Street to Stable Column Two Point with Darby Bonomi, PhD - No Comparison: Forge Your Own Path to Success

I am pleased to share my experience and expertise with our community in a regular feature column for

Not going anywhere but ‘round and ‘round the arena?

Are you aimlessly participating in lessons with no real plan?

Let me give you a hand.

If you’re a show rider, I imagine you’re clear about your goals for the year, and you’re deliberately working with your trainer and support system. You’re aiming to compete in a particular year-end show, attain a certain score, ride your best in a medal final, or win that 1.20m fall classic. You’ve got a plan, daily and weekly benchmarks, and have the endpoint in sight. You’ve worked on your tests, physical strength, riding technique, and mental and emotional fitness. You and your horse are refining your connection and smoothing out the kinks.

Photo Credit:  Alden Corrigan Media

But what if you’re not a show rider?

Here’s the key: you still need an objective or you’re not giving yourself a chance.

Let’s face it: everyone I work with wants to ride better and feel accomplished regardless of whether they’re just starting out, doing rusty stirrup, or gearing up for a big clinic. My experience is that older and less advanced riders in particular seem tentative about articulating goals and working toward them. Because they are not at the highest level, they seem to feel less worthy of their trainer’s time and energy. These women (usually) feel their trainer doesn’t take them seriously, which I believe is often a reflection of their own lack of investment in their riding.

Let’s change this around.

Step 1: Take ownership of your journey.

Remember, we are all on our own unique path—one that we equestrians navigate with our trusty equine partners. Your path isn’t mine, and mine isn’t yours. I can’t say this often enough. A good friend recently reminded me of Theodore Roosevelt’s apt remark, ‘comparison is the thief of joy.’ Indeed, comparing yourself to another rider is like comparing raspberries to asparagus. There is no comparison. Another rider, even if the same age and relative level, has different physical and emotional gifts and challenges, a different horse to partner with, different life circumstances—the list goes on. Let’s face it. It’s between you and your horse. And that’s where the fun lies too.

Step 2: Set an objective.

Get out a pad and pen. This is where you get to write down your intentions, chart your own path, and measure your progress as you work toward your goals.

Start with the big picture and work backwards, 6 months to a year out. What do you want to be doing in 6 months? Make the endpoint reasonable, taking into account your horse’s level, your ability, your support system, and your resources. Now put in benchmarks, at 3 months and 1 month. From there you can work on weekly and daily goals. Make a note of what you aim to accomplish this week and then make notes after every ride. Did you accomplish what you set out to do today? What will you change for tomorrow? Keep it short. All it needs to be is a quick note to remind yourself of your plan and to stay accountable.

Step 3: Now that you have your plan, consider what other support you need to reach your goal.

Ask yourself truthfully, ‘what kind of support do I need?’ Be sure to engage your trainer for advice and guidance. Tell him or her your intentions and ask for help. Listen to what he or she says, and refine the plan as needed. Maybe your goal is too small; maybe it’s too large.

Remember, teachers of all stripes enjoy working with motivated students—it’s much more fun—so your engagement in the process will increase your trainer's investment in you, not burden him.

You may need other support as well. Maybe you need a greater level of physical fitness to reach your endpoint. Or is it emotional and mental fitness that needs a tune up? Perhaps you need more time in the saddle. If you are going to invest more in your riding, you’ll need more support from your family and friends. Perhaps you’ll have to ask your spouse to do more around the house, or your kids to take the bus home from school. Your friends will need to understand why you can’t be at an event. To make changes in your riding, it has to become more of a priority, which will mean other things and people will take a backseat at times. Surround yourself with those who understand and are enthusiastic about your ambitions. If you devote yourself with passion, I bet they’ll rally behind you.

Let me know how it goes!