“You have to keep practicing and learn from your mistakes. Take them and grow," says amateur, Johnna Letchworth. Photo © GoHorseShow

Shake It Off: How Top Riders Come Back from Major Mistakes in the Show Pen

Every rider knows the feeling of pure frustration leaving the arena after making a mistake or even blowing a class. It happens to all of us, even if you are a novice starting out or a multiple time world champion.

The most important part of making a mistake is how you react afterward. Pushing past that anger and disappointment is vital to becoming a champion in the show pen.

Four of the top riders in the industry share some of their biggest mistakes and how they have learned to overcome those moments. Keep reading to hear some of their tips to overcoming mistakes.

Making Mistakes

Taylor Searles and Abbi Demel are skilled youth exhibitors, who both have world titles under the belt. Last year, Abbi won horsemanship at the AQHYA World Show, and Searles won the hunter under saddle. Along the way to those world championships, they have made multiple mistakes over the years.

“Honestly, there are a lot of mistakes I have made,” Searles (pictured right) said. “Three years ago I was showing Flashy Attraction in the trail at the world show, and I was perfectly clean. Then, I looked out of the chute and missed my spot. He started off, went long, and changed leads over the pole. I wasn’t too upset about that because it happens, and it was my fault.”

“The worst one was last year at the youth world show in the equitation semi-finals,” Demel recalls. “I forgot to change my diagonal. I was just so upset. Diagonals have always been a problem for me, but the fact that I forgot to change, it just blew my mind.”

Amateur exhibitors Beckie Peskin and Johnna Letchworth have had their share of mistakes in the show pen as well. Peskin, who has been showing most of her life, has had multiple top five placings at the Congress and AQHA World Show. Letchworth has won the horsemanship at Congress, had numerous top five placings at the AQHA World Show including a Reserve World Championship in Amateur Showmanship last year, and rode four years for the University of South Carolina NCEA Equestrian team.

“I did level two and level three horsemanship at the world show two years ago,” Peskin said (pictured left). “At the same exact spot in both prelim patterns, I came out of my extended jog and took a lope step. In the finals of the level two equitation last year, I had the same type of thing happen. I came around a corner, broke down, and he took a lope step. That’s been our nemesis in a lot of patterns.”

“The last three or four years in a row I have made the finals in the Amateur Horsemanship at the world show,” Letchworth said. “Something has always happened, whether it was my fault or my horse’s fault. It was bad.”

Mistakes Make Better Riders

These four riders have learned a lot from their mistakes. All of them agree that those mistakes have made them better riders in the long run.

Demel and Peskin mentioned how important it is to keep riding throughout the entire pattern or class. Judges may not see the little mistakes you make, so you should always ride as if they didn’t see a thing.

“Know that mistakes are going to happen, but you still have to go out there and not worry about the little things,” Demel said (pictured right). “Always show through it, you can always hope the judges were looking down or looking away.”

“Focus on what is in front of you,” Peskin said. “If you go in and make a mistake, they could have been looking away, in the other direction, or down at their score sheet at that exact moment. If you let it get to you, and it shows on your face, then, even if they did miss it, you’re done. There’s always a chance. At the end of the day, you just have to keep showing.”

Overcoming Mistakes

Getting past your mistakes can be hard for most riders. It’s easy to get down on yourself and frustrated. It’s important to shake off what happened before you step back into the show pen, particularly at the smaller shows when there is less time between classes.

“Forget about it,” Searles said. “There’s nothing you can do about the past. The youth world is such a huge show, but you have to think of it as just another horse show. Otherwise, it will just get to your head. You can’t get too down on yourself, that’s the worst thing, and then you’re just negative the rest of the show. It’s downhill from there.”

“When you think about it, it’s not the end of the world,” Letchworth said. “There’s always another opportunity and another chance. It’s definitely stuff you can always grow from. I go in hoping to have no mistakes, but if something happens then, I try again. I’m a firm believer in it feels a lot worse than it looks. I always try to finish the pattern and try my best.”

Have Confidence and Have Fun

Confidence is also a key component to riding through mistakes and coming back from them. Having fun is important too. When you are having a good time and are confident in yourself, it shows in your riding.

“Work on everything at home until you feel completely comfortable with it so that even when you’re in a bad situation or something goes wrong in a pattern, you can get through it,” Demel said. “Always stay confident with yourself.”

“You have to keep going,” Letchworth said (pictured right). “You have to keep practicing and learn from your mistakes. Take them and grow. Don’t be so hard on yourself that it isn’t fun anymore. This is supposed to be a fun thing, not a pressured thing.”

“In this industry as a whole you just have to have an excellent short term memory,” Peskin said. “Once it happens, there is nothing to fix it or do. There’s no fixing the past. It’s all about saying, okay, what led to that, and how do I avoid it happening the next time.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Searles said. “There’s always another class. You’re in there because you love showing. Everyone wants to win, don’t get me wrong. Enjoy how far you’ve come and what brought you to that point.”

Photos ©  KC Montgomery, Kirstie Marie Photogrphy, Taylor Searles, Johnna Letchworth, Cody Parmenter, The American Quarter Horse Journal


About the Author: GoHorseShow writer, Courtney Hall is a senior pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications at Missouri State University. Upon graduation this year, she will further her education as a graduate assistant for MSU conducting research in the ag communications industry. She started showing the APHA all around circuit as a youth and continues today as an amateur.