Becoming a Horseman: The Importance of Consistency

One of the great mistakes people make is to not ride often enough and to try to accomplish too much when they do. -Ian Francis

Strive for 1% Improvement Every Ride. 100 Rides, 100% Improvement.

So far on this blog, I have discussed a few things about Becoming a Horseman.

I have asked what is a Horseman, talked about Feel, Timing, Balance, and Experience, and how these components work together to Become a Horseman.

Today I am going to discuss another important part of Becoming a Horseman (or Horsewoman).


Through my Journey of Horsemanship, and through helping others with their Journey, the biggest barrier to success that I have found is simple.

Lack of Consistency.

If you want to become a better rider, and if you want your horse to be a better horse, you need to work with your horse consistently.

Horses learn by repetition, and they learn best from short, frequent sessions. It is better to ride your horse 5 days a week for 15 minutes than to ride him 1 day a week for 2 hours.

It is better for the rider also to have short frequent sessions. Riding is an athletic activity, and riders that are out of shape that attempt to ride 1 day a week for a long period of time will find that they get sore. It will also be difficult to develop balance, rhythm, timing and feel if the rider is tired and sore. If the rider is tired and sore, they will not be balanced, and they will bounce in the saddle, pull on the reins, and/or generally get in the way of the horse.

Besides the horse and rider learning better from short, frequent sessions, what people sometimes don’t seem to understand is that riding is a partnership. It takes time to develop a partnership, and once that partnership is developed, it must be maintained. A football team does not practice together only once a week, and then expect to win the game on Friday night. They practice 5 days a week. This ensures that they are prepared to work together, as a team. I believe it is even more important for riders that have goals becoming a Horseman, or goals of competing, to work with their horse consistently. Why? Because the horse is a 1,200 lb flight animal that doesn’t speak the same language, and it takes more practice on both the horse and rider’s part for them to work together as a team.

For my IPHDA friends, that are working on the Performance Horse Development (PHD) patterns, the more that you can work with your horse, the faster your scores will increase. When I ride my horses, I strive for them to be 1% better than the ride before. In 100 rides, they will be 100% improved.

If you scored a 40% on your last PHD V Show, and you only ride your horse 1 day a week, the most that you can expect for the next month’s V Show is a 44%.

However, if you ride your horse 5 days a week, that would be 20 rides, and if you improved 1% each ride, you could score 60%.

Consistency. It makes a big difference.

Another part of consistency is Expectations.

Let’s say I have two riders that both have the same goal-say they want to show in western pleasure at a local open show.

The first rider puts in the time and effort to ride consistently, let’s say 3-4 days a week, even if most days they only ride for 15-20 minutes. This rider strives for that 1% improvement every ride. This rider is not only going to be better, they are also going to be happier. If their expectation is that their horse gets just a little bit better every day, they are able to enjoy the small improvements. They stay motivated, because they are reaping the reward of small successes every day. This rider’s horse is usually happy and tends to have a close relationship with their rider.

The second rider only rides one day a week, usually for an hour or more. This rider is usually tired and sore during and after their rides, and therefore lacks the balance of the first rider. Their horse is sometimes confused, frustrated, and often does not perform at their best. This rider also tends to expect more than 1% improvement on every ride, after all, they have the same goal-and deadline-as the first rider, but they have less time to achieve it in. The result is a frustrated rider and frustrated horse, each pushing to achieve more than they are capable of. This rider is a perfect example of the opening quote by Australian Horseman Ian Francis: “One of the great mistakes people make is to not ride often enough and to try to accomplish too much when they do.”

Which rider is going to win at the local open show?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that we all have other things besides horses in our lives-families, jobs, school, etc. I live in WI, where winters are cold, snowy, and long, and the spring is cold and wet. If you don’t have access to an indoor arena, it can be hard to work your horse consistently. I have a job besides horses. I have a herd of cattle to care for. I am lucky that I have a husband who rides and loves horses, so it is easy for us to set priorities so that our horses get worked consistently…after the rest of the work gets done.

And that brings us back to expectations.

If, for whatever reason, you can only ride your horse one day a week, you can only expect 4% improvement every month. If your goal is to compete, you need to understand that other riders that are able to put in more time are going to beat you. There is nothing wrong with riding 1 day a week, if you recognize and are happy with 1% improvement each ride. You can certainly enjoy your horse, and develop your riding skills. It just will take longer.

If you can only ride 1 day a week, then you need to set realistic expectations for you and your horse, so that you do not get frustrated and discouraged. For example, it would be unrealistic for this rider to expect to win at competitions that are based on comparing horse and rider skills, such as western pleasure or equitation classes. However, this rider could certainly do the PHD progression that is designed to give individual feedback on individual scorecards. In this case, the rider could strive for 1% improvement every ride, and set their expectation, or goal, at a 4% improvement each time they enter a PHD class.

Some things that would help a rider that wants to improve, but can only ride 1 day a week:
-Consider breaking up your one hour ride once a week into three 20 minute rides, three days a week.
-Put your horse in for training. If you are not able to ride everyday to get that 1%, get someone else to do it for you.
-Get the best broke horse that you can, so that your horse is at the level that you want to be at. A green horse or a prospect is not the horse for someone who can’t put in consistent time with the horse.
-Take lessons as often as you can.

If your expectation is to become a Horseman, or to win at a competition, you need to be consistent.

You need to set your priorities to allow you to spend time-and a lot of it-with your horse.
That is why it is a Journey (and it is a Life-Long Journey!)
Becoming a Horseman doesn’t happen overnight.

So get out there and ride your horse!