Have you ever found yourself stuck with that destructive feeling that if you can't do something PERFECTLY then you shouldn't even try?
I find this phenomenon particularly common in dressage riders starting out on their journeys and virtually nonexistent in riders that are progressing really well... and that's not because they are somehow magically beyond making mistakes!
Feeling the need to be perfect can drive some people to achieve fantastic, amazing things but for most people it becomes limiting and creates negative thoughts and self-doubt.
I'm not a perfectionist, I am much happier and productive as a betterist! If that word even exists. Mistakes are opportunities, they are feedback as is success. This was really brought home to me when I was teaching a lady on a young horse. Here's the story;
This combination were swinging along really nicely so I thought that they were ready to introduce the barest bones of shoulder-fore. Just touch on the principles of the movement, start to get a better understanding of riding inside leg to outside rein - not produce 34 meters of precision Prix St George shoulder-in.
Well, the look on the lady's face, I might as well have suggested that she fly to Mars on her horse! So we broke it down and found out where the panic was coming from. She had a mental picture of what she wanted the shoulder-in (not it's baby brother, shoulder-fore) to be and quite rightly, today, that horse was not going to be able to produce anything like remotely like that.
Then we set up an exercise to create some first baby steps of something approximating shoulder-fore. Small circle, a couple of wobbly shoulder-fore steps along the wall and forward across a shallow diagonal to the middle of the short side and start again. A nice friendly continuous loop of an exercise.
Again, the fear dragon needed to be slain, that exercise was considered to be too complicated and fast, that there's not enough time to create those 'perfect' shoulder-fore steps. I had to reassure her that there was plenty of time, we were only looking for a glimpse of the horse understanding that he could move on the bias along the wall from the inside leg and the cherry on the top would if the trot improved a little.
Lo and behold, when the lady accepted that this was about creating a better connection, a more balanced step, a touch more engagement and encouraging the horse to accept the shaping of the body, the horse flowed through it really nicely and she was thrilled.
The work created was far from perfect, it was a start. A start in overcoming the incredibly defeating mental fear of not reaching high goals as well as the physical exercise itself.
I'm sure this story will resonate with a lot of (not just dressage) riders.
Please be kind to yourself and your horses, don't ride for perfect, ride for better, ride for learning and celebrate your progress! Find your motivation in developing your skills without fear of failing but the joy of discovering.
This blog links to soon to be written blogs on the Power of Yet and Why riding for a 10 isn't always the best policy. Come back soon to discover more.
Canadian Paralympic dressage rider and trainer Bert Sheffield is the creator of the HeartHorse Dressage mentoring programme.