Goal Setting for Riders

One of the keys to success

One of the keys to success is to learn how to set clear goals, and then to set up a plan to achieve them. For me, personally, the process involves considering the logistics so that I can determine where I am overestimating my time and energy available (because I tend to dream big, but that dreaming process is important, too) but also so I can make some decisions about how to prioritize my time and energy so that I CAN achieve those goals. Without clearly thinking these things through, it is all too easy to get distracted by all of the things that happen in life. There is SO much to be distracted about! And whereas we cannot - nor should we - put the rest of our lives on hold in order to move forward in our riding - if we have clearly laid out our goals, prioritized which things need to make way in order for us to achieve these goals, and then revisit these goals regularly (I review and visualize my goals DAILY - that is a topic for a whole ‘nother newsletter!), then we stack the odds in our favor that we will at least get closer to our goals, if not achieve or surpass them altogether.

Here are some questions to get your creative juices flowing. Read through them and then go through the exercise at the end.

Some questions to consider as you design your Riding Goals:

  • What areas do you want to make progress in the year ahead? Do you want to most work on your seat? Or your horse? Or address the problems that regularly reappear? Or get a better understanding? Do you want to finally do more of the riding yourself? Or would you like to finally get the help of someone you admire and respect? Perhaps you want to finally get your young horse started under saddle, or get you and your horse into the showring, or finally take your riding education seriously enough?


  • Where have you been “playing small” and what dreams have you not taking care to nurture? Have you been selling yourself short, and if you are, why have you been doing that?


  • What have you been wanting to do but have been putting off out of fear, or lack of knowledge or lack of direction? Isolate which of those items have been your “obstacles” so that you can address them individually. Acknowledging them is the first step to disempowering them, then you can come up with a plan to eliminate them completely. But until you are clear about all of your own obstacles, they will continue to obstruct your progress.


  • Are you sure those obstacles are really obstructions? Sometimes a problem can only be a problem in your own head. Sometimes there is another way around a problem. Consider that giving your obstacle the power to “obstruct” you is what is obstructing you. By accepting those obstacles you cannot do anything about, you are free to find a way to work with that obstacle rather than against it.


  • What changes do YOU want to make to your riding program for the year ahead so that you can finally make the big leaps in progress you want? Because obviously, if you don’t make changes you will just get more of the same, more of what you have been getting. Which… if you are ecstatic over the course which things are going, then that is great. Keep doing what is working for you. But if it is not working for you, consider what changes you need to make. This is your chance to get really clear about making those changes.


  • Where do you need to get more serious? Where have you been only putting in half effort? Is there some area in which you have been sliding? Perhaps you KNOW you will make more progress if you just commit to spending a few hours a week reading. Or perhaps you haven’t been taking yourself seriously enough to commit to a regular training schedule. Or it could be that you have been neglecting some other aspect.


  • What would achieving these goals FEEL like? This is so so so important and actually goes beyond the scope of planning into actually putting it into action. You need to sit down and really FEEL, with full emotion, what achieving those goals will feel like. How will it FEEL to be the rider you want to be? How will it FEEL to have your horse working with you the way you want? How will it feel to make it to your goals? How will it FEEL to tell others about your achievements - not so much to brag but to inspire others that they too can achieve their goals? How will it feel to be a source of inspiration for others?


  • Do you really need what you think you need in order to achieve those goals? Have you considered all of the alternatives? Sometimes when you think there is an obstacle it is because you think there is only one way to achieve that goal. If you take a step back and look at it in another light, you sometimes realize that you didn’t see the answer because you were looking at it through too narrow of a lens. Take a step back, consider all of the options and alternative routes.


  • What would be the one simplest thing you could do that would most help you to achieve these goals? Often when you lay out all of your goals, the obstacles that you currently have, and brainstorm all of your possible solutions, you can find that it ends up all boiling down to one or a few items which are the foundational pieces that these all rely upon. For one person, it might be about feeling good enough physically about herself so that one thing might be to set up a program of personal training. For another person, that one thing might be to find a way to eliminate unproductive spending so that the savings can go into a fund to support ongoing lessons and training. Find your one or two things that everything else points to.


  • What plan can you put in place to do that one thing, or to set it up so that one thing can happen? Once you have isolated what your one or two things are, you can start to come up with a plan to make those your priorities. Often they do not have anything at all, directly, to do with riding. For one person it may be fitness and health OFF the horse, for another it could be finding a different job so that you are home enough to ride and not traveling so much. But once you have isolated that thing, you are going to need to work on your plan to make that happen. Make THAT your priority.


