If you think you can’t, you won’t……

If you think you can’t – you probably won’t:  This is the talk I gave to the International Equine Touch Association Annual Conference last weekend: it’s a  bit longer than my usual posts, but I think it will interest you.

Please add your comments!

Some of you may know that I have been coaching for many years – up until 5 years ago that was mostly in the business world of Fortune 500 companies, investment banks and the like. For the past 5 years I have been a full time confidence coach for horsepeople – a very rewarding job, combining my love of horses with my love of people.

Something some of you may also know is that in my exploration of all things horsey, I studied natural horsemanship, classical – equine podiatry and yes, equine touch.  I was very lucky and had courses with Jock and Ivana themselves and loved every single thing I learned.  I went all the way to level 3 – even did some case studies and started the written work –

But I never became a practitioner and, in fact, for a long time, I didn’t even do the basic body balance on my own horses.

Now, at first I thought this was just a “me” thing – I have a habit of taking up new interests and then moving on to another

But then I noticed something:  In my business I recommend that the horse owners I meet and work with do an equine touch level 1 course – it helps them build confidence around and with their horses, gives them confidence in touching their horses—in fact it really strengthens the whole relationship between owner and horse.  And I know it was Jocks dream that every horse owner would do level 1 and be able to offer that to their horses….

And many of my clients were doing this – going on level 1 equine touch courses.

Great, I thought – how wonderful for their horses, and for these humans to have such a good way to connect.

But then I noticed something:  when I visited them after the courses, they were excited, thrilled – and yet they were not doing the basic body balances on their own horses.  Months later I would ask and still, they had not done it on their horses since the first time or possibly two after the course.

What on earth was going on?

Now I know sometimes after a course you realise what you learned is not working, not effective – or not good – but that wasn’t the case here:  to a point they all continued to say how great equine touch is, the amazing results they got from their horses—the last time they did it – and yet, and yet they were not doing it now

In chatting with Lynne, the Chair of the IETA, it also became clear that there are many people who go all the way through level 3 and then don’t do it – and, even more interesting – there are people who get all the way to practitioner status – and still don’t practice it.

What is going on?

Here is a modality we KNOW gets results, we KNOW the horses appreciate and we KNOW how to do it – and yet we are choosing NOT to do it?

Sounds weird, doesn’t it?

So – if it works, if it gets results – and if we know how to do it as a result of our course s—WHY DON’T WE DO IT?

Any ideas?

Fear, discomfort, unsure we are right, fear of incompetence, not being as skilled, not being sure we are right, not living up to our own high expectations…..these are all things that come to mind

To me there are three things that affect why we don’t do it:

First of all, it’s the type of learning:

Interestingly – this is not JUST with equine touch that we see this pattern – it shows up in a LOT of learning – and what it fundamentally comes down to is a lack of CONFIDENCE in actually APPLYING the learning in the time AFTER the course…..

Most of us are really good at what I call “mechanical learning”:

It’s how we learn to learn at school:  if I do X then Y happens.

If I learn this equation, then I get the answer right every time

If I use this brush technique, I will get this effect every time

If I do it THIS way then THIS will happen

This is classic, single loop, mechanical learning – and it’s GREAT – because the result gives us instant feedback that we are RIGHT.  There is very little room for interpretation, subjectivity – even in art, if I learn the drawing techniques, I can “see” if my flower looks like a flower – I get that feedback right away….and, more importantly, everyone else can see it too.

With single loop learning, when we learn something our confidence goes from zero to 100 – and then stays there, with an occasional blip when we make a mistake – but it’s EASY to keep it up at 100 because each time we do it, the result reinforces our learning and our confidence.

It’s easy to know when you are wrong with single loop learning – if you do X and it doesn’t lead to Y – you know you were wrong..

However, there are some things that just don’t work this way.

Some of the things we learn are double or multi-loop learning: where we learn that X can lead to Y – or possibly Z in certain circumstances, and then again, might lead to A if it’s that kind of day…

What are some examples of things that are double or multi loop learning?

Anything where what you are doing involves complex systems – living beings for example

When we are with horses, doing equine touch – sometimes there IS no clear feedback – we do the moves, we focus on accuracy, integrity, intent – and yes, the horse responds – but we don’t know if that is the BEST result? Would someone else have done better? Would a different move have been better?  How do we KNOW for sure that we are doing it “right”?

When we are used to mechanical learning, this is our internal dialogue:

“hmm, that didn’t feel quite right, I am not sure I’m doing it well enough, let’s move on to the next bit – ah that didn’t feel good either – “and by the end of the body balance, you KNOW the moves weren’t done well and that is NOT a good feeling.

