Blog 15 “Change – One Step Back, Two Steps Forward”

“Weaving The Story of Horse and Human”

Blog 15  July 12 2018


On this ever changing and developing journey, Rhett and I found ourselves both engaged in the role of being ‘adult learners’ of something new!


We know that adult learners have a different approach to learning.  By the time we reach adulthood, we’re most likely responsible for our own success.  We’re perfectly capable of making our own decisions once we have the information needed.   

Rhett had his ‘share of information needed’ to hold onto those old, dangerous default ‘learned behaviors’.   I, too, had my own ‘share of information’ that held onto old default patterns. (Learning Lesson)

Malcolm Knowles, a pioneer in the study of ‘adult learning’, observed that adults learn best when:

1 . They understand why something is important to know or know how to do.         2.  They have the freedom to learn in their own way.          3.  Learning is experiential.      4.  The