The mind is like a parachute – it only works when it’s open… I always loved this quote, and often used it when teaching. A rider may say something like – “Oh, I don’t like groundwork, if I am paying for a lesson, then I want to ride”.
In some cases, I let it go. Clearly the rider is not open to ideas (or science – the horse who works in hand and on the lunge is proven to learn faster). At other times, I’ll say come on, be a parachute, give it a go… It really depends on the human in front of me.
And then, just last week, I was listening to a podcast on Neuroplasticity. (Yes, sorry, I am THAT nerdy) and the presenter said something that made me pause… At the beginning of a convention or workshop (pre-covid) he’d say – “everyone who is open minded, put your hand up.” And most people would duly raise their hand – it’s trendy to be open minded. And he’d say – sorry, guys, you’re not. Open mindedness is not as, well, open, as we think… OK, so now he had my attention…
We are all pre-programmed, from day 1. As we are raised, we are surrounded by a community that is constantly shaping us and giving us clues as to who we are and how we fit into society. As humans, we like to fit in, to be accepted as part of the herd, and doing something that sets us apart is often a scary place to be. (The current pro / anti vacc is a classic example… People who were in your “herd” who are disagreeing with your viewpoint are immediately considered unsafe in your subconscious, just for disagreeing). Religion, culture, language, gender, all create your own reality, that is completely different to everyone else’s reality, and it dictates how closed off you are to new ideas or thinking.
Imagine that I suggested taking a knife and going to stab someone. Would you be tempted? Are you open minded enough to consider it? What about changing your thoughts on religion? Would you be open to the possibility to convert to Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam, atheism, whatever is foreign to what you had been brought up with? Chances are, no. Of course, there are channels through which fundamentalists are recruited – a lot of people brought up in Western countries are not growing up with the dreams of becoming a suicide bomber; but, they are normally seeking a way out of something in their lives (yes, I am generalising). But mostly, we are not open minded enough to completely change our deep beliefs. What if I told you that the sky is green? We are not open to changing what we consider fact. (Until we’ve seen a green flash sunset, but that’s a different story…) If you are intrigued by this, I highly recommend you watch The Push… It’s quite a challenge to watch – I had to take a few breaks, but it is awesome in understanding the human mind… https://youtu.be/doFpACkiZ2Q
So why am I talking about this now?
Every single one of us is living from a different perspective. All of the events that have shaped who you are, have created an individual. If 100 people attended a workshop / lecture, they would all have a very slightly different take away from it. Person A might have noticed that they only understood 5% of it – it was too advanced for where she was. Person B may have thought it was all too simple and commonplace. Person C may have found a sentence at 6 minutes so totally mind blowing that she couldn’t focus on the next half hour. And person D may have fallen so deeply in love with the presenter’s shoes that that was all they could think about. We are all listening to the lecture from a very slightly different place, and so we are “hearing” different things. None of us will hear the talk as it is being told, because none of us have lived the exact life of the presenter. What they say, and what we hear are not the same thing.
There are two worlds. There is the actual world, and there is your own internal world. Let’s say that today its pouring with rain. (It really is here, where I’m sitting). That is the actual world. The weatherman can say it’s 12 degrees and raining at an average rate of 6mm an hour. This cannot be disputed. But, each of us has an internal world, and this is how we RESPOND to the actual world. Person A – yuck, its raining, I hate the rain, it’s depressing. Person B – awesome, I’ve just re-seeded my paddocks, this rain is exactly what it needs. Person C – rain makes my arthritic joints ache. Person D – rain, awesome, it’ll settle the dust and help my hay fever. Person E – oh, rain… I have to go out and feed my horses, unpleasant when it’s pouring. Person F – rain – how divine, it’s my day off and I can have a duvet and Netflix day, guilt free…. Who is right? We don’t share the same internal world, we each react to everything differently.
How is this relevant in the horse world?
For starters, it’s going to dictate how much you get, as a rider, from a coach. As a rider, if a coach demands that I enter his arena with draw reins and enormous spurs, I’m not going to be open to enjoying my lesson, no matter what he says. He might be brilliant, but because of MY BELIEF SYSTEM, I’m not going to be open to hearing him. The other side of the coin, I’ve had riders come into my arena with draw reins, ridiculously tight nosebands, whips, spurs and every gadget under the sun. As I have suggested loosening the noseband and ditching the draw reins, I’ve seen the change of expression on their face and know that I have lost them. They are so entrenched in THEIR belief that a horse cannot be schooled without gadgets, that whatever I say from then on, clearly I’m an idiot bunny hugger. Who is right? Well, I BELIEVE that I’m right. And they believe just as strongly that they are. Neither of us is more right than the other, because it’s what we believe in our internal world.
I’m think I’m pretty open minded. I choose different approaches to working with different horses and riders, but I have concrete NO’s to many things… Beating up horses; asking more than they are capable of; belittling horse or rider; putting horse or rider into dangerous situations; gadgets; kick, kick, spur, pull; Oh, so many things will make me walk away, because I’m not THAT open minded.
In some cultures, horses are meat animals. It’s simple – they live in a herd, they are worth $XX per KG of dead weight; they don’t have names or personality. In other cultures, they are work animals – they provide the transport for crops, people, power to plough or pull, whatever it be. They need care, as you would care for your tractor, but they are a tool. For others, they are competition equipment, needed to win medals and secure sponsorships. They may receive the very best of care, have names etched in gold on their fancy stable door, but if they break or aren’t preforming, they get shipped out and replaced. At the very opposite end of the spectrum are the horse pets, allowed to live out as nature intended, fed and treated as and when needed, loved and adored, but allowed to be. Who is right? Everyone, according to their own belief. Not many people are going to cope with doing something that is totally alien to their belief system
When dealing with your horse, or thinking of trying out a new trainer, start with a list of things that you are not willing to negotiate on. And from there, consider what you’d agree to change. Adding some ground work? Lunging for a few minutes? A change of bit? Putting your leg in a different position? Remember, just as much as you live your belief system, so does your horse. If he has been taught, through bad riding, abuse, sore teeth or bad bitting, that bits are poison, you may need to be open minded about riding bitless…
What are you willing to be open minded about? And what is a big, fat NO?