Failing Your Way to Success
Dec. 3, 2013
Have you ever thought about just how many mistakes Ray Hunt made while training horses over the course of his life? Don’t you think that there were days when Tom Dorrance threw his hands up in disgust and wondered if he was ever going to get this figured out? What? You think the masters were immune to mistakes and frustration? Were they born with Talent on Loan from God? Do you really think that you’ve hit the ground anywhere near as many times as any of those guys at the Spanish Riding School, who wear the funny hats? The last time I ate dirt was just before the start of my second clinic ever. Ker splat! To add insult to injury, this happened in full view of the people who were there to learn from me, at least half of whom had never seen me ride. Talk about a memorable first impression. The horse that did it falls squarely into the “Kid’s Horse” category to boot.
Bob Avila, who probably stole the thought, once said that for a scale of horsemanship ranging from 1-10, you moved up each notch with 1000 hours in the saddle. And he means 1000 hours of riding, not grooming, tacking up, or cleaning stalls, but riding. 1000 hours and you are a 1. Please, don’t take any of this as discouraging, quite the contrary. Every single good horseman that I know has a list of horses from their past that they would give anything to have back, now that they know better. You will too, if you stick with it long enough.
The point is to get busy. Start working on new things. Get lots of mistakes out of the way. Becoming a great Horseman requires lots of time, thought, discipline, determination, and perspiration. It does not, however, require perfection. Don’t wait to start learning a lead change because you don’t think you are ready yet! Nobody in the history of riding horses was ready for their first lead change. If you were ready, there would be nothing to learn. How boring would that be?
I can tell you that my personal road of Horsemanship has been fraught with disappointment, tears, humiliation, frustration, anger, and no small amount of blood. I once rode an Appaloosa stallion who tried to breed a fiberglass cow, while I was riding him, in front of his owners. There came a time when I really started to feel the feet, and it actually caused me to get more insecure because I could now feel so many mistakes taking place. In reality, the mistakes were far fewer now, because I was finally aware of them and doing something about it. It took me watching film of myself riding to restore my confidence. I realized that I was feeling things that you couldn’t actually see. For the Ray Hunt reference at the beginning of this blog, I’m sure that most of you were thinking about a young and feisty Ray, before he met Tom Dorrance, or became a Master. Be assured that Ray was still making mistakes and working on getting better on his very last ride. Of course, you and I would do just about anything to ONLY be making the mistakes of an aged Ray Hunt.
Earlier, I whined about some of the grief my personal road to horsemanship has entailed. Well, I don’t regret having endured any of it. My journey has also been full of accomplishments, deep belly laughs, Zen-like moments, and lots of horses, many of whom I helped, and all of whom helped me. In fact, it is usually the really difficult ones, who make you pull your hair out, that teach you the most. I would trade those experiences for nothing. Well, maybe a fried shrimp po-boy with tartar sauce and onion rings, but that’s about all.
It has also been my privilege to work with several customers on their own journeys, regularly, over the last few years. I have tried my best to help them and witnessed their hopes, tries, successes, failures, and tears. All of them are much better horsemen now. All of them are still frustrated, just not about the same things. All of them are still making mistakes, just not the same ones, hopefully.
It’s not where you start, but where you end up. And really, it’s not even about where you end up; it’s the journey that got you there. Keep making mistakes, and enjoy being frustrated, as both truly are gifts.
*this article also ran in the Louisiana Equine Report Dec ’13/Jan ’14 Issue