When experienced riders become stuck in a rut.

What makes an experienced rider?

 “Experience is not the best teacher- only evaluated experience is”. Wise words from professor and pastor, Dr. Howard Hendricks

Horse club banquet season – the end of the year is a time for reflection. What went well? What would I like to change?  Heading into the next year of life, the next show season or riding lesson without evaluation will revisit mistakes like Netflix Auto-play!

In 30 years of training and coaching, I’ve gained a “wealth” of stories and experiences with horses, horse shows and horse-people. But experience’s value is diminished if I fail to take stock – evaluate, educate myself and evolve.  If I’ve not changed my mind and modified my methods in the last 10 years, I’m stuck in a rut.

When experience becomes a rut.

A colleague of mine recently called the worn path around the outside of an arena the “idiot ditch”. Ok,  somewhat harsh, but I had to chuckle.  Riding the rut doesn’t stretch riders to make guiding adjustments or challenge our aids and timing, but it doesn’t involve risk ether.

Doing the same thing over and expecting a different result may count as experience, but experience alone results in a rut. Some riders continue to repeat their novice years, not for lack of talent, but for lack of evaluation.

Problem solving – a rider’s responsibility. When things go wrong in the schooling ring or show ring, it’s my job as a rider or coach to pause, assess, and form a plan to solve the problem.  Horses don’t analyze and assess – they instinctively  react.  Simply by comparing  the anatomy of the human and equine brain, we see that horses lack in the area devoted to reasoning and thought processes such as analyzing and strategizing.  Beautifully designed as grazing, prey animals, they don’t need the same ability to speculate, (“What if?”), plan (“Next time I should…”), or analyze emotion (“sorry, I really overreacted…”).

Ask questions. “Is it me or my horse?”  Riders often ask me this question. In riding and showing horses, we’re always solving puzzles – searching for the source , not just the fix of a behaviour issue,  gait abnormality or rider weakness.  I want to find the key to the puzzle. So I evaluate – what has worked before? What facts do I know about equine learning? Is there another approach?

Get the facts. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not muck around with speculation.  I want to sift through the anecdotes and get to the credible evidence . To separate the truth from what someone thinks is true or what I hope might be true.

Which solution has the track record of success with multiple horses time after time? Is there research to back up the theory? Is it a lasting solution or a quick fix?

Practice makes perfect. And that includes practicing mistakes!     “In almost all training, situations, the most effective way to “delete” behaviours is to prevent them from being expressed.” Dr. Andrew Mclean.

Practice the tough stuff. We gravitate toward doing things that come easily, avoiding those which stretch us. And particularly when others are watching.  Trotting around an oval in an arena won’t yield the same dividends as asking your horse the tougher questions – specific lines, tighter turns or tricky transitions at designated points.

An unexamined life is not worth living. Socrates.