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Successful Riders vs Unsuccessful Riders: What’s the Difference?

Success is not solely defined by ribbons, trophies, and titles. Success is also a positive attitude, a strong work ethic, goal setting, continuous learning, and recognizing gratitude. These traits are invaluable and are essential to being a successful rider.

Showing horses is a journey; there are ups and downs at every turn. These ups and downs create a resilient, strong individual with unshakable core values. Equestrians learn the true meaning of success, both inside and outside of the show pen. They also learn what skills are essential for growth.

We talked with knowledgeable trainers about what differentiates a successful rider from an unsuccessful one.

Positive Attitude

A joyful, encouraging mindset has noticeable effects on an equestrian’s performance in the show pen. Trainers often tell their clients to visualize success. Whether this is a clean horsemanship pattern or a flawless western riding class, visualization leads to success. This all starts with an exhibitor’s positive attitude.

California trainer Kellie Egkan-Hinley of Trendsetter Performance Horses states, “If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” An exhibitor’s positive attitude will result from their passion and love for the sport.

Work Ethic

Work ethic plays an extremely prominent role in the level of success a rider will achieve. Hard work between horse and rider is needed for progression. Equestrians learn to expect the unexpected because things do not always go as planned in this sport. That is why work ethic is essential; it allows riders to strive for their goals during the challenging moments.

A successful rider develops a substantial value for hard work, which allows them to ride a variety of horses. Professional trainer Alyse Roberts from Oklahoma adds, “If you can learn how to bring out the best in each horse and bring them to their full potential in the show pen, then in my mind, you are a successful rider. Win or lose.”

Whether you win or lose, having a strong work ethic will allow a rider to reach their full potential.

Set Goals

Goal setting is a crucial trait of a successful rider. An individual who has a clear idea of their aspirations understands the steps it will take to achieve those dreams. It is vital to have both short-term and long-term goals. No matter how extravagant or straightforward the end target is, physically writing down your plan is an effective way to follow through.

Forming clear goals is essential for an exhibitor’s equestrian teammate. Kellie Egkan Hinley comments, “I set goals of where each horse should be monthly as well as each show. If we haven’t met our goal, I will either ramp up my training or re-evaluate my horsepower.”

Just as an individual needs to have clear goals, your horse must meet its goals as well. A rider who understands this concept will ultimately be on the road to success.

Continuously Learn

Successful individuals, in and out of the show ring, look to learn continuously. “Know it all’s” genuinely do not know it all, and their poor attitude stops them from progression. Having that negative attitude is detrimental. An open mind and desire to improve is critical. Riders who thirst for knowledge will keep reaching new goals.

Trainer Torey Roderick of New Hampshire comments, “Successful riders are no different than successful athletes in other sports or successful business owners. There is a constant quest for knowledge and improvement. Every day is an opportunity to learn something new and be better than we were yesterday.”

Whether a rider learns a new method for changing leads, a unique style for the showmanship, or anything in between, constant improvements are needed. Alyse Roberts adds, “I think the best way to be a successful rider is to know you can always learn something from anyone, whether it’s good or bad.”

No matter the situation, think about what lessons you have learned and use them to improve your equestrian abilities. Do not dismiss new knowledge; try to understand and grow from it instead.


Perspective truly is everything. Everyone makes mistakes, hits “bumps” in the road, and experiences failure. Successful riders are made by turning negative times into learning lessons while also maintaining perspective. One class at one show does not determine how talented of an equestrian someone is.

Roderick continues, “I think perspective is a huge factor in determining the level of success a rider can achieve. We all make mistakes and have bad days, sometimes consecutively. A person can choose to learn and grow from the opportunity or sulk or place blame.”

If mistakes occur in the show pen, understand that every ride cannot be perfect. After all, horses are 1,200 pound animals with a mind of their own.  Whenever you feel your perspective slipping away, go back to when you fell in love with horses in the first place. Use failure as a opportunity to grow.


There is not one distinct trait that creates a successful rider. Instead, there are many. An equestrian’s work ethic, attitude, goal setting, continuous learning, and overall perspective play significant roles in determining their progress.

Showing horses is challenging, however, these skills teach equestrians what it takes to achieve their dreams. Successful riders are those who turn failures into learning experiences, conduct themselves with sportsmanship, and never give up.

About the Author: Cat Guenther is a devout equestrian and a freshman at Michigan State University. She has been riding horses for almost ten years and has loved every minute of it. Cat started and runs her successful show clothing business, Behind the Bit Show Clothing. She loves to show the all-around classes with her beloved horse, Zippos Kat Man Do, aka Teddy. Her favorite classes are horsemanship, showmanship, and trail. She is currently on a Pre-Veterinary track and hopes to also study business.