Ask Andre: How Do You Set Realistic Goals for Your Riders?

Heritage Farm's Andre Dignelli, Laena Romond and Patricia Griffith. Photo by KIND Media

By Andre Dignelli

As we head into a new year and a new winter show season, the topic of New Year’s Resolutions always comes up.

This time of year is the time to look back and to look forward, like a pendulum. You should be asking yourself these questions: What are my goals? Am I at a place where I can meet my goals? Am I setting myself up for success? Where do I want to be a year from now?

This generation is not wired to think about long-term goals. It’s all about instantaneous gratification and instant success. Riders want to buy the made horse and buy the ribbon. In the end, that isn’t possible. If history has anything to say, if you look back at the last 50 years, the most successful riders—both at the junior equitation championships and at the senior levels of show jumping sport—it’s still the overachievers that found a way to the top of the podium. Many of those riders have been working students or children of professionals.

When it comes to goal setting, there needs to be an honest conversation about what you are willing to put into achieving the goals you’ve set forth. How much riding are you doing, day to day? How many horses are you riding? Are you working to improve every day and receiving frequent instruction, or are you just taking some lessons on the weekend and never practicing what you’ve learned? When you are riding, are you just riding, or are you riding with purpose?

Most importantly: How much time do you want to invest in achieving this goal?

Identifying your place in the sport is important. Are you doing this for sport, or is this more recreational—or are you somewhere in the middle? All have a place in the industry, at the barn and at the horse show, but achieving certain goals requires a certain level of commitment.

For our riders at Heritage, we host a literal roundtable. We’ll set the end goal for that year: We set the plan backward from it, and then we work forward, identifying the steps that need to be met along the way. It’s okay for the goals to be a bit lofty. People often overestimate what they can do in a day, but they underestimate what they can achieve in the long-term. We want riders to dream big and figure out how to achieve what they’ve set out to do.

We’ve been at every stage with our riders over the course of the last 35 years. We know the path that works, and we have a clearly defined pipeline.

The rest is on the rider.

Andre Dignelli is the owner and head trainer at Heritage Farm, a New York based institution that has produced national hunter, jumper and equitation champions for nearly three decades. In his junior years, he won the 1985 USET finals and later went on to win the bronze medal at the 1991 Pan Am Games. Since then, Andre has coached numerous equitation, hunter and jumper champions at the nation’s top shows. His program has helped develop top riders including Kent Farrington, Kirsten Coe, Maggie McAlary, Reed Kessler, Lillie Keenan and many others. Follow Heritage at @HeritageFarm.

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