OK to Fail

Though most of my lesson on Sunday was great, all I can seem to remember and play over and over in my head was the point at which I failed my horse, and–to some extent at least–he failed me. I went into my next ride expecting the same attitude from my horse that he gave me Sunday, and though we had a good ride despite that, it still wasn’t fair to my horse. After a lot of success, I seem to have forgotten a very crucial part of any riding career: It’s OK to fail.

After the lesson I was left feeling like maybe we aren’t ready for the move up because my eye isn’t accurate enough, or I’ve done something to shake my horse’s confidence. We’ve had so many good rides lately over bigger things, that I suddenly feel like I must have done something to ruin him forever.


But that’s just not true. My little horse doesn’t hold a grudge, and he’s certainly more than capable of jumping around at 3’6. Our few bad moments were just that. Moments. Moving up is supposed to be messy and a little ugly–if it was easy it wouldn’t be a move up. This is a hard concept for me, because I want so badly to keep getting better and being better, but you can’t get there without a little struggle.

While I was wallowing in my negative headspace a couple of days ago, If the Saddle Fits posted this piece about just showing up and being there, and I suddenly had words to put to what I was experiencing.

When you’re working on any kind of change, the initial excitement eventually fades and you’re faced with the hard part: maintaining forward progress while it is still hard but no longer exciting.  It’s here, both in and out of the saddle, that I’m having to learn how to push forward and wait at the same time. 

We’ve been doing bigger jumps and harder questions for a few months now. We’re just far enough along that it’s lost some of the shiny newness, but we’re still struggling sometimes and it’s still far from easy. Even though I’ve been riding for my whole life, I still haven’t learned how to fail gracefully. Outwardly I pat my horse and feed him cookies and tell him I’m sorry for that bad distance, but inwardly, I simmer until three days later I’m ready to give up riding entirely.


This attitude is silly, and it’s a miracle I’ve made it this far in riding without quitting. It’s not fair to my horse or myself, and we’ll both have a lot more fun if I can just move on from a mistake and think forward, not back.

So next time I miss a distance, or my horse is tired and doesn’t want to play, I’m going to remind myself that it’s OK to fail, moving up is supposed to be messy, and tomorrow will probably be better. Maybe I’ll even remember this in my real life.


17 thoughts on “OK to Fail

  1. Jenn

    THIS. Love this post!

    You’ll work through this, don’t worry. Just remember: if riding was easy, everyone would do it. Keep your head up!

    1. Jenn

      *note: I don’t love this post bc you think you’re failing, I love that you’re recognizing the struggle of moving up when you’re both talented enough to do so. Just wanted to clarify 🙂

      1. No worries! I had it figured out. Haha. I’m hoping that putting it in words will make my pride a little less sensitive about failure. In a sport that encourages us to always do more and be more, failure is really hard.

  2. yep i’m right there with ya (granted, over smaller sticks haha). i just try to remind myself that progress isn’t comfortable. my margin of error shrinks as the complexity increases. and uncertainty is the rule, not the exception… but the pieces do eventually come together. knowing this doesn’t necessarily make it any easier – but at least it helps me stay kind to myself (usually lol)

  3. Caitlyn

    So much of this I can relate to my weight lifting. I got used to jumping up my deadlift maxes every week by 5-10 lbs and once I hit 250, I plateaued. Overcoming a plateau in weight lifting AND riding is a physical and mental struggle every time. You and your boy make me so proud! Keep up the work, the good, the bad, and the ugly! You got this!

  4. I try to remind myself that dealing with it all is both my job and my horse’s job. If I miss a distance, I need to let it go and ride the next fence better. When I miss (and the miss is inevitable… it will happen sooner or later!) it’s my horse’s job to get us over the fence, and not hold a grudge.

    For some reason, just reminding myself of that, makes it a little bit easier to swallow.

  5. Am I seeing things, or is your horse pooping mid-air?! If so, girl, you are NOT failing. lol!!

    Seriously, though, I don’t simmer with horses, but I sure can simmer with humans and that feeling can be dangerous to any potential positivism. Don’t forget why you ride to begin with!

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