In Riding, Failure Often Happens On The Way To Success

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A few days ago, my wife, Heather, and I were discussing riding and the teaching of riding with two of our adult students, and one of them made an observation that I'd never heard put so precisely before. She asked incredulously, ?So you're saying that it's OK to have days when you make mistakes and fail'?

To which we said, yes, it really is OK to fail. that's how you learn; that's how you progress.

And that moment made me think?maybe this is a concept that we trainers are not expressing enough. Maybe we in the world of riders (both trainers and students) are so caught up with success of all kinds that we can't admit to each other that there really is failure of some kind (small or big) behind every success. I mean that?and usually it's a string of failures, small and large.

What do I mean by failure' Well, it can be all kinds of things. It could be a stiffness or a weakness that prevents you from using your aids correctly. It could be a horse that won?t or can't do his job on one day or over a period of time. That could be refusing at jumps, being unwillingly to work on the bit, refusing to go through a stream on a trail, or a thousand other things. It could be using a saddle that doesn't fit or a bit that has no effect. It could be falling off because the horse refuses a jump, bucks or bolts, or because he spooks or trips.

Sometimes, by the way, it's therapeutic to have a fall, especially a fall in which you don't get hurt. It can help get you past the fear of becoming separated from your steed; it shows you that you really can ?survive the crash.? I'm not suggesting that you should ride around looking for ways to cause yourself to fall off, but it certainly can be a very educational failure.

Failure is most usually associated with competition, and failure in the show ring can mean a variety of different things to different people. To one person, success in competition can mean riding a faultless jumping round or completing a smooth, relaxed dressage test. But to another person it's a failure if they haven't won or earned a ribbon or achieved a certain score.

One of the many secrets to success in riding is that you have to learn from your mistakes to progress. When you have a large or a small ?failure,? you have to ask yourself (or your trainer), why did that happen' You have to figure out what you need to do differently and, often, how to do it differently. Sit up, use a more active leg, use less hand and more leg, ask for more (or less) bend, try a different bit, do a longer or shorter warm-up, call the chiropractor or veterinarian?just a few things you might want to do to correct a failure.

A failure with a horse doesn't mean you're a failure as a person?even though many times people think that's the case. But what it does mean is that you have to do something (or some things) differently. Figuring out what those things are is how we learn to be better riders and better horseman. it's how, over time, we accumulate knowledge to deal with the commonplace and extraordinary challenges that are inherent in riding and keeping horses.