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Trying a new skill with your horse can make you feel like a rookie. But the risk can pay big dividends in enhancing your horse life and horsemanship.

Trying something new with your horse can really mess with your mental game and your confidence. When you’ve mastered one discipline, it’s hard to let yourself be vulnerable—and a rookie—all over again. However, doing just that can be the key to becoming a better rider and getting the most out of your horse life.

Erin Taormino has worked her way to the top of the reined cow horse ranks as a professional. Fear of failuredidn’t sideline the Texas cowgirl from learning a new discipline to further her horsemanship and find a new way to enjoy horses. Courtesy of Erin Taormino

Erin Taormino, a top professional rider in the National Reined Cow Horse Association, has a reputation for success and excellent horsemanship. When she had a chance introduction to world champion breakaway roper Jackie Hobbs Crawford a few years ago, Taormino had no idea it would lead to her once again becoming a student as Crawford started giving her roping lessons. It began with a common friend inviting both horsewomen to ride.

“Jackie had a few horses there, and they got me to rope,” Taormino shared. “It was really hard to block out the distractions that first day. I’m a perfectionist, and I couldn’t rope! I’d maybe roped the dummy a few times, but roping around someone as talented as Jackie—it was intimidating.”

The mental struggle of putting herself out there, taking a risk, and possibly looking like a greenhorn could’ve kept Taormino from trying something new. But she put her fears of failure and looking silly aside and dove right in.

“It took me a bit to wrap my head around letting myself be bad at something,” she said. “I knew I didn’t know what I was doing. And I knew I wasn’t going to be very good at it. But I made myself go do it.”

Taormino found confidence in the things she does know and do well. She knows she’s an accomplished horsewoman and can ride. She knows she’s been a good student in the past, having been horseback most of her life and apprenticing for top hands like Ron Ralls and Todd Bergen. She knows she can handle high-pressure situations with a lot of eyes on her.

“I had that fish-out-of-water feeling,” she said. “Then I got my feet wet and could focus on what I needed to do. I had to dive in and learn to be OK with not being the best right off the bat. Once I got comfortable handling and swinging a rope horseback, it got better. Every time I do it, I still have to tell myself that it’s OK not to be perfect and the only way to get perfect is to continue.”

In the time following that first roping lesson, Taormino and Crawford became close friends. They’re both fierce competitors, and they have kids close in age. That friendship has further enhanced Taormino’s realization that it’s OK to make mistakes and keep learning.

“Our friendship has definitely made the learning curve easier,” Taormino shared. “Being good friends with your teacher can help you laugh off any mistakes. Now, she helps me rope, and we help each other further our horsemanship.”

Taormino credits consistency with building her confidence as a rookie roper. Much like with her young horses, her confidence builds and she adds more pressure. If things go south, she can go back to her own consistent foundation, regain her confidence, and try again.

“I surround myself with consistency,” Taormio explained. “Jackie is consistency for me. She’s going to tell me the same thing when I rope the dummy as she does horseback. When I have that consistency, I can build my confidence. What she’s teaching me works, and as I build confidence and get more consistent, I’m ready to learn more.”

While Taormino enjoys watching the horsewomen compete at a high level in breakaway roping, she’s not sure it’s a new calling for her, though it could put her on a path to compete in a future NRCHA World’s Greatest Horseman event. For now, it’s a new skill to learn and enjoy.

“It’s a nice break from what I do day in and day out,” she said. “I’ve watched more roping lately than I have in my whole life, and those girls are so fast! Right now, it’s a nice distraction and a way to surround myself with good people. Good experiences will come from it.”

So, what’s holding you back from trying a new event or venturing on a new, more challenging trail? Consider Taormino’s take on being a rookie, and you might find yourself with a new set of goals and an extended network of friends to help you achieve them.

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