Set Your New Year’s Riding Goals Up for Success


It’s the time of year where everyone is looking forward to a fresh start. I think of the days leading up to New Year’s Eve as a clean piece of paper that’s just waiting for me to carefully write out my goals for the next year.

“A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.” – Harvey MacKay

With the new year ahead of us like an open horizon, it’s easy to get overzealous when making resolutions and goals for the next twelve months. I’m sure I’m not the only person before who’s tried to tackle more than they can handle! When I sit down and evaluate my riding goals for the next year, I like to think about a variety of factors in order to set myself up for success.

Where am I starting out in the New Year?

Before you can move forward, it’s important to look back at where you’ve come from. If you’re just starting out riding lessons and have never been to a show, it’s probably not a great idea to make winning a 3′ class your number one goal for the next year.

For me, I moved myself and my horse across the country last September to attend graduate school. Even though we’ve had many successful seasons in the local jumper ring in the past, I’m starting off 2018 with a horse that’s still getting used to his new schedule and a rider who’s a little out of shape! I need to think about the horse I have right now versus the horse I used to have as I make my next year’s goals. Instead of chasing a year end award, I decide to set my goal as simply getting back into showing after our long break away.

Early 2017 looked much different than early 2018. Photo courtesy of Lauren Mauldin

Are my goals fair to my horse?

Even though many of us riders are highly competitive and driven by amazing opportunities and prestigious awards, our horses don’t care about how many coolers and ribbons they collect year over year. Their priorities are more along the lines of a warm stall with fresh hay.

Before setting your personal goals for the next year, you have to think about your partner in this equation — your mount. Whether it’s avoiding moving up a green horse too fast or pushing an older schoolmaster too hard, remember that putting your horse’s needs first is the best way to any long term success. When it comes to making these decisions, your trainer and vet are your biggest allies. Consult your horse’s support team when you think about what’s realistic for the upcoming year.

Can my budget accommodate my plan?

As much as I wish a money tree would sprout next to my horse’s paddock, that hasn’t happened yet! We can’t deny it — riding is an expensive sport. Whether you’re a working amateur eating peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for a month to afford an away show, or a junior leaning on your parents for support… budget matters.

Even though I’ve owned horses most of my adult working life, I still work hard to perfect balancing the budget when it comes to my horse’s needs and my own goals. No matter what your age or financial situation, having a mature conversation about expenses is a great way to start the year.

Is it about the experience or the ribbon?

Riders trot into the ring with vastly different expectations. For some, it’s their first time moving up to a division and they may be trying their best not to explode from panic before making it over eight fences. Others may be seasoned pros and riding for points or other accolades.

I’ve always tried to decide which category I fall in before I put a show on the calendar. My horse has a short stride and sticky changes, but I adore hunter derbies. So my goal might be competing in a local hunter derby, but I’m doing so for the fun and the experience of it versus trying to come away with a top honor. Deciding what your ultimate goal is at the beginning of the year can help avoid frustration in the long run.

When you put your jumper in the derby… sometimes you know it’s just for fun and bloopers like this! Photo by Heather N. Photography

Why do I feel the need to accomplish these items?

Goals are a great tool when it comes to riding. They can push us forward, inspire us to improve and give a tangible history to how far we’ve come from that first lesson so many years ago. However, goals can also be stressful.

If you sit down to set a list of goals this year, ask yourself why each item is on your list. Is it because your friends or peers are doing it? Is it because your trainer wants you to? Outside perspectives can be great motivators and support for us, but I always believe that riding should be fun at the end of the day. I try to make sure my goals for the next year are things that will not only better me as an equestrian, but also help me to continue to enjoy this sport.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

Riding is incredibly difficult, and even if you spend time carefully establishing your goals for the next year… it doesn’t mean they will be easy to accomplish. Whether you set resolutions or not, remember to love your horse and yourself through the obstacles that will inevitably show up next year. If you do that, you can’t go wrong — no matter what your goal is!

About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.

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