Riding without goals?

I’ve always been a very goal-oriented rider. There was always a competition goal or “get this horse sold” goal and now that my retired horse has become quite expensive to keep happy I can’t afford my own riding horse, not even a sales project. People are always very gracious about allowing me to ride their horses, and I always have something to ride. Nice horses, too. I just feel so LOST without a goal and not sure how to make goals if I’m only riding 1-3x a week on random horses.

Anyone else out there, kind of just catch riding when you can? How do you stay motivated? A number of times I’ve decided to just be done with horses for this season of my life…but I just can’t seem to stay away. But am still struggling hard core with motivation to get out to the barn.

Thanks for any replies/commiseration/ideas!


Arena riding without a training plan is pointless, it’s like going to the gym to weight train without a program. Trail riding is wonderful because your goals can be going places doing things and then the joy of being outside. And catering on trails is fun.


I’m a retired life long trail rider so my “goals” were:

Smell the roses.

Stay on my horse when he was sliding down the river bank, swimming across, diggin up the other side.

REALLY stay on climbing a power line.

I either trained my horses from start to their end times (every approach to a horse is a training moment), or I turned barely broke horses into great trail horses.

At this point in my retired life, I can no longer ride so my goal is to see my 26 & 28 year olds out of this life ahead of me - I have already laid six “Keepers” to rest on my lifetime. I’m fine being on the ground as my horses never were just about the riding anyway😎

Life on the trails provides one with a much different (and peaceful) mindset than life in the very competitive show world, where folks seem to tend to lose sight of why they wanted a horse in the first place😃

Perhaps you could find an affordable retirement home for your senior? My current 26 yr old is a retired show jumper who came to me literally out of the blue after my beloved 26 yr old TWH colicked and I had to send him on to his ancestors this past February. I was going to leave my 28 yr old go it alone, but watching him daily told me that was a bad idea.

I hope you find answer to your dilemma😊


I don’t think you really need a goal to catch ride.

You’re riding the moment.

Think “Hm, that transition could have been better, let’s work on that for a bit.” or “you could come to my hand better, let’s work on that for a bit.” or “You drop your left shoulder in that corner, let’s work on that for a bit.” etc.

Ride and improve what is right in front of you.


When I ride horses I don’t have a long term future with, I will ride to improve the horse in the moment, and myself over time. Particularly if you are riding in fits and starts, your own fitness needs attention and improvement, and you can work on that on horseback.

It can also be really fun to catch ride horses from other sports – where the horse knows the job but you don’t. Then you are concentrating on you. I’m thinking, polo, driving, trail trial, that sort of thing. Lots of fun to be had when you are a rank beginner.


I hate ring work. Why not just hit the trail with whatever horse you are riding that day? Good for them getting out of the ring and if they are not normally ridden " out" then your new riding goal can be getting home in one piece.




What are the horse owners working on? You can always make the ride productive for the horse owner by doing a focused strength/agility/conditioning/skill/hack day - whatever the horse needs in its overall program. For you, the goal can be learning and expanding your knowledge and bag of tricks in terms of what exercises are good for which training goals.


I always have a goal when I ride. For me, it’s impossible not to. But goals don’t have to be some big lofty thing. They can be little things, like “we’re going to work on bending through all our corners,” or “we’re going to work on getting down that line at a consistent pace,” or “I’m going to make it around the ring 3 times in two point at the trot.” All of these things have value in and of themselves for specific horses or riders and don’t have to be part of some “training plan” or be part of achieving some big goal.

And I really disagree with the suggestion that arena riding without a training plan is pointless. Most of the time, getting your butt in a saddle and doing something with your horse has value, even if it’s not part of a training plan. For example, I’ve been struggling with an injury. Some days, I get on my horse, go into the arena and walk. We weave around the jumps, walk serpentines, and discuss what the cattle next door are doing, none of which are part of my training program, but the ride is still valuable.


This is a great idea. When I was horseless for a year, I rode my friends’ horses, whoever needed help on any given day.

One mare was very sticky and opinionated in lateral work. She was a dream once you got her through the stickiness, but to do that you had to sit some rather character-building naughtiness. My friend was rather timid and dreaded trying to improve the lateral work, so that was my job. It always made me feel good to have my friend get on and feel the improvement in the lateral work (and no naughtiness), so that was very rewarding for me even though it wasn’t my own horse.

Maybe for whichever horse you’re going to ride on any given day, you could ask what the owner is having trouble with and focus on that.


I think my goals are horse-oriented meaning I want to fix something or see my horse (or myself) personally achieve something. I just introduced my two-year old to the bit (well, she’s 27 months old, but who’s counting?) and we’re doing some very progressive introductions. The massage therapist just came out and did jaw work, too.

The only thing we’re working on is that when I say “foot” and point, she picks up her foot. She’s gradually getting that. That’s for the farrier. :smiley:

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Thanks everyone, for weighing in! Some great ideas here!

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Interest reading;


@HeyJealousy - My question is: what kind of horses are you catch riding? Did I miss that? Are they trail horses, lesson horses, friends’ show horses? That can make is difference in your “goals”.

My kid catch rides some horses and ponies (we have our own). Typically- we (she is a young teen so I help guide her) ask- Do you want her to work on anything specific or is this a “you are welcome to get on an ride?”.

(and I am someone who does not hate riding in a ring. I enjoy it all. I find the ring work necessary for my disipline but getting out in the wide open needed for everyone’s mental health).

Yeah, when its not your horse, your goals with the horse are more likely to be those of the owner. That helps with motivation.

You can also set personal goals for your riding. Maybe doing more full seat, half seat and two point transitions at all gaits or doing a few minutes of meaningful sitting trot or no stirrup work at any gait for a few minutes each session will help you focus. Then just enjoy the rest of the ride.


Mostly friends’ event horses :slight_smile:

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What is the horse you are riding today, needing from you? Do they come out of the barn a bit tight, in which case a focus on just walking spirals and chilling or some low-stress trot work? I have no idea what discipline of horses you are riding, so these are your questions to suss out. The horse should finish the ride better for being ridden by you. That’s your goal, really.


In the arena I would focus on whatever the owners goal is with that horse. But if you have access to trails- I’d definitely go in that direction. While I do lots of purposeful trail riding (conditioning for endurance rides etc) I also like to just go out and 100% for the fun of it rides too- explore somewhere new, let my horse pick which trail she wants, take them swimming, go with friend and have a might gab fest

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The 16 years after college and before I got my gelding, I rode with a friend at her home stable spring/summer/fall (no indoor). At the most basic level, my goal was just to ride! And ride a few days a week. Past that, we did a lot of jumping so there was always that challenge of new jumps or a new course which I think helped a lot. Definitely different from just riding on the flat.

Now that I have had my guy for 2 years, going back to that type of riding would be a challenge and feel really weird but I think I could settle into it. I will echo the trail riding suggestions though! If you are able to do any of that, that is always enjoyable and a different experience ride to ride depending on seasons, trail routes, wildlife etc.


Just this morning, this very thought went through my mind. What’s the point of arena riding if you don’t have the goal to show? I get some people like just riding for the sake of riding but it would bore me silly if I couldn’t get out on the trails sometimes.