Afraid to take action for fear of ruining your horse? You are in good company! It’s something that I hear about a lot, and it came up again in Q&A discussion I was a part of the other day. The irony is that it’s usually those riders who are committed to the health and well-being of their horse that worry about this the most, and by virtue of their concern are probably more likely to be ineffectual or cause momentary offense more than anything else (aside from it all being totally fine of course!).
If you feel like you are part of the aforementioned squad, here are some things to keep in mind:
The brain learns through trial and error and getting things wrong. It does this through a four-phase process of choice (I make a decision), action (I take action on my decision), observation (I observe the consequences on my decision), and response (I adjust so that I can be more efficient or closer to my target when I take that action again).
If we look at this learning trajectory, we can see that the action step is a very necessary step. The thing is most of us get hung up in one of two phases: the decision phase and/or the observation phase.
In the decision phase, we entertain many possibilities without taking action. This means that the unconscious brain doesn’t have any real-time sensory information to go on (which it needs to adjust its response), only imagined possibilities. When we get caught in this phase, we not only get caught up in an endless loop of thoughts but now we have a conscious mind and an unconscious mind in two different places. The conscious mind is caught up in future possibilities which the unconscious mind can’t match to what it observes in the present moment. When the two parts of us are out of sync like this, the unconscious activates the flight-fight nervous system as a “just in case” response, and then we find ourselves in a groundhog day scenario.
If we make it through to the observation phase, we also must be willing to observe without judgment. As soon as we compare or label something as good or bad, right or wrong, we dive into our emotional brain and our memory bank of comparative experiences. Again, we have the same deal. A conscious brain that is entertaining thoughts that are out of sync with the present reality and once more, the unconscious fires up the fight-flight nervous system.
Consistently taking action is necessary, as is consistently “failing”. That’s just learning. It’s the only way you can see “oh that was too much” or “that wasn’t enough” or “I wasn’t clear when I did that” … and then you get to go again.
If you are increasing energy in incremental bursts, observing your horse, and constantly adjusting in relation to that real-time feedback, you are unlikely to cause harm. And certainly, unlikely to cause harm that’s irreparable.
You have to allow your mistakes to be confirmation of humanity and again to keep deciding, doing, observing, and adjusting.
I’ll be back with Part 2 of this conversation tomorrow.