The next big step on my journey to the Holy Grail of Horsemanship is nearly here. On Sunday afternoon I head off to Northamptonshire, to attend the first clinic of my course with Philippe Karl.   I have to confess to being rather nervous about it and I keep wondering why that should be? After all, I am a grown woman and I dare say that I am already pretty successful in my own right. So why am I still nervous?

I often tell myself that nervousness is the result of a lack of preparation. Being the logical sort of person that I am, I have therefore already set about doing quite some preparation.

  • Buffy (the horse I will be taking) has already been in preparation with me since January, working towards the PK style of training, and she’s been coming along nicely. I do worry a lot about her physical issues (that’s a whole other blog but she has a few – not the least of which being Kissing Spines!) but I’ve been diligent in our physio and exercise programme and most people that look at her wouldn’t know she has issues.
  • I have already bought a lovely new white numnah as my regular one just wouldn’t clean up well enough!
  • The lorry is already cleaned and ready (this is unusual – I can’t normally boast a clean lorry).
  • The clothes I am taking are already organised, including a nice new waistcoat and I’ve even polished my boots (well, Trev has polished them for me, if I’m honest…he’s much better at that than me).

So, I’m about as well prepared as I can be in terms of things to organise to bring with me; horse/ lorry/ clothes, etc.

So why am I still nervous?

Trev has helped me a lot to think this through. The answer is in large part that this is important to me. Training with one of the dressage masters of our time is a big deal. The other part of the answer (as ever) is about my own hang ups; I have a massive fear of failure.

I have actually never failed an exam in my life. Even passed my driving test first time. Did well at school (well, I didn’t get all A’s, I did get a couple of B’s, but fortunately I didn’t regard the B’s as failures, which was handy). You might say at school that I was something akin to Lisa from the Simpsons. But yet at the last PK clinic I went to watch (the first group of PK pupils in the UK), not one of them passed all their exams first time and indeed it is well known that so far no-one has (fortunately PK allows re-takes!). So for me to undertake something with that sort of failure rate really pushes my buttons. Will I be the first one ever to actually be able to pass the exams first time? Or will I fail?

This has really made me re-examine what I think of failure and, more importantly, how I define it. After all, it doesn’t really matter whether anyone else thinks I’ve failed, it matters whether I think I’ve failed (OK, I admit, it does matter a lot if PK thinks I’ve failed as after all he is the Master I am training with, but that aside…..).   I didn’t see my “B’s” as failure, whereas someone who only want’s straight A’s would see a “B” as a failure. As ever, failure is a perception.

I like to think of myself as a positive person. With that in mind, one of the most successful ways I have of trying to look at failure comes from a quote from Thomas Edison-

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  

This approach works very well for me from a learning perspective. So when I’m working with the horses, I’m actually surprisingly unafraid to make mistakes, as I see that as necessary for the learning process. After all, if things only ever go perfectly, you’ll never know how to deal with things when they go less than perfectly. I am also reminded of the words of Buster McLaury:

“Experience is something that comes along right after you needed it”

This sets me up pretty well and, importantly, I do genuinely believe it to be true.

The other thing that works really well for me is to be mindful of where it is that I set the bar for success.

For example, when starting a young horse, I do not think of it as helpful to say that the horse has to be “broken” in a specific number of weeks or months. Instead, I take things day by day and look for an improvement each day. That improvement might be really small. I mean tiny. On one of my most tricky starters recently, there was quite a time when all I looked for each day was just a few more steps on the right rein that contained some sort of increasing level of relaxation.

Another good example is in competition. I don’t come home with a red ribbon each time but yet somehow I’ve convinced myself that this isn’t a failure. This is because I don’t expect to come home with the red ribbon. That’s not where I’ve set the bar.  I am generally happy if I feel my horse has tried for me and if we get a double clear out eventing. Maybe that’s a mindset from dealing more often with youngsters and “problem horses” and probably it is why I’m not in the ribbons enough….. but that is a whole other topic for me to consider at some point!

These are all good things to help my mental preparation for the PK course. However, the fact remains that at the end of the course I will either pass or fail. There is no scope for me to say otherwise. Simples. He passes me or he doesn’t. The good news is that if I fail, then there is a certain timeframe within which I may do one or more re-takes.

So, what can I do other than man up and face my fear?

If I pass all parts of the test first time (and no-one ever has) – great!! If I fail one or more parts, then I will just have to try again. And again. I must fail better. Fail harder. And learn from it. And get up again.

So, yes, I may just fail an exam for once in my life. But still, for me, the worse failure would be to have never got out of bed in the morning and tried.


Fin taking me home clear again.  He has no fear of failure.
Fin taking me home clear again. He has no fear of failure.


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