by Katie Navarra
Riders of any age or levels of experience can benefit from taking the time to set realistic goals. Regardless of whether the rider is striving to lope/canter a full circuit around an arena, try a horse show for the first time or advance to a higher level of competition, goal setting can help them achieve their aspirations.
During the panel discussion, Setting Realistic Goals for Returning Riders & Parents of Riding Children, hosted by CCE Equine in January at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Saratoga County, three local trainers shared advice and offered suggestions for helping riders set attainable goals.
Identifying goals is a powerful process that motivates riders to improve and turn their dreams into reality. The “dream” varies drastically from one rider to the next, but following the path to achieve that goal can be similar.
It begins with an assessment and an honest conversation about what the rider hopes to accomplish. “With any new student, I do an evaluation lesson first,” explained Laura Fay, owner of Aering Green Equestrian Center, a dressage and eventing facility in Castelton, NY.
“During that lesson we’ll discuss if they want to come and enjoy riding the horse for an hour or if they would like to be competitive down the road,” she added.
Adult riders can better verbalize their goals and dreams related to riding. Youth riders who aren’t as verbose or who feel pressured may not share the same goals their parents’ outline.
“Some parents feel they missed an opportunity in their own childhood and want to live their childhood dream through their kids. The kids don’t always have an interest in showing or riding,” said Ann Hayes owner of H&H Farm in Fort Edward, NY and coach of the Northcountry Horses Interscholastic Equestrian Association Western Team.
The best part about setting goals is that nothing is set in stone. Goals evolve and can be modified at any time to redefine what the rider hopes to accomplish. “If a client thinks they want to show, but decides they don’t like the pressure, we talk about what they would like to do and adjust accordingly,” Fay said.
It’s especially important for young and returning adult riders to understand that riding is hard work. “I educate riders, especially those who are new or returning to riding, that it takes patience and more than one day a week in the tack to do well,” said Melissa Suits, a dressage trainer and owner of Suits Dressage.
Moving past bad experiences
Horses can be unpredictable. Even the most well-trained, laid back horses can have an off-day or spook, creating a bad experience for the rider. Working through those situations is critical to long-term success in the saddle. To overcome these challenges, riders need to know the horse they’re riding is safe.
“We go back to the basics and work on halting so the rider knows the horse will stop,” Suits said.
Rather than focusing on a larger goals, revisiting smaller goals can help riders regain confidence. “If loping or cantering feels like too much for the rider, I encourage them to go back to the jog/trot until they’re comfortable,” Hayes explained, “then I’ll have them work up to loping down one side of the arena before going all the way around the ring.”
After a bad experience, adults tend to have a harder time rebounding. “I find it harder for adults to bounce back because they have a fear of getting hurt,” Suits said, “when women have children it changes the way they ride.”
For some riders, it takes going back to the basics of groundwork to regain the confidence shaken by a bad experience.
Improving takes time and practice. “
I require all clients to ride at least once a week,” Hayes said.
Committing to at least a weekly lesson instills confidence and reinforces the skills learned the week before. The more often an individual can ride, the more quickly their skills will advance. Depending on the rider’s goals, it may take several days a week in the saddle to reach those goals.
“Riding is hard work. Getting better won’t happen quickly if you’re only riding one day a week,” Suits said, “timid riders especially need as much time in the tack as possible to gain confidence.”
Staying in shape contributes to more positive riding experiences. Riding one time each week is not enough for adult riders to stay fit. Suits encourages her riders to participate in Yoga or Pilates when they’re not riding. “It helps riders become more aware of their body,” she said.
Above all else, becoming a successful rider requires dedication and patience. “Everyone has to start at the beginning,” Fay concluded.