I have compiled a list of the top 3 mistakes riders make. These common errors are easy to correct if you become aware of what they are and know how to avoid them.

Rider Mistake #1

A rushed mentality.

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A person is trying to get a horse to lunge. They raise whichever arm is holding the leadrope to cue the horse to begin walking a circle. If the horse starts backing up or turns the wrong way, the person gets all discombobulated which causes their timing and approach to go out the window. When a horse is new to learning something or not yet sure about it, there will be many times that you will simply set it up and then wait and hang in there until you see a slight positive change. At this point, you’re not looking for perfection, you’re looking for progress. When we’re doing this exercise at the clinics, I tell the people to take a deep breath and get a dorky look on their face. That helps slow their brain and actions down to avoid making this mistake.

For more help with groundwork, go to my Groundwork For Horses article.

Rider Mistake #2

Your lack of confidence translates to the horse


A rider wants to make sure they do everything ‘by the book’. They’re worried that if they don’t execute all their cues perfectly, the horse will be permanently ruined. So they nervously attempt to ask the horse to do something, but the horse doesn’t immediately do what they wanted. So the rider loses even more confidence and assumes they did it ‘wrong’. But it may be that the horse just needs to be shown a few more times until he gets more sure and consistent.

There’s usually several different ways to communicate an idea to a horse. And any of them would work if your timing and approach are even half decent. So fake it till you make it. Go in there with a confident attitude of leadership, have in your mind what you want your horse to do, set it up for him, hang in there, and allow him to find it. 

If approach #1 doesn’t resonate with the horse, then try approach #2. He’ll let you know when you get it right.

Rider Mistake #3

Trying to work at a level above where the horse is at.

Imagine a kid who has just learned to write his name. He can do it most of the time, but he’s still not really sure it’s right. A person gets a horse to about that same level, then tells him to write a 10 page essay. That’s an epic fail. The horse is blamed and labeled as stubborn or difficult. 


You hold up your right arm to cue your horse to turn to his left and lunge on a circle. The horse is a little sticky and anticipates facing up. So it’s not automatic for the horse to turn away from you and begin walking. The temptation is to keep pushing on the horse until he actually turns away from you and begins walking the circle. That would be a mistake and working above his current level.

Instead of biting off that much of a chunk, you could watch the horse closely and reward him when his ear rolled to the left, or his eyeball glanced to the left. That’s when you release all pressure. After a few times of letting him know he’s thinking the right thing, he turns his whole face to the left. Now he’s only a few steps away from turning his whole body to the left to walk his circle without invading your bubble. And neither one of you had to work very hard or get frustrated.

It’s the same deal with teaching something like a sidepass. You get the front to go, then the hind, then the front, then the hind until they can sync up together. 

Reward smaller changes and slighter tries.

[Bonus] #4

Never pulling up the life in the horse.

You want a horse to be alive, alert, and responsive (not reactive). Don’t settle for a dull and pluggy mindset. Those are actually the type of horses that will surprise you. A horse should travel with purpose. He should do things with energy and have some life in his body. A young colt should be instilled with a ‘go somewhere’ mindset and should carry that throughout his career. Once a horse knows how to do something, like back up, then ask him to back up with some try and effort. 

You don’t want to work at a level above where the horse is at (see Rider Mistake #3) but you also don’t want to fail to progress him forward.

Listen to my podcast on this topic here: Ask Carson James

Carson James
Carson James

Carson James' background is in Vaquero Horsemanship, and for the majority of his career, he worked on cattle ranches where he rode horses all day, every day. His knowledge comes from real life experience using traditional Buckaroo horsemanship to train horses and fix problems. He is now taking all of this knowledge and experience and sharing it with horse owners through his blog, his Insider list, and his Buckaroo Crew. He has a unique way of breaking things down where they're easy to understand, both for the horse and the human.