Are you working with reality – or magic?


Working with reality and magic

I was reviewing the blog and two articles stood out for me in terms of being relevant to so many of the questions I am still working my way through.

The two articles were the one about love and attachment,(link)  and the one about tolerance and acceptance.

Both these articles are moving towards one of the biggest things anyone can do to make a difference to their confidence.

Yes, you can take lessons; yes you can learn about horse psychology, yes you can go on clinics and courses.  However, what will make sure all those things actually work is if you are working with REALITY

What on earth do I mean by this?

Well, one thing all we humans are really good at is “magical thinking” – our evolution has hardwired an ability (and tendency) to see patterns into us.  This, combined with our drive to find meaning in the world often leads to us thinking magically rather than rationally about things.  An example of this is when I arrive at the field and my horse does not acknowledge my arrival.  I can make up all sorts of stories to explain her behaviour:  “she is mad at me for not giving her enough attention this week”; “she only likes me when I bring food”.

When riding, we can make up all sorts of stories for why our horse spooks “she doesn’t like windy days”; “she once had a bad experience with a tractor….”

And we can make up all kinds of stories about ourselves and why we aren’t riding or playing with our horses: “they are happier being left alone”;  “I will only upset them because I am in a bad mood”;  “there’s no point doing anything if I am not going to do it perfectly”

Magical thinking can also happen when things are going well:  there is no logical reason at all why wearing the same underwear affects sports performance – other than the fact that magical thinking is at work for this particular sportsman!

For horse people, the magical thinking when things are going well can include things like

“My riding is best when I lunge for twenty minutes first”;  “He goes much better with a flash noseband”; “My horse does a perfect half pass when I do it THIS way”

Now, just as with limiting beliefs (which are a form of magical thinking) – sometimes these statements might actually be true – and might be based on rational thinking, so not every thought like these is magical thinking.  What makes them magical is when all you see is a pattern and without any rational thought you apply a meaning to it – and we can’t help doing this!  It is in our basic nature to do this.  If I drive along a road, beep my horn and a streetlight goes out – my brain will make that association.  If it happens again I will already have that unconscious belief and it won’t take much effort for it to affect my behaviour….

Of course this stuff can be useful – magical thinking means I can very quickly learn some causal relationships ( if I do X, Y happens)  — it’s a short cut for learning which was invaluable in evolutionary terms.  It’s just sometimes it goes too far – and can get in the way of actually learning what is really going on

It can get in the way of REALITY.

What is reality?

Reality is that my horse isn’t acknowledging my presence – because she is a horse.  And I just have to make myself more interesting than whatever she is currently doing;  reality is she will come to me for any benefit that is of value to her – whether that is physical (food) emotional (safety, comfort) or mental (play, relaxation)

Accepting this reality might seem to take some of the richness out of our relationship – but in fact it frees me up to see her for who she really is, without the attachment – accept her for who and what she really is – and this means that every choice I now have is going to be based on her – and not some imaginary image of her.

It also gives me more options:  with my stories I only have one way to change things, with reality I have many options – that is empowering.

It will also fundamentally affect her view of me:  instead of me being emotionally connected to an imaginary version of her, I will be truly connected with her reality in the here and now – and that will feel very different to her.  SHE will be able to relax, and be her soft, light self with me.

There is another aspect to this reality though.  We don’t just have magical thinking about our horses – we have it about ourselves.  We have limiting beliefs, yes – but we also have our own stories about who we are, what we can and can’t do and how we do things.   Some of these stories are rational – some are magical.

Magical thinking is me thinking that I can’t do anything of value with my horses when it is windy and rainy.  Rational thinking is me accepting that I could – I just don’t LIKE being out in the rain and would prefer to be doing something else.  Rational thinking is accepting that while I might not be able to do what I had planned, I know plenty of other stuff I COULD be doing with my horses that would be of value – I am just choosing not to do it.

How many of us have enough things we could do with our horses in wet weather – we all KNOW we could do undemanding time, work on flexions and do so much just in the stable.  And yet when it rains we complain about the weather, and don’t do ANYTHING….that is when magical thinking takes over.

Magical thinking is great – it makes everything unfixable.  It absolves us of responsibility.  It keeps us safe from the realisation that we are making choices that are less than perfect.

It is hard:  it is far easier for me to say “the weather is stopping me from progressing with my horses” – than to accept the reality that I could be out there doing stuff, I just prefer not to.  I am choosing to be indoors writing this article instead of being out there working on my horsemanship.

If I accept that, then I have to accept that I am not perfect; I am in fact, a bit of a fair weather horse person…..  maybe I am a bit lazy… maybe – lots of things I don’t really want to face up to.  So it is far easier to stick to the magical thinking that it’s out of my control, nothing I can do about it – and I can sigh and sit back – and probably feel justified in my unconfidence as there is obviously nothing I can do about it.

So how does accepting reality work?

