“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly!” Zig Ziglar
One of the biggest obstacles to overcome when pursuing dressage is perfectionism. This is a problem especially pervasive to the adult amateur. Most young riders seem content to attempt an exercise repeatedly, with no apparent doubt that eventually they will get it right. This is generally not so with adults. It is not uncommon for adults to worry if the first or second attempt at an exercise does not “feel” right. This worry is usually a result of erring on the side of kindness, as the rider expresses concern for not confusing or “messing up” the horse.
I believe that one cause of this confusion is that many of the classical dressage books are written from the perspective that a rider will be learning on a horse that is more educated than the rider. In this case, when the proper aids are given, the results will be consistent. Unfortunately, in this day and age, particularly in America, this is not so common. Frequently an instructor is training a horse and rider combination through the levels together. It is a lucky rider that has access to schoolmasters in which to learn the exercises properly before attempting them on their own horse.
Another aspect of perfectionism that inhibits a rider’s learning process is the reluctance to show imperfections in front of spectators. When others are watching, particularly those perceived to be negative in nature, many riders become very distracted and unwilling to attempt new or difficult exercises. This is problematic for the trainer as a productive training session should revolve around exercises in which the horse and rider are having difficulties. A minority of the lesson time should be spent covering exercises that have already been mastered.
So, keep in mind that it is fine to make mistakes, the horse will forgive you and you will never get it right without working out all of the possible errors. If it were so easy to perfect the exercises in one or two attempts we would all be riding Grand Prix in two months! If the people watching don’t understand why you are incorrectly riding that half-pass over and over again, be patient. In time it will be perfect and you will have the scores to validate your efforts. It is not important, or likely that everyone will understand. Give yourself a break and go out and do it poorly! It’s worth it!