As a rider, you’re familiar with goal setting. You regularly set goals for yourself and your horse to win year-end awards, enjoy more time on the trail, or master a specific maneuver. Applied to your own health and fitness, that can feel more difficult even if it’s not. Just like horseback riding is a lifestyle, so is wellness. It requires the same disciplines of routine, and consistent goal setting as horsemanship.
[READ: How to Be Equestrian Fit]
The benefit of fitness is that it improves your horse-life, which means the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, you can set fitness-related goals that complement your riding goals. Learn to set effective goals and tools to ensure that you’re successful.
Start with the End in Mind
The first step to reaching a goal is setting it in the first place. If you plan to invest the time to make the end result happen, it’s also worth taking the time to clearly define the goal itself. This ensures that your effort is directly focused, and competing priorities don’t derail you along your journey. It also allows you to celebrate success because you know what “made it” looks like. S.M.A.R.T.-goal creation is an effective method to do this.
Specific. Your goal should be specific enough that you can direct your path to it. General fitness improvement can mean anything, whereas weight loss or increased riding endurance are goals you can plan toward.
Measurable. If the goal isn’t value-based, it becomes difficult to track progress. Again, if the goal is to improve your endurance for riding, then define an actual amount of time you want to be able to ride such as, all day on the trail or make it through a one-hour lesson with your trainer.
Actionable. You must be able to take actions toward your goal over time. To improve your ability to ride for longer periods, you’ll need to ride more, of course; you’ll likely also need to commit more time to your conditioning outside of the saddle through running, walking, or biking for example.
Realistic. Your goal should be reasonable given your time and resources. Be sure you can commit a certain number of hours each day or week to your goal before you start. Also be sure you have the resources to do the work. For example, if you plan to run more, invest in a pair of good shoes!
Time-bound. Set your goal far enough into the future that it can be reasonably achieved, but not so far that you lose focus. If you’d like to increase your endurance to enjoy a two-day end-of-summer trail ride with your friends, give yourself more than one week’s lead-time to reasonably prepare for the challenge.
If you don’t have a plan, plan to fail
Your ability to achieve your goal is only as good as the time and effort you commit to it. Like your horse, you can’t get into better shape overnight—or master a maneuver or change a habit. It takes time and consistency.
After you’ve identified your S.M.A.R.T. goal, make it visible to yourself. Write it on a piece of paper and post or write it on your fridge, your bathroom mirror, your workday computer, or wherever you’re sure you’ll see it every day. Each day you make a decision to move closer to your goal, and it’s much easier to stay committed with a constant reminder in front of you.
Set micro-goals. If your goal is to lose a certain amount of weight or be fit enough to go on a summer trail ride, set small goals that’ll get you to that ultimate weighty accomplishment. A macro-goal can feel daunting and unattainable, but if you take it one small achievement at a time, it seems more manageable.
Your goal to ride longer can be broken down into several micro-goals, such as ride three days per week instead of your customary two, or workout twice a week to increase your endurance. Determine where you’re at in your health and wellness journey relatively your goal, and then set weekly reachable goals for yourself. You’ll get an endorphin boost each time you get to mark one of these to-dos off your list, and you’ll also be one step closer to your big, scary goal even though you didn’t realize it.
Commit to a calendar. If it’s important to you, you make the time for it. Treat your wellness like an important project. Schedule a 30-minute workout, or meeting, into your day, and set a calendar reminder. This avoids the risk that you let the day get away from you without working toward your goal, and keeps people from scheduling over the top of your work-on-me project time. Without your health, you can’t enjoy your hobby, your work, or your lifestyle the way you’d like. This meeting with yourself is one you shouldn’t want to miss.
Find an accountability buddy. Solidarity is effective for goal achievement. Don’t feel like riding? Too bad, your friend is already at the barn. Don’t feel like going to the gym? How will your running buddy feel if you skip out again? It’s okay not to be intrinsically motivated to hit the gym, eat healthier, or ride more often; we’ve all been there. When you’re busy, you don’t want to worry about one more thing. But, if you find someone else to do it with you, you’ll be more committed because you’ll have a friend to motivate you and whom you can encourage in turn.
Do what you love. Fitness is a personal journey. If you don’t like broccoli, don’t eat broccoli. Choose a healthy option that you do like. If you enjoy spin class or Zumba, do that instead of running. Don’t force yourself to do something you don’t enjoy because you’re less likely to stick with it. You may never like working out, but there’s certain activities you’ll like better than others—do those.
Pack a lunch. Healthy food choices can be one of the most difficult obstacles you face as you work toward your goals. Fries with friends can tempt you if you don’t have an alternative lunch. Instead, pack a healthy lunch that consists of lean protein (chicken, turkey, lean beef, and eggs), healthy fats (almonds, olive oil, and avocado), and complex carbohydrates (vegetables, whole wheat bread, rice, and quinoa). Don’t get stuck in a rut and feel like you can only eat salad to achieve your goal. Choose variety. Eat fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors to ensure that you get the vitamins and minerals your body needs. Explore different foods and recipes so you don’t get bored eating the same meals every day, and derail yourself from healthy habits.
Along with your lunch, pack a water bottle. Aim to drink the recommended amount of water each day (64 ounces). Staying hydrated, among other benefits, improves your metabolism and helps manage appetite. So, drink up!
Everyone experiences slumps in motivation or life happens and you aren’t able to workout, ride, or eat as healthy as you want to. First, remember that you’re human and that there are going to be times when you don’t get it just perfect. Give yourself some grace and start the next day fresh. It pays to have temporary amnesia in your wellness journey, and your riding, too for that matter. If you dwell on one mistake, you aren’t planning ahead to avoid the next one. You miss a lead change because you’re distracted or you say, never mind and completely derail from your exercise routine because you blew your healthy eating.
Each day is an opportunity to try again. Give yourself grace, acknowledge that what you’re doing is difficult, and stick with it. It’s a journey.
If you aren’t sure where to start to reach your fitness goals, check out Saddle Strong: The 6-Week Rider Fitness Program. It’s online and the workouts can be done at your own pace and place. You’ll also receive dietary guidelines and other helpful advice, from instructor Kelly Altschwager, to help stay on track.