Plan Your Ride

Before you throw your leg over the saddle, come up with a game plan of what your riding session is going to look like.

The mental part of riding is just as important as the physical part. Having a plan before you get in the saddle helps you and your horse have a productive riding session, whether your goal is to improve on basic horsemanship skills or be successful in the show pen.


Some days, your riding objective will include letting your horse relax, which might involve an easy riding session in the arena or going for a leisurely trail ride, while other days your objective will be more specific to help you prepare for a competition.

Regardless of what your end goal is, it’s good to plan your ride before you even step foot in the arena.

Nichole Chirico

Aim for Improvement

Once you know what your end goal is, it’s time to come up with a day-to-day riding objective. To avoid overwhelming your horse, try to simplify your objective and work on one piece at a time. Some days, it might include working on a certain maneuver, while other days might involve a light exercise session. However, try to aim for one percent of improvement at the end of each ride.

Even if you never plan to step foot in the show pen, it’s good to create reachable goals to help you improve as a rider. Good horsemanship skills are important no matter what discipline you partake in, and by making slight improvements each ride, your horse stays in a good mind-set, creating a better riding experience for everyone.

It should also be noted that if you have multiple horses you’re riding, you need to treat each horse individually, and tailor your riding program to fit each horse’s needs, which means you might have to come up with separate game plans and riding objectives for each horse. It doesn’t matter if your end goal is the same for all of your horses; they’ll have different strengths and weaknesses and won’t necessarily be on the same path.

Get Past a Setback

We all have good days, and we all have bad days. Your horse is the same way. Even with simplifying your day-to-day riding objectives, you’re going to run into setbacks.

When you face a setback, it’s important that you keep it from turning into multiple problems. Take a step back and see what happened to get to that point. Did you pull your horse out of his stall after a couple of days of not being ridden and start training on him right away?

To avoid turning that into a larger problem, include a quick round-pen or longe-line session to your riding objective to help him get any play out before you get on.

Or maybe you tried going to the next step of your riding plan, and he’s just not ready for it. If that’s the case, you may need to reevaluate your game plan and slow back down, so he fully understands what you’re asking of him. You want to make sure your horse is mentally ready to learn something.

Whatever your setback is, try to end the training session on a good note to ensure your horse continues to be happy and willing to learn.

Horse Show Plan

If you do compete with your horse, you want to adjust your game plan and riding objectives to fit your show schedule. An issue I see riders run into is trying to keep a performance horse at a high level of competition all the time. It creates mental fatigue for your horse, making horse shows less fun for everyone.

You can’t expect your horse to be at the top of his game every day, which is why you need to work on peaking your horse at the right time as you get ready to show. To do this, tailor your program so your horse has some downtime and doesn’t have to be as mentally sharp as he would need to be when you get closer to competition time.

Let your horse stay around 60 or 70 percent ready. As you get closer to a competition, build on that percentage to peak him as you get to a show so you can get the most out of him when it counts.


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