Bardo — the space between

Bardo -- the space between

Bardo – the space between


One thing that increases confidence, is knowing we have the time to make good choices.

The time between knowing something is going to happen, and it actually happening means we can intervene and CHANGE what actually happens.

If I feel my horse going to spook – and I have time to think, respond and make a good choice – that is SO much more confidence building than feeling him spook and not having any time at all before it happens.

One characteristic of confident riders, is that most of them say when things go wrong, they go wrong in slow motion….. which gave them time to make decisions and change things.


Now for all of us, time passes at the same rate: sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour.  And yet we are all familiar with the fact that time can SEEM to pass fast or slow at different times.


What we may not be familiar with is the fact that WE can influence this perception – and use it to build our confidence.


There is a Buddhist concept called Bardo.

Originally this represented the space between leaving one life and being reincarnated in the next.

There are however many facets to bardo.


One recent book described it like this:

“Buddhism expanded the whole concept to distinguish six or more similar states, covering the whole cycle of life, death, and rebirth. But it can also be interpreted as any transitional experience, any state that lies between two other states. Its original meaning, the experience of being between death and rebirth, is the prototype of the bardo experience, while the six traditional bardos show how the essential qualities of that experience are also present in other transitional periods. By refining even further the understanding of the essence of bardo, it can then be applied to every moment of existence. The present moment, the now, is a continual bardo, always suspended between the past and the future.”

Luminous Emptiness. 2001. Francesca Fremantle.


If we think about this for a while:

The space between is where the power lies, where the choices lie and where intelligence can act.  Think about a horse who is going backwards, or forwards.  As long as he is doing one or the other, there is little we can do.  However, if we can catch that space between….and lengthen it – then we have the time and space to develop other options….

If your horse is going from calm to crazy in a split second – look for the space between the two things, and there you can find a place where you can feel him, you can develop a scale of 0-5 where 0 is calm, 5 is crazy – and in the space of 1,2,3,and 4 you have time to make changes.

The space between is essential for intelligent riding:  having the time and space to respond intelligently instead of react instinctively can be the difference between clarity and aggression in our riding.  One of the purposes of seatwork is to create this space in our minds, and a common observation of people after they have done their seatwork is that things slow down and they have more time to think about what they are doing when they ride…

Usually, our space is filled with emotions – -anxiety, fear, desire, ego – all of these things fill the space between and blur things.

We as humans also have a tendency to think in dualities – nothing/something;  good/bad;  correct/incorrect – when the usefulness comes from thinking of the DEGREES of each, and working out the space between.

Can you see how this will build your confidence?

By finding scales instead of binary situations, you have more control, more choices – more time to do things

By training ourselves to slow things down, and actively seek that space between, we learn to do it in all areas of our lives.


One thing I do as part of my work is coaching and counselling for troubled people.  Sometimes these are teenagers or younger, sometimes adults.  And in most cases the troubles arrive as binary problems:

Do I say yes or no?

Am I nice to others or nice to myself?

Am I mean to others or myself?

Am I good or bad?

Am I anxious or calm?

Is this  a healthy relationship or not?

By teaching how to turn things from the binary into a longer scale, we give ourselves more options – and more options gives us more power

Instead of “am I anxious or calm” we can create a scale simply by asking WHEN am I anxious or calm?

Instead of am I nice to others or nice to myself – we can create a scale by asking HOW am I nice to others, HOW am I nice to myself – HOW can I do them both?

Instead of “is this a healthy relationship or not” how about asking WHAT is healthy about this relationship, and WHAT is not…

In each of these cases, changing the question radically changed the possible answers – and also significantly changed the belief that the question was possible to answer and resolve.

Going from a binary yes/no and finding SPACE in there gives you so much more power.


With horses too this is true.   When our horse thinks they only have a split second to be “right” and the answer is “right/wrong” – how confident do you think THEY feel when they learn something new?

When your horse hesitates,  and gets stuck, she has lost belief in the space between.

When your horse goes “sure, let me work out what you are asking – -is it this?  Is it this?” and offers you answers, joining in the conversation – that is a horse that believes in the space between


And what about confidence?


When we are stuck in our fears, we can’t see the space between.  To us there is “confident/not confident”

What if we thought of it another way – a scale of confidence – or how about a scale of unconfidence?  WHEN am I confident?  WHEN am I unconfident?

WHAT am I unconfident about?  WHAT am I confident about?

And how about HOW confident am I?  HOW unconfident am I?


With 0 for those times when we feel no unconfidence at all, 1,2,3,4,5 for things we confident doing, they are in our comfort zone – let’s put 6,7,8 as our stretch zone where we have to really think about what we do – and try not to do it – and then 9 and 10, well they are waaay out there…..


By finding the space between confident/not confident – we now have a way of talking about our confidence.  We can say “I am a 5 about this – what would make it a 4?”

We can now have a conversation about our confidence – and we can make choices about it.

How much power does THAT give us?


Bardo – the space between.  A powerful concept that gives us power in every part of our lives.


How can YOU use it?



Yours, in confidence







13 thoughts on “Bardo — the space between

  1. Wow Cathy, you have taken ‘what happens before what happens happens’ and s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d it out even further. Very interesting.

  2. Love this one so much, I always remember the thinking on my old horse his spooks we’re in slow motion and really didn’t bother me I felt they were funny they felt so slow 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on Happyloosa and commented:
    I love this one so much, I always remember my old horses spooks were in slow motion or rather i perceived them as slow motion, other people probably didn’t think so.

  4. I love this! Breaking things down to a matter of degrees makes so much sense. I have a question about the scale of confidence. Is there a particular reason to think about my level of unconfidence as say a 5 and get it to 4 versus thinking about my level of confidence and raising it? I know this seems picky, but I find the way that you put it feels better to me. It is funny how a slight tilt of how to think of something can change it so much. Have you found this makes a difference with your students?

    • good spot Kathleen — yes, there IS a reason — I like to think of Confidence as our natural state — and UNconfidence as the alien invader — so having the scale this way round means when we return to zero we are at our innate level of confidence in ourselves — and anything other than zero is intruding on our natural state….


    • I learned of this word — and the underlying concept — when with Craig before Christmas — some of his philosophy is far more life changing that any riding technique you will ever learn…..


  5. Thanks for sharing this… Makes me really think of my horse getting “stuck” over the real cold months here and how this approach can help me the next time she or I get “stuck”. Really smart writing. I appreciate this.

  6. Hi Cathy, great article. I think that I really noticed ‘the space between’ yesterday when I was skipping out the field. I turned around and was about to fall over the handlebars of the wheelbarrow and it was almost in slow motion that I managed to ‘right’ myself without falling to the floor like a stiff lump, as I might have done in the past!! I put it down to my Alexander Technique lessons which really focus on inhiting our normal responses – to access the time between – before we choose to move in a new way.

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