They say that comparison is the thief of joy.

And, of course, as competitive riders we pay a lot of money for someone we don’t know to do exactly that—compare us. Because of this, feelings of inferiority can run rampant in the horse world. It’s easy to watch as others triumph, silently comparing their horse, their ride, their round to our own, without knowing anything about their journey.

Social media just exacerbates this issue, providing a platform to showcase the good moments and allowing the bad to subsist silently in the background. Comparison can indeed be discouraging at best and downright depressing at worst.

We are fully aware of these issues, telling ourselves to stay in our lane, keep our heads down and focus on our own journey. But how?

Over the years of competing, I’ve struggled with doing just that. For so long, I’ve brought along the babies, laying the foundation and then allowing them to move on and let someone else enjoy the fruits of my labor. And as rewarding as that is, it can be discouraging to watch others achieving milestones, all the while feeling stagnant myself.

In an effort to combat the feelings of inadequacy that I know all riders experience, I devised a method of setting show goals to ensure the only comparison happening is to yourself, your horse and your capabilities—no one else.

Here’s how:

Prior to entering the show ring, set three goals for yourself.

  1. The first goal is one that is easily achieved. This is intended to be a box to check, an uplifting task to accomplish and something to feel good about. Regardless of anything else, this goal is meant to be fulfilled. It could be something as simple as have fun, enjoy your pony, or just get off the property.
  2. The second goal should be a moderate achievement. Something a bit harder to accomplish but still well within reach. This goal could be something you’ve been working on at home and would like to be able to replicate in the ring, or a realistic objective that accurately indicates where you are in your training or relationship with your horse.
  3. The last goal is one that may be more difficult to attain. Something realistic but allowing yourself to push the limits of what you may think is achievable. For this goal, you may ask yourself what you would try to achieve if you knew you could not fail, as this is how you grow!

Regardless of what your aspirations are, the most important requirement is that none of these goals can involve things out of your control. No, you can’t control whether you win a ribbon, or even beat one other person. You can control the quality of your canter, the accuracy of your round, and even your attitude—never the scoreboard or anyone else’s ride.

Because comparison is only the thief of joy when comparing ourselves to others. When we set the right type of goals, ones intended to compare our past selves to the present version, it can be positive, encouraging and inspiring.