I am standing in the ring teaching my student. The mare she is riding won't turn and my student is getting more and more defensive. For the past 15 minutes I have been lunging her and taking her off the lung alternately and everything is going well, even harmoniously. Then something switches in my student's mind and she is back to survival mode. The more she pulls the less control she has. Me: "sit back! Let go of your left rein" (which is getting shorter and shorter by the second) Me: "let go, sit back "(this time louder and faster). I repeat this at least 4 time until I regain consciousness and catch myself. Reflecting internally, I have to smile. What am I thinking? Do I really think S. does not want to sit back or let go? Do I really think she is not convinced of what I am teaching her? Asking these questions, it is obvious to me that the one that has lost trust for a moment is me.
And because I have, I am not seeing the real issue.
The real issue is that Sue has been hijacked by her fear. In this case it is fear of failure, but feel free to substitute any kind of fear you or your student are dealing with. Because of this she can't do what I am suggesting to her even though she wants to. Her fear has overridden her mind and she is reacting automatically. I can give her the most sound advice but it won't help. It amazes me how many times I have fallen into this trap, though now I recognize it much sooner, sparing the three of us a lot of frustration.
At the end of the lesson we discussed what happened. It was interesting to see that S. was not fully aware of her fear because it is not a direct fear for her safety. But since horses don't lie, and they are such perfect mirrors of our state of mind, I had no doubt as to my interpretation of the situation. And there was no doubt from the rider’s defensive position on the horse that she was no longer relaxed and confident. This gave us a unique opportunity to look deeper into S. state of mind, which was creating somewhat erratic results, and leading her to feel insecure about her abilities.
The difference between her success and her failure in this ride was not because her technical riding was not good enough. It was due to her state of mind and that in turn influenced her technique, since our body organizes itself according to the mental image we are holding. Working with our awareness is so much more powerful then working on our position and technique, in fact it actually controls them.