As dressage riders, I think it's easy to get into the mindset where everything we do with our horses has to be perfect all the time. After all, whenever we watch the top riders ride at international events, it always looks so easy and effortless. Because their showing looks so effortless, it must mean they ride like that every day, and never have problems like me and you, right? Having had the opportunity to watch Steffen Peters school his horses day in and day out, he certainly makes it look easy every time he sits on a horse. You don't see any struggle. But how did he end up being so good? By making mistakes. Lots of them.
As Daniel Coyle writes in his book, The Talent Code, "...struggling in certain targeted ways—operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes—makes you smarter. Or to put it a slightly different way, experiences where you're forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them—as you would if you were walking up an ice-covered hill, slipping and stumbling as you go—end up making you swift and graceful without your realising it.”
I like to say that as dressage riders, we have to embrace problems and find joy in mistakes. It's the act of making mistakes that actually make you better. Without mistakes, there can be no improvement.
Think about it this way, the more mistakes we make, the faster we can learn. A child learning to walk doesn't stop trying because they fall. The child tries and tries again, each time making slight improvements and calculations and over time improving their skill set. We need to look at becoming better riders in much the same way. We can't let mistakes stop us from continuing to try.
I think what differentiates top riders from other riders is how they don't let mistakes or failure slow them down from continuing to try. They're often over ambitious and try things beyond their skill sets. So be bold! Make mistakes! Embrace problems! Keep moving forward!
As Daniel Coyle also states in his book, "Struggle is not an option: it's a biological requirement.”