2018 Goal Setting (for Riders)

It’s that time again!

The New Year is upon us... and I'm willing to bet that you want 2018 to be the BIG BREAKTHROUGH year for you and your riding, right?  

Of course you do (or you would have probably ALREADY stopped reading this!)…

Well, generally speaking there are two types of riders:

  1. HOPE RIDERS. Hope riders base their riding success on “hope”. They hope that what they have been doing will somehow miraculously work (even if it hasn’t thus far). They make plans, resolutions and have good intentions… and they hope that they will actually follow through his year. However, it is inevitable, right? These great intentions fade away in the busy-ness of life (and I get it, it happens to all of us at some point!). This impedes their riding progress, and the year winds down to the same results as every other year before it.
  2. STRATEGIC RIDERS: Strategic riders plan their goals carefully AND… they commit to those goals. They follow through. They set in place a plan to achieve those goals. They know that it isn’t all roses and unicorns so they plan ahead for the down spells by putting into place regular intervals of evaluation, assessment, and re-alignment whenever they get off track, and then they commit to making the changes they need to make (even if that means pivoting 180°) in order to get themselves BACK ON TRACK towards their goals. They persevere - despite weather, life, family, work, school, and distractions. They take care of themselves OFF THE HORSE so that they are able to show up at their best, do their best job in the saddle, and stay consistent and focused. Riders in this group consistently become great riders.

Have you set New Year’s Resolutions before and not kept them? I know… silly question. WE ALL HAVE! You know why? Because it is human nature, and the nature of resolutions sort of sets us up to fail. This is why:


  • It is not enough to simple vow to make some change in your life.  The initial enthusiasm and fades after a few days, a few weeks, or (if you’re really lucky) a few months.  It lacks a strategy to build momentum and feelings of accomplishment along the way.
  • Resolutions are often based on what we think is wrong with us and what we think we SHOULD be doing instead, so they are based on a level of shame (which is always only moderately inspiring because it is fear-based) and not often not aligned with our own true desires but what others have made us believe we need to do or should be doing.
  • It isn’t enough to think about making change. You need a plan. You need strategy. And you need to take concrete steps to enact real, measurable, and lasting change.
  • Setbacks happen and we need to account for them IN ADVANCE and have steps we can take to get ourselves back on track WITHOUT triggering the shame of failure that spirals into defeat.
  • Let’s face it. Making changes that really mean something and which make a big difference in our lives and our riding can be really hard. I mean, really REALLY hard.

It requires us to step outside (sometimes way outside) our comfort zone. Comfort zones serve to keep us in the path of least resistance and leaving that is… well… really UNcomfortable. The most impactful changes only occur when we step outside of that comfort zone.  

It can be scary. What we know and do already is familiar. Stepping outside of the comfort zone is extremely uncertain. It is unpredictable. It can trigger apprehension, anxieties, and fears. What we don’t know and can’t predict is very uncertain and, as humans, we tend to avoid that uncertainty (even when we KNOW it can yield huge rewards for our riding).

And it can require you to do something that is very different than those around you. This potentially opens you up to criticism, ostracization, animosity, and condemnation. When you take a different path than the other riders around you, they won’t understand it. They may criticize you, undermine you, and sabotage you… and not necessarily because they want you to fail, but because they will assume that if you are doing something they are not doing, it is the wrong decision and they also might take it as an attack on what they are doing.  

If you were to go into it without acknowledging these pitfalls, they would almost certainly derail you. BUT if you know in advance that they can happen, you will more likely recognize that that is what is happening when they occur. AND if you have thought ahead and developed a strategy for dealing with them when they happen, you stand a chance at succeeding in spite of them.

I just recently went through Michael Hyatt’s “Best Year Ever” program and I gathered some wonderful take-aways that I want to share with you here. This is a process you can follow to help you set yourself up for success in the New Year.


Step 1: Believe.

Your beliefs can make or break you.

Before we go any further, you need to take a moment to identify and acknowledge your limiting beliefs. These are the invisible barriers inside your head that hold you back. They are often about ourselves or our capabilities and we often feel they are part of our self-identity.

Examples of limiting beliefs:

  • I am a stiff rider.
  • I am too old to ride well.
  • I am too inconsistent and unfocused.
  • I am impatient.
  • I have no clue where to start.
  • No one wants to teach me.
  • My horses hate me.
  • I can’t sit the trot because I am too stiff.

Now replace these with a new statement which makes you feel empowered to be able to move beyond this limitation. Michael Hyatt in his Best Year Ever program calls these “Liberating Truths.” Sometimes these involve simply replacing the previous statement with the opposite statement (even if it doesn’t yet feel true, do it!) and sometimes it requires you to reframe a limit into a benefit (which is particularly handy if the limit IS based on an actual fact). If you are familiar with using affirmations, you will see the similarity here.

