Reading through an article the other day about perfectionism, it struck me that a lot of riders fit the typical description of a perfectionist. It's easy to become obsessive about having the perfect dressage test, jump school, or transition. But is it really beneficial to the horse?
While it's true that horses learn through repetition, I would argue that repeating an exercise or movement for hours on end with the only goal being to "get it perfect" is frustrating to both rider and horse, especially if the horse is offered no reward for their efforts. I am continually amazed by each horse at my barn's willing attitude and the effort they put in to trying to understand exactly what my students or I want from them. It is clear in their expression, obedience to the aids, and overall patience that they want to please.
It is also clear when horses are uncomfortable, frustrated, or don't understand. Tail swishing, pinned ears, resisting the bit, and raising the head are all indications that the horse is upset. I have seen these signs and more in horses that are drilled with the same exercise over and over. There comes a point in schooling when the horse stops trying to understand and gets frustrated, and at that point the rider must assess what is happening and what they need to change instead of pushing for more.
I always tell my students that there is another day, another lesson, another show, and that riding is a lifelong journey that is meant to be enjoyed. I would suggest a change in mindset for riders that are perfectionists. Try to shift your paradigm to something more achievable than "perfect" each time you work with your horse. Setting specific but small, achievable goals for each ride will keep you from the damaging affects perfectionism can have on yourself and your horse, and will ultimately lead to a better relationship between horse and rider and an easier time enjoying the journey that is riding and connecting with horses.