Making mistakes has become my priority! I have been practicing now for a few years and just about have it down to a science. However, this hasn’t always been the case. I spent my early career protecting myself, and my horses, from looking or being bad. This mentally kept me from pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
Many things have been said that I have internalized to help me maintain personal growth such as, “If you don’t leave the house pretty soon, you won’t leave the room, ” and ” If you’re not climbing, your sliding,” and ” What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” or “Use it or lose it.”
My fear of failure transferred into my training and competing because my horses did not have the mental tools to get out of their comfort zones. This would be fine if I only rode in my arena at home and on sunny 80-degree days. But unfortunately I have to ride when it’s below freezing and when the wind is blowing 40 mph. Our horses, and we, need to be exposed beyond our perceived level of comfort. Horses should be shown what is expected of them, then let them try it for themselves.
My 2 1/2-year-old son, Colter, taught me a good lesson not long ago. He had to be told, day in and day out, to stay away from the electric horse fence. To demonstrate, I even went to the fence, pointed, and said, “ouch”! But one day when no one was looking, he went up and grabbed it! Obviously he learned his lesson, right? Nope, he grabbed it two more times just to make sure! Each time it jolted his body away.
The next day we went back out to the pasture and when I said, “Watch out for the fence,” he pulled his hands to his chest and came right to my leg! This story is not endorsing the use of electricity on your horses or kids, it is simply a way to say, “Show them, tell them, let them, correct them or praise their progress (repeat as needed.)”
As adults we have the ability to foresee potential danger, therefore we pull back and avoid these situations or face these fears knowing “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Our horses are naturally born to be afraid, therefore if we don’t “get them out of the barn, pretty soon they won’t leave their stalls.”
By slowly increasing the accountability that we place on our horses, we grow their confidence to “know” what to do. Knowing what is expected allows us and our horse to perform with more certainty which translates into more trust in us, the rider, in the most crucial of times. If they have only been helped or made to do their job and never allowed to make mistakes, they will more than likely not have the mental tools to handle high pressure situations such as difficult competitions or spooky situations.
We can’t prevent our horse from spooking as much as we can prevent the extreme to which they react. This is done by consistently showing, telling, letting, then correcting or praising, therefore teaching them to look for an answer and not just survive.
The more mistakes I make, the more opportunities I have for personal growth. Aaron Ralston was born and raised on his family’s ranch in Western Colorado and was taught the importance of being a helpful cowhand. Visit his website for more information on clinics and events and to find out about “The Ride” at www.cowhorseproductions.com. The people and ranches that will be featured in “The Ride” will contribute their own expertise to represent a true general idea of today’s modern Working Ranch Cowboy. So stay tuned, sit back, and hold on for “The Ride.”
[published in Aaron Ralston’s book, RIDE UP!]
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