A Take On Rider Perfectionism and Failure

“Perfectionism is the biggest factor that holds my students back from making progress with their horses . . . People really care about their horses and are very detail-oriented in their desire to improve themselves and help their horses. In this effort, they can become paralyzed by perfectionism. They don’t want to take “messy action,” as I like to call it, and that causes sneaky patterns to appear.”- Madison Shambaugh

It doesn’t matter who you are. Sure, it looks and feel different to each of us. But whatever wording you want to use. Whatever it looks like for you. Whatever value and meaning you place on it. I venture to guess that all of us horse people have failed, messed up, or underperformed in some way.

For that reason, maybe this quote jumped out at you the same way it did to me? I have really enjoyed following the quote’s author, Madison Shambaugh, over the years. Her natural horse skill is admirable. Likewise her quest to bring attention to the many issues involving mustangs. Hence her moniker “Mustang Maddy.”

What is especially interesting to me is her quest for continual self-improvement, even as a highly skilled equestrian. I wrote about that issue in a post last year at

An Example of Growth and Change in The Horse Industry

Today, I wanted to share a link to a more recent Mustang Maddy interview that writer Jennifer Paulson published with Horse and Rider. It is where I found the above quote. You would think that with Madison’s level of success and interest in learning that she would be a perfectionist. But this article shows that Madison has an interesting perspective on the subject.

Some of the phrasing in the article really jumped out at me. Concepts like “taking messy action” and the word “fail” standing for a “faithful attempt in learning” are encouraging to those of us who have ever felt “less than” in our horsemanship or riding skills. Reached for a goal and fallen short.

If you’d like to read the article for yourself, head over to the following link at Horse and Rider magazine at


While changing our perspectives on the issue of perfectionism or fear of failure doesn’t make it any less likely that we will fail in our horse goals, I think it can help us cope with the mental fall out.

I know it’s easy to look around you (or down at that little device you are holding in your hand) and feel like everyone else is a conqueror on horseback while you are struggling to just put a halter on your hard-to-catch-horse in the pasture.

Those uber-awesome horsemen certainly do exist. If we can put aside any feelings of intimidation or jealousy, there’s certainly lots to be learned from them. But I also know it can be hard for many of us to relate to their level of skill when that question in our minds linger. That question something to the effect of “why her and not me?”

Why is she getting her own horse, winning the accolades, heading down the trail or progressing through the levels, but I am not?

I know I have often felt something akin to grief over not being the highly skilled horseperson I would otherwise like to be. Watching other folks be the rider I once hoped to become, while I am in the saddle year after year still trying to master the basics in my middle age? Well, let’s just say it can get discouraging.

Despite my own understanding of falling short, I feel sad when I hear of folks leaving the horse industry because they have not gotten as far as originally planned. Some might argue that their decision is due to disappointment, not perfectionism or fear of failure. Yet I wonder if all those emotions are not just different parts of the same puzzle that lead to the same result?

Do we sometimes need to adjust our goals? Take a bit of a different path than we originally planned? Scale back? Get some help? BE WILLING to fail? Sure. But if you decide that including horses in your life is really what you want to do, please don’t let the fear of failure stop you from at least trying to continue.

Yes, there is the real risk that you may not ever get as far as you want to. But you won’t know how far you can go if you don’t give it a shot.

Don’t just take it from me. Take it from Mustang Maddy.

6 thoughts on “A Take On Rider Perfectionism and Failure

  1. I hear you with this post. My coach Belinda has said to me that if she ever writes a book about her life as a horseperson she will devote an entire chapter to my horse Biasini. Belinda had him from age 4 to 9. She said that all the things that are supposed to work with horses did not work with him and she had to find a whole new way of working with him and training him. She’s a 2 time Olympian and she can admit she had to think again and start over. For me that has been an inspiration. Such good post you have written here BHB!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Anne! Sounds like Biasini made your coach, Belinda, an even better horseman than she already was (which sounded pretty good to being with!). It’s interesting how much horses have to teach people, even when those people are already accomplished and gifted around horses, as long as they are open to the idea that horses can be teachers too.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. What a great post and I can so relate. I’m working with my young 3 year old and he is doing good, but I have to remember that each day is not going to be a perfect day. Everything written here is such great reminders of our sport. Whether it’s just a trail ride on my other horse Chloe, sometimes it’s a mess and we have to turn around and head home. I love my horses so much that I just readjust my goals when needed. It’s a good reminder that every day isn’t going to be perfect! Thank you for sharing and for the link to the interview! ❤️🐴❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup! If nothing else, I think a life with horses teaches flexibility. It reminds us that progress is rarely an absolute straight line, but rather more like an EKG read out. 🙂 Thank you for taking your time to read and comment, Diana!

      Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.