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Developing a Learner’s Mindset

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

Success in reining comes from your ability to choose progress over perfection.

Article by Gilead Friedman, with Alexis Bennett

Courtesy of the NRHA Reiner Magazine - May 2022

For most riders, reining is a hobby. But, unlike many hobbies, this sport has a very competitive culture, even at the amateur level. It makes enjoying the sport a little more challenging because you want to have fun while also being successful.

This can cause internal friction, so to truly improve and stay committed to the sport without getting frustrated, you have to learn to love the process. You must have a learner’s mindset. By adopting the approach that you’ll stay focused on continuing to improve your skills and those of your horse, you will have more fun, celebrate your progress and stay grounded through your successes.

There are several steps you can take to shift your perspective

Manage Internal Pressure Your horse hasn’t chosen to live a competitive lifestyle. You have. You have chosen to experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat as you subject yourself to the assessment of others.

The continual evaluation of your skills, through showing and receiving a score, means that you’ll always have an assessment measure, or number against which you can compare yourself. If you let it, you can easily get caught up in the outcome: a score, placing or perceived reputation.

The reality is that simply wanting to win isn’t enough; you can’t will yourself to get a better score. You must work at it. If you fall into the trap of simply wanting to beat the other rider, you forget a very important part of success — your horse and your partnership with them.

With some minor mindset shifts, you can start to see the score for what it is, a data point, and then reflect on the process to achieve a more desirable data point, or score. This allows you to begin making an honest assessment of where you’re at, as well as your weaknesses and strengths, and create a plan to address opportunities for growth.

Adopt an Action - Oriented Mindset Reining is about mastering your personal ability and mastering the talent of the horse. Often, riders receive their score and immediately start making judgements.

Having a learner’s mindset means making a plan to improve your weaknesses and then committing to the work through daily practice, coaching and seminars.

Is it good or bad? Should I be proud or embarrassed?

How does that compare to previous scores or the scores of others? This reactivity reflects an outcome mindset. While it can be challenging to break away from this mentality, if you can do it, that’s where the progress and your power can come from. Instead of judging, reflect. Where are your strengths and weaknesses based on your scores across maneuvers? Once you’ve made an objective judgment, you can begin to plan.

This switches your thinking from outcome-oriented (score) to actionoriented (plan). Your narrative becomes, “Here are the areas that I need to improve in,” versus “I need to get a certain score.”

It’s this paradigm shift that is at the heart of having a learner’s mindset. Whereas a competitive, outcome-oriented mindset means you need to be better than other competitors, a learner’s, actionoriented mindset focuses on mastering your own riding and your horse’s technical skills with the understanding that this will put you in a position to achieve success.

Commit to Small, Continual Improvement

Look at your strengths and weaknesses, and understand where you need to make changes. This is uncomfortable because our psychological tendency as humans is to hide our weaknesses. It’s a protective mechanism. However, someone with a learner’s mindset isn’t judgmental of underperformance in an area of their riding.

They see weakness as an opportunity to improve, step up their game and, in time, change it to a strength. The best way to see results is to analyze areas where you can improve your riding and bring out the talent in your horse, and then commit to a plan to change it. As you continue to do the work to improve your own horsemanship and showmanship, along with your horse’s skill, you will start to notice changes.

The progression doesn’t have to be dramatic to be transformative, either. Even a 1% improvement each day will begin to accumulate, and you will start to see significant results.

You have to decide if you’re committed to the process and not get derailed by the outcomes, or scores, that you get along the way. Progress is never instant. It could take six months or six years to get to where you want to be. That’s why you need to appreciate the journey and adopt a learner’s mindset.

It’ll allow you to better appreciate milestones, celebrate achievements and, ultimately, enjoy your hobby even more.

Gilead “Gil” Friedman of Mental Athletics specializes in the mental

game that accompanies competition. The NRHA Professional, who

grew up riding performance horses, worked with NRHA Professionals Dan Huss and Bob LaPorta in the United States. Now based out of the KPH Performance Horses facility in Kfar Netter, Israel, he works in person and virtually with trainers, non pros and amateurs worldwide, sharing his fi rsthand knowledge of performance psychology to help riders step up their mental strength in a competitive environment. Learn more at

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