The Five Steps to Getting Past a Training Plateau January 06 2015


When working through a training plateau, you have to go back to basics

We’ve all been there in our training.  We’ve all felt the sting of wondering, “Will we ever get any better? Or is this as good as it gets?”  Hitting a plateau can be one of the most discouraging feelings there is, especially when it’s a very broad plateau that seems impossible to get past.  Luckily, by going back to basics and reapproaching your training from a new perspective, you can get beyond almost any slump.

1. Analyze the core of your problem

The first step is, as they say, the hardest, but if you can’t find a clear skill or task that is stumping you, it will be really hard to fix.  Now this doesn’t mean you should spend endless hours hung up on a feeling of failure; say by beating yourself up for messing up a pattern.  It just means you need to acknowledge and identify the specific element that’s bothering you - for example, the center points or your diagonals. Sit down with your trainer if they have time and take a mental look through your lessons. Or ask a friend to film one of your lessons so you can analyze your plateau from a (literally) new angle. Plateaus cause you to fall into a repetitive cycle of unproductive lessons.  Break the cycle by really figuring out what it is that’s stopping progress!

2. Reposition your training

Sometimes hitting a plateau means you just don’t understand or feel what is going wrong underneath you and you need an expert perspective to get that “AHA! *Light Bulb*” moment.  We spoke with Ann Wilt, an instructor at Knollwood Farms for 15 years with over 40 years of Saddle Seat riding experience. She says that “to break through a plateau, you [have to] approach the skill in question from another angle.  Having trouble with diagonals?  Try riding bareback.”

In the case of diagonals, bareback riding is the perfect repositioning because, not only can you see the diagonals better, but you can also feel them better; while also building up your balance and strength (an equestrian’s bread and butter).  Things like lunge lessons can help combat equitation plateaus and ground work (get yourself to the GYM) can help combat any sort of endurance issues when working with a horse that requires more umph.

3. Beat the blockage with something new

Ann suggests that combating skill “blockage” can be as simple as learning something new.  Work on some simple patterns or new skills that can distract you from the skills that are causing you to plateau.  Sometimes plateaus are entirely mental and caused by the pressure that we, as equestrians, put on ourselves.  Working on a simple new task can cause us to automatically (and unbeknownst to ourselves) overcome the plateau through a renewed instinct and uninhibited feel!

4. Get back to basics

When you find yourself having bad lesson after bad lesson and feel your confidence just FLUSHING out of your system, getting back to basics can be the best source of rebuilding.  “Return to some comfortable basics on a horse the rider has had some success on.  Build [your confidence] back up and resume the challenge on a horse that will test [you] while allowing [you] to continue building confidence,” Ann says.

Just like with any other sport, sometimes we just don’t know if we’re capable of the task at hand.  This can cause a number of ‘demons’ to creep into your training brain and give you thoughts of self doubt and doom.  To fight these feelings, take a step back and work on your fundamentals, apply steps 2 and 3, and then take that leap forward and power through your slump.

5. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake

As Ann says, “riding attracts a lot of high achieving kids who expect a lot from themselves.  Many times this translates into a rider who always wants to do the right thing.”  While doing the “right thing” makes us feel better as riders - and let’s face it, getting a “good job” out of our trainers is like the highlight of our week - this perfectionism is often the source of a plateau which will end up causing you, as a rider, to sell yourself short. While mistakes are often emotionally painful to riders that “expect a lot from themselves” they are SO often the absolute best source of making huge strides in your training.

While plateaus are scary, painful, and downright irritating, we all hit them at some point in our equestrian lives; and many of us hit them more than once!  The important thing is to keep striving to get past them and refuse to let the voices in your head tell you that “you’ll never get better” and “you are a terrible rider.”  It should instead be saying, “you can do this.”

Have you ever hit a nasty plateau?  Tell us your story in the comments and what helped you get past it.  Get your training on everyone!