Everyone has heard the old saying “practice makes perfect,” but what is perfect? The textbook answers for perfect is ‘having all the required or desirable elements. Qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.” Perfect is relative; one person’s perfect won’t necessarily be the same as someone else’s. It is nearly impossible always to be accurate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be an expert. So the question is, what is mastery?
To become an expert doesn’t just happen overnight. Becoming an expert at changing a tire could take you a few short days while becoming an expert at a sport or profession could take years, even decades.
Riding horses is the sport of Kings, known around the world for centuries. It is also one of the hardest and more dangerous of sports, considering that your teammate is an animal with a mind of its own.
When I was only five, I sat on my first horse at a day camp, in that instant, it became a passion. What started as just an after school activity turned into something that I was not only good at, but also something I was so passionate about that it made me determined to learn and succeed. Now, after a decade later, I have traveled all around the world to compete, making a name for myself in the industry. Still, after 15 years, I am far from ‘perfect,’ but in terms of my accomplishment and knowledge, some people consider me an ‘expert.’ Even though being an expert at riding a horse is unique, the steps taken are just the same to reach expertise at any other sport or profession.
Hours practiced and learned context plays a significant role when trying to develop new skills and trying to master something. Knowledge plays as much of a role as determination. To become an expert, not only do you need the expertise, but you should have a certain mindset towards what you’re trying to accomplish; you need to be patient, confident, set obtainable goals, and work hard for it.
Working for it
Most things in life are not free, and you have to put the work in to get what you want.
The Equestrian Industry is many things: it’s a lifestyle, it’s a business, it’s a community. Riding horses and being around them is the fun part. Taking care of a horse is no easy task; they need to be fed early in the morning and again at night. They need hay and water throughout the day, their stalls and themselves need to be cleaned, they also need to be exercised. A horse’s needs are endless, almost like having a child. However, your horse is your teammate, so spending time with them and being the one to give them their food is probably in your best interest.
Similar to the workplace, maybe you’ve started a new job, and your tasks are less enjoyable. Look at it as an opportunity to learn, get your hands dirty, prove your worth to your colleagues so you can work your way up in the ranks. Using the 70:20:10 model – 70% of knowledge comes from on the job experience, while only 10 percent comes from professional training.
Practice may not make you perfect, but the science of learning tells us that deliberative practice is the best way to learn and develop skills and knowledge.
Being patient is a virtue, especially in terms of working with a horse or with other people. There are always going to be elements that are outside of your control, but it is within your control how you handle and resolve the situation.
In terms of riding a horse, no expert or professional will ever be able to convince a 1500-pound animal to do something that it doesn’t want to do. Rather than forcing it, it takes patience, time, and effort working with the animal to get the result you want.
Practicing patience (or mindfulness) in your journey to becoming an expert or mastering a particular field is crucial. It takes time to learn things, and there are always outside elements that are not within our control, so don’t get fed up when things don’t go your way.
Setting short term and long term goals.
Setting short-term and long-term goals can be a useful tool when paving the path to becoming an expert. Goal setting can be used for personal, professional, and organizational development.
One of the best things I did for my riding career was taking the time to set short-term and long-term goals. After an unsuccessful winter season of competition, my instructor sat me down and told me to write seven goals (five short-term and two long-term). One of my short-term goals was to have at least one clear round at the North American Junior Young Rider Championships. Rather than having a single clear round, I had multiple and ended up 4th individual in the overall competition.
In the end, I ended up accomplishing every goal that I set for myself and exceeded my expectations.
Goals need to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. Additionally, they should be personalized to the individual. If you don’t know where to start, try thinking of the long-term goals first. For example, if your long-term goal is to into a new career, your short-term goals should be focused on what educational opportunities do you need to build the necessary skills?
Don’t get discouraged when you’re wrong.
Making mistakes from time to time is unavoidable. What matters is how we learn from them and how quickly we recognize them.
In the equestrian industry, mistakes are an everyday thing. Mistakes are made in the ring (during competition), back in the barns (with the horses), through equipment issues (tack), and feeding. Every time we make a mistake, we learn something as well. At competitions, the track you are expected to ride changes from class to class, so every time we show it’s different. When you make a mistake on the course, you have to understand how and why you made that mistake, so tomorrow you can apply what you learned and fix it. Everyone makes mistakes, even the best of us.
A mistake can be undetectable and straightforward, but it can also be life-changing. As a professional, it is essential to recognize and learn from your mistakes so that way, you can better yourself for the future. When an error is made, chances are someone is going to notice.
Perhaps you notice first, great. If you have the right tools and knowledge to do so, fix it! However, maybe you didn’t even realize you made a mistake at all, and it is brought to your manager’s attention first. Now is the chance to accept any consequences and eagerly seek feedback from your superior to learn how and why you made this mistake. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you are going to continue to make the same errors.
Don’t get too comfortable when you’re right.
Let’s be real; nobody likes a ‘know it all.’ In some cases, if not many, there can indeed be more than one right answer. Just because your right in one instance doesn’t mean you will be in the next. Mistakes happen, but don’t let it be a mistake made out of laziness or lack of effort.
When working with horses, it is essential to always stay on your toes; an error can be dangerous. It could be as simple as putting a bandage on a horse’s leg incorrectly, something this simple could permanently affect the horse. Horses have a mind of their own, and it doesn’t matter who you are or how long you’ve been around them; carelessness can be dangerous to you, the animals, and others.
Although carelessness in the workplace may not be ‘dangerous,’ it could cost you. Becoming an ‘expert’ or a ‘master’ requires more than just knowledge in the field, it requires an attitude of determination and eagerness to learn.
Riding horses has given me a view of learning and performance I never expected to have. It has taught me my work ethic, how to open-minded, self-aware, patience, and the importance of being willing to learn.
With the right mindset, attitude, and a bit of learning agility, you can do anything.
What are your thoughts on building mastery? We love to hear from you – we are all on this journey together, and together, we learn.