Tips To Help You Accomplish Your Riding Goals in 2016 and Beyond…

Rethink Your Riding Goals As “Lots Of Little Victories”

Well, it’s so hard to believe that the New Year is almost 3 months behind us. Each brand new year awaits us filled with new goals and aspirations to achieve great health, happiness, peace and abundance in addition to fulfilling those goals we have set for ourselves for the New Year.

Even though it is technically still winter, cold and nasty outside in many areas, the first challenge (a major one) is to do our best to keep our back sides in gear and to get “revved up” for spring and summer riding despite the less than motivating weather and temperatures that plagues so many parts of the country and for those of us who depend on “all weather” arenas…

I cannot recall where I first heard the term, “lots of little victories.” It was during a training session, a clinic or something. What I do remember in hearing that seemingly simple little phrase was that it instantly resonated with me and became inscribed in my brain. It simply made so much sense to me, not only in the training of our horses, dogs or any other of our animal companions, also for ourselves because we humans too need lots of those “little victories” to help keep us focused and motivated!

While this process of achieving lots of little victories is always a work-in-progress, instead of trying to tackle a single or multiple big goals all at once, after adopting this effective and simple philosophy results in earnest results in a more effective, successful and above all a more solid approach for the training of our equine companions — in correctly growing them as individuals AND in creating and preserving “happy athletes.”

Remember The Journey Is What Counts

So this brings us to that age-old question: Did you set riding goals and aspirations for 2016?

While I typically don’t make formal resolutions for the new year, I establish new short and long-term goals. Goals and aspirations are essential, no doubt; however, in today’s world we have so many unexpected things thrown our way on a daily, sometimes hourly basis that it unfortunate albeit reality that we can become overwhelmed quite quickly (it’s called “life happens”…). I think if we can strive to remain flexible in our goals for ourselves and our horses, and to acknowledge and be ‘okay’ that it is necessary and acceptable for us to adjust our goals from time-to-time depending upon what we and our horses are faced with on a given day and time, that in the long run we and our horses will fare far better. No doubt though, this is easier said-than-done…

In my experience, I find that it is important for us to remain flexible and patient in our training approach and goals for our horses because they too feel and respond differently to various stimuli from one day to the next, and many times, more often. As with us humans, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. I truly believe if we remain aware and diligent in how we ‘read’ our horses each and every day, we will learn so much more about how our horses feel and think, which at the end of the day is what is most important — the level and quality of communication we share with our horses. As the saying goes, we need to think like our horse…

What I’m trying to convey is that while we all certainly need and benefit from structure in our daily lives in relation to the goals we have set for ourselves, we should remain mindful not to beat ourselves up if we cannot fully achieve our goals on a given day or week — if that makes sense. The same holds true for our equine companions who give so much of themselves to us, which means it is all the more important for us to nurture, cherish and protect our horses from the consequences of negative training.

Those lots of “little victories” and “light bulb” moments in our daily training and riding of our horses offer riders awesome, rewarding feelings. A single step in the right direction fulfilled by your horse is maybe all your horse can give on a particular day. Not unlike ourselves, we should remain aware that our horse may feel and respond differently each day depending upon how we feel too — physically and/or mentally because our horses read us quite well

I believe we should be happy when our horse responds in a positive way, showing effort to carry out requests we ask despite, at times requests (meaning our aids) that are given incorrectly. As many equestrians and true horsemen know, there is a wealth of knowledge, humility and wisdom we can glean from our equine companions. Two lifetimes would not be enough time to learn it all. With this said, we’re either training and guiding our horses correctly and in a positive direction, or not…

Such is the delicate balance and dance of life — between asking and doing enough, yet not over-facing our horses or ourselves. As with any goal, we should always be super quick to reward our horses when they try to do as we ask because this gives our horses (and ourselves) the desire, incentive and motivation to do even better — and they do it for us. The desire to do well and please is part of our horses’ nature, and for the most part most of us humans possess a similar nature in that we want to do well, to please and to help others.

Yin and Yang. Anne Russell. All Rights Reserved.

Achieving That Ever-So-Important Yin and Yang

As with most things in life, it’s all about the Yin and the Yang for us and our equine companions — a balance and peace that comes with living life in balance to the best of our abilities for ourselves and our horses (and every companion we may have).

To better enable us to achieve more of our goals for our horses and ourselves, we can benefit by breaking down those larger goals into smaller bite-size, more easily digested pieces. We can then continue to build upon our carefully established foundation step-by-step. Before we know it, we’re blossoming (and so are our horses) and we are able to grow our goals and aspirations in a logical, fair and compassionate sequence.

I recall from the many training videos I have (probably close to 100, give or take) when Isabell Werth would repeat to clinic riders at every level of dressage — “step-by-step“… Makes perfect sense. “Do not rush and do not ask for something from the horse at a faster gait that cannot be correctly achieved at a slower gait” echoed by the awesome Kyra Kyrkland. And while attending clinics and in conversations with the late Dr. Reiner Klimke, I’ll never forget these words, “make him an offer he can’t refuse; let him go“…

It has been said that if we put our goals and thoughts to paper (it really does work!), we increase our chances of achieving greater results and success. When you write it all down on paper, it seems to kind of ‘cement the deal,’ which then seems to impart a higher level of commitment on our part to establish more reasonable, achievable goals for ourselves as equestrians and as humans. After all, our horses have placed incredible trust in us to challenge them fairly both mentally and physically so they too will progress without being pushed too far, too quick — without that all-essential correct, solid foundation. And herein lies that extremely ‘fine line’ of too little vs. too much…

I personally and humbly believe it’s our duty and responsibility to our horses to set reasonable, fair and achievable goals for them AND to know we must remain flexible in what we ask of our horses on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis to give them every opportunity to flourish. In every aspect of training our horses, it is essential we continually strive to achieve and maintain the proper balance for each individual horse. After all, like us our horses are quite unique creatures who, also like us come with a set of unique and changing needs, not to mention differing approaches to their training that work best for them.

