Thursday, March 10, 2011


Those of you who have followed my blog know I play piano. I started when I was about twelve, took lessons for a couple of years, quit and played for fun, then returned to serious study at the age of forty-two.

Last year, I was getting frustrated with myself. No matter how much I practiced, when it came to playing in front of someone, I made mistakes. I hated mistakes. They were like huge failures. Every wrong note seemed to be accusing me of something deeper--you're not good enough, you're not gifted enough--you didn't practice enough. Maybe you're too old to learn. My instructor had told me, time and time again, not to apologize during a song. No, oops. No, sorry. No stopping. After a while of this, she recommended the book, The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self. She knew I needed to find some peace with my musical imperfections...maybe all of my imperfections.

I'm so glad I read it, because what I found in that book could be the answer for all of life: a wrong note isn't so much "wrong" as it is "information". The author said to let your body move freely--play loudly--do not play fearfully and stilted and controlled, you can't learn that way--you can't grow. You need to take time and learn from the information. Playing should be fun. Of course you're going to err, but so what?!?

Lately, I've been reading Rashid's book, Whole Heart, Whole Horse, and found the first chapter is very similar; it's titled "Mistakes". Not surprisingly, he comes to much the same conclusion. There's no such thing as a mistake, if you learn something. Fear of mistakes keeps you from trying, paralyzes you, and, in my opinion, probably creates fear and frustration in your horse. Fear of mistakes in piano, creates tension in your body.

My mind was firing off memory after memory of all the stupid things I did with horses through the years. Oddly enough, the first colt I trained, in my teens when I knew the least about anything, turned out to be one of my most wonderful. In the end, when your heart is right, horses are very forgiving. I think all of us wonder how we survived our youth, but somehow we did, mistakes and all, and those mistakes make us who we are now--better horse people. Maybe it was confidence and desire that got us through. That spirit of, I LOVE horses, and damned if I won't be a horsewoman even it kills me!

This idea of confidence--movement--action--is HUGE in horsemanship, piano, writing, and really, all aspects of life. I tell my kids--The gift is the desire. When I hear them say, Oh, he, or she's, just really good at that, I stop them and say, If you want it, you can be really good at it, too....just DO it. The people who become really good at something, anything are the people who don't let mistakes, setbacks, criticsm, self-doubt, or fear stop them. They continue forward, getting better all the time, putting the hours in day after day after day. Nothing comes easy and everyone has to work for it.

Our horses will also make "mistakes" as they learn new information. In my opinion, we need to give them the space to do so. I've seen them do it with each other as well. Red doesn't stand guard in front of the gate he doesn't want Beautiful to go through--he moves to the side and let's her make her choice. If she makes the wrong choice, he brings her back in and pushes her further away from where she wants to be.

Here's a real-life horse and human story--Cowboy and me. A couple years ago it was spring and I took Cowboy on his first ride away from home. We went down the road and up into some fields--as long as we were moving away from home all was wonderful. The problem with Cowboy wasn't going away--the problem with Cowboy was turning back. As soon as I'd turn him around, he'd arch his neck and start huffing and puffing and prancing--or, more precisely, jigging. It was very clear, he wanted to take control, buck me off (if possible...though it never has been) and run home.

What options were availabe to me? Let's see...yank on his mouth (No), turn him in circles, run him in circles, continue toward home and ride it out, or--ride on a loose rein, relaxed in the saddle, if he started jigging, turn him away from home and walk on a loose rein away from home....for a long way. I chose the last option, but it's a good thing I had a lot of time because it took him about an hour and half to get back when it should have taken fifteen minutes. By the time we did, he made his own decision to walk nicely, which, to me, made the time every bit worth it.

Now, he'd made about thirty "mistakes" before it was over, and there was more than one moment when I started to think I was on the wrong path, it was NOT going to work, and I would have liked to let him jig, jig, jig all the way home.

However, like me, the "mistakes" he made were really just bits of "information". He'd learned, When I jig, I get further from home. When I walk, I get closer to home. I want to go home, therefore, I'll walk. I did not have to get emotional or fearful--at no time, did anything "scary" happen or was I in physical peril. It took time, yes, but my boy has a long memory and that lesson carried him through many other situations. No time is wasted--at the piano or with horses--where the practice is done right.

My teacher says, Learn a few new notes every day, and pretty soon you'll have a song. I think it's the same in our work with horses. The only mistake is doing nothing.

I want to say, I'm very thankful today for Lea at Lea and Her Mustangs--her horse Pepper appears to be on the mend from a very bad colic. I hope he continues to get better, Lea.


  1. Very good insights and a great example - taking enough time is so important too.

  2. Hi Linda, something you mentioned in your post about people saying, oh, someone is just good at something, and you say just try! reminded me of this article I read. I think you'll find it very interesting. It's about the power and peril of praising your children.

  3. One time, in high school, I left out part of a piece that I was performing before an audience! ACK! But, you know, I just went on and finished the piece. I used to get so nervous that my pedal foot shook! I finally had to relax, take deep breaths...I'm afraid that I'm doing NOTHING with my horses and that worries me.

  4. I feel the same way about writing. I've made plenty of mistakes, have had plenty of self-doubt, and have put in tons of time. But a few lines, a few paragraphs, a few pages a day, polished and polished again, and before you know it, I have a book. It's really amazing how we come out of the other end of the process, the wisdom gained along the way.

  5. Kate--Yes, the time issue is another topic altogether. It seems, in my experience, every time I practice patience--it's always when I'm just about to call it quits that the break-through comes. I don't know why that is--but every time it's the same--in piano, writing, and, most definitely, with my horses.

  6. Kara--great article! Last night my husband was tutoring my daughter in Math and he said, Shiloh, what is the ONE thing I've taught you? The one thing, that on my death bed I'm going to ask you to repeat to me? She looked a little unsure--so he said it for her--Nothing comes easy to anyone. Life is not easy. It is only through practice, everyday, that you will learn these concepts. He said, if you go to bed tonight and don't review what we've just done here...or wake up and don't review it will not pass this test.

    The reason it looks "easy" for some people is because they put in the time every day.

  7. Cheryl--It seems to me, you're always doing something with your horses, especially since you have to drive to see them.

  8. Joanne--you're a great example of what I'm talking about--the person who pushes forward day by day and produces a work of art. It's like that saying I always repeat--the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

  9. I took piano lessons as a child. I even gave lessons until the accident that gave me double vision. I used to be really fearful of mistakes at recitals too when I was a kid. I haven't played the piano in years. All of that apprehension doesn't mean a thing now. I just really miss being able to play the piano.

  10. Thank you, that's great: "The gift is the desire." I'm going to use that for my children. I definitely agree that main road to success is plain old hard work and persistence. I also like: "Learn a few new notes every day, and pretty soon you'll have a song." So true! :-)

    p.s. I wanted to learn piano as a youth, but since I already had the horse obligations going on it did not happen. So I studied it for a year between child #3 and #4 (twenty years later)! Fun! At least I can read music now and give my kids some basics. I liked playing ABC's and C'mas carols and a few Hymns for them to sing.


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.