Have you ever tried to learn something by simply reading about it? “How to Drive a Car for Dummies” might be a real book but eventually you’ve got to get behind the wheel. Or listened to an audio book about riding a bike? It doesn’t seem to do the trick. You get what I’m talking about. There are certain things that are best learned by DOING. And it turns out that our brain learns best when we go through FOUR STAGES of learning, although a lot of us stick with one, cuz it’s our favorite. I found this out by going to the internet, where I do a lot of my learning.
First we need concrete experience. This is personal involvement in everyday situations, known as the FEELING stage. Eg: speaking to a cyclist on riding technique and tips. When our feelings get involved, it taps into the part of our brain that involves our senses and creates memories. That’s why when you smell something from your youth, it brings back all kinds of memories of grandma baking cookies or when you touch the fresh, warm clean clothes coming out of the dryer it brings back the days when your mom would get you dressed for school. The senses are powerful reminders and help cement our experiences so that we can best utilize their message in the future. By finding a way to FEEL YOURSELF (somatic intelligence) you have the innate ability to CHANGE YOURSELF!
Second, we need reflective observation. This is observing/relating the experience to you, known as the WATCHING stage. Eg: watching the cyclist ride a bike, and how it relates to discussions. Observation with auditory and visual stimulation gives our brain pictures and sounds with more vivid detail. Each bit of multidimensional movement with color and contrast is added to our personal full length feature, further enhanced by a soundtrack of rhythms, melodies and harmonies. Ever watched a movie without the musical soundtrack? You aren’t sure where to feel happy, sad, scared or worried. With music, your emotions come to the surface- you can relate to what is happening and are more involved in the story. As Yogi Berra once said, “You observe a lot by watching.”
Third, we need abstract conceptualization. This is using logic and systematic analysis, known as the THINKING stage. Eg: Reading a book on riding a bike, and connecting it to the cyclist and themselves. Now the brain gets to gather more information and see if it can put it to good use. Our advanced brain or “new brain” that seems to work better than most creatures, takes what it’s gathered and applies it to a particular skill or concept. If done correctly, this can actual help humans find greater success or happiness in whatever they’re doing-living and working with others, making decisions about the future or….riding a bike.
Fourth, we need active experimentation. This is practically applying the experience to their environment, known as the DOING stage. Eg: Jumping on the bike themselves. This is the part I like best. If I am given instructions on how to put a table together, I’d rather look at the pictures and as Nike so aptly put it “Just Do It”, instead of reading about it step by step. At some point we have to get out there and take action on all of this information.
When you live through an event and go through ALL FOUR STAGES OF LEARNING, it creates changes in judgment and feelings, allowing you to solve problems and sort things out by restructuring and revamping your perceptions, your beliefs and attitudes. Experience reflected upon turns into concepts which then become guidelines for new experiences. You are creating your own handbook for life. Instead of calling it “Life for Dummies”, you can call it “Life through Experiential Education”.
So, what’s the benefit of throwing horses into the mix? Well, it turns out that horses are 3 dimensional (go figure) and when you interact with them you are able to learn by going through ALL FOUR STAGES OF LEARNING.
Horses will tell you immediately when what you are doing, what you are saying or even whether or not your intention is working for them. It’s immediate feedback in real time. The emotions we feel during this CONCRETE EXPERIENCE are reflected in our body language. The horse, it turns out, is an EXPERT at reading body language-that’s right, they’ve got your number. The good news is that horses are nonjudgmental and forgiving of our first attempts or second or third attempts at working with them. The horse allows you to learn from the experience because that’s how sensitive, social, nurturing herd animals behave. Somehow they tap into the deepest, purest parts of our nature and allow us to see ourselves in a way that no human can. This is powerful stuff (As my coaching mentor, Carl would say)!
Once you have spent time with the horse in a very simple but powerful activity, it’s time to do a little of that REFLECTIVE OBSERVATION and as a facilitator of equine experiential education, it’s my job to probe with questions that get you thinking about what happened when you interacted with the horse. What did you discover?
Now you can take all that reflection and put your neocortex to work in some real thinking or ABSTRACT CONCEPTUALIZATION. In this way you discover what it all means and what it has to do with you and your life. You can’t come up with a way to apply this stuff if you’re not aware that it’s of importance to you in being successful personally and/or professionally.
So here’s the most important part of this stuff. You now have to go out and do something, take action through ACTIVE EXPERIMENTATION-so that you see positive change in your life! What we in the experiential education biz call transformation! You don’t have to go into a phone booth (if you’re under 20 years old, you’ll need to ask your parents what that is) and come out as Superman! You just need to come up with a couple of specific steps to plan out your life. Remember, you spent time with a horse and learned something-that’s only the beginning. Once you put this new skill to work, you can practice it every day until you’re ready for the Tour De France (still on the biking metaphor) or whatever your goals are in life.
What’s more fun than spending the day outdoors with friendly, beautiful, smart, intuitive….horses AND people? NOTHING! It’s my favorite way to spend my time and now you can sign up and join me for a class this fall and discover the fun of learning with horses.