Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Our Fear of Making Mistakes

 True Horsemanship Through Feel, by Bill Dorrance

Four or five years ago I read the book, The Perfect Wrong Note, by William Westney, on the advice of my piano teacher.  During my lessons, every time I'd make a mistake, I'd stop and apologize.  One day, my instructor said, please stop apologizing, and she asked me to switch places with her.  She proceeded to play the piece I was working on--technically perfect--but with no emotion.  Then, she played the piece again with many "wrong notes", but lots of heart.  She stopped and asked me, Which did you like better? I replied, The one you played with your heart.  She nodded, Play it like that.

If I have one thing that holds me back in my work with horses, it is fear of making mistakes. But it's also true, what Bill Dorrance said, that if you're afraid of your own mistakes, you'll pass that on to your horse and be afraid of theirs.

To allow your horse to make mistakes is to be willing to lose a little control.  To allow yourself the same, can also feel like a lack of control, but how else do we learn?  Live?  "Intolerance" is a teacher's enemy, and we are all, at the core of it, teachers to our horses.

Since yesterday, I've been tossing around this idea from The Cord of Connection, I don't want to find resistance.  What does it mean?

At the beginning of my work with Leah, my teacher was concerned that Leah is a very sweet horse who wants to please me, however, she was getting the impression that Leah was going through the motions, but, down deep, resisting.  Because of that, all of our work with her has been about giving her room to make a mistake--resist: working on a slack lead, letting her come to a one rein stop on her own, even if it means circling for five minutes...etc.  It's about finding out if there is resistance there--below the surface--something to signal you're not in sync--don't have that unity.

Resistance is the point at which you lose connection with your horse.  They say, I'd rather not, and you and I, we will now part ways.  Either they don't understand what you're asking or are unwilling to do what you ask...most likely out of fear.

I can think back to so many of those points...with all my horses.  And, I've had varying success working through them--water, tunnels, leaving the barn, trailering, standing tied...every unnatural thing we ask them to do.

Our goal should be to maintain the partnership, unity, togetherness, connection, trust--every step of the way by allowing our horses, somehow, to choose "yes" or "no".  In other words, to make "mistakes".  (I hesitate to call them mistakes, though, because to the horse, vulnerable to predators, she's acting exactly how nature has designed her.)

Yesterday, before my lesson, I went out and did some at liberty work with Leah.  She'd walk wherever I went, but she did not want to get into a trot.  Resistance?

I chalked it up to not wanting to be with me enough to put out that much effort.

Off to the lesson we went, and while I was warming her up, low and behold, I noticed she was slightly lame at the trot.  It was almost imperceptible, but there was definitely a slight upward motion of her head every time her left front struck.  My teacher agreed, and we canceled the lesson and brought her home.

I'll be working on resolving that issue, but until then, our lessons are on hold and I'm going to work with Beautiful Girl in her place.  Step one is getting Beautiful in the trailer and over to the lesson.  My instructor volunteered to come to my house and help me next Tuesday.

Quite honestly, I'm afraid of making a mistake with Beautiful, and I always have been.  I have such a need to keep her safe, I don't always allow her the opportunity to try and prove herself.   I have to let go of some control this week, and it's making me very nervous.

Wish me luck.


  1. Your posts are always full of wisdom; either your own, or that you have discovered. I definitely think that I have been afraid of making a mistake and through my fear, held Gambler from his full potential.

    1. Thank you, Jenna. I'm all in with my training right now, so I'm thinking about these things more than ever. I'm determined to have my two mares trained by this time next year, and there is a lot to learn to achieve that goal.

  2. I think the only mistake would be not trying a little of everything until you hear all the tumblers click. Luckily you have had a number of horses, each of whom taught you something, you have & years of experience.
    Your bag of tricks has a ton of stuff in it already, you continue to seek answers & to learn, & you have a support system in your husband, your friends, & in your good relationship with your trainer.
    Well done You!

    1. Thanks. I do have a big support network, and that's a huge help. One step at a time, it's teaching me to live in the moment.

  3. Your posts have been very ispirational to me of late, so thank you for your honesty. I hope I am sometimes as thoughtful as you are.

    1. Teresa, I've gotten so much inspiration from your blog and your honesty, too. I'm still thinking about "breathing" and what it gives to living and working with horses...and playing an instrument. Just one of the many ways your words rattle around in my head long after I read your posts.


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