Rider Failure

It is easy to write about successes and accomplishments.  It is much more difficult to write about mistakes.  It is easy to write about frustration, fear, and confusion.  It is much more difficult to write honestly about your failures.   But I want this blog to be an honest one that truly reflects and chronicles the student rider’s learning.  Progress comes with change and growth.  And part of that process is learning from our mistakes. 

After the first flush of success with executing flying changes in a series, the exercise quickly became difficult for me to master.  And the day before a competition, I made the mistake of deciding that I would master my 3 flying changes every 4 strides across the diagonal – no matter what.  In my mind, this should not have even been an issue, since I had been practicing them for months.  I knew what my instructions were for this ride – I was to do relaxed stretching work in walk, trot, and canter for my horse – and go out on a trail ride for both of us.  And although I did go on a short trail ride, I did not follow my instructions for the work in the arena.

My brain nagged at me that I was not yet confirmed in my flying changes across the diagonal.  And in fact, I felt less secure about my ability than I did months ago.  So I thought, why not?  Why not just do a couple of relaxed single flying changes to confirm that I could actually execute them on my aids?  And after that, my brain nagged me some more.  Why not just practice the series?  And so I tried to do a set and failed miserably.  So my brain nagged at me some more that I just needed to figure this out on my own - right now.  So I practiced over and over again.  And failed over and over again.  And my horse willingly obliged me and tried to figure it out over and over again.  In the back of my mind, another voice nagged that what I was doing was wrong and that I needed to stop.  But the nagging voice, that wanted success and was determined to succeed, kept me going, despite the fact that I know repeating mistakes does not equal success and that repeating an exercise over and over again is stressful for the horse. I was not being kind or fair.  I was not being a friend or partner. 

I ride and compete at 4th level in a snaffle bit.  I have yet to start riding with spurs.  I try to use my whip correctly and judiciously.  I give my horse lots of walk breaks and opportunities to relax and stretch through his back.  I reward with verbal praise and pats.  And yet, today I rode with poor judgment.  Today, I learned the lesson and share the lesson with you, that it does not take a curb bit or rowel spurs to mistreat your horse.  Sometimes it is just your determination as a rider to succeed at the cost of your horse’s physical and mental development. 

I went to my competition the next day and suffered the results of my training the previous day.  In the warm-up my horse was more tense than normal.  During the test, I used more rein than normal (and, in fact, the judge noted “watch getting too strong with hands at times”) – a comment that I have never had on a test before.  And of course, I did not execute my flying changes of lead every 4 strides.  The next day of competition we were more relaxed as a pair.  And when I did not get my flying changes in the warm up, I told my instructor that it did not matter; I was not going to practice them anymore.  I rode a better test, even if I did not score as well as the previous day, I was a better rider.  I knew in my heart, that both days could have been a sheer disaster after my training ride before the show and that it is only because of my horse’s generous nature and willingness to work for me that gave me the rides I had this competition.

Today, I got on my horse with the humble knowledge that he deserves a better rider than me.  Today, I got on my horse with the determination to be the rider that he deserves every single time I get on his back. 

May you have kind and fair rides on your equine friend and partner today.