You may already know that goals are important for motivation and setting a clear direction for training and competing. What is widely misunderstood however is how to set goals to boost confidence and improve focus.
Effective goals should not only help you to improve your performance; they should also improve your self-belief and your ability to control what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling.
To help you create effective goals, ask yourself these questions:

1. What do I really want to achieve?
It is important that you goals reflect what you want and your personal ambitions. If you work towards a goal because someone else has told you that you should, it will be difficult to sustain your motivation and this can have a negative impact on your confidence.
To answer this question, I recommend you brainstorm all the things you’d love to achieve with your horse, both at competitions and in everyday riding.
Have fun when you do this exercise – the aim is to create lots of options for you to evaluate.

2. Which of my goals is the most important to me?
Once you have a list of potential goals, the next step is to prioritise them. Consider how important each goal is to you. A great way to do this is to score each goal out of 10 where 1 is not important at all, and 10 is critical.
Once you’ve done this select the top 2 or 3 goals. Achieving your goals is easier when you select a small number of goals to focus on.

3. How achievable are my goals?
You can improve your confidence and focus by setting goals that are both challenging and achievable. If you set goals that are too challenging, this can damage your confidence and motivation. Whilst it is important to dream big, it’s also important to feel confident in your ability to achieve your goal. This will boost your self-belief which will help you ride at your best.

4. When do I want to achieve my goals?
The next step is to create a roadmap for achieving your goals. To help you define a timescale for each of your goals, think about when you would ideally like to achieve it, and when it would be realistic for you to achieve it.
When riders set goals, they are often so enthusiastic, they set a timescale that is too ambitious and this does not set them up for success. This can result in a loss of confidence.
So it’s important to make sure you set a realistic timescale for achieving your goals.

5. What steps do I need to take?
Once you have a timescale for each of your goals, the next step is to define the steps you will need to take to achieve them.
This will give you more control over the attainment of your goals. Think about all the things you need to focus on. If your goal is to achieve a clear round, think about what you can do to achieve that – e.g. get a good canter, sit up, soft hands, training over fences that you or your horse are uncomfortable with, creating a warm-up routine to get your horse focused on you.
If your goal is to achieve a particular test score, think about what you need to do to ride an accurate test – e.g. relaxation, focus, transitions, responsiveness, warm-up routine
This will give you confidence because you will know how to achieve your goals, and it will provide you with measures of progress. A great way to maintain motivation and build confidence is to track your progress and celebrate each positive step towards accomplishing your goals.

6. What skills might I need to acquire?
To help you make your goals more achievable, I recommend you reflect on the additional skills you will need to reach your goals.
Think about what you have learnt so far from your riding and competition experiences and identify what more you need to learn or improve.
Training and coaching is just one way to acquire the additional skills you need. You can also study other riders who have achieved your goals to understand how they did it. You can learn a lot by role modelling others and thinking about how you can apply it to your riding and partnership with your horse.
You may also find rider psychology sessions helpful to create the level of confidence and focus you need to achieve your goals.