To achieve all of this, however, we must strive to achieve and maintain that sometimes elusive balance in our daily lives and that of our beloved equine companions who want to do well for us as their human companions. So, with all of this said, here’s some food-for-thought I hope you find beneficial in helping you achieve your riding and personal goals in 2016 and beyond.

Just How Do We Set These Goals — Better Yet, How Do We See Them Through To Keep Our Horses And Ourselves Happier and Motivated?

1. Break up those larger goals into smaller bites and adjust your training approach, as needed based on how your horse is feeling and/or responding on a given day. Always remember that every training and riding session should end on a positive, happy and relaxed note — especially for your horse.

2. Write your goals down on paper — and don’t lose them. It’s really helpful to keep a diary, of sorts so all of this information is kept in one place vs being written on Post-It-Notes or random pieces of paper that are scattered about.

3. Gauge and document your progress on a regular basis — this is essential! If you do not keep close track of how you and your horse are progressing, it is really easy to become discouraged, unfocused and/or overwhelmed. The potential consequence of not tracking progress of your goals can quickly make those goals become a bit meaningless. And since you’ve started the habit of writing things down, continue to document your progress (including your set-backs) on a regular basis — daily or weekly; whatever works best for you. As with the training of our horses, consistency is important to set our horses and ourselves up for success!

4. Get visual! Have a favorite photo of yourself, you and your horse or someone whose riding and/or training you emulate (mine would be the late Dr. Reiner Klimke, Kyra Kyrkland, and of more recent years, Ingrid Klimke, Steffen Peters, Charlotte DuJardin and a few others since dressage is my passion and discipline). Whatever or whoever visually inspires you, put it a place where you see it on a regular basis multiple times each day. You may be surprised just how motivating a visual can be! Got videos? If so, watch and thoroughly study those who you wish to emulate. It seems like each and every time I watch a video of a rider or trainer I admire, I glean something new from its content.

Visual aids can be an awesome way to help keep you inspired during your day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month training and riding goals. You can take this to another level by saving funds to ride or audit instruction conducted by a clinician or instructor who you respect, investing in books and DVDs to help you in between your training sessions, subscribing to relevant publications and blogs, volunteering, etc.

There are a lot of tools readily available to keep you moving and progressing in your training and riding goals even if you cannot participate in regular instruction. There is no time wasted in continuing education of any kind. You and your horse are worth the investment!

5. Develop a daily routine and commit to it to the very best extent possible — every day. You’ve got goals so it is essential to get into a habit and routine. While circumstances may dictate a temporary detour (such as an injured horse and ill rider to which many of us can relate 100%), having a solid routine will help keep you and your horse on course. Get the support of others if and whenever possible. Support can come from family members, friends, your instructor and beyond. Share your goals with those whom you value so they better understand the importance and significance of what you are trying to accomplish.

6. Observe, experience and savor each and every step in the right direction. Try to refrain from caving in and taking too big of a chunk off at one time — this can be quite counter-productive. As I shared earlier, you will be far more likely to succeed, be happier with yourself and do a great deal to help keep your horse happier and healthier if you take lots of little ‘baby steps,’ so to speak. Celebrating lots of those “little victories” can definitely be so motivating and inspirational — those victories help keep you fueled and on course. Even better is that your horse will thank you — in multiple ways!!!

7. Practice, practice, practice in a positive way. Always allow your horse to round out every training session in the most positive, relaxed manner possible — take a leisurely, relaxing walk out of the arena before and after schooling because this is most beneficial for your horse. In fact, much of a rider’s work can be done outside the arena, which will help to keep your horse fresh and motivated. In some ways that old saying, “variety is the spice of life” rings so true in working with our horses — and ourselves!

8. Celebrate!!! Celebrate each and every victory and accomplishment with your horse. I cannot adequately express in words how immensely rewarding and beneficial these celebrations can be on multiple levels. Do something special for your horse and yourself within your means, of course to celebrate the accomplishments of those more bite-size, more realistic and achievable goals you have established for you and your horse!

9. Last, but certainly not least, hurry up slow. You can ponder about this for a while as this is an entirely separate and probably a controversial topic for another day. What I will share though is that by building an extremely solid foundation in your training as a rider and in your horse’s training, at the end of the day you will come out significantly farther ahead than you may realize — as will your horse if you take that higher road. No solid foundation; no happy athlete in my humble opinion…

Well, this was a long one. I sincerely hope you benefit from some or all of the tips and can successfully tailor them to your own training goals and needs. My personal opinions are certainly not the gospel by any stretch of the imagination. They simply reflect my personal thoughts and opinions I share with you from 40+ years of experience from which I have learned and continue to learn each and every day in working with horses and beyond.

So, I’m signing off now to go follow some of my own advice!

Aren’t I too cute???

As always, Happy Riding & Healthy Living!

Rene, Happy Hour & Friends At

Originally published at on February 24, 2016.

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