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Riding incentive programs - The Horse Owner's Resource
I don’t have the time or budget to compete at many horse shows, but I’ve discovered other ways to make equestrian activities rewarding.

I rush back into my house, still slightly warm and wearing riding clothes that are damp from the sweat of a summer afternoon’s jumping session in my arena. I make a beeline straight to my home computer and eagerly log into the website of my breed registry.

A few days later, I return home from a lengthy trail ride with friends, tired but eager to reach my office desk where my computer awaits. Next week, I’ll be happily logging in again after a dressage clinic.

What could possibly be so exciting that I race home after a ride to sit in front of my computer? I can’t wait to track my progress in my breed registry’s horseback riding incentive program. By completing these last three activities, I reached my 500-hour milestone level and earned another award.

As a middle-aged amateur of modest means, it isn’t always easy to find the time or budget for horse shows. So I need to get creative when I want to participate in competitive activities with my horse. I know I am not the only rider in my situation.

Fortunately, many breed registries now encourage their members to get involved in activities beyond the show ring. In searching the web I have found more than two dozen low-cost incentive programs that allow people to earn awards for simply spending time in the saddle, whether for training or recreation. Rules vary among organizations, but most programs ask you to record the hours you spend in the saddle or driving, and they offer awards to those who reach milestones beginning as low as 25 hours and continuing up to 5,000 or more. Prizes can range from lapel pins and T-shirts to halters with engraved plates, saddlebags and jackets.

If you don’t belong to a breed registry, you’ll find similar programs among local horse clubs, many of which offer similar recreational rider programs with year-end high point awards given to the person logging the most hours. Often the hours earned in your local programs may be simultaneously logged into a breed organization’s program.

A riding incentive program is per-fect for me. I ride both for pleasure as well as to set and achieve goals. Setting performance-oriented goals can be discouraging when I know I won’t be able to make it to many shows in a season. But the incentive program inspires me to ride and practice my skills as I work toward a different type of accomplishment---in my case, the goal is personal achievement aiming toward a useful award.

But it’s not all about goals. The incentive program is fun! Not only am I pushing myself, it is also enjoyable to engage in a little competition among my friends, as we vie to see who will be the first to reach a certain milestone. And I find it satisfying to instantly watch my rank climb each time I log in and enter my most recent hours.

Almost universally, recording of hours is based on the honor system. As long as you are enjoying riding your horse, everyone wins, and each goal met brings with it prizes of increasing usefulness and value. Reaching a milestone can bring awards just as meaningful as a horse show ribbon that not only allow you to promote your breed but also your accomplishments.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to start working toward my 1,000-hour milestone.

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