My horse show goals used to read a lot like this:

  • Qualify for ABC big event(s);
  • Win at XYZ prestigious venue; and
  • Earn top ribbons at the highest levels, etc.

I always focused my sights on bigger, better, higher. And while I still value these goals, in the last few years I've been more content to shelve my highest expectations and instead focus on what's best for both my horse and myself.

What's now most important to me is knowing my horse is healthy, sound, and happy to do her job, regardless the ribbons we take home.

Photo: Courtesy Alexandra Beckstett/Mollie Bailey

This past weekend I piloted Lily around the 3'3" hunter division at the Kentucky Horse Park. While I'd love to be showing slightly higher, I've come to terms with the fact that my horse and I need the year's worth of experience at this level together before advancing. As brave and easy as Lily seems, I continue to remind myself that only a year ago she made her hunter debut in the 2-foot "baby" division. Pushing her too hard, too fast would be a recipe for injury, and I'd rather be taking it slow than rehabbing a tendon strain.

I was excited, however, to see several unexpected faces in the ring with me this weekend--riders that for their own reasons had perhaps "stepped down" a level to compete in my division.

A friend from my barn, for instance, just completed her freshman year at college and needed this "refresher" to ensure her skills and confidence were still high before stepping right back into the 3'6"-9" division. While she is trying to qualify for year-end events at those heights, she recognized there was no need to push herself and her horses at this point in the season for the sake of points-chasing.

A friend from my Texas hometown also showed up at the in-gate on her longtime winning partner, who also typically jumps a higher course. But "Cal" turned 18 this year, and his owners felt that he didn't need to be putting the same effort on his aging body and joints. I was happy to see his rider was thrilled simply to have her trusted mount still competing with her after all these years.

And, yes, both these girls won classes.

I myself had a so-so showing after battling the flu the week before, but I was still pleased with my performance. What's most important to me is knowing my horse is healthy, sound, and happy to do her job even when I'm not 100%. As long as Lily and I are making progress with every show, I'm no longer crushed if I'm not jogging for soundness at the head of the line, or if I score a 75 instead of an 85.

So my current competition goals read more like:

  • Help my horses stay injury-free;
  • Pick and choose a handful of favorite shows to compete at each year; and
  • Move up the ranks together with my young horse.

How do you tailor your riding or competition goals to suit you and your horse?