Making Mistakes is OK. “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.”

If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.

John Wooden

This is how you should feel about horse training. I understand you would like to have everything perfect, everything correct and everything go according to plan. Well, sometimes things don’t happen that way. Especially, by the way, when you are riding and training horses.

Are you familiar with the phrase – no pain, no gain? This is a similar saying. If you are

Navy shadbelly with white gloves, tall boots, ...

Navy shadbelly with white gloves, tall boots, and spurs: note the yellow points and tails. The horse is performing dressage. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

getting stronger you feel it by the stiffness in your muscles. If you are always training the same pattern, the same circle and accepting the same gait from your horse you will never progress.

How does this relate to horse riding and training?

How did you learn to walk? Everyone did it. You get up, you fall. You get up and wobble, you fall. You get up, you take a wobbly first step, you fall. You get the picture? There is a sequence. A progression which usually ends with a mistake or fail.

When I am asked to teach at a stable or give a clinic I do my best to find the starting point of the people who invite me and then work forward from there. Sometimes it is demanding more from the horse and sometimes it is demanding more discipline from the rider.

Making a Mistake Isn’t Necessarily Wrong

For example, if you are asking your horse to lengthen stride at the trot and your horse

English: Image from book Horsemanship for Wome...

English: Image from book Horsemanship for Women by Theodore Hoe Mead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

steps into a canter. Do you get angry because s/he broke? I say no. The horse obviously understood going forward was required but misunderstood or didn’t know lengthening was an option. 

This is a mistake, stepping into a canter rather than lengthening the stride, so this, to me, is the starting point for assessment. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Did my horse understand what was being asked?
  2. Does my horse know how to lengthen stride?
  3. Am I giving the horse the correct aids?
  4. What do I need to do to give my horse the skills to perform correctly?

Then you can move on from here.

When has making a mistake changed or uplifted your riding?

I think the point is to also learn from your mistakes and improve upon them. I remember teaching my horse collected canter. His canter was excellent and I could canter all day. I, however, wasn’t satisfied with this. I felt there was a better canter hidden in there.

So i decided I would collect the canter. The first time, can you guess what happened? yup… he totally fell into the most fast paced, on the forehand trot and almost pulled my arms out of their sockets. That was a mistake. Rather than lifting himself up and collecting the trot, he fell into a discombobulated trot.

I didn’t give up.

I didn’t say – he can’t do it (never say can’t).

What I did do was regroup and retry with a better understanding of what my horse required. Did he understand? Was I asking him correctly? Can he physically do the exercise? And did he try for a moment and then break into the trot.

After a few attempts he did get 1/2 canter strides. Then I included the exercise in my regular program, after a month the collected canter became part of the ‘tools’ of my riding program.

Moral of the story… if you are not afraid to make a mistake… you won’t move forward with your riding/training. If you are not pushing your boundaries then you are standing still, not progressing, not doing.

I am positive a doer makes mistakes.

I second that and people who progress and succeed also make mistakes and are not afraid to make mistakes.

Canadian paralympic rider, Karen Brain, school...

Canadian paralympic rider, Karen Brain, schooling her horse VDL Odette (Ahorn x Finette – Zuidhorn). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


About Laura

Laura Kelland-May is the founder of Thistle Ridge Skill Builders Development Program. She more than trains horses, she trains people to train their horses. In addition she is a Sr. Judge and can offer insight into What the Judge Is Looking For. Follow her here and get more tips.
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