Maintain a positive outlook in the show pen and keep reaching for your goals. Photo © Kirstie Marie Photography

We Ask the Industry: What’s the Best Mistake You’ve Ever Made?

American painter, Bob Ross once said, “We don’t make mistakes, we have happy accidents.” Mistakes are often opportunities for learning and growth. At times, these “mistakes” lead to a surplus of success. This ideology is beneficial when applied to horse shows.

Exhibitors and trainers are susceptible to making errors, this fact is inevitable. Sometimes these faults are blessings in disguise. Whether it be in the show pen or when purchasing a new equine partner, do not be afraid to make mistakes.

One cannot improve or challenge themselves with a fear of failure. Buy the horse, attack the pattern, attend that show and go for it. Making mistakes with a positive attitude is the key to success in the equine industry. Exhibitors and trainers reflect on the best errors that they have ever made.

Hillary Roberts – I would say the best mistake I ever made showing horses was in 2014. I was qualified for trail, pleasure and horsemanship at the youth world that year. I made all my finals, and the horsemanship finals were first. I had a great pattern until I overturned in my right spin. I was so bummed because I thought the pattern I had up to that point was very good. I’m pretty sure I was last. Even though I was extremely disappointed, it worked out. I won the trail the next day and then the pleasure the next day. I used to put a lot of pressure on myself in the horsemanship. This mistake allowed me to relax a little.



Mallory Vroegh – I would probably say it was when I trotted out of turn in the semifinals at the world show out of which I was supposed to lope. This sounds like a devastating mistake, and it was, but it helped me to realize just how vital connection with your horse is in the horsemanship discipline. After having that happen, I have focused my attention on a relationship in all of my events, and it has decreased the frequency of errors caused by miscommunication.





Jessica Parris – I was looking for a prospect in 2010. I’ve always loved Cool Lookin Lady’s foals, but I never thought I could afford one. My trainer found one for me and I saw a grainy video and decided to buy her. When she arrived, I wondered what in the world I had done. She was coming three, small and feisty. She indeed wasn’t pretty. Did I mention feisty? I surrounded her with the best team that I could find. We didn’t have important goals, but over time she bloomed into a beautiful mare. As she got strong, she grew more and more talented. My little ugly duckling filly eventually placed a couple of Congress bronzes on my mantle. She challenged me to become a better rider and horseman, and she’s always given me and others 100% when it mattered. The day Cool Lookin Machine arrived, I thought I might have made a mistake. If so, she’s the best mistake I’ll ever be blessed to make.



Carla Wennberg – The best mistake I have made in the horse industry was taking a job working in Georgia, for Gary Selph. He had Charlie and Dixie Hutton training for him and they moved their operation to another farm. He had an all-around stud, small breeding operation and a barn of twenty-some stalls. I inherited a trainer and “whatever needs to be done” person, now longtime friend, Cindy Rucker. I trained his horses and family, ran a small breeding operation, hauled to shows and taught lessons. The first week of work, I had a horse trip and fall on me. Thank God, I only broke my ankle. The next day, I was still riding and doing work with a cast on my ankle. The whole experience was exhausting, but it taught me to understand that I should work for myself. It was a mistake that turned into a great lesson in life. If you are going to work hard for someone, make sure you get paid enough and have some perks. Secondly, if you can afford it, work for yourself and reap those benefits. In my twenties, I was determined to work for myself and go to horse shows. It was a great adventure and I’m glad I did it when I was young.

Brad Kearns – The best mistake I ever made was during the beginning of my judging career. It was over 20 years ago and I was a new AQHA judge. I was judging a show at the Delaware, Ohio show grounds owned by the Augspurgers. I was judging with Bill French, an AQHA veteran judge, and it was a large horse show. This was before pattern class score sheets, scoring systems, etc. It was announced that there were 33 in the 14-18 Horsemanship. I got to the 33rd person on my legal pad homemade scoring sheet and after the pattern, I organized my finalists for rail work. I looked up to see a contestant stopping and backing at the end of the pattern. The other judge was making notes, and there I stood missing the whole thing. So, we did the rail work and that contestant was excellent on the rail. I couldn’t judge a pattern I didn’t see, so the placings went as so…me no placing, Bill French first place. As horrifying as that seemed at the time, that became a huge learning point for me: First, that all judges are only human. Second, never assume that the last person to go is the last person to go. You may have numbered your paper wrong. Third, people are forgiving. I apologized to the exhibitor, and she was so gracious and understanding. She focused on her excellent performance and not on my colossal mistake. And fourth, I remember that mistake every time I step into the arena to judge and I focus on what I can do to make sure that every exhibitor gets a fair evaluation of their performance on that day.

