Having Realistic Expectations for Your Riding

Having Realistic Expectations for Your Riding

Having Realistic Expectations for Your Riding

Having Realistic Expectations for Your Riding

So what do you expect to happen when you mount up?  Very often we can have either unrealistic expectations of our horses.  We can also find ourselves having negative expectations; usually not intentional, but they happen!

Horses are great at living up to expectations.  However, they do have to be realistic.  Expecting your horse to perform difficult movements when we have not taken the time to build a solid foundation is unrealistic.  It is these unrealistic expectations that trip so many riders up. 

In fact, unrealistic expectations are one of the biggest reasons riders fail to make progress with their horses.

The conversations with your horse begin with the conversation going on in your head.  Your conversation with yourself.  So many riders create stories to explain why things are the way they are.  We do this with all the elements of our lives.  The unfortunate fact is that a lot of these conversations can be really limiting. 

How You Think of Yourself in the Saddle

How you feel about your abilities as a rider will influence your plans with your horse.  These plans can be actually written down plans, using a pen and paper.  Or the plans in your head that you make before each ride.  These plans can go in two very different directions.

The first is the ‘this is going to be great’ route.  This is where you have seen or experienced something and you wish to replicate it in your upcoming ride.  

You feel good and confident about being able to make it happen.  You find yourself thinking about how good it will feel to actually see it happening with your horse in the ride.  It is a positive feeling.  You feel excited and eager to get into the saddle. 

The second is the ‘this is not going to be too great at all’ route.  This is where you have had or seen something negative happening and relate it to your upcoming ride. 

‘I feel off last week, I’ll probably fall again’.  Or ‘my horse struggles with that transition, today won’t be any different’.  The feelings as you mount up are usually negative.  You may feel anxious, worried, nervous, fearful, or just plain bored!  

You might also feel like this is ‘deja vu’.  The same 30 minutes in the saddle repeating itself over and over again. 

Your Expectations Shape Your Approach

The key to beginning to use your expectations as a tool to help you in your riding is to notice them, to begin with.  How are you feeling as you tack up or mount up?  What are you expecting to happen?  What is your mindset like going into the ride?

Noticing how you are thinking and feeling about each ride will allow you to begin changing your approach.  By changing your approach, you now have the power to change the outcome. 

If you jump fences with your horse, you will already know how important a good approach is.  A slight or minor change in the approach to a jump has the potential to change the whole outcome.  The same applies with most things, both in riding and in life.

Getting clear on what you want to make happen – and then tailoring your approach towards that outcome puts you in a much better position to achieve it. 

Again, if you regularly jump you will know that wishing, hoping and praying will sometimes get you over the fence; but all results are going to be hit and miss.  They are left to chance.  Working towards improving your approach will begin to see you increase your success rate.  

Putting on Your Blinkers

If you have ever been to the race track or watched racing on the television, you will probably have seen a few horses with blinkers on.  The blinkers are to help focus the horse.  Help them run their own race, rather than being distracted by all the commotion going on around them. 

Your expectations can be like ‘blinkers’ for you and your horse. They will help you focus and stay on track with your riding.

By becoming really clear on what you are working towards and then being open to making adjustments in your approach to get there, you will put yourself in a far better position to actually reach your goals. 

Setting Realistic Expectations

So a few weeks ago, I sent out an email all about expectations.  I received a reply which I feel actually represents so many riders around the world.  It went a little along the lines of “I watch videos about riding, and I feel really positive going out into the arena.  However, after thirty minutes of riding, we leave the arena feeling frustrated because it didn’t work.  I had the same ride I always have.”

The long and short of it was that they didn’t agree with me regarding expectations.  They felt that setting expectations were only serving to set them up for disappointment when they were not reached.

This is where being realistic with your expectations is really important. Can you really explain what you want to your horse to do in a way that he a) understands and b) can realistically do?

In order for your expectations to help you make progress in your riding, they have to be realistic.  Asking a three-year-old, just backed, horse to perform a perfect half pass is unrealistic.  Regardless of how many videos you watch, the books you read and the prayers you offer up!  

Making Adjustments Along the Way

Once you have chosen a realistic expectation for you and your horse which represents where you are at that moment in your journey together, you can begin making it happen.  Things can be planned out.  Some riders make the plans on paper, some do so in their heads before they ride.  However you choose to do it, I want to point out something that is true of almost all plans…

Your plans will have to be adjusted along the way.  Your approach will have to be ‘monitored’ and ‘checked’ regularly in order to reach your expectation.  

Think of jumping again.  You can choose the best line in the world.  A great approach.  As you begin moving towards the fence, however, you may find that the balance shifts.  You have to make an adjustment, immediately and as you are still on the approach, in order to get you both back on track to meet that jump as you want.

The ability to make adjustments and be supple in your approach is key to actually turning your expectations into reality.

Life Happens…

When we put this into practice, you will find that life will throw you curve balls every now and then.  Your horse may become lame or lose a shoe.  Your work requires more hours or travel that was unexpected or unplanned. Your child or partner gets sick and needs your time and attention…  The list is endless when it comes to potential things that can derail our plans. 

The key to making your expectations a reality is accepting these things are going to happen.  

Allowing yourself to become frustrated will not move things forward.  In fact, it will only serve to move you backward.  Look at how you can adjust your plan to fit in with whatever is happening.  Maybe 30 minute rides 5 days a week have to become 10-minute groundwork sessions 2 days a week for a few weeks.  

Another obstacle that has the potential to throw you off course is either you or your horse not developing as quickly as you thought.  If this is your particular frustration; I’m going to suggest taking a deep breath…

Why do you want to achieve the goal?  I’m sure it has a lot to do with something around building a better relationship with your horse.  

This is true if it is a groundwork, a flatwork or a jumping goal.  So, how can you explain things better?  How can you feel more confident about understanding something, and therefore explaining it to your horse so he too can understand and follow through?

Creating Your Expectations

So, what are you expecting to happen the next time you get into the saddle? Are you setting both yourself and your horse up to reach those goals?  

Happy Riding


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