Examples of Liberating Truth statements to replace these:

  • I am becoming more flexible with each day.
  • I am old enough to fully appreciate the years I have left to ride.
  • I have laser-focus and stay consistent.
  • I am increasingly more patient with each ride.
  • My inner wisdom will guide me so I know where to start.
  • I will find just the right teacher who wants to teach me.
  • My horses love the new me.
  • I can sit the trot better with each ride because my stiffnesses are melting away.

STRATEGIC riders believe that they can and will reach their riding goals - even when they don’t yet know how. They know that becoming a great rider takes work...  and that doesn’t stop them because they embrace the opportunity to put in the effort.

As Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.”

Change your beliefs about yourself and what you can do and you change what you can do (even if you don’t yet know how to do it).


Step 2: Leave the past behind you.

STRATEGIC riders are human. They aren’t perfect. They have made mistakes in their pasts, and they continue to. Mistakes are inevitable on any path, but they are especially inevitable when you are pushing yourself to excellence.

The difference between STRATEGIC riders and HOPE riders, however is that great/strategic riders:


  • Make a conscious choice to LEARN from their past mistakes instead of dwelling on them.
  • FOCUS on specifically the things they can change/improve AND the things which make the most significant impact on their progress.
  • SET ASIDE the things they cannot change or do anything about.

HOPE riders do the opposite. They dwell on mistakes of the past, focus on things they cannot change or do anything about and let these things hold them back from creating the future they want.

But you don’t need to get stuck there. YOU can choose to rise above this. You can CHOOSE to reframe your mistakes and learn from them so they propel your forward.

Take a look at everything that worked for you in the previous year. Let’s start here because it is super important to acknowledge and celebrate our successes.

Then take a look at everything that did not work for the previous year, NOT to shame yourself or remind yourself what an f-up you are, but so that you can process them, extract any useful lessons from them, and MOVE ON.

At the beginning of the previous year, how did you see the year ahead of you? What did you think or hope would happen?

What worked well? What successes and accomplishments happened?

What didn’t work well? What frustrations, set-backs, and struggles occurred? And how can you learn from them to either prevent them from happening again, start on a different course so that those things don’t happen at all, or how can you set yourself up better NOW so that if/when those happen, you are better prepared and can sail through them with less resistance?

Look back through everything. Do you see any repeating patterns or trends? These often point to the areas where we have the biggest opportunity to improve for the upcoming year. These are not PROBLEMS, but OPPORTUNITIES because these are the areas that change will produce the biggest impact.

“We want to distill what we learned in the past into wisdom so it can be used in the future.” - Michael Hyatt

Step 4: Set your goals.

BE SPECIFIC - Your goals must be specific. An overly general goal such as “I want to be a better rider” is not specific enough, nor is it particularly compelling. “Ride a trot half pass across the arena in both directions smoothly and with easy bend,” is much more specific (and compelling because it is something you can FOCUS on).

MEASURABLE - There needs to be some objective criterion by which you can determine whether the goal was achieved or how far you are to reaching that goal. A set amount, a date (also listed below in its own area), something/anything quantifiable such as “Get one score over 70 percent by June 30” is measurable, quantifiable, and something you can easily assess whether it has been achieved or not. There is no guesswork.

ACTIONABLE - This is huge. Make it begin with an action statement, a verb. “Ride in the Regional Championships” is a good example.

RISKY - yeah... We all talk about making our goals realistic which is not altogether bad but don’t make them so realistic that they are boring. It NEEDS to stretch you. It needs to push you outside of your comfort zone. It needs to scare you enough to propel you into action. A good example would be “Have a lesson with such-and-such-trainer you’ve admired but always felt unworthy of riding with,” or, if riding in front of an audience is a big fear that is holding you back, “Be a demo rider for the Dressage Expo in September,” would certainly be a goal that would push you to overcome that limit.

TIME-SPECIFIC - assign a date. Someday in the non-specific far off future is not good enough. You can make it a year-end goal, but I like to set time-specific goals for throughout the year. For me,  my goal might be to “Launch a new course about Flying Changes by March 31st” and your goal will likely be a little different (perhaps to enroll in that course?!) Some goals automatically lend themselves to a date, such as “Qualify for Regional Championships at 2nd level by August 25” because that might be the deadline for qualification, but for others, you will need to assign a date that works well for your circumstances.

EXCITING - Don’t make it dull. Goals that don’t inspire you are not likely to be accomplished. No boring goals! “Take a 5-day horseback camping trip through the wilderness!”

