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What to do if you make a mistake in a test

Hello everybody and welcome back to the podcast

This week i was having a chat with one of my riders who had a big test coming up. We had been working on their centre lines and discussing what to do and how to ride it and she then asked 'what happens if i get my turn onto the centre line wrong and make that mistake and then end up off of my centre line - what do i do?' and i thought that it was such a valid question and one we dont talk about so often. Its easy in lessons and when we ride to talk about what we should do, how we should ride a movement, how it should look and how we should ride. But what happens if we dont? What happens if you make a mistake or get something wrong or something doesnt work out; or even what happens if a spook or naughty moment stops you being able to ride the movement how you want to.. How do you then come back from that; how do you then get your test back on track as quickly as possible and get back to getting those marks up and your head back in the game.

So this is what i want to talk about today - what should you do when something goes wrong in your test. How do you do damage control and minimise the effect its going to have on your score and how do you get yourself back on track.

Trust me when i say i have had my fair share of mistakes in tests and my fair share of those tests where everything just goes wrong and everything falls apart. It happens to us all and i think any rider who tells you they havent, clearly havent ridden enough tests yet. I think its a right of passage that you have to go through those moments and especially when im teaching my BD Youth or Pony Club riders i talk to them about 'bad test bucket list' - these are the 3 tests that we dont want to have but equally we kind of do want to have at some point. These are the three tests where we learn the most.

Everyone has to at least once in their life, go wrong in their test or completely forget the whole thing and have a huge mind blank; everyone has to have that one spook (usually caused by a lady with an umbrella or small child running around) that then seems to affect your whole test and everyone i think has to also have that test where you feel like everything goes wrong and you're just trying to get to the end. You may be able to tick all of these off your bad test bucket list or it may be you've only done one or two but i feel like with all these bad tests; these tend to be the ones we learn the most from because we learn so much from them. Most people i know have to go wrong in a test to realise they need to learn it and learn it well; riders need to have a spook or something big happen in their test to realise they need to improve their control, their seat or their mindset and equally riders need to have things go wrong in their tests to realise they need to learn how to deal with mistakes and find the ways to not let it influence the rest of their test. Its all a learning experience as well as a bit of character building and a bit of humble pie added in too!

Today though i want to focus on that moment where something goes wrong in a test; it might be something small like you dont prepare your centre line properly so you overshoot the centre line; or it might be a big spook that takes you off in a totally different direction to where you want to be. Or it might be something in the middle. But how do we get ourselves back on track.

What do you do when things go wrong

The first thing that should happen before you even enter that ring is that you should know how you as a rider deal with mistakes. I think this is super important because everyone reacts slightly differently when something goes wrong. You might give up and accept defeat thinking this is going to influence your whole test; your brain might hyper focus on that moment and even when you carry on and your two or three movements down the line your brain is still wondering what went wrong and how bad a mark the judge is going to give you; you might feel like you lose your bearings and lose where you are in the test or what's coming up next; you may feel like you tense up and tighten or equally that your horse feels more tense after that mistake; you may feel like you get stuck in a negative headspace thinking not very helpful things like 'well this next movement is going to be awful' or 'he just feels awful today' or 'im not riding this very well at all'. Or you may do something completely different but i think its really important to know how you naturally react in those situations so you pre-empt it a bit and give yourself a bit of a game plan to get that test on track.

What should you do when things go wrong

Once you know what you naturally do we can then start to look at what you should do. You'll have heard me and I'm sure other people talk about visualisation. Its a really powerful tool that sportsman and athletes use around the world to help them prepare for big events. Research has shown that our brain cannot differentiate between what we visualise and what actually happens so essentially visualisation is free practise; you are able to visualise and imagine riding through your test; imagining what you will do, how you will set each movement up, the aids you will use, where you will look, what you will do with your legs, what you'll do with your seat and rein and so on. So you will essentially be practicing just as if you are running through your test without having to run through it time and time again with your horse and you can practice everything you need to do

