Strive to be the person who makes a mistake because you tried, not failed because you failed to try. Photo © Holt Graham-Pope

An Equestrian’s Guide to Goal Setting in the New Year

Another show season is wrapping up. If you’re anything like most people, you might be wondering how that’s possible. It feels like we were just reflecting on last year and here we are saying goodbye to 2017.

The best way to prepare for the upcoming year is to evaluate yourself as a rider. There are two central questions that you should start with: What do you want to accomplish with your horse, and how are you going to get there?

Honing in on what you want isn’t the hard part, but being able to recognize or admit where you fell short during the previous year is. We have to be honest with ourselves – no one can be perfect all the time. Remember that no successful rider got there without putting hours in the saddle or at the end of a lead shank.

Here are five steps to help jump-start your new year, new goals attitude.

1. Be a Goal-Getter

As the old saying goes, “You gotta wanna.” Realize that no matter how big or small a goal is, achieving it isn’t going to be an easy task. If it were, it wouldn’t be a goal. Goals require work, time, mental strength and persistence. Strive to be the person who makes a mistake because you tried, not failed because you failed to try. A goal without purpose is just a statement. Find your meaning. You won’t regret it.

Some of the most talented riders fail because they go into something with a negative attitude. Everyone wants to win, but if you can’t make the most of every situation, then, you aren’t going to make it very far. Believe in yourself and your horse, but not to a fault. Over-confidence ranks with a negative attitude because it leads you to a spiral downward when things don’t go your way.

Let your dreams motivate you and your brain guide you. A goal-getter attitude keeps you focused on what’s important: you, your horse and your progress.

2. Make Mental Maps

If you start thinking about everything you want to accomplish with your horse in the New Year, it will get overwhelming. Take a few minutes to map out your year. Where do you want to go? What do you want to have finished by these dates? If you give yourself a timeline, you might find that you are more diligent about working at the task at hand instead of saying “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Use caution with timelines and remember that they can be adjusted. Life is unpredictable, and sometimes it gets in the way, which causes us to push pause. If you’re trying to teach your horse something in a certain amount of time, and they aren’t quite getting it, it’s okay. If you are trying to improve on something and you’re just not there yet, you’ll get there. If you want to win that class, you will…eventually. There is always going to be a winner, and we are in a sport that depends on someone else’s opinion.

The thing that is always true about a map is that our destination is clear, even when the path is not. The important part is that as an equestrian we do right by ourselves and our horse. Accomplishing a goal is your destination. Put a pin on your mental map, so your goal is clear.

3. Last Year Winners

Do you want to be a new-year winner? Take a look at the winners from the year before. There is always something new to learn or skills to refine. If you didn’t do as well as you wanted to in an event, the best place to look is at the people who did. They have set the bar going into 2018, so take a minute to ask yourself how you are going to reach it.

It’s usually a lot to take in at first. The people who are winning at the most prestigious shows have themselves pulled together, but I promise if you ask them if they have a weakness, they will tell you yes. It’s normal, we are all human, and we are all beatable.

Pick your event and watch the winning runs from world show. They are an incredible tool to help you visualize where you need to be. Maybe your long-term goal is to win the world show but start with individual maneuvers or rides. Find pieces from other people that can help you define your short-term goals.

4. Stay Current

When evaluating your new-year plans, it’s a good time to make sure you are up-to-date on trends. Fashion and class maneuvers tend to change over the years, and you never know when you might need to redefine what you currently do.

Take some time to read articles, study videos and consult professionals. These trends will help you reach your goals by launching your look to the next level.

Another great way to stay current is to read the rulebook of the association you are showing with. Understanding the breakdown of the classes you will be showing in can give you things to work on. Although a minor part of your overall goals, having a correct understanding of what you are being judged on is critical. Not everyone will take the time to learn what judges are looking for in each class – add that to your to-do list.

5. Pave Your Way

If there is something that becomes more apparent every year, it’s that top exhibitors seem to have their way of doing things. They take the normal and add personal flair. They back faster, they smile harder, they maneuver with fierceness. Find your spark.

No one else does things quite like you, and you should take the opportunity to show it off. Spend a little extra time this winter working on your confidence and the way you let other people experience it. Becoming an authentic showman is critical in making your mark in the show pen. Don’t overlook it in your goal setting process.

A judge, whether it’s in a rail class, halter or a pattern, will recognize and appreciate an individual who can exhibit a horse with poise and character. Don’t be afraid to let you shine.


These five things encompass what a goal requires to be met: attitude, a plan, recognition, education and you…your heart, passion and love for equines and showing. A new year is upon us which means another year of opportunities. Make a list of the things you want to accomplish and prioritize. In the process, don’t forget the small details that will set you apart when it’s go-time.

GoHorseShow writer and MQHA Queen, Morgan McCarthy Warda, is a graduate of the University of Michigan-Flint with a degree in Wildlife Biology and Writing. Morgan grew up actively competing on the AQHA circuit. She balances her time between her job as a Soil Conservation Technician, showing, writing, being an MQHA board member, and running a saddle dyeing business (Revitalized Saddles). In the future, Morgan plans to obtain a Master’s degree in Wildlife Management and continue to be an active member of AQHA.