When we show up at the barn, whether for the 1st or 100th time, we’re bringing a lot of baggage with us. Not being able to take criticism, feeling like we know everything, forgetting that there’s an animal under the saddle — these are all examples of bad habits riders can have. It’s easy to get swept up in the fun of the ride or focus on our mistakes. But doing any one of these things 100% of the time doesn’t make us good, effective riders. I asked riders and trainers what they felt the best habits riders could have are, and I was able to come up with this list.

Be teachable. From watching other riders, auditing clinics, and having one-on-one sessions with your trainer, riders need to be willing to learn and to take constructive criticism. You’re not paying to have your ego boosted, you’re paying to learn how to become a better partner for your horse.

Ask questions. This seems like it’s obvious, but to a lot of people, it’s not. So many times riders struggle with something or do something wrong because they’re too afraid to ask. Handling the 1-ton animal should be the scariest part of your ride, not asking what your trainer is wrapping your horse’s leg, or asking about how to use different training aids. Your trainer and fellow riders are fountains of knowledge. Don’t be afraid to use them.

Be positive. Leave yesterday’s ride behind you and be in the moment. Praise your horse for the good work he’s doing, and celebrate every victory. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t let them dictate the tone of your ride.

Spend time with horses. Don’t just show up, ride, and leave. Remember that you’re riding an animal, with a heart and a brain, not just a machine. The more time you spend with them, the more you’ll be able to understand their way of communication, what they want, and what they need. Being around the barn means you can also pick up a broader education beyond how to tack up your horse and ride them around the ring.

Communicate. With your horse, your trainer, other riders in the schooling ring. You can’t expect people or animals to read your mind. Let your trainer know what you want to work on, or ask them to explain something to you in a different way if you’re not getting it. Use your body aides to ask your horse what you want them to do.

Keep moving forward. Physically and mentally, your goal for riding should be constant improvement. Your horse trips over himself? Keep going. Always be setting new, realistic goals for yourself and your horse. Your learning is never over as long as you keep looking ahead.

Hold Yourself Accountable. At the end of the day, it’s on you whether or not you become a better rider. Or whether or not your horse is taken care of. In the saddle or in the barn, you’re in charge of yourself and no one else. If you feel like you’re not learning enough, or progressing, it’s on you to talk to your trainer. To put in the extra hours. To figure out how to better communicate with your horse. You are in charge of meeting your goals, no one else.