Hardly surprising that your unconscious will say to you “you know, that didn’t feel very good, so let’s not go there again” and so stops you from being in that horrible uncomfortable situation – by helping you forget to do it, leave the card behind – or just find other things to do.

Those of you who read my blog will know that unconfidence is usually just the result of your unconscious protecting you and keeping you safe from harm – physical emotional, mental – and certainly that sensation of doubt and uncertainty is not pleasant, and your unconscious will work hard to protect you from that.

Multi-loop learning and activities need a different mindset, they need:

“hmm, that didn’t feel so good – felt different to when I did it on the course, let me think, what are some of the things I can try to get that to feel closer to when I learned it?  How about more challenge? Better body position – hmm in fact let me run through some things from the course……and oh yes, the breathing, check that too…..this is great, I am remembering more stuff this time!”

See the difference?  In the first, it’s all criticism – -in the second it’s all about LEARNING – the learning doesn’t stop once the course is over – in fact, finishing the course is just your licence to START learning!

Typically in multiloop learning, confidence is at zero at the course start, 100 at the end – and then slowly, inevitably erodes back to zero over time after the course, as each time the person tries to put the learning into practice, their mindset depletes their confidence…

At the more advanced levels, mechanical learning and mechanical confidence shows up in people wanting detailed procedures to follow – lists of instructions – rather than allowing themselves to learn the principles, the fundamentals and then follow those principles and fundamentals in a more “artistic” way.

This is why having a checklist of “do move A then move B” doesn’t work in things like equine touch:  one of the stories I remember Jock telling is how he went to one yard, lined the horses up and did a move on one horse then while it was processing , did it on another and another so by the time he came back to the first horse he could just do the next move….

It didn’t work.

Because equine touch is not a mechanical, single loop thing and so doesn’t work that way.

Just like anything to do with horses really!

Mechanical learning in horse riding is what leads to things like rolkur – where the horse is treated like a machine and any approach is acceptable just as long as it works….  where riding is taught and learned as a series of A,B C rather than the dynamic, interactive feel based process it needs to be

Ok, so the first problem is we have to move beyond our single loop, mechanical learning to a place where we see the whole process as learning!  It’s like learning the notes on a saxophone – but you really only learn to play it once you know the basics and you get out there and DO IT, mistakes and all…..

The second thing that gets in the way – is we think that learning it is enough – we forget about the PRACTICE

Someone once said to me “wow, you’re good are drawing antelope”.  Well, I should be – I spent a whole winter’s worth of TV watching practicing drawing antelope, and drawing antelope – and surprise surprise – I got good at drawing antelope.

I often meet people who say “I’m no good at doing equine touch” – and I ask them “how much have you done?” and they say “oh I did my horse a couple of times after the course but not since then because I’m no good…..”

And then I ask them – so how are you going to GET good if you don’t practice it?

Remember when you learned to drive? How awkward it felt?

And how now, you don’t even have to think about a lot of it – it just gets done automatically?

Someone once told me I was a “natural” with horses and humans – I paraphrased a famous golfer – the more I study and practice, the more “natural” I get!

Maybe that’s something we can address on the courses – remind people that once they leave, it will feel awkward, clumsy – not as good as when we have others around us helping us validate what we are doing – we need to learn to develop that multi loop mindset and practice THROUGH the clumsiness, the bad moves, the horses that walk away…..in fact this is about expectation management….when we don’t meet our expectations, we stop doing things….

The third thing that affects the confidence to actually DO IT – is our own beliefs about ourselves.

Some of you may have heard of “LIMITING BELIEFS” – these are those beliefs and statements we make about ourselves to explain why we are no good at things.

Now obviously some limiting beliefs are useful – I have a belief that I can’t fly – and that keeps me safe as I don’t jump off buildings – but some are not.

In my confidence coaching I spend a LOT of time working with people and their limiting beliefs.

Just take a moment and think: what are some of the things you say to yourself to justify not putting time and effort into things:

Some of the ones I have heard from equine touch students include:

I’m not good enough

I will never be good enough

If I’m not perfect there’s no point doing it

I’m not good at physical things like this

Other people can do it better so why do it?

you can probably think of many others.

And the problem with all of these – is they actually stop us from even TRYING to get any better.

Just take a moment and write down any limiting beliefs that get in the way of YOU doing more equine touch….

This really goes back to Jock’s comment – if you think you can’t, you won’t.

Now there are lots of ways to handle limiting beliefs – the first thing is to look at the limiting beliefs you have and realise they are there – and they are there for a reason.

