How to be a Good Learner

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horse riders receiving a lesson

How do we keep learning?

In a previous article I spoke about the importance of trusting your ‘gut feeling’ – the intuition you have of whether the advice is good for you – before you receive that advice. This time, I want to discuss what to do when you don’t have a gut feeling.

Learning often starts when we venture into new territory and taking advice from other people is crucial to our learning.

Some people become very defensive very quickly and they might miss out on some really good advice. Defensiveness often arises when someone has been getting too much advice to the point of being bombarded or overwhelmed.

In my own experience, when I have had people constantly telling me what to do and how to do it, I became defensive.

But becoming defensive only hurts yourself, not others.

So, my advice would be to listen to what people have to say and learn to say “thank you, but no thank you” anytime the advice doesn’t suit you, while staying open to advice that is valuable.

Our beliefs can also get in the way. If you believe that there is one particular way that things should be done, you are likely to block and stop yourself from trying something new.

The “my way or the highway” mentality never works, particularly with horses.

I remember when I first started teaching, I thought that because I had been a competitor and because I had some success, I knew how to train a horse.

In my lessons I was pretty set on certain things and I was not afraid to argue my point. This meant that I was often in a lesson where the riders did not get the results they were looking for, and I eventually had to learn that my way was not always the right way for them.

Having to admit to my students that my approach was not working and that I did not know what to do to resolve the issue was a humbling experience.

I learned that I had to go back and keep learning, that the best way of learning is to ask for help and to find people who know more than I did.

I attended clinics and just sat, watched and listened.

I learned to ask questions and more importantly, I learned to listen attentively to the answers.

I’ve spent many hours sitting in arenas watching other riders train and teach and I was prepared to pay for it or work for it.

Now that I have been riding for 40 years and coaching for over 20 years, I have come to know what I don’t know and I can be honest about it. In saying that, I also finally know what I do know and I have learned that the two aspects always go together.

What I mean by that is you have to acknowledge what you do know without being arrogant about it. When you know what it is you really know, you also gradually realise what you don’t know and that’s when the real learning begins.

It’s when we can put our ego aside and we stop defending ourselves that we can really start learning.

And you don’t always need to learn from people who are more experienced or higher in the sports hierarchy than you; you can learn something from everyone.

For example, I now find I learn most from my students, and often, from those with the least experience.

There is a famous saying; “if you can’t explain it to a six year old you don’t understand it yourself.”

Novice riders and novice horse people test my knowledge more than the advanced rider does. I constantly work on getting better at explaining and teaching the basics and that is how my own knowledge grows.

My point is that the greatest learnings often come when we least expect them. And the moral of the story is to stay open minded, listen to the advice others have to offer and don’t ever be too arrogant or too insecure to ask for help.

Even though it can be tough and sometimes overwhelming, there are a lot of kind-hearted people out there who genuinely want to help.

Therefore, even if you have been getting bad advice in the past, avoid the temptation to close your mind, become defensive or dismissive. Listen to what they have to say and then decide if you will take it on or if you don’t. Even if it doesn’t fit into what you need at this time, it might come in useful in the future or with another horse.

My wish is for us to support each other, that we offer help and advice but respecting the other person’s choice to take it or leave it.

My wish is that when we realise how much we still have to learn, we become inspired instead of beating ourselves up for not yet knowing everything.

My wish for you is that you will continue your learning journey for as long as you can and you take it you to your next lifetime so you can have a head start.

If there is one thing I know for sure, it’s that we cannot learn everything there is to learn in one lifetime, so the quest continues. Thinking this way gives me comfort and it relieves the pressure of time. Happy learning everyone!

This article is published in the November-December 2020 Magazine.

Tanja Mitton

Tanja Mitton is a riding coach and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) master coach with over 25 years of coaching and competition experience. She has been working with the Australian high performance squad as a mindset coach and, in 2012, was invited to the Australian Institute of Sport to present a workshop on how to improve the Mindset of Australian Coaches. Author of the book ‘Seven Steps to the Mindset of an Equestrian Champion’, Tanja conducts clinics all around Australia and her seminars have been approved by Equestrian Australia for NCAS coach accreditation points.

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