The Power of Choice


“Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.”
 – Winnie The Pooh

The Power of Choice

Ever changing thoughts, fluid emotional states and how we and our horse coordinate movement are the internal influences that affect everything we do. These are the things that we actually can control when we use conscious awareness and choice.  

External factors are all the things outside of our skin, such as gravity, the weather, the footing and what our horse, the neighbors or other riders are doing. These are the things that we actually cannot control, but we can choose how we respond to them. 

On a more subtle level, thoughts shared by other people can affect our internal thoughts. Emotional states of other people and our horse can affect our internal emotional state. How our horse responds to anything, changing behavior or movement, can affect our internal balance and stability. Our power of choice is found at the crossroads between an external stimulus and our response, from the inside. Our internal world, our response to anything and any actions we take are the only things we always have a choice about and are the only things that we really can control. 

The power of choice is a human superpower. We have the largest frontal cortex portion of the brain compared to other species, meaning that we also have the greatest capacity for choice and imagination. Exercising our ability to make choices is a fundamental choice that can improve how we experience things with our horse and life in general.  

Our horse also has a frontal cortex, but it is not as large. Horses have great memories but lack the capacity for imagination. Our horse’s ability to choose lives only in the present moment. We recognize choice when our horse decides to cooperate or resist, essentially telling us yes, through a relaxation response, or no through a stress response. How our horse feels, what our horse thinks and choices made by our horse are never really under our control. Once we realize this, we start to make better choices that earn our horse’s trust in order to gain our horse’s willing cooperation. We begin building trust by learning to consciously choose a calm, balanced response to whatever our horse throws at us and in every situation. 

Between a stimulus and a response there is a point of infinite potential where we can exercise our power of choice, our free will. When we learn to pause and become aware of our reaction to a stimulus, we expand the point of potential into a larger space, giving us room to make new or better choices. Pausing long enough to observe and make new choices is how we begin shaping our experience into what we want instead of brooding about what we don’t want. 

When we feel challenged our instincts can unconsciously drive us to exert control over others and forget about how we are managing ourselves. We often spend a lot of energy trying to manipulate our horse into compliance or make sure our environment is perfect in order to feel better. But our instinctual reaction to control external factors usually winds up making us less stable, leaving us feeling frustrated, anxious or discouraged. 

When we slow things down, choose simpler or easier work, or spend some non-demanding time with our horse, we can stretch out time between any stimulus and response. With a bit more time we have more potential to make different choices and experience changes. Becoming more mindful of how we are responding, what we might have been doing unconsciously that is not helpful, requires less action and more thinking time. Once we start pausing during actions and allowing periods of quiet time, we begin to see how our past choices turned into our unconscious habits. With that awareness we are also empowered to make new choices that lead to better results. 

When we learn how to manage our own thoughts, emotions and physical coordination, despite any external influences, we find an unflappable sense of stability and more ease. Instead of letting our instincts and unconscious habits take over, we can use our power of choice to manage ourselves in the middle of chaos and unpredictability. When our horse chooses to say no, we can choose to react immediately, losing our equilibrium, or we can choose to pause and remain calm until we figure out how to adjust in ways that help our horse say yes. How we respond to anything that our horse chooses to do is entirely up to us. 

We learn to respond better to any external factors by calming our own emotional state, consciously directing our mental focus and adjusting our own physical balance instead of trying to control everything around us. Learning to maintain our own internal balance first and then helping our horse learn to do the same is how we develop a deep and mutually beneficial relationship with our horse. The world does not change, but we do. Our horse is still not perfect, but we start to understand and appreciate all the choices our horse makes. 

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