Make Mistakes Better, and Make Better Mistakes

During this COVID-19 downtime, I've tried to soak up as much knowledge as possible through various online lessons and masterclass videos. As I've spent time with "The Greats" in our industry, one of the most common themes has been "we all make mistakes." From Archie Cox to Anne Kursinski - nobody is perfect. Missed distances, botched lead changes, incorrect diagonals (sheepishly raises hand....I am a CHRONIC incorrect diagonal offender and often have to glance down to check), they are all an important part of riding, in that mistakes are chances to learn.

That said, there are simple things you can do in your riding to make sure that a mistake is a small one rather than a big one, and to prevent small ones from snowballing. Here are some of my all time favorite tips on making mistakes better, and making better mistakes, from someone who certainly makes plenty of them all the time:

1) Be Polite - This is a favorite of mine, and can really help with how you think about your time both in and out of the saddle. While this doesn't relate to mistakes directly, it does decrease your chance of making one, because you'll be more aware of what your horse might want you to do in a given situation and how to increase his/her comfort. Starting on the ground, being polite means that you pat your horse on the neck and let them sniff your hand before putting on the halter. It means picking up their feet by running your hand all the way down their leg and shifting their weight with your body, and perhaps even asking, "May I please have your foot?" Your horse doesn't understand the words, but they do understand the body language and dynamic that being polite sets up. It slows you down and creates the space for a positive relationship. Everyone likes a polite person more than the alternative!

2) Grab Mane - Oh my Lord how I love this one. Grabbing the mane does SO much in so many situations that I'm so surprised I don't see others do it more often. Whenever I think that I might get left at a jump, or that the distance might be a little TOO long, or I get a little off kilter, or I think a situation might get a little tricky, I grab the mane. This prevents my hand from catching my horse in the mouth or knocking them off balance, and I'm able to stay in a more secure place. The best part, since horse won't be worried about my hand the next time a too-long distance shows up, they'll be more willing to go for it, which is the best quality in a good Ammy horse.

3) Go Forward - Horse getting tense? Go forward. Distances not working out? Go forward. Horse is inverted? Go forward. Feel a buck coming? Go forward. Going forward mitigates SO many mistakes, and helps both you and your horse stay on the right track in almost any situation I can think of. Whenever I'm in doubt, I tell myself to Go Forward, and in most cases, things work out just fine.

But that being said...

4) Slow Down and Breath - Nothing makes a small mistake snowball into a larger one faster than continuing to bungle on even when things are not working. Whenever I jump into a line and completely mess it up, I do not soldier on down the the second jump. I smoothly turn out, stop, think about what happened, take a breath, and try to fix the track/pace/whatever went to pot. When Cal Pal is getting frustrated with an exercise (or I am getting frustrated), I do the same thing - stop, breath, think, and then either try again or try something else. There is no time limit when you're at home, so TAKE the time you need to regroup while it's still regroup-able. This time also allows you to fix the smaller mistake before you need to go back and fix a larger one, which is always more difficult and emotionally taxing.

Ultimately, I think what separates the good riders from the great ones are not the number of mistakes that are made, but the riders' ability to minimize their impact on the overall performance. Both me and Tori Colvin might see the same deep distance, but chances are, you're going to notice mine a lot more than hers. While this might be daunting, I think that ultimately this point of view can give you more confidence and level the playing field. If being a great rider is less about being perfect, and more about recognizing and mitigating your inevitable faults and being a polite partner with your horse, then it's much more attainable for us all.

This is a terrible Blogger quality video of me jumping into an unrelated distance I had never ridden before and grabbing mane when the out was clearly going to be a stretch. The next time around, I waited for the 5 strides and Callie was none the worse for wear for my mistake. 


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