If I look at myself and truly accept that I am a flawed, imperfect human being (ouch!) – what do I find?

  • I don’t like riding in the rain, I would rather be warm and dry than getting soaked playing with my horse
  • My horse spooks because she doesn’t know what else to do and I don’t know how to fix this
  • I haven’t taken the time to find out or sort out her fear of tractors
  • I don’t know how to be interesting enough that my horses prefer to be with me than out there on their own
  • I don’t know how to manage my moods well enough to be able to play with my horses when feeling bad
  • I am not perfect

In fact, I am not the best that I COULD be in anything – because I do so many things that I am not devoting the time, money, effort to doing  each thing as well as I COULD–

However – life isn’t about coulds.

Life is about what I CAN do – -what I CHOOSE to do

If I know and accept these truths about myself, then I am now empowered to CHOOSE whether I do anything about them

A friend of mine constantly struggled to keep her horses fit and in work during the winter – with a full time job and limited facilities (field and stables) she was constantly worried and stressed about this.  Then, she realised that she was not thinking rationally:  when she looked at the situation rationally, looking at the facts, the evidence – she realised that she had other choices.  Now, she turns her horses away at the end of October, and brings them back into work around Easter.  And uses the winter to do horse courses and trips that inspire her and keep her progressing, while not having to stress about her own horses.  Interestingly, her horses are progressing at the same rate as other people who struggle through the winter and work all year round…..

Magical thinking takes away our power.  It might seem that it helps with explanations and stories that help us appear to make sense of the world – but in fact it strips away our ability to see clearly, which removes our ability to make choices that could significantly improve our lives.

For me, I am often away from my horses coaching other people, helping them and their horses. I could see that as a source of stress.  Instead I choose to think rationally about this, and have decided that I will have a week where I coach – and then a week where I am with my own horses – this reduces my stress and still allows me to make progress.

One of my clients has been making plans – and then been repeatedly disappointed and stressed when “life gets in the way”- and the plans are not met.  Here’s the thing:  the idea that “life gets in the way” is magical thinking – life doesn’t get in the way – -life IS the way!  Life is what we do every day from the moment we wake up to the moment we sleep – for our unconscious is continues even then.  So – instead of stressing about how little she is able to do, and how many of her sessions she has NOT been able to stick to – we decided to look at the REALITY of her life right now.   With this we have decided that her horses get the next two weeks off – just basic checking and feeding.  Then she is organising three mornings in a row where she will focus on her horse, then there will be another week off, before another set of mornings.  If we average out the hours, it works out about the same as someone else spending an hour a day with her horse – so the number of hours is the same – and even if it weren’t that wouldn’t matter.  By working with the reality of her life, we have removed stress, and made the horse time something to look forward to instead of a chore to be finished.

One last thought:

When we see our horse for who she really is;  when we see ourselves for who we really are – now THAT’S a basis for a relationship based on trust – and confidence.

I am sure there is a lot more I could write on this topic – feel free to ask questions and share your thoughts on this as I might not have been as clear and detailed as I could have been (I am not perfect LOL) – but for now, I will leave this here and just ask:

How are you letting magical thinking affect your confidence?

What are you going to do about it?

Yours, in confidence



8 thoughts on “Are you working with reality – or magic?

  1. thankyou……….just the subject I have been stressing about for a long time.Loving your blogs,please don’t stop,really giving me tools to get things in perspective

    • Hi there — don’t worry, I don’t plan to stop writing yet — it’s responses like yours that keep me sharing!

      good luck with your perspective setting and let us know how it goes


  2. Wow! This blog has come at just the right time for me, just starting to ’emerge’ from my magical bubble into reality. Starting to see things more clearly takes away a lot of negative self endives pressure and fun can be brought back into my horsey vocabulary!
    Thanks for your blogs/insight, what a fantastic resource x

  3. I thought this was a great article, but I really struggled with the choice of the word “magic” for the concept. I will have to think of something else to call it, and substitute that word in my thinking. It’s not that I think that I practice magic (or magick or whatever) but I think of that word as something very positive, and the way you use it feels (to me, subjectively, on an emotional level) a little like you are saying “Unless you take a rational and scientific approach to life, you are very silly,” I don’t mean this as a criticism, but if this word brings this response in me, it will in others, and I thought you might like to know.

    • Hi kris – I can see your concern – I only use the phrase magical thinking as that is the phrase used in the psychology and counselling literature. You have actually triggered another article idea
      For when magic is a good idea – personally I love having the presence of magic in my life and constantly seek to create and sustain its energy and marvellousness …… The focus of this blog post was purely on how the denial inherent in the “psychology based magical thinking” can get in the way of being confident.
      Hey – it would be great if you wanted to write a guest blog on the positive power of magic in our horse lives??? I would happily publish that!!!!


  4. Another brilliant article Cathy! I Think the answers to all my questions / problems are in there and I’m printing it off for a more thorough read.

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