Riding in Competition – 3 Keys for dealing with mistakes

Riding in Competition – 3 Keys for dealing with mistakes

by Dr.Mike Guerini, Ph.D. (www.dunomvinranch.com)

One of the things that I encourage my students and those I coach to remember is that the class is never over until you leave the arena. All too often I see riders have something happen that they know is a deduction or a penalty and you can immediately see things further deteriorate in the ride. Sometimes it looks like the rider just gives up. In other situations the rider takes a really hard line with the horse and decides to school right there in the show pen without any thought as to how to fix the error…the rider simply begins to poke and pull and let that horse know it made a mistake.

So for all the students that allow me to be part of their coaching staff…and for those of you here who take the time to read my blogs, I would like to share my 3 keys to overcoming those mistakes.

1 – Let go of the mistake – be a resilient rider. This sounds easy but we all know it is a struggle. The mistake has happened and we cannot time travel backwards…we need to go forward. We must condition ourselves in the practice pen at home to ride through our mistakes. All too often at home or in the practice pen/arena we stop and begin analyzing. While analyzing is good, we need to learn to let go of the mistake at home and ride forward.

Another way of thinking about this is that while showing you must be resilient. Resilience is key to overcoming performance errors. When we are resilient, we keep our composure, work to be consistent, stay positive, and show confidence. Resilient riders let go of the error and get back to the next maneuver. When we are resilient, we become more consistent and in truth,…consistent riding helps us win.

2 – Practice how to correct mistakes at home – and be able to make corrections immediately in the show pen. I certainly make my share of mistakes at home when riding. So rather than stop and fuss about the mistake, I have taught myself and those I coach, to be able to feel the mistake and immediately make the correction. Maybe it is not exactly a mistake yet but you feel that the horse is slowing and going to break gait (YAY – you are feeling it about to happen), well do something before it happens. As a coach, 9 times out of 10, I can see what is going to happen before it happens and I know with practice at home…we can refine our feel and be ready to catch those issues and make a correction before it happens.

For example, if your horse picks up the wrong lead, be able to switch the horse back to the correct lead instantly. This gets easier when you build muscle memory at home by riding through the problem and getting it fixed. Another example is when your horse gets moving too fast…learn at home how you can slow your horse down without it becoming a pull fest on the reins (some suggestions include, moving the haunches a bit off the straight line, lowering your energy, relax your seat bones, etc.). Spend the time at home to have a toolbox of ideas and ways to correct the mistake.

3 – Keep Breathing – because you need your brain to be working. It has been said that “Breathing is the greatest pleasure in life” and we all know that breathing is a very powerful tool for riders. Your body needs oxygen to function properly. If you are not breathing, you are not getting oxygen to your muscles and nervous system (that which helps you feel) or other vital organs such as your brain and eyes. To overcome mistakes you need to be able to feel and see what is happening and most importantly think by using your brain. Remember all that practice work to learn to ride and feel your horse…well if you do not breathe, your brain does not think properly and if you hold your breath in frustration after a mistake…your ability to think is compromised.

Keep these three keys in mind as you practice and apply them at your next competition. I am quite certain that if you add these to your riding philosophy — you will see it pay off in the show/competition pen and arena.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and I thank you for sharing this blog with your friends and family.


Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (www.coachscorral.com), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).