When You Make a Mistake, What Do You Do With It?

When You Make a Mistake, What Do You Do With It?

Right now, so many people are frustrated because they can’t ride. Some people are permitted to go to their barns if it is a more private affair, where the groom can take the horse out to the ring and the rider gets on. However, the majority of places that I know are locked down. Owners can’t even go and see their horses.

Maybe your last ride before quarantine didn’t go the way you wanted. You might say to me, “Kip, my last ride was not good and all I can think about are the mistakes that I made.” Think about this: When you were very young, the first words you understood were from your parents. Then you learned words from your friends, your friends’ parents, your teachers, etc. As you go through life, you register all these experiences that you have - the good and the bad - because your mind is always unconsciously recording what you do. So, in a moment of solitude, you may be drawn mentally to go over that last riding lesson you had, because that’s a natural tendency, especially for riders who typically are very progress-driven. It may almost feel like the more you think about that mistake, the more you can remedy it! But usually, when you keep going over it again and again in your mind, you’re going to feel pretty discouraged and frustrated. 

Anxiety and fear can feel paralyzing, take the joy out of riding, or simply stall your progress. The good news? You CAN gain control.

When you make a mistake, what do you do with it? Do you listen to what your trainer says and keep it in your mind so that next time you know how to do it correctly? Or, do you dwell on what you did wrong and continue to punish yourself for it? 

With that same situation, how often do you think about how many times you’ve done it correctly? You would likely tell me that you don’t think about doing it right, because all you can focus on is what you’ve done wrong. If you keep thinking about doing it wrong, you’re throwing away the constructive information you have been given by only thinking about the mistakes. Think about your mind being on a track. You get to a “T” in the road. Make a “T” with your hands, where one is vertical and the other is horizontal. When your mind comes to this T in thinking about your riding, you have to choose whether you want to go down the negative road or the positive road. 

"Do you dwell on what you did wrong and continue to punish yourself for it?"

Here’s the bottom line: If you keep thinking about having done something wrong and how you made a mistake, chances are you’re going to make the mistake again. You’ve probably heard or read about how powerful visualization can be for performance; if you visualize nailing a distance to a jump or executing a canter departure perfectly, your body will actually store that information and you’re more likely to perform that action well in real life. So, you can see how dwelling on your mistakes and replaying that missed distance to the oxer over and over in your mind would put you at a disadvantage when you try it again - you’re essentially visualizing doing the wrong thing. 

Let me walk you through an exercise. I want you to imagine a time when you were riding at home and you and your horse had a moment that felt great - when you were both in sync. Maybe it was cantering up to a big oxer that you feel particularly proud of conquering. Or maybe it was a simple trot-to-halt transition. Put yourself in that moment in time and see yourself doing it right. Can you feel yourself doing that? Imagine this over and over. 

Give yourself something to remember about that time you did it correctly. Come up with a word, maybe the word is “confidence”. Now, when you get to that “T” in the road in your mind (where you can go down the negative path or the positive path), you have a choice. Take a slow, deep breath and think of your word, “confidence”. As soon as you do, that positive experience is going to come back to you. At first, it may be hard to do. When you travel up that road, your mind is going to want to automatically take you back to the negative. You’ve gone in that direction so many times that it’s a habit. Now, you have to train your mind to go in a direction that is helpful and positive. 

This is a life skill. In general, the negative isn’t helpful so it’s important to have an experience in your mind where you’ve done something correctly to encourage positive thoughts. With practice, this will become the way you think. For some people, that will happen quickly. For others, it takes more time. 

Right now, people have a lot of time to think, and some of that thinking is not very positive. People are stressed about all the things that have gone wrong in their riding. Instead of those negative thoughts, try thinking about times at horse shows when you were successful. These don’t have to be moments when you won the class, but when you gave your horse a good ride. If you think of these positive moments, when you go back to ride, you will be going back with more confidence. You’re going to be more empowered to make decisions. 

Feature photo by Leslie Threlkeld for NoelleFloyd.com

Read this next: How I Learned to Overcome My Competition Anxiety

Written by Kip Rosenthal

As an accomplished and respected R-rated judge in both Hunter and Hunter Seat Equitation, Kip has judged many of the most prestigious competitions in North America. Her judging history includes the Hampton Classic, Lake Placid, Capital Challenge, the NCEA National Championships, as well as the Pessoa/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Finals, Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals, and the ASPCA Maclay Finals. Kip's interest extends to the governance of the sport where she volunteers her time by serving as a member of the USHJA Hunter Seat Equitation Task Force. Kip holds a PhD in clinical counseling psychology and conducts sports psychology seminars throughout the country.