Are You Expecting Too Much of Yourself or Your Horse?

We all want success and we want it now.  We’ve been taught to “reach for the stars” and set big goals.  As a result, sometimes we expect so much of ourselves and our horses that we are rarely happy with our results.

If you’ve ever said (even to yourself),

“I should be better than this!”

Then you end up feeling like a failure because that “I should be” is really a disguise for that self-defeating old mantra that whispers quietly  “I’m not good enough”.

Failure is not a fact

But what if you are exactly where you should be – where you need to be.

Maybe where you think you should be is simply wishful thinking.  Replace the phrase “should be” with “wish I was” …

  • “I wish I was better than this.”
  • “I wish I was able to …”
  • “I wish I wasn’t so …”

What are you basing your opinion that you “should be …” on?  Who are you comparing yourself to?

There are so many factors that come into play when it comes to riding.  Your results – where you are now – come from not only your physical ability, your competency and your confidence level, but also from your horse’s ability, level of training and confidence.

There is a reason that successful people (you know the ones at the horse shows that always seem to be in the top 3 placings and get Champion awards in not one but multiple classes) do so well.  They put in the hours.  If they haven’t done it themselves then someone else has put the hours into their horse so they can just sit up there, look pretty and – as long as they stay out of the horse’s way – win.

According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers”, people who become really good at something – really master it – have spent at least 10000 hours working on that particular thing.  Ten Thousand Hours!  That’s about 3 hours a day for 10 years.  So, if you have been riding for 10 years, but only 1 hour a week, you have only put in about 520 hrs (1 hr x 52 wk x 10 yr).  That’s being generous and assuming you didn’t miss a single hour in any year because of illness, injury, vacations, holidays, etc.

This is not to say that you need to put 10,000 hours into your riding to become good at it –  unless you want to be competitive at the highest levels of the sport.  But, it puts into perspective the amount of time needed to develop a particular level of skill.

Chances are slim to none that you will progress very far in developing mastery of any skill if you only put in 1 hour of practice a week.  Now lots of people enjoy a weekly riding lesson and are quite happy to spend that time in the saddle.  They don’t want or expect to achieve much more than the connection with the horse.

But, if you want to progress in your training – for personal fulfilment or to achieve ribbons, trophies and recognition in the show ring – the once a week hourly ride is not going to get your there.  Most people get discouraged when they feel that they aren’t making progress at the rate they “should” or that they aren’t as good as “her” or “him” or “them”.   We are certainly masters at comparing ourselves to others. We’ve all had more than 10000 hours practicing that skill.  Even if it doesn’t help us.

When our expectations are not in line with our reality ie. your other commitments  & responsibilities don’t allow you to ride 3 -6 hours a week, then you won’t be as successful in the show ring as “that other competitor that wins everything”.  Even if you are a pleasure rider, neither your riding skill nor your horse’s training will progress very far or very fast.

You can either be frustrated with  yourself, your coach and your horse and keep your expectations.  Or, you can adjust your expectations to match the reality of your situation. If the reality is that you can only ride once week, then focus on enjoying that one ride.  The choice is yours … should you decide to make it.

Your Turn

How do your goals & expectations affect your enjoyment of riding?  Sharing your experiences or questions is simple.  Just leave a comment or share your thoughts below or through Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

Share this post to spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Enjoy your journey!

For more practical and in depth tips on improving your Confidence and your Partnership with your horse, order my book “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.  Click here to order from
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You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (  

Confident Horsemanship with Anne Gage – Putting you and your horse in good hands.


6 thoughts on “Are You Expecting Too Much of Yourself or Your Horse?

  1. Wow, this post felt like it was speaking directly to me!

    My goals and expectations have many times ruined good riding experiences for me. My desire to get “back to where I once was” – when I used to show successfully a lot – is a huge roadblock for me. I feel like I “should be” further along, better, “should be” training my horse better, “should” have a better connection with my horse, the list goes on and on.

    What’s hard for me is not recognizing that I’m doing this to myself, but altering my expectations. I don’t want to sacrifice what I want for the “reality” of the situation. I work with and ride my horse generally 5-6 days a week for at least an hour trying to “catch up” but I can’t seem to get anywhere. People (like my trainer) tell me I have improved, but it’s never enough for me.

    It has gotten to a point where I almost consider quitting riding altogether… I wonder if I remove horses from my life – and therefore the people and standards to compare myself to – the burning need to achieve these things with my horses will go away.

    • Ginger Jumper, my question for you is are you enjoying riding? I share a story in my book about a friend who was a dressage rider. She took it up when her daughter was young. When her daughter left home for university, my friend found that she was frustrated and no longer enjoyed riding. Through an indirect route, and after moving her horse to a private barn (out of a show barn), she discovered that what she really enjoyed was trail riding. The environment you ride in can have a huge affect on how you look at and feel about riding.

  2. Bought Confident Rider Confident Horse at a clinic in Nova Scotia this summer and read it cover to cover. It has helped me a lot in the confidence department until yesterday (more on this later). I found the caption of the blog photo very interesting but I see it slightly differently. I think that the assessment of failure is a fact because you compare your achievements against a specific standard. It’s the standard that is based on our opinion, our coaches or the competition judges regarding where we should or ought to be. Back to confidence; unfortunately I tried a horse yesterday that was suitable for a beginner as long as you could post his bouncy trot which I was confident I could. We lunged him first and it all went beautifully. I got on him and within 5 seconds he was galloping full bore in the round pen. I never even had time to ask for a walk. I have limited experience cantering. Needless to say that after a few laps I fell off and nearly got trampled when he reared. It’s hard not to feel like a total failure when beginners have apparently ridden him before. My confidence is totally shattered once again and I can only see one solution: quit. Where do I go from here, I’m a middle age woman with only 4 years of experience.

    • Sophie – I would say the assessment of the horse as being ‘safe for a beginner’ was way off the mark for him to react the way he did – and so quickly! If you decide you do want to continue riding (and that choice is totally your own), then you need to work with a coach who is experienced working with adult beginner riders and riders who lack confidence. You also need to be on a horse that coach knows and is safe, quiet and has much more whoa than go. I don’t know where you are in Nova Scotia, but there is a coach in the Annapolis Valley that I would recommend. Send me an email at if you want more information.

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