Comment: Making mistakes in the right direction

Comment: Making mistakes in the right direction

I’m a horse person, and one thing I’ve learned while working with horses is that there’s always more to learn. In my opinion, effective horsemanship is a blend of logic, emotional intelligence, physical ability, timing and the ability to read a horse.

So, in short, it’s all pretty complicated and all riders make mistakes. Sometimes, while learning something new, I suddenly realize I’ve been doing it wrong for years. It’s a little humbling, to say the least.

Stacy Westfall, who is perhaps best known for riding bareback and sans bridle while reining, has a regular podcast. One concept she often talks about is making mistakes in the right direction.

“This implies that it is okay to make mistakes, and there is some kind of way to measure the mistakes that you are making and how that’s working out for you,” she writes on her blog.

Westfall adds the caveat that you should avoid potentially catastrophic mistakes that risk the safety of yourself or your horse, which is a good point that is sometimes forgotten even by experienced horse people.

Beyond that, she recommends looking at the direction you’re heading over a month to see whether you’re improving, stagnating or regressing with your horse. This seems like a good technique for those of us who are a bit detail-oriented, as it makes us look at the big picture.

Making mistakes is an inevitable, important part of learning. Westfall purposefully allows, or even encourages, her horses to make mistakes at times while training, and avoids punishing them for those mistakes. Just like people, horses need to learn to try new things. You don’t want to train the try out of your horse any more than you’d want to do that with children, students or employees.

Westfall also points out that it’s more important to get started than worry about doing everything perfectly. Perfection is more of an ideal than a reality anyway, in my opinion.

I love Westfall’s thoughts on mistakes because although her advice seems simple, it applies to so much in life beyond hay-burners. Whether your ranch is about to start transition planning, expand or switch up your grazing, you can guarantee you’ll make mistakes. And I can tell you right now, I’ve definitely made mistakes as a reporter and then as an editor. They’re quite public, too.

Westfall’s approach to learning is designed to keep people from beating themselves up over mistakes, but it doesn’t absolve them of all responsibility. It is the rider’s responsibility to keep herself and her horse safe, to seek opportunities to learn, to learn from mistakes, and to set a progressive direction.

I also appreciate the way Westfall acknowledges the different types of risks around making mistakes and learning. Her approach implies three main risks:

  • Getting into a wreck. An example in the horse world would be getting bucked off. Realistically, if you ride long enough, this will likely happen, but it’s important to avoid complacency and manage those risks.
  • Getting bad advice that sends you in the wrong direction.
  • Being unwilling to change or learn for some reason, causing you to stagnate.

I always think of farms and ranches as systems, where one change can affect many things on the ranch. I’m sure readers have many considerations when they’re considering change. But I humbly suggest that this approach can be a starting point for decisions around new undertakings.

What are the wrecks you need to avoid, and how can you reduce those risks? What are the risks if you head in the wrong direction, and how do you know if you’re on the right track? What are the risks of not changing? And, of course, why might you want to make this change in the first place?

For those readers who might be interested in listening to Westfall’s podcast, you can find it in a podcast app. It is called The Stacy Westfall Podcast. You can also visit her website at

A change in direction?

Our January 2020 issue went to print December 12, and that very week our federal ag minister, Marie-Claude Bibeau, made an important announcement at a Canadian Cattlemen’s Association barbeque on Parliament Hill. Here is Bibeau’s statement, in part, sent to me after the luncheon:

“As of February 2020, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will bring into force improved Humane Transportation of Animals regulations, which had not been updated since the 1970s.

“However, we understand that the bovine sector requires more time to meet the new transportation requirements for feed, water and rest.

“That’s why the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is introducing a two-year transition period for bovines, which will give time to gather more data on effective solutions concerning the transport of cattle, while ensuring the preparedness of the sector in Canada.”

As I write this (on December 12), there are few details about how this will work. The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association confirmed they had heard similar messaging on a two-year moratorium from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). In an email, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association added that “on initial interpretation we are hopeful there is a willingness on behalf of CFIA to pause and take into account ongoing government-funded livestock transportation research to ensure we get the regulations right. We too are looking forward to hearing more details of the proposed delay of transportation regulations for the Canadian beef and dairy sectors.”

So there you have it. Perhaps by the time this issue is in your mailboxes there will be more details. If you want to learn more about the ongoing research into bovine transportation, turn to Research on the Record with Reynold Bergen in our January issue.

Speaking of mistakes

Astute readers likely noticed the typo in the headline for December’s Prime Cuts. It should have read “Rising Tides…” rather than “Riding Tides…” My apologies to Steve Kay, who did not create the typo. That mistake was all mine.

About the author


Lisa Guenther

Lisa Guenther is the editor of Canadian Cattlemen. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.



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