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How to Set Rider Goals (10 Tips)

how to set rider goals tips dressage

What are your dressage riding goals for this season, and do you have a plan in place to help you achieve them?

Without a clear idea of what you hope to achieve from your riding, you run the risk of never progressing. That’s why having a set of goals is so important for your dressage career.

In this article, we look at how to set rider goals and how you can take positive steps towards achieving them.

The Anatomy of a Goal

Every goal can be divided into several key parts. This is crucial if you are to be successful in achieving your goals in the long run.


Your goals must be specific.

If your aspirations are vague, you won’t have a clear direction, and you run the risk of losing sight of what you want to achieve.


Your goals must be measurable so that you can assess your progress towards achieving them.

However, be wary of using your dressage scores to evaluate your progress, as they can be subjective. And you will by now have noticed that some dressage judges mark more kindly than others!


If you set goals that are unrealistic and beyond your reach, you will end up feeling demoralized.

A useful tip when setting your riding goals is to discuss them with your trainer. An expert will quickly tell you whether a target is attainable or not.


Your goal must be relevant to what you hope to accomplish.

Trainers are especially important here too, as an expert eye can help you to determine what goals are relevant to your progress.


Applying a timeframe to your goals is essential because it will increase your motivation.

However, the element of time should not be used to force a result. A timeline helps you to keep moving forward, rather than making you feel stressed about having something done by a particular date.

Now, let’s look at a few important considerations when setting rider goals.

TIP #1 – Put your goals into perspective

Many people set themselves unrealistic goals.

There’s nothing wrong with having ambition, but you need to be careful that you don’t end up craving a big goal that’s unachievable. That road leads to disappointment and demotivation!

Each day, write down two things:

  1. A riding goal that you’ve achieved in the last year.
  2. A goal you achieved that morning (not necessarily riding-related)

For example, perhaps you finally taught your horse to halt square, and that morning you made it into work on time for a change!

These are both achievements, albeit small ones in the scheme of things.

However, a reliable square halt now earns you a mark of eight in your dressage tests, so your scores have improved. And improving your timekeeping at work could lead to a pay rise.

The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that the biggest goals are usually achieved through successfully meeting the smaller ones.

TIP #2 – Don’t be too critical

Unfortunately, it’s human nature to be hypercritical. So, when you encounter a setback in your horse’s training, you dismiss all the things you have achieved, and that makes your goals seem even further away.

Be kind to yourself, and don’t lose sight of what you have achieved.

TIP #3 – Be positive!

When you set a goal, use positive language.

For example, if you want to improve your contact with the horse’s mouth, state your goal as, “I would like to keep my hands more still.” Don’t say, “I don’t want my fidgeting hands to disturb the contact.”

Positive phraseology is crucial because it helps to focus your brain on the right idea. So, if someone tells you, “Don’t think about a blue crocodile,” you’ll immediately imagine a blue crocodile!

Keep your focus firmly on what you want, rather than on what you don’t want.

TIP #4 – Make your first step an easy one

Be careful that you don’t make the first step towards your goal a difficult one.

If you struggle to achieve the very first part of your plan, it’s unlikely that you’ll succeed in the longer term.

For example, having your horse stand still while you mount is a significant accomplishment, because if you can’t even get on board, you won’t achieve anything else!

TIP #5 – Goals do not exist in isolation

Remember that your goals are your end game, but to achieve them you’ll need positivity, resources, good instruction, and support from your friends and family.

TIP #6 – Your goals are a steering wheel!

Think of your goals as a steering wheel, channeling your energy and providing you with direction.

TIP #7 – Goals are multi-dimensional

Your goals can exist in several ways.

A goal can be implicit, perhaps just an idea that you have in your mind. A goal can be explicit, i.e., something that you’ve written down on paper. Goals can be driven internally or externally, and they can be short-term or long-term.

For example, dressage test scores are an outcome goal, as is winning a red rosette. Goals like these are inspiring, fun, and meaningful but you don’t have control over outcome goals.

It’s more helpful to have most of your goals as process goals, which involves focusing on gradual, progressive improvement through the training and education of you and your horse.

TIP #8 – Riding is complicated, so break it down

Riding is a very complicated endeavor.

Think about what’s happening when you school your horse. There are emotional facets, cognitive demands, physiological elements, and then you add the horse to the equation!

So, when you’re setting goals, it’s extremely helpful to think of them in terms of multiple elements.

You will have an overarching final destination, but you’ll need to break the journey down into small segments to complete it successfully.

TIP #9 – Use mind mapping

Mind mapping is a method of visually organizing and breaking down your goals into the steps you’ll need to take to attain them.

This technique can stop you from becoming overwhelmed when you’re dealing with something as complex as riding goals.

TIP #10 – Learn to work on “horse time”

As every horse owner knows, horses are horses, and unfortunately, that means you will inevitably experience setbacks that may prevent you from achieving your goals.

Learn to work on “horse time” not “people time” by accepting that you need to be flexible.

Build some slippage time into your goal schedule to allow for the unexpected such as lameness, a frozen arena, etc.

In conclusion

Setting some goals is essential if you are to progress in your dressage adventure.

Keep your goals realistic and achievable, divide goals into smaller sub-achievements, use mind mapping to help visualize your journey, and expect a few setbacks along the way.

What rider goals have you set for yourself and your horse? Share yours with us in the comments box below!

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