Most limiting beliefs are there to stop us feeling bad about ourselves.  If I have a belief that I am not good enough to do equine touch, then that belief keeps me safe from trying it and failing – which is NOT a good feeling!

EVERY limiting belief has a positive intent behind it – and you know, once we identify that positive intent, we can do a couple of things:

1.We can find other ways to fulfil that positive intent

Eg I have a limiting belief that I am not a good enough rider – which meant for a long time I wouldn’t get on a client’s horse in a workshop.  The positive intent of that belief was of course that I avoided looking an idiot!! Once I faced up to that fear of looking an idiot, I could come up with a strategy that would avoid that – -by doing groundwork first, by doing things in small steps – by only agreeing to stuff I KNEW I could do – or by getting on saying “let’s see what happens” instead of making promises – all other ways of achieving the same objective, not looking an idiot.

2.We can “reframe”the limiting belief – by taking it to the ridiculous extreme

Eg I have a belief I am not good at equine touch – ok, so maybe I shouldn’t touch horses at all if I am so bad, great – in fact let’s give up horses — — and do this until you reach a “well, THAT’S not going to happen point – and realise how daft the original belief is.  I am not going to give up horses, so therefore why SHOULDN’T I do equine touch on my own horses?  I do other things I am sure other people are better at then me, but still do them?

A useful thing is to find a friend and pair up with them, share your limiting beliefs – -and do these two exercises on them — believe me, they will soon collapse or change to something more useful!

One last thing, and it’s something that is perhaps not so easy to hear as everything else I have talked about so far.

And that is, in MOST cases, the fact that people are uncomfortable doing equine touch, whether on their own horses, or at practitioner level – is down to EGO.

There, I’ve said it –

If you are saying “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not sure I can do it right”, then that is ALL ABOUT YOU

What about the horse?

Where’s the integrity and intent then?

I know this may seem a bit – counterintuitive – after all, you are trying not to hurt your horse and you only want to be perfect – hmm there’s the clue  this is about YOU wanting to be perfect, when it needs to be about you willing to accept NOT being perfect so you can learn to help your horse…..

I was on a course once where a few of us would get together and play tennis.

One day as we were playing mixed doubles and I was doing my usual thing of missing a shot – apologising, hitting a shot into the net and apologising – and generally running myself down my friend stopped the game and walked over to me

“you really are arrogant you know”

I was taken aback – to me, my behaviour was the opposite of arrogance: I was apologising for spoiling their game and not being good enough for them….

“no, that’s not it at all – we are all occupied with our OWN Games, why do you think we are worried about YOUR game?  This isn’t about you – this is about ALL of us! We don’t care if you miss a shot – we have our OWN shots to worry about!!!”

This startled me – it was a completely different way of thinking about things – -by apologising and being self deprecating – I was in fact putting myself in the centre of things, it was all about me

So – -let’s just take a look at WHO is benefitting when you have these limiting beliefs…..

It’s certainly not the horses – who don’t see a single body balance once the course euphoria is over

Whose owners let their own “stuff” about failing to be perfect get in the way of doing something good

Or what about the ego’s of the practitioners who are so worried about being less than perfect they spend their time trying to develop the perfect checklist – instead of listening to the horse in front of them?  Who benefits from that?  Again, not the horses who, unlike bikes or cars, are NOT all the same under the bonnet, and can’t be treated mechanically…..

And how about the ego’s of any one of us expecting to be perfect every day, every time…..

When it’s only by being Imperfect that we can hope to learn….

The biggest obstacle to confidence in using equine touch – is sitting down and having a good talk with yourself – and putting your own ego to one side long enough to allow you to accept yourself as a lifelong learner who is only EVER practicing….

And practicing…

Many years ago, My sister and I went on an art course.  I wanted to learn to draw – and the teacher really helped me “see” in a different way. And told me to keep a sketch book – and do a sketch every single day

I did

Now in my first sketch book – it’s pretty bad – my dad used to look at it and just say “what’s that?  And if he DID take a guess he was usually wrong – the best one was when he thought  a sketch of a person in an airport queue was a dog!

But in the second book it was getting better

And in the third – well even my dad could tell what things were meant to be

IF I had allowed my being less than perfect to stop me, I would never be able to do the drawings and sketches I do now.

Ego, and our unconscious drive to preserve it – can really get in the way of having a good life

The next time you think of dong a body balance, and your mind says “ah, but you won’t do it THAT well” – try something new – try having a conversation with your mind

Try a couple of things:

One conversation – tell it “I know – of course I won’t, it’s only the sixth, tenth or twentieth body balance I have ever done – of COURSE it won’t be perfect – but you know what – it will be one CLOSER to good,

The other way round is to say “you know, if I have 100 not so good body balances inside me – then that is one more not so good one out of the way – and doing it, I will learn to be BETTER and that’s what I want to be…..”