But a less common way of using visualisation is to actually imagine what you will do if things go wrong. Now this is totally personal because some people feel if you imagine bad things happening in your test they may be more likely to happen and that is a very valid point but at the same time, if those bad things do happen i would like to have thought through and practiced a way of dealing with that situation so in real life, i deal with it in the best way possible. Whether you do this through visualisation, chat through it with your coach or just think it through; i think its really a good idea to have a plan of what you would do and how you would deal with problems or mistakes that happen; especially ones that crop up or happen sometimes in training. It means that when a mistake happens in a test you automatically have a plan in place that youve thought through, you know exactly what to do and you just initiate plan B. The other option is that you have a mistake, and you then dont know what to do and end up either possibly making the wrong judgement call or doing nothing, neither of which is going to benefit your test. And this is another reason why test riding is such a good thing to do because it will bring up those possible mistakes that might happen in a test and you can then plan out what you will do if that same mistake happens on competition day.

Do your damage control

When things go wrong in a test that you might not have expected; these tend to be your spooks, moments of tension, trips, stumbles, forgetting your test and so on. And these tend to be the mistakes that put you off your game and stop you in your tracks. So we need to have a plan to always be able to put in place that does a bit of damage control, gets you back on track and tries to keep as many marks as possible and i think when it comes to this you job is to get them back in the direction and at the speed you want as quickly as possible.

When we think about this in terms of how this affects our marks, if you're supposed to be doing a trot shoulder in and your horse does a big spook before and takes off across the arena, understandably you'd probably score a 0 for that movement. But if you manage to keep your horse going in the direction they're supposed to be and you keep them trotting down the long side but dont manage to get a shoulder in, youre not going to get a great mark but the judge will usually give you a few marks for the fact youre in the right gear going in the right direction. So we need to make sure when a spook or something big happens, that we keep the speed and direction or, if this goes you get the speed and direction back as quickly as possible. The quicker you do this the more marks youre going to get for that movement as well as setting you up as quickly as possible to get as many marks as possible for that next movement. So if youre going to take anything away from this episode i want you to think:

If you have a big spook or mistake in your test, as soon as possible, get yourself back in the direction you want to go in at the speed you want to be going at. Its going to get you a few more marks for that movement as well as setting you up to get great marks for your next movement too.

Get back on track ASAP

And this brings us onto the next part which is getting back on track as quickly as possible. Where people tend to go wrong is when they let one mistake influence 3 or 4 movements so rather than just losing 3 or 4 marks for one movement they end up losing 3 or 4 marks for the next 3 movements too so ended up losing 12 marks instead. This happens a lot with spooks or when horses break into trot from canter.

So like we said before, step 1 is to get our speed and direction back on track as quickly as possible. Once you're there your attention needs to go straight to the next movement coming up and what you need to do to make this next movement go well; this is all about your preparation and setting up. This is going to require you to stop thinking about that mistake which i think is possibly the hardest part; you cant let yourself focus on what just happened and what you could have done differently and what score youre going to get (youve got to remind yourself that thinking like this isnt going to have any positive effect on the rest of your test). The quicker you can put that mistake behind you and focus on the next movement; the more likely you will get that next movement right, and the next and the next and then we end up getting into a positive cycle and the test goes on. Unfortunately, we can only really practice, making a mistake and shifting our mindset to focus on the next movement, when we are in a test and things go wrong. Test riding can give you practice with this but i dont think much matches a competition atmosphere and that feeling when things go wrong in a competition in front of the judges and this is why sometimes things need to go wrong for us to get better at dealing with it.

So hopefully this has given you a little bit of an insight into how best to prepare for mistakes to happen. We all aim to have a foot perfect clear round test but inevitably this isnt always going to happen and our aim always has to be to minimise the damage, lose as few marks as possible and get back on track as quickly as possible. Hopefully though this has given you a few different ideas to try and i hope that this will help you to shift that mindset and focus on that next movement coming up and get back on track.

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