Developing a Personalized Plan of Horse Riding Goals

How to overcome obstacles, celebrate milestones, and stay driven on your equestrian journey all year long.

Updated June 14, 2023

Something wonderful about horseback riding is no matter how long you’ve been a rider, you always have room to improve.  At the beginning of each year (or anytime that suits you), set aside some time to plan your horse riding goals. Setting these goals gives you a plan for the entire year, helps stay driven, and can hold you accountable at year end. These tips and ideas will help you create your yearly horse riding goals.

Get Inspired

Three girl barn friends chatting with each other in the barn aisle.

Before creating your annual goals, it helps to seek inspiration from resources online or by talking with your barn friends and trainers. 

  • Talk with your barn buddies: It’s extremely valuable to discuss riding roadblocks with trainers and fellow riders. Collaborating on ideas for improvement is a great way to move forward and progress. This also keeps you current on trends, plus it's great to have friendships with similar interests and passions, especially since they can help hold you accountable to your goals!  
  • Research riding exercises: Revisit riding books and equestrian websites to discover new training exercises you haven't yet tried or would like to perfect this year. 
  • Read horse-related articles: These could be related to horse health, your discipline of riding, or inspirational articles from top riders recapping their careers.
  • Watch videos: YouTube has an endless amount of interesting videos from riders you might admire or haven't discovered yet. Watching videos of riders doing certain movements or exercises and visualizing you and your horse achieving this can be exciting. You can learn lots of useful things for when not in the saddle too, such as how to properly wrap legs, clipping patterns, or saddle fitting skills. 

Review Previous Year’s Goals

Horse and rider jumping on a cross country course outside.

Before you can progress on your goals for next year, it's always best to reflect on the past year first. Take note of any significant (or seemingly insignificant) accomplishments, new training exercises, or clinics you’ve participated in. Reflect on how much time you have been able to commit to riding and fun, memorable barn activities throughout the year. You may have attended several clinics, had an excellent training session with a new instructor, or had a great day on the trails. Whatever it is, take some time to reflect on those moments and achievements. This will help you create a clear picture of what you want to aim for next year. 

Short-Term and Long-Term Riding Goals

You will always have two sets of goals. One set of goals should be refreshed annually; these are your short-term goals. They may include specific things like clinics you wish to attend or classes in certain shows. Your long-term goal may be to make your nervous horse more comfortable in new situations. Depending on your horse, your goals will be very different. Having long- and short-term goals is important to create a well-rounded vision and game plan for your year ahead.

Write down each set of goals in a journal, keep it in a document on your computer, or store it in your phone. Tracking your progress throughout the year by referencing this journal is important in keeping you and your horse on track! 

Set SMART Goals

Always remember to make (S.M.A.R.T.) Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound goals. Play to your strengths. If you and your horse are used to trail riding and have never stepped into an arena, entering a competition off-property might be a stretch. Your goals should be specific to you, and you should never measure your happiness or self-worth by comparing your strengths to those of others. This can sometimes be the most challenging thing in competitive riding. For example, if your horse’s strength lies in a ground-covering extended trot and loves trail riding, think of ways to improve his training while on the trails. 

Create a Plan

Once you have your ambitions laid out, start to make a plan. If you ride multiple times a week, you can try designating one or two of those days to be focused on training related to your long-term goal. One to two of the other days could help build towards your short term goals. Breaking up your training days like this will prevent tunnel vision. 

Also, plan for any resources you may need to reach the goals, such as researching trailer transportation companies so you can get your horse to a competition or looking into a joint supplement to support your horse while you’re increasing the intensity of his training. 

Remember to Have Fun

western riders on a trail ride

Always plan to have at least one fun, easier day per week in your training schedule. Fun days could be a relaxing day of grooming and spoiling, light hacking on the trails, or training your horse new tricks like bowing. Incorporating positive, enjoyable elements into goal setting is important as a mental and physical break for you both. Your barn life shouldn't always be filled with hard work. These fun, relaxed moments can strengthen your bond with your horse by building trust, reduce stress, and foster a positive mindset that helps you keep coming back week after week to accomplish your goals. 

As you continue to set horse riding goals for yourself and your horse, remember small changes can make such a difference from year to year.

The information provided in the Horsemanship Library is based solely on our SmartPak authors' opinions. SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian or equine professionals regarding specific questions about your horse's health, care, or training. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or behavior and is purely educational.