Don’t let your fear of not being perfect, stop you from being pretty darn good….

Or giving your horses, the gift of connection that equine touch can give

I hope you have enjoyed this post — and can apply it to all learning, not jsut equine touch. Please share YOUR ideas for what helps you apply your learning after courses as that will help all of us

And if you want more information on Equine Touch take a look here: http://uk.theequinetouch.com/

yours, in confidence




16 thoughts on “If you think you can’t, you won’t……

  1. What a wonderful article, and so true. If you don’t try, you won’t fail, but you also won’t succeed. Give yourself a chance, each time you do, you get better. Nobody said you have to be perfect!

  2. I know I’m not doing it right for Tia, she gives me plenty of feedback, which then becomes a bite! So I now practise on my older horse bonny, I might not be doing it perfectly but she loves the attention anyway! Eventually I will be good enough for Tia.

    • LOL — sometimes it is SO useful to have your attention loving horse to practice on — Bella was mine, and now Coblet — they both love the body balance — Gracie is still a bit “take it or leave it” and will very clearly leave it if my accuracy, integrity and intent are not all on top form!


  3. Brilliant post! All these things take time – I have a very difficult boy who was horribly abused. We got through to him using NH and IH techniques and we both had to learn how to trim for barefoot as he hated farriers with a passion- it took a long time and there were times I thought we were never ever going to get there – I even considered sending him to someone who was ‘better than me’ who could ‘fix’ him. But then I realised for all his problems I loved him too much and it was up to me to sort him out. We’ve had him nearly 8 years now and he is no longer the troubled angry aggressive creature that hated the human race. He now tolerates and even likes fuss, he is cheeky, naughty and a complete moose but I cannot believe the change in the animal that many people – including professionals – told us to have shot.
    It was people like you, books by people like you and blogs and posts that gave us the strength to carry on and not give into the I can’t / I’m not good enough mind set because the ultimate price would have been paid by our beloved boy.
    Perseverance and patience and time are the keys to success and the rewards are beyond words.

    • Thanks for writing this – it sounds like you have had an amazing journey, and it’s examples like yours that make a real difference to those of us who have the occasional moment of doubt — thanks for sharing the story


  4. Oooh that sounds awfully familiar , I do the “I’m not good enough thing” & I do it a lot .So feeling not good enough is really vanity & not wanting to fail or look a fool then , Will have to think about this & where I go from here .

      • I have been reading your blog Cathy for quite a while now .
        My expectations thought people telling me what I should do with my horse , is now getting to the point of me fearing him .
        I no it’s me stopping me from doing stuff with him , even if it isn’t perfect .
        Your blog has made me cry because I realise what I’m missing with him .
        because I really do hope and pray I find my confidence with your help Cathy .
        Thanks for taking notice of a very scared horse owner .

  5. Cathy, Awesome stuff. Prefection, it is something we all struggle with I think and reading this helped a lot. I particularly liked what you said about the different kinds of learning. I think this is paramount, to really learning and becoming life long learners – and yet in most schools all we learn is the mechanical mode of learning. Perhaps now that we have natural horsemanship, we should also have natural education 😉 Given me loads of food for thought. On the notion of failure Jk rowling made a fantastic speech on the fringe benefits of failure to a graduating class in harvard. Thought you might enjoy, there are a few commonalities in theme. Thanks for the post 🙂 http://www.ted.com/talks/jk_rowling_the_fringe_benefits_of_failure.html

  6. Thank you for a great blog and a very interesting post! When I go to a course/clinic I take lots of notes and pictures. I try to ask questions if I don’t understand. The same day after coming home I go through my notes and read them carefully a couple of times. I rewrite the things I find most interesting with my own words. From this “new text” I choose two things to work with/goals and write them down on a BIG grease boad hanging in my kitchen wall, I see it all the time. We have things we’re working with on many different areas on that grease board, at dinner we discuss our progress. TIME with the horses is the key to success and willingness to try (fail). A thousand mile journey starts with one single step in the right direction!

  7. Hi I have been reading your articles with great interest, this article in particular has helped me to understand my fears of failing. But more importantly how I can help my 11 year old son who has developed anxieties and worries that are preventing him from leaving the house, he is unable to go to school or see his friends. He is slowly making some progress with counciling but he needs more help than the knowledge and abilities i currently have. After many years of natural horsemanship I know how effective my learning has been on other areas of life.
    Is there a way that you could help me to help my son, he needs to know what you know so that he can move forward and learn how to manage and overcome his fears.

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