Guest Blog: learning and confidence

Here is a guest blog by Mary Anne Campbell of the National School of Academic Equitation:

Mary Anne worked with me when I spent five weeks there last year, and manages the school when her husband, Craig Stevens, is off on his month long clinic tours that include the UK, Sweden, and Finland

The page on this blog called “NSAE diaries” is my journal of my visit with them.

And I now organise Craig’s “Becoming Classical” clinic series here in the UK

I love Mary Anne’s way of thinking, and she kindly agreed to let me share this post



An interesting theme has begun to arise this week in our teaching. It’s been around, but this week began showing up in a “think deeply about this” way.

It’s the idea of the status of accomplishment. 

We come to the work as a beginner. In that state of mind, we want to become a more accomplished rider. We are grateful for each thing we learn, and frustrated with what we don’t know or what comes hard, and we have a sense that others with more experience or more time to ride each week have something we are chasing after.

Then we begin to learn, and there comes a sense of gratitude…I still am not as good as THAT rider, but at least I’m not floundering around the way I was at the start. 

Then we begin to develop some skill, some ability to achieve… and we think “FINALLY. I don’t look like an idiot out here.” 

And then this thing happens.

If we’re learning, truly learning, suddenly our feet get knocked out from under us and we realize everything we thought we knew was built on some misunderstanding or imbalance, and that in fact, we don’t know anything, it’s all come in wrong because of silent, unacknowledged underlying mistakes. 

So, humbled, coming from the new understanding, we start again. We are grateful for each thing we learn, frustrated by what comes hard, and have a sense that others are more accomplished and we’re chasing that goal. 

Then we develop a sense of gratitude…finally I understand this a little, it’s working! 

Then we develop some skill…

And then the thing happens again. EVERYTHING we thought we knew is based on some imbalance, some lack of understanding, and we have to rethink it all, rebalance it all, regroup and reconsider. 


So we start again. 

If the teaching is good, if the work is real, if the student is devoted to the idea of pure, effortless, connected, joyful, truly balanced lightness in working the horse… this pattern never stops. 

It never stops.

This can be very disheartening if the student thought they were on a linear path. Or endlessly fascinating if the student is truly engaged, and ready to take it all on for real. 

The truth is…

There is no such thing as advanced riding.

There is only beginning riding, done better and better.

There are no advanced riders.

There are only beginning riders identifying a closer and closer sense of real balance.

One never, ever “arrives” in this work. 

As teachers, we have to help you turn on your courage and your innocence and your curiosity, we have to help you feel your growth as you explore, and help you– as we learned to help ourselves– feel comfortable with starting all over again new.

And as a teacher, I have to continuously explore and be comfortable in my own beginner status.

The sense of anything else is just a blind alley… it’s not wrong, we’re learning– but what we’re learning, if it’s real, will grow and grow and change all our riding lives. 

This is so different from the riding culture that focuses on who’s better, who’s able to do this movement or that, who’s “good” and who’s “painful to watch” and who’s “just deluded”. We’re all deluded. And we all keep playing with it, following the path of lightness and balance home, closer and closer to truly great riding, in a truly great life as a student of the horse. 

~Mary Anne Campbell


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