Lauren Louw – I have been showing horses since I was eight years old and have made plenty of minor mistakes; from going off pattern, forgetting my numbers and everything in between. But I think a mistake – however big or small – is the most valuable when you learn and grow from it. Learn to be the best exhibitor you can be and learn to be the best horseman you can be from all the little things that don’t go right.






Lainie DeBoer – The best mistake I have ever made was the time I agreed to ride in the Trading Saddles competition at the AQHA World Show for Team Wrangler. I was lucky enough to be offered Harley D Zip to show in the western riding. I practiced with Jason Martin at the Congress and I felt that it was going to be super fun. When I got to the World Show, Jason had me come over to Highpoint’s stalls and they dressed me in a beautiful leather jacket (thanks, Kerry Papendick) chaps and a cool hat. Then, they told me I needed makeup and I looked like I could make an extra buck downtown, if you know what I mean. Then, Jason told me I needed to stuff my bra. So, he grabbed two small hand towels, and I shoved them in. I must say it was an improvement. During the pattern, all I remember is Jason and Charlie yelling sit back. I am not sure if my hunter instincts kicked in, but when I got to the part where you lope the pole, I leaned over like it was a jump. Harley did not think that was cool at all. Then, I had to make a quick turn across the middle, and I lost my stirrup (I never ride in a western saddle). Then, I had to do a lead change and I think I got him with my spur and about got bucked off. Then, the next lead change across the other middle I swung my butt over and Harley kicked out. At that point, I think I was just hanging on for dear life and, literally, the whole coliseum was doubled over laughing. When I finished, we all had a good laugh. Then, we had to do a live interview in the ring. I was asked about my pre-show makeup, and then I told him I had more, so I whipped out the towels from my bra and everyone had a howl, as did I. The moral of the story is, always be open to laughing at yourself. I made so many friends that night. I think when we compete, people only see a serious side to you and that night, everyone found out that I have a sense of humor.

Ashley Roach – I had never been a nervous rider, but so many of the circumstances had changed. I hadn’t shown in two years and, not only did I not have my trusted partner, Duke underneath me, but a three-year-old mare that I had purchased three weeks prior. So many emotions flooded through me as we rode into our first pleasure class together. It felt incredible to be back at it, but my confidence was lacking and I doubted our abilities. Once the gate closed, my legs froze and, although I knew she needed leg, I couldn’t connect my brain with my feet. At that moment, I was not a pilot to my mare, but merely a passenger. Sara stepped up and took care of me, resulting in an L1 circuit championship. Her poise masked my mistakes and, at that moment, we became a team. Since then, we have learned to trust and rely upon one another which has resulted in a substantial bond and early success.

Ashley Hadlock – When I bought my current show horse, Touched N Moonlite, “Regis”, I did not have a horse trainer at that time. I had always heard it was not a good idea to buy a horse before finding a horse trainer. So, I prayed I was not making a huge mistake when I decided to purchase him. Luckily, everything worked out as Ryan Cottingim moved to the Nashville area a few short months later. He and Regis clicked, and we have been very fortunate with a lot of success.






Johnna Letchworth – I’m not sure I can remember one specific mistake. We all know showing horses opens the door for errors left and right. I will say that all mistakes have made me better. A better loser, a better winner and a better teammate. Having a partnership with an animal is unlike any other. To become great teammates, you must be willing to admit when you are in the wrong. It can’t always be the horse’s fault. My advice for all competitors is just because you think you’ve made a mistake, it doesn’t mean anyone else saw it so, never stop showing. You might create a partnership with your horse so great that they will start to cover those mistakes.


In the end, as Albert Einstein once said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”  Maintain a positive outlook in the show pen and keep reaching for your goals. Most importantly, do not fear failure. One day that “mistake” may be a blessing in disguise.

What’s the best mistake you’ve ever made that helped your show career? Let us know.


About the Author – Cat Guenther is in a junior at the Academy of the Sacred Heart. She has ridden horses for eight years. When Cat is not at the barn, she focuses on her small businesses “Behind the Bit Tack Sales” and “Tack to Dye for”. She hopes to one day attend Michigan State University and study to become an equine veterinarian. Cat is extremely excited to compete in the rookie and novice youth all around events this year with her new equine partner, Royal Invite.