Dr. Haefner's Blog post # 10: Looking for the Fix: The Forest and the Trees

Typically, when a rider seeks out my assistance, they have a problem and are looking to get it fixed. Often their problem involves a strong emotional reaction to a specific situation that interferes with their riding, such as anxiety as they enter the show ring or panic as they approach a triple combination. Many are surprised, after they have described their problem, when I ask them to take a step back and look at the broader picture. Like most of us, my clients are highly focused on the problem and often believe that the solution lies in directly addressing that problem; changing some specific thing about themselves that causes the problem to vanish.
In order for this to be true, we have to subscribe to a simple mechanistic view that involves simple cause and effect. Isolate the broken part, replace it, and the machine works. This view point is extremely appealing in its simplicity, efficiency, and imagined effectiveness. This perspective or belief is also highly seductive (think Sirens from the Odyssey) in that periodically we find situations where this seems to be true. We make a small change and VOILA! everything gets better. It seems like magic and, I have to admit, I love being the magician.
The reality is that very few of the problems we face in our riding are that simple. Even if we find a simple fix, something that helps in a dramatic and immediate fashion, it is not the whole picture and is very unlikely to fix the problem once and for all. It is helpful to think of our thoughts, feelings and actions as influencing the probability of any specific outcome or event rather than thinking about them in terms of simple cause and effect. (This is the difference between Quantum and Newtonian Physics which carries me back to my days as a student of physics. I am constantly debating as to whether to write about this or not. I could be talked into it if there is enough reader interest 🙂 ) In this way, we allow for the changes we make to effect the probability of desired outcomes to a greater or lesser degree. At the same time, we understand that even a positive change might not invariably lead to the outcome we seek.
We may find a “fix” that dramatically increases the probability of a desired outcome. At the same time, we can commit to a wide range of changes that increase the probability of what we want, even if the changes in outcomes are incremental. We invest time strengthening our mental, emotional, and physical fitness. We commit to advancing our knowledge and skill. We connect to our core motivations and create well formed goals with a clear and measurable plan. And, we nurture those relationships that help us advance toward our goals in a positive and affirming way.
Dedicated horsewomen and horsemen around the world rail against the short cuts taken that adversely affect the physical, emotional and mental welfare of our horses. Yet, we are often happy to take similar shortcuts with ourselves. The next time you run into a challenge in your riding, by all means look for possible efficient solutions; however, at the same time take a step back and explore the larger context. Take the time to look at the forest, as well as the trees.

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