  • What are you going to do to ensure that your plans don’t get derailed? Because it happens to all of us after the bliss and excitement of having set our new goals wears off, our plans get derailed. Something happens. First you need to structure a way to get back on track when that happens. Set up a process you can return to in order to get yourself back on track. A great strategy is to set up “IF/WHEN - THEN” statements. An example could be, “If/when I want to cancel my lesson because I am feeling bad about myself and my riding, then I will read this letter I have written to myself to boost my morale when I am feeling down.”


  • Do you need accountability? Do you need to establish a plan to keep your focus? Do you need to have a serious sit-down talk with your family to get them on board so they can support you in achieving your goals? Do you need to make that phone call you’ve been afraid to make to set up lessons with someone you’ve been dying to ride with? Not everyone needs outside accountability, but if you are one of those who does, build it into your program in advance. Set up your lesson schedule. Set up your personal trainer schedule. Set up someone you can talk to and to whom you are held accountable. Get involved in a group where you share your goals and check in with each other about them regularly. Or maybe it is even a wall chart you post in your barn or tack room which keeps you on task for the program you have established.


  • What support structure do you need to put into place? Do you need to be specific with your family about what they can and cannot expect from you? It is important to have your spouse or partner really on board so that they don’t sabotage your dreams and goals, even if in just subtle ways. Do you need to set up a regular schedule of lessons? Do you need to commit in advance to attending certain educational events? Do you need to set up an accountability partner? Do you need to find a community of other riders who share your goals so that you can not always derailed by the comments of others whose goals contrast with your own? We are not meant to be lone ships sailing at sea. We are tribal animals for a reason - we seek and crave community. We crave the support and encouragement from others and this is not altogether a bad thing IF those people are truly supportive and on our side. Set up those people in your life now.


  • Last but not least, Ask yourself, “How can I be kind to myself?” How can you set up your goals so that they encourage you rather than defeat you? So they enthuse you rather than intimidate you. Make sure they are scary enough to propel you forward and get you out of the mental space you are in, but not so big that it would take a miracle to achieve them. The latter just sets you up for defeat and shame which are NEVER good ingredients for getting out of that rough spot and finally achieving your goals. Be loving to yourself as you set up your goals. Talk to yourself as you would talk to someone you love deeply. Ask yourself if they are achievable, ask yourself what will happen if you do not achieve them - not to plan defeat, but to make sure you are not setting up a pattern of self-shame in advance. Set up your goals out of love. Love for yourself. Love for your horse. Love for your passion.

An exercise...

I’d like to share with you an exercise that can help you get very clear on your goals and actually achieve them. This process helps you get super clear on what it is that you want and how you are going to go about achieving it. Goal setting does not have to be overwhelming and scary or some boring monotonous procedure. Use it to get yourself thinking creatively. Use it to get yourself EXCITED about the year to come.

Use a piece of paper and a pen for this exercise. There is a magic to putting it all down on paper rather than just doing it in your head. It is important that you can look back over it later because you tend to forget the FEELING behind the goals. When you put it all down on paper, you capture some of the excitement and emotion behind it and you can go back later to read it and refresh your intention and enthusiasm.

1. Brainstorm.

Get a piece of paper and pen. Get a timer, choose a block of time you are going to give yourself for this exercise (10 minutes is a good block of time), set the timer and write. Brain dump all of your ideas, dreams, and possibilities for the next year. Go really big here. Get everything on paper that you can possible envision. Anything that comes to mind even if you’re not absolutely sure this is the right thing for you. Don’t edit, don’t judge, just write it down. Anything you have ever dreamt about. Challenge yourself to fill as much of that paper as you can in that timeframe. Capture all the stuff: big stuff, little stuff, everything. It is important not to edit yourself as you write. Don’t question whether it is realistic. Don’t choose anything now. Just dump it all out on paper. You can get more realistic as we move into the next steps of the exercise, as you move further into the process. This part right here, though, is the fun part. The dreamy blue skies part and unicorns leaping over the rainbow part. Dream here. Have fun here. Be childlike and silly if you want. Whatever helps you bring your guard down, stop the judgemental, limiting thoughts and let the whimsical, childlike dreamer out. Run free. Get the creative juices, energy, and excitement flowing. This can lead to some really great ideas you had not given yourself permission to consider before.

2. Review.

Review what worked and what didn’t work from last year. Get another piece of paper. On the front you will write your wins: the things that worked. On the back you will write your losses: the things that didn’t work (don’t get hung up on the word “loss” because in the grand scheme of things, we learn just as much from the things that don’t go well as from the things that do go well).  
    On the front, create three 3 columns. At the top of each write; “Wins”, “Why” and “Lessons”. Now go through the past year. Write down everything that worked well for you. All of your successes, all of the challenges you overcame, all of the things that worked out well for you, any great experiences you got to have, all of the GOOD STUFF from the year. This is only for your eyes, so don’t worry needing to edit yourself for fear of how it will come across to someone else. Just write everything you can think of. Then move to the second column - the “Why” column - and address each win separately. Write out why it was a win for you. Why did this thing matter? Was this a challenge you have struggled with for a long time? Did it help you access a greater level of training, etc. ? And then move to the third column - “The Lessons” and write out the lessons you learned from each of these. What did you learn from this? How can you grow as a better person or rider from this experience?
    Then move to the back and repeat the same procedure but with your “Losses” instead of your “Wins”. List out everything that didn’t go as planned. What didn’t work out? What didn’t go as you wanted it to go? What happened that you didn’t want to happen? Then the next column - “The Why” - write out why it was a loss. Not to beat yourself up, but just to get it out. Then in the third column, try to extract the lesson you can learn from the experience. Try to be emotionally detached so that you don’t skip over the things that really bother you. Put it on there with no judgement. Mistakes are valuable, so try not to hold yourself back here.

3. Say NO to say YES.

Once you have decided what worked for you and what didn’t, you get to decide what you are going to say YES to in the coming year. And you get to decide what you are going to strategically and intentionally say NO to or let go of in the coming year. Because we set ourselves up for failure if we think we can just pile on more demands of ourselves on top of what we are already doing. If we do that, we set ourselves up for falling short. Here you get to refuse to do that. Here you get to honor the things that are important to you. In order to clear up the space and energy to go after and achieve new goals, you need to decide what will make way.  This can get really exciting and starts to get some great energy behind it. You can ask yourself, “What did I say yes to last year that is not serving me and I need to let go of?” What do you need to let go of in order to create more room for the things you ARE excited about?  Perhaps it is a friendship or relationship you’ve been keeping going but which doesn’t quite align with the kind of positivity you want to cultivate in your life. Or maybe it is a feeling of self-judgement or never feeling good enough. You give yourself permission to let go of those things. You give yourself permission to do the things that will set you up for success in the following year. This is where you make the room in your life.

4. Choose your Goals.

Choose 5 goals. Don’t be dogmatic about it - it doesn’t have to be 5 exactly, but choose a number that works for you and choose goals that align with you, that really light your fire and really resonate with where you want to see yourself in a year. Then write out your WHY on each of these goals. Why is this a goal for you? Why do you want to do this? Why is this important to you? If you can’t come up with an answer, check yourself to see if this goal really matters to you. Maybe it doesn’t quite resonate with you. If that is the case, amend it so that it does resonate better, or drop it altogether. You NEED to be able to very clearly say why the goal is important to you, why it matters. The next step is to go through each of these goals and write out 3-5 steps or mini-goals for each one. This is really empowering because it gives you some of the HOW you need to get from here to there. It breaks it down into steps and helps it seem much less overwhelming and intimidating. You get to design a game plan here for making progress. This is where knowing your tendencies can really work to your advantage. If you know you tend to sabotage your own goals, you can design in steps that help to circumvent that or get you back on track when you lose your way. This overlaps into the realm of action. It is about having a clear intention about how you are going to achieve those goals rather than just letting the year happen to you.

5. Visualize.

Visualize a year from now. Fast forward to the end of the next year. If you and I met up at the end of 2017 and had a conversation. You just had the BEST YEAR EVER and you want to tel me all about it. How would you describe it to me? What happened? What new experiences did you get to have? What discoveries did you find? What accomplishments? What did you do more of and what did you do less of? What made this year great for you? What is the essence of how that feels? How does it feel to sit down and chat with me? How does it feel to look back on the year with fondness for all that happened?  Now write all of this out. As if you are telling me and write it in past tense. Then close your eyes. Visualize it. FEEL it. Use all of your senses and fill in the details. Make it as detailed as possible.

6. Check-in.

Plan in a date somewhere around the mid-way point of your year to assess your goals and see where you are on track and where you are not. This way you can pay attention to the areas you need to step up your game so that you don’t miss the mark completely. In this process, though, give yourself some grace. It is normal and okay to be off track somewhere. Plan for that. Plan to use this as an opportunity to refresh your intention and your goals. Approach yourself and the process with some forgiveness towards your future self. Not everything can be planned or known in advance. None of this is set in stone. If partway down the line you realize that the goal you have set does not really resonate with you or where you want to go, you can change it. That is the beauty of this - you can change any of this. You will find that if you regard yourself gently and without too much dignity or force, you will be better able to sustain the pace of progress.

And then go forward.

I want to hear from you. Tell me about YOUR goals. And meet us in the Artistic Dressage Community on Facebook to share your goals with others, talk about them, get inspired about others’ goals. Even get an accountability partner!