How equestrians can learn more from the bad days – Sponsored by Back On Track

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How equestrians can learn more from the bad days – Sponsored by Back On Track

No matter how good of a rider you are or how nice your horses are, some days in this sport don’t go as well as you hope. I think that we learn more from the bad days than we learn from the good ones. In both cases, however, shifting our thinking can help our riding and results.

First, it’s important for everyone to define what their goals and hopes are for each event. For one person, staying in the dressage ring and making it through the jumping phases might be considered a good day. For another person, having that kind of day would be considered bad; their goals might be to win the event with a double clear. There is no shame in having a standard that suits you, your horse, and your experience. Just know what it is for you, try to achieve it, and raise your standard as you improve.

Let’s suppose that a ‘good day’ for you is a clear cross-country round, but you have a bad day: you have a run-out or fall off. The good news is that you learn more about yourself and your horse from falling off than you do from winning. The bad news is that disappointment often clouds our judgment, making it difficult to learn from our mistakes.

The first step to correcting mistakes is figuring out why they occurred. It is true that ‘freak’ accidents and falls do occur—in the sense that it is unclear why they happened, or they happen because the horse tripped or slipped. But the truth is that most falls happen for a reason. Thus, most are preventable. Horses don’t jump badly for no reason; usually, problems arise because of a lack of preparation, the wrong pace, the wrong balance, or a poor takeoff spot. Similarly, riders don’t fall off for no reason; usually, issues derive from lack of strength in their position, miscommunication with the horse, or misjudgment.

We have to be frank with ourselves about why we have bad days. A bad day is rarely a fluke; more often it is a revelation about a gap in our training, education, or experience. We do ourselves and our horses a disservice if we don’t think really critically about the “why.” This is why there is danger in saying “it just wasn’t our day” when we have a bad day. That is true—the day didn’t go as planned. But fooling ourselves into thinking that our mistakes were random or down to chance won’t help us improve.



What’s important is pinpointing exactly what happened and why. Looking at the video footage of the mistake can be very helpful in this regard. If none is available, replay the mistake in your mind. Think about how the horse felt, your pace, your balance, your line, and anything else you remember. Then think of what you would have done differently if you could do it again. Finally (and this is easier said than done), don’t make the same mistake again.

Although this article is largely focused on what to do when you have a bad day, it is equally important to be critical of your riding when you have a good day. If you had a near miss or ‘amazing save,’ think about why that happened and how to make the ride smoother in the future. Sure, in Eventing only the scoreboard numbers are left after the show is finished, but the riders who consistently win do it smoothly. They make cross-country look like an equitation round, no matter how fast they are going. That’s what we should all be aiming for.

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