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New Year = New Horse Goals!

As we start into the new year and indeed the new decade everyone is talking about setting goals. I thought it was a good time to explore how we do this with our horses.

Over the years I have had some very challenging and even dangerous horses and some easy ones too! You learn a lot about how to set goals and manage your expectations with horses and I think the lessons apply to so much else in life.

None of us have complete control over everything that happens and I think horses are very good at showing us that!!

When you decide to set a goal to achieve something with your horse, you have no way to explain to them that this is what you are doing together and why. This is why it’s really important to make a plan that breaks everything down into steps so you don’t over-face yourself or your horse.

Setting goals

There’s loads of articles on goal setting and how to do it. To be honest rather than worrying about the right way to make them, just have some and write them down. Even better, share them with a friend!

Writing and sharing a goal not only makes it more real but gives you a chance to think about how you are going to achieve it. What are the steps to getting there? Here’s an example that might be helpful:-

Goal: Take my horse to their first competition

Elements to the goal:

  1. Preparation for the competition

  2. Travelling there

  3. Arriving and settling in the new environment

  4. The collecting ring

  5. The competition arena

Each of these elements can become a goal in itself with it’s own mini steps for example if loading is an issue for your horse then getting this right will become a goal on the way to your bigger goal of competing. Spend some time practising this and get help if needed before you take your horse to a competition.

Similarly, you will also need to make sure that your horse is both ok with being ridden with other horses in the arena and going away from those horses when your time comes to be in the ring. If passing other horses or napping back to the others is an issue, it makes sense to work on this at home first and get help if you are having difficulties.

Manage your Expectations

Sometimes things just take longer than you anticipate. There can be loads of reasons for this, injury, other time pressures, weather (!) to name but a few.

If you have a more challenging horse things will definitely take longer than usual to achieve (see my blog mini series on Challenging Horses for more on this)

Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t all go perfectly despite your best efforts and careful preparation. Just go back to your original goal, work out which step caused your difficulties, put some into improving that step and try again.

“Horses for Courses”

This is such an old saying but isn’t it funny how the old ones still apply today?!

Whilst it’s true to a certain degree that most horses can do a bit of everything you will have a much easier time if you and your horse both enjoy the same thing.

Certain characters of horses will suit hacking more than schooling, dressage more than eventing or liberty and groundwork more than being ridden.

I love dressage and one of my own horses is great at it! The other doesn’t enjoy it so much and is better suited to being a demo horse, I do enough schooling to keep her physically healthy but don’t push her to be something she isn’t as it’s frustrating for both of us!

Do have some goals

Even if you are not a particularly ambitious rider and never want to compete, it’s still good to have some goals as it gives your sessions meaning and purpose.

Horses respond well to this as they have a point to what they are doing. Having goals will also cause you to find new and fun stuff to do with your horse.

If you are struggling with what type of goals to set, have a chat with your instructor or a friend to get some ideas about what you could be doing.

Celebrate every Achievement

I have to confess that this is one I’m not particularly good at myself. I have a tendency to look at where I haven’t got to yet rather than give myself a pat on the back for what I have achieved.

However, where horses are concerned or indeed any other living being it’s really important that when you tick something off your list of steps that you are pleased with your horse and yourself!! Horses are totally connected to emotions so will respond well when you are happy as well as often not so well when you’re dissatisfied.

Celebrating yourself will also help you stay motivated even when you haven’t achieved your ‘big goal’ yet and make the whole process to get there enjoyable!!

When you do achieve your big goal, it’s time to sit down and do it all again!!!

Here’s to a great year full of achievement both big and small and lot’s of Happy Horse Time!!


Before trying any training technique it is important to rule out pain or discomfort. Saddle fit, teeth, back, hoof balance and lameness issues should all be checked by a qualified professional before applying any training.

If you have questions or need idea's to help with a specific problem feel free to get in touch with me on


Lyla has been helping riders and their horses in the UK, USA and Europe for over 15 years. She has prepared horses for crowds of over 6,000 people with no calmers or ear plugs for venues including Birmingham NEC, Aintree, Bury Farm EC and Hartpury.

Lyla specialises in horse psychology and behaviour problems with a specific interest in dressage and has worked with horses from grass roots to Grand Prix across the UK and Europe including international competitors and Olympians from Spain, the US, Canada and the UK.

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All training techniques discussed are from experience only, it is impossible for to accurately advise on horse/rider combinations without seeing them live. Lyla Cansfield & Equine Mind & Body Training strongly advise anyone considering using any of the techniques discussed to get live help and can take no responsibility for the outcome of applying any of the techniques discussed with or without supervision. Riding is a high risk sport.

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