How Well Do You Handle Criticism?

If your answer is “not well,” riding lessons may be an exercise in exasperation. Lila Gendal shares some tips for getting over yourself.

Top: Valonia schooling in Southern Pines NC a couple winters ago

From Lila:

Those of us who take lessons understand that we are not going to be perfect day in and day out. Why else would we be getting help? We want to improve and learn from those who have knowledge and experience.

In order to get better, someone needs to tell us what we’re doing wrong. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have had my fair share of criticism over the years. I have been ripped apart by many individuals. I have been told to find another “hobby.” I have been told to find another horse. I have been told it all. And while the criticism has gotten watered down as the years have passed, it has not diminished completely.

For those of us who ride with very honest instructors, how do we cope with this criticism–assuming the criticism is constructive? Do we break down and crumble, or do we kick on and take in what these professionals have to say? Here are some tips for handling constructive criticism:

1)      Grow up!

Quite literally, people need time in order to understand this. For example, when I first started riding with Denny, I could NOT handle criticism. I thought I knew best. I thought he was being too hard on me. I thought my life was over when Denny critiqued my rides. I came to Tamarack when I was 20 years old  but I might as well have been 16 because that is how I reacted to criticism. Looking back now, I realize I was too intense and took everything Denny told me to heart. I handle criticism much better now and that is simply because of age. Some people have an easier time than others.

SB demo 6

2)      Keep in mind, they just might know what they are talking about.

I find it amazing when much less experienced riders talk back to their instructors, as if they know it all. This is a slippery slope and may lose you a trainer. It’s best to listen to what your instructor has to say and learn from his or her experience and wisdom. Again, there is a reason why they are getting paid to help others–it’s not random, it’s because they are professionals and you are not. This might be difficult to swallow, but it’s reality.


3)      Bite your tongue!

Sometimes when I am being critiqued and it is not what I want to hear and I feel myself becoming almost enraged, I take a deep breath and basically shut up. I know that they are the professionals and my experience does not even come close to theirs. Instead of getting into a fight, or creating mental or physical tension, just breath and relax. Sometimes it’s best to not say anything at all.

Being able to cope with constructive criticism will make you a stronger person and a better rider. Obviously people would rather hear positive and glowing reviews than negative ones, but riding horses is no easy task and we all need help from time to time. If you can learn how to handle constructive criticism you will improve.

About the Author

My name is Lila Gendal and I am 27 years old. I am from Vermont and have been riding horses since I was 6 years old. I have been eventing since I was 10. I have been riding and training with Denny Emerson for the last 7 years. My goal is to compete at the upper levels someday. I currently have a 2005 Holsteiner mare, “Valonia” (Contester X Parlona), who is currently going training level, and I am riding one of Denny Emerson’s horses, a 2005 Selle Luxemburg gelding, “Beaulieu’s Cool Skybreaker” (Beaulieu’s Coolman X Une Beaute by Heartbreaker) who will be moving up to training soon! When I am not on a horse or in the barn I am likely working in my office on what I like to call Equine Media… or social media for equestrians and equestrian websites.

V aug jump school!


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