My Favorite Mistake: Exhibitors Celebrate Mistakes that Built their Character
In the show pen, we practice with a goal of perfection. We fear failure. However, with horses as in life, embracing our challenges and mistakes often leads to growth, whether it is personal or in our equine careers. With the major fall events already underway, we often have to face down, and sometimes make, those very mistakes. Read on as a few exhibitors celebrate errors that contributed to making them who they are in some way.
Shannon & Mallory Vroegh
Shannon Vroegh shares a couple of mistakes that have left impressions on both her and her daughter, Mallory: “Well, when Mallory had her wisdom teeth out she tried to go show right after that, and it was painful. That was a mistake.
On a more literal note, we’re very superstitious and we believe that you always have one big screw-up at a major show. So, we were at a big circuit and Mallory had had perfect showmanship patterns all year, and she slipped a pivot. We were relieved; we said there it is, that’s the mistake. Now it’s out of the way before the Congress and World Show. And, sure enough, she was perfect at the Congress and won the Showmanship.”
Lesson learned: Neither you nor your horse can be perfect all of the time, so don’t sweat the times you do slip a pivot or mess up. Look for the silver lining in every mistake. The Vroeghs could have been upset or disappointed, which could have impacted Mallory’s future showmanship runs. Instead, they found the positive and moved past the mistake.
“My favorite mistake was at the Houston Livestock show in 1997. I was showing in the hunter under saddle on Dont Ya Just Love It. We had to drop our bits at the end of the class. When I went to get back on, the whole saddle rolled with me. Everyone was laughing at me while I was trying to push it back, including my horse trainer at the time, Sue Ellen Kaven. We laughed until we cried. I learned to always get a leg up in a hunt seat saddle.”
Lesson learned: You have to be able to laugh at yourself. It doesn’t pay to take yourself too seriously, especially if your saddle is hanging underneath your mount in the middle of the arena. Bell and her trainer were able to see the humor in her mistake instead of letting it turn into any negativity.
“A mistake that taught me a valuable lesson about horses, showing or training….I guess it would be a mistake that showed me (as a trainer) to always start from the beginning. I had a stallion come in to be broken out. The owner told me he had “been on” him. Apparently, we had two completely different ideas of what that meant. I was at the beginning of my career and slightly more stupid than I am today, so I took his word for it. I longed the colt, threw a saddle on him. I didn’t bit him up, didn’t longe line him, nothing. I just crawled right up there. BIG mistake. That sucker went straight up on his hind legs, came down, broke in two, and sent me flying into the fence. Then, he came after me, with teeth and feet. I rolled out under the rail and got to safety, and (again, I was much dumber than I am today), I walked back in and did it again.
After I picked myself and my bruised ego off the ground for the second time, he went back to kindergarten. I started from the ground up, all over again. About 30 days into it, I finally asked the owner exactly what he meant when he had said he’d “been on” the colt. He’d sat on him….once. Lesson learned. Now, every horse that comes in, even the “broke” ones, gets at least a week of “baby basics.”
Lesson learned: Don’t make assumptions or take equine basics for granted. Luckily, Raysser wasn’t injured, but the owner’s failure to communicate put her in extreme danger. So, before you jump on any horse, test the waters thoroughly. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
“The mistake I’ll never forget happened early in my youth career. I went into one of my showmanship classes and did the wrong pattern even though I knew my pattern correctly. You see, I had stood and watched the other kids’ patterns before mine. When I came out of the ring, my daddy said, “Sweetie what happened? You had the pattern down pat, and then you went in and performed it incorrectly.” I said, “That is what the other kids did.” From that day forward I never watched the other kids do their patterns. You do your pattern. Make sure you know your horse and what you need to do to execute the best pattern you can.
Lesson learned: Don’t get thrown off course by imitating others. We’ve experienced that moment of sharp self-doubt while standing at the cone and seeing someone do something different than what you plan to execute. So, take a cue from Parr and learn to ignore the other performances. The only thing you should focus on before a pattern is your game plan.
“My “favorite mistake” would be when I let my nerves get to me. Last year at the 2016 AQHA Level 1 Championship Show, I let my nerves take over and ruin my showmanship run. Showmanship is my favorite class and the event that my horse and I are best at. It’s all I thought about, and I wanted to make the call backs so badly that I ruined it for myself. My horse (Johnny) is a showmanship machine, but if you do not pull him forward during each step of his pivot, he WILL step out. I was so worried about hitting my spots and trying to look perfect that I drew a complete blank and forgot to pull him forward during one of his pivot steps and he stepped out. I was so heartbroken that I ruined my chance, and it took me a while to forgive myself for that.
This year at the 2017 AQHA Level 1 Championship show, I had been dealt every reason to go out there and fail. It was my last chance to ever show in the novice amateur showmanship, and I wanted to place so badly. I had to stand at the gate and go in that show pen cold, without a moment’s worth of practice because my horse wasn’t feeling at the top of his game, (we had been dealing with some unfortunate vet/farrier issues before that show). I had every opportunity to stress over every single thing that could go wrong, but I didn’t. I kissed Johnny and asked him to try his best, and that is exactly what he did. We stepped up to that first cone, and I smiled from ear to ear because I knew that we were doing the best that we possibly could and I was happy just to have Johnny there by my side, regardless of the outcome.
It ended up being one of our greatest patterns we’ve ever done, and we were named 2017 AQHA Level 1 Reserve World Champions. So long story short, don’t let the little moments of worry and fear take over. Go out there, try your best, and most importantly, have fun with that awesome partner that you love so much. Not everyone has the opportunity to do what we do and experience these beautiful and talented animals, so don’t take it for granted.”
Lesson learned: Life (and horse showing) is 1% what happens and 99% how you react to it. In other words, you make your own “luck” at times. Pedelsky had wisely learned from her experience with nerves in 2016 that your mindset matters more than anything else.
“One recent mistake still kind of haunts me…in a good way. I was at the Redbud Spectacular and I was warming up for the amateur showmanship. The gal checking folks in came up to me and told me, ‘I think you have the wrong back number on’ and she was right. Robin (Frid) keeps the back numbers for all of the horses he is showing at a show pinned to the wall, so when we show our horse we just grab our number. Well, one of my barn mates had a number that was one off of my number. I have no idea how I did it, but I grabbed hers instead of mine. After that close call in the warm-up pen, I did a mad sprint to the stalls and swapped my number out. Thank God the ring steward noticed because obviously I would’ve been disqualified if I hadn’t changed my number. Now, I double check my numbers before I leave the stalls and STILL almost always ask someone in the warm-up pen to confirm what number I have one.
Lesson learned: Have a routine for double-checking important details and ask for help. We spend hours upon hours perfecting our performances, and it would be devastating to have small, preventable issues take you out of the running completely.
Do you have a “favorite” mistake that has taught you a lasting lesson that relates to horses? Let us know in the comments.
About the Author: A native Michigander, Rachel Kooiker is a lover of horses who loves to write. She graduated from Grand Valley State University with a BA in English and Psychology and an MA in Curriculum & Instruction. She competes in all-around Amateur events with her APHA gelding, Hoos Real. Together with husband Drew, she helps to operate Kooiker Show Horses, where they stand APHA World Champion Im the Secret.
Photos courtesy of Shannon Vroegh, Christine Parr, Caitlin Raysser, Heidi Padelsky, and Beckie Peskin