RELEVANT - No, I don’t mean the horse (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMZSlAvUbQc). I mean you need to make sure your goals are in alignment with where you are in life (this is where you can check that it is realistic), your values, and your other goals. For instance, if one of your other goals for this year is to have a baby, it is likely not also terribly realistic or relevant to also have a goal to qualify and ride 6 horses in a Championship show. I mean, it can happen, but make sure this is how you really want your life to look. Every goal we work towards requires a considerable expenditure of time, resources, and energy so make sure they all work together and do not conflict with each other. Make sure your goals are really YOUR goals, not just goals that your peer-group has or your trainer thinks you should have. Make sure they are relevant to YOU, in alignment with your values and principles, and make sure they work for where you are in your life right now. This prevents you from setting goals that later you realize are not the right goals for you - which still happens, and we all have the right to revise and change our goals as need be, but if we can see that they are not a good fit at this point, we save ourselves a lot of time, energy, and frustration.

There are two types of goals: achievement goals and habit goals. An achievement goal would be to “Qualify for and ride in Such-and-such show by such-and-such date.” A Habit goal might be to ride 5 days a week. You’re looking to develop a consistent streak.  

Take care not to be so ambitious that you set so many goals that you can’t follow through on anything.  


Step 5: What is your why?

Your why is closely aligned with your vision. Get really clear on your vision and make sure this aligned with steps 4, 5, and 6 below. Your vision needs to be INCREDIBLY compelling.

It keeps you going when things are tough. It gives you the drive you need to become a really great rider. It needs to have the power to pull you out of bed before the sun rises to ride before it gets too hot. It needs to have the power push you out the door when it is below freezing and snowing. It needs to have the power to compel you to keep reading, keep studying, keep asking questions, and keep CURIOUS. It helps you make the right choices so that you clear the time in your schedule to ride every day, no matter what. It keeps you going back to the barn the next day even when you have a ride so frustrating that you wanted to give up the day before. It empowers you to invest in the education and instruction you need to support your goals so that your vision becomes a reality.

Your WHY is your reason for your goals. These are your key motivations. Write down every one you can think of for each of your goals (without self-editing) and save them, even the ones you are a little embarrassed to say outloud, because these are going to be your reminders when things get tough. They need to be compelling “WHY’S” because they need to have the power to push you through those rough spots.

Get very clear on this. Focus on this daily. This is what all truly great/strategic riders do.


Step 6: Set Yourself Up For Success

Make a plan. Break it down into actionable steps. Create benchmarks where you can evaluate your progress. I highly recommend taking one big annual goal and breaking it down into quarterly or monthly sub-goals to make it feel more manageable. Small actions build upon each other and compound into the real breakthroughs that really move the needle forward.

If you thrive on accountability, get yourself an accountability buddy - someone you need to answer to if you are not showing up at the barn to ride when you said you would, or reading the horse books you committed to read. Or set up a chart in your house or tack room that you have to check off each time you accomplished a certain task. Develop daily habits such as this that set you up for long-term success with your bigger goals. They also helps you enjoy the PROCESS of achieving your dreams.

These are the two BIGGIES to focus on:

  • Taking Action
  • Building Consistency.


Step 7: Get Support

Don’t be so arrogant to think you can go at this alone. Line up the support you need along the way. Arrange the lessons with the trainer you are dying to ride with. Get enrolled in the program you have always felt too unworthy to sign up for. Get the additional training or help you need where you need it most.

Surround yourself with a like-minded community of people who share your goals, your vision, your values, and your drive. People who won’t belittle your ambitions or criticize your methods. If you surround yourself with mediocre-minded riders, you cannot expect yourself to be anything else.

Great riders are not born; they are made. They are made every day in the arena. Seek out other riders aspiring to greatness, surround yourself with them. Not only will their mindset and attitudes rub off on you, but you will learn things from them you weren’t even aware of.  Finding or creating a supportive community of like-minded riders gives you the support and camaraderie you need to set yourself up for success as you work toward and achieve your dreams.

The Biggest Mistake

The biggest mistake you can make is to keep doing the same thing and expect different results.


Let’s make 2018 a phenomenal year for your riding.

Here are a few ways you can take immediate action right now:

1. Join our FREE like-minded community of riders aspiring to greatness: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ArtisticDressage/

2. Join us for 30-days of Yoga with a group of other riders. It is totally free. We are following Yoga with Adriene’s annual free 30-day yoga series and joining together in this pop-up group to support each other and share our discoveries and achievements. It's also totally FREE!
- Join our TRUE with Artistic Dressage (30 Days Yoga) group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/TRUEyogawithartisticdressage/

3. Start the New Year off right by joining the Exercise of the Month Club. https://courses.artisticdressage.com/p/join-eotm

What is EOTM?
Keep inspired and motivated. Don't let your riding get stale. EOTM is a monthly subscription site where you get TWO new exercises to ride with your horse every month. In addition, we surprise our members every month with a BONUS teaching on a topic that is relevant to the needs of our EOTM members or that month. Complete with community support and feedback from us and our assistant teachers. Try it out! 29,90€/month.