming our horse, or even mucking a stall!  Use your journal to record your plans or to recall the simple pleasures at the barn that made you smile.

Journals-replace frustration and neg thinking with positive memories

Keeping a journal doesn’t require a lot of time – just consistency.  Regularly recording your thoughts helps turn journaling into a habit.  Be creative and feel free to add a personal touch.   There isn’t a section for judge’s comments in the back of your book to worry about!  Try these ideas for personalizing your journal and make re-reading your notes more beneficial:

  • Add a Photo – You’ve been working hard on developing a good position over fences and a friend happens to capture one of your best jumps on camera. Add the photo to your journal!  It’s a great way to record progress and visualize your ideal form in the saddle each time you read the entry.  As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
  • Insert an Article – Imagine a lesson where your trainer is explaining how to perform shoulder-in. You’ve got a basic understanding, but still feel uncoordinated when practicing the movement.  Then, you discover a magazine article that breaks down the aids with simplified illustrations.  Bingo!  Add the article to your journal to compliment your lesson notes.  Re-reading your entry and the article may spark an “a-ha” moment.  Three-ring binders work great for this style of journaling.
  • Include a Favorite Quote –Did your motivation get a boost from a quote you stumbled upon? Add it to your journal!  Inspiring words of wisdom help us build positive momentum during times when we feel stuck.

Motivational Journal cover image

Once you start a journal, read it!  Re-reading your notes allows you to recall great advice from trainers, identify behavior patterns, monitor improvements and re-live great experiences.

Have a highlighter handy for any light-bulb moments.  Remember that phrase your trainer repeated during your lesson a few weeks ago?  It may take on a whole new level of meaning after a clinician words the same concept differently.   We’ve all heard things like “heels down” a thousand times.   Maybe it’s the day we hear “toes up” that suddenly adds technical clarity.

Feeling frustrated with your progress?  Reading about a previous great moment in the saddle can do wonders for boosting self-esteem and reminding us we are capable of working through challenges.  Re-living memorable moments gives us the opportunity to strengthen our learning, improve our positivity, and enhance our well-being.

Start a riding journal, and over time, you’ll develop a personal reference manual for tips, techniques, best practices and motivation.

Enjoy the Journey!