Being perfect isn't what it's cracked up to be

Being perfect isn't what it's cracked up to be

May 24, 2021 4 Comments

Don Jessop

Nothing is truly perfect by everyone's standards so you don't have to worry about being perfect. You can mostly, just be you. That's not to say you shouldn't improve and work towards higher standards, but I will tell you there is one secret downside to being perfect with horses. One that's never really expressed and it deserves a moment in the spotlight. 

Here it is:

As the horse trainer improves his or her skills, each new horse they work with begins to understand things faster, yielding better, safer results in general. However... if the trainer becomes so competent that almost all basic problems are avoided with good feel and time, they often miss a crucially important aspect of the horse's learning. I call it the "cope with novice" learning curve. Let me explain.

Example:

Horses are naturally afraid of plastic. Great trainers, with good feel and timing, introduce the plastic slowly, gradually teaching the horse to cope with the plastic. As time goes on, the trainer is able to demonstrate waving the plastic all over the horse without a reaction. He is literally able to "finesse" the horse into feeling good about the experience. A less qualified trainer or horse owner doesn't have the perfect feel and timing and often upsets the horse with novice, poorly timed hands. So it stands to reason that you should always be a good trainer with perfect feel and timing right? Wrong!  

Here is where having imperfect timing is the best thing compared to being perfect. Wrong timing will certainly bother a horse at first, but it can also prepare the horse to deal with poor feel and timing. A horse that can cope with poor feel and timing is a safer horse for a novice or beginner rider.

Think of it like this. A horse that's non-reactive to bad feel and timing shows more patience. If you have to be perfect not to upset your horse, you're not really training him to cope with newbies. Take the example of the plastic bag. If you wave it quickly and too soon, you'll upset your horse. But if you do that often, you'll actually train your horse not to be upset by quick things happening too soon. In other words, bad timing can help the horse learn to be okay with bad timing.

I'm not saying you shouldn't practice good feel and timing. I'm saying that sometimes, bad feel and timing is exactly what the horse needs to learn to cope with, in order to be a safer, more reliable horse that won't react if some new rider accidentally gooses the horse or pulls too hard or introduces something in a not so perfect manner.

Now think of your horse. If you can ride your horse but someone else can't, it's partly because you're practicing being perfect for your horse all the time. You know what I mean... You warm up just so, you give him his special moments to chill, just so, and so on. To be clear, that's exactly what I do for my horses. So I'm not criticizing anyone. What I'm actually saying, is being perfect for your horse doesn't prepare him for others. If I want my horse to be okay for a novice, I literally have to practice being imperfect, with poor timing, and bad feel. Of course I'm smart enough to make sure the horse ends in a nice emotional state each time. 

I will tell you this much. It's not easy to pretend to be a novice after so many years of practicing higher standards. However, it's often worth it. All my horses, as a result of not being perfect all the time, are happier, more equipped partners for anybody who takes lessons on them.

In summary. Being perfect is nice, but it's not all it's cracked up to be. It's useful to be imperfect at times. And in reality, since it's impossible to be completely perfect, I find it useful to trust it's okay when I'm not, which diminishes any pressure I put on myself to get it right every second of the day. It helps me trust that even when I'm not perfect, my horse will learn to be okay with my imperfections. I find that to be a useful thought. I hope you do too. 

Comment below and share with your friends. We're all in this together!

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4 Responses

Haley
Haley

June 02, 2021

Love this article!! It gives us permission to just be with our horses where we’re at instead of always feeling like we are failing. Thank you for the encouragement and reality check!

Sally Twesten
Sally Twesten

May 26, 2021

One of the best articles I’ve read. I think I get the nuances of what you’re saying and it rings true. Sorry I never got to work with you personally. I know my horse would love you and he appreciates me reading all your tips. We’re both at the retiring phase of our journey but continue to be dedicated learners and appreciate you.

Geri Dorosz
Geri Dorosz

May 26, 2021

This is perfect timing for me, even though my interpretation of it’s intent may not be. I am actively searching for my next partner and just looked at a potential candidate this week. He is a 7 year old with a super foundation currently with a trainer who has a Buck Brannaman type approach and a very like minded way of thinking. As you know, I had been continuously training my previous horse to the point where I was simply enjoying the later years. This new horse will need to move forward and I have been hesitant because I may not do something perfectly and mess him up. These are super words of encouragement and will let me keep my sense of humor and just enjoy the process as I love to do. The final decision has not been made yet, but little hints like this from the universe (and you) are encouraging me to pursue this new partnership…thanks !

Jude
Jude

May 26, 2021

Pretty profound. It certainly resonates for me as a parent and a therapist: preparing my children and my clients to be able to tolerate the not so perfect attunement of others (even as I try my best to be attuned and respectfully responsive to them…..but am not perfect 😉).
Thanks for this perspective!

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