Perfect Practice Makes Perfect


Practice makes perfect; or is it PERFECT practice makes perfect

There are riders who progress, (seemingly easily), and others that don’t as easily.  I have taught quite a few lessons to quite a few students over the years and the ones that seem to progress the most easily have one thing in common.  It’s not that they are more talented, have nicer horses, have access to nicer facilities or have more time or money.  It’s that they are good practicers.

What is it to be a good practicer?  It’s someone who mindfully practices the skills they want to have. This means they take the time to identify the individual “skills” that add up to the “greater” ride.   An example may be as simple as keeping one’s heels down or shoulder blades back, to something more complex like developing an eye for a distance.   The rider who mindfully practices keeping their shoulders back constantly while riding will “own” this habit in time.  Then they will be able to reap the rewards of this postural adjustment and will no longer adversely affect the horse with their hunched shoulders.  Consequently, the horse will have a chance of staying off the forehand, allowing further progression in its training.  The converse to this would be to focus on exercises with the horse, developing the horse to have skills to carry itself more on its haunches.  While this too, is very important, the horse will be limited by its rider’s bad posture.  If the rider adjusted their posture, the rewards would be significantly better, in all facets of the ride, and likely, fewer exercises would have been needed.

If a rider needs to improve a skill, working on the pieces will help develop the skill. When the pieces are in place, put them together and practice the skill.  When working on seeing a distance, one needs to be sure the responses of both “go or forward” and “whoa or half-halt” are instilled.  Then one can begin working over poles on the ground, instead of jumps, to start to develop “an eye for a stride”.  Eventually, they can progress to small jumps, then bigger jumps, (all while keeping their shoulders back, of course!)


The converse way of developing a skill would be the rider who approaches each ride and “tries to get the horse to go well,” or, in the above context of jumping, merely  jumps jumps to practice the act of jumping, without acknowledging what element of jumping needs the attention.  This rider usually brings the same habits to each ride and tries to improve the horse with exercises, while continuing their bad habits.  The horse will eventually improve, but not as quickly or as well as the horse who has a more mindful rider.


I don’t suggest drilling, just focusing and having a progressive approach that addresses the skills or habits you’d like to have or develop.  Many times, when I need to make a new habit mine, I practice it doing the simplest tasks. I may walk the whole ride, if that is hard enough.  I don’t feel the need to put the horse through all his paces if I find keeping a new habit challenging throughout even the simplest exercises .  First, I stick with what I can manage, then progress through my riding routine.  Usually, it only takes about a week before I can progress to integrating it into a “normal” ride. But I can’t be complacent about keeping my new habit, or my old habit will return!

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