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Set SMART Goals

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

The sun has been out a few days this week and it’s appearing the beginning of spring is near, which is ushering in feelings of excitement and preparations for the coming horse show season. When the sun is up, we feel good. When our horses behave, we feel good. When our show shirts fit after a long pandemic gorging ourselves, we will feel good. So then, let’s talk about mindset, because it goes beyond feeling good.

My wife coaches girls’ volleyball and she often ask her teams questions. She wants to know if and how they are learning. She asks before every match what they want out of it. The number one answer is “to win”. Winning looks different to her than it does to her teams. They think the top score means winning, and for many people it does. But as their coach, winning looks like progressing. She teaches beginning players; and developing correct fundamentals are key. She always adds to their answers before a game that they will follow the process of proper passing, good contacts, and ball placement. When her teams follow this (no matter their levels of play), they do well. They don’t always win on the scoreboard, but that process leads to naturally playing better and better and is eventually reflected in the score as they advance through the season.

It’s a mindset. Stick to the plan and what they know and are capable of, as they keep learning and progressing, they advance in their abilities. If my wife agreed with her volleyball teams that the score determines whether the team is improving or not, she doesn't understand her job as their coach, nor would she understand the learning process.

People will see the learning process differently. The mind is the key to accomplishments or the lack thereof. Being negative doesn’t usually lead to any form of accomplishments. Being positive may not get us to exactly what we thought we wanted but can often yield outcomes that are broader and more significant than the original desire and (for sure) more enjoyable.

We can all understand the emotions of wanting the trophy at the end of a class and the experiences of a successful show. So, what gets us there? In a culture littered with instant access via smart phones, digital options, and media, there are majorly skewed views of how to fulfill where we want to be. If you were given the option of winning the highest horse show accolade this year that you have ever dreamt about, but your horse would come out of it forever lame, what would you choose?

Recognizing and learning to be content with how the process works can yield to strengthening our minds going into the show season. It’s in the process that we discover who we are, right? We learn our weaknesses, flaws, learn to overcome challenges, learn where we are stronger and can still grow. The process is the draw to doing anything of value. So, if we use this pathway in our approach to reaching our desired outcome, we must stay focused.

Each horse show is independent of the next one. You don’t want to create an expectation wall that you continually exhaust yourself climbing. You want to play the long game. Prepare yourself and your horse for the longevity of a “world tour”.

You can have the best horse on the show grounds, but if you can’t wrap your brain around riding physically and mentally strong, it won’t mean much. The practice arena at home is a great place to develop and learn, but it can also be a haven for you and your horse. Mapping out a plan for the season will provide guidelines for you to define your goals, see your progress, and develop a mindset strategy. The following is an approach to setting a plan and using the process to reach those goals.

Use your mind as a place where you are building and developing abilities in yourself and your horse. Treat each show as Show #1, Show #2, Show #3, and so on. Before your season set a goal for what you want out of each show. Then begin tackling Show #1 and complete an outlined plan for working towards Show #1.


A. Specific

a. State what you want

b. Narrow down to be more effective

B. Measurable

a. Define your progress

b. Track your progress

C. Achievable

a. Set attainable check points

b. Challenge yourself to meet each one

D. Realistic

a. Know your capabilites

b. Understand the commitment

E. Timely

a. Set an end-date

b. Prioritize your objectives

c. Motivate yourself

2. Re-assess Regularly

After Show #1, re-assess. It is good to sit down with your trainer and do this, because they have the professional eye, they know you and your horse, and they have watched you throughout Show #1.

· Go over the Pros & Cons

· Look at the time frame leading up to Show #2

· What was your original Goals for Show #1 and then Show #2

· Reassess what can be reality

· Set a plan for the trajectory to Show #2

Do you have to back track a little bit from Show #1? Do you need to reinforce some things that you thought you or your horse were ready for? Don’t think of re-assessing as bad. The secret to getting results that last is to never stop making improvements. You may have to refocus your goal for Show #2 and make it more feasible and tangible. Reset the SMART goal option for Show #2. Repeat after each show.

Making a good plan allows you to hit micro goals along the way that build your confidence, help you stay motivated, and develops your ability to continue making improvements. This doesn’t have to be a “crazy, over-worked, over-practiced” attempt. State your capabilities, know them, be ok with them, and work from where you are. Your trainer can help you build a program that you will feel confident in and enjoy working.

A negative mindset and unrealistic goals will leave you feeling unaccomplished in the end, and possibly discourage you from continuing to pursue something you really want to be a part of. It’s worth it and more realistic to start (or restart) from where you are right now. Recognize the good, the bad, and the ugly. Assess yourself, set your goals according to the SMART plan. Then, re-assess after each show with your trainer. Build yourself a life of memories you are happy with.

Download our SMART Goals outline and set up your 2021 riding season for success!

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