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I used to turn up to my lessons, be it with my regular trainer or at a clinic with a visiting international trainer, like I had something to prove to them. I wanted them to see my hard work and all I found that happened as a result was a tense rider and an even tenser horse. I used to think this was bad luck, I was perplexed how we could always have our ‘bad days’ when someone was watching. As a result I learnt less and my excitement to show them how great things were turned into anxiety about riding in front of people.

It took me a long, long time to realise I had it all wrong. Which seems totally obvious to me, and maybe you now! Your lessons, training sessions at home and even the warm up at the show is for failing. Without failing you aren't really progressing at all. It takes courage to step out of your comfort zone to push harder and progress further but if you are serious about improving then that is exactly what you need to do in any walk of life.

The other downside to my previous mindset was that I was so busy proving a point that I a) rode awfully, so we would have to go over things that were easy normally, and I b) didn't learn anything new! The whole purpose of lessons are to learn new skills, further master old skills and promote better riding. It is okay to fail in practise, it is the five minutes in the ring you need to go smoothly, the rest of the time is practise for those short minutes.

I often hear people saying things about champion riders winning the warm up, but in the same way I see riders talk about how great the warm up was but the test didn't go well. Or exclaiming things like, “I only wish he would go as well as he does at home at a show!” You don't win the warm up by trying to ride perfectly, in fact you don't win the warm up at all! The warm up and practise ring isn't a competition. You win (be it against other riders or yourself) in the ring by riding well, being prepared to make mistakes and in turn make those corrections so you don't have the same issues in the ring when it counts.

Try your best always and never be afraid to make a mistake. Every time you go out there you should be listening to your horse and your own feel so that you learn something for next time. Simplify your mindset so that when you do ride in front of others you are so unaffected by their presence it is almost like they aren't even there! That way when it is your moment to show off and shine in the ring, you will!

Finally, a ‘bad ride’ at a lesson is one of the best things you can hope for in many instances. Sure, your trainer might not see you at your best to begin with but you will be able to work through things at their most difficult with your trainer right there to help you. This should come as a huge confidence boost when you are on your own and the same situation pops up because you have handled it before. In my own experience the times I have turned up to a lesson and my horse hasn't been at his best, we have worked through the tough spots and by the end of the lesson he is giving me his best work.

Remember, the more you fail at home, the better your performances will be for that five minutes in the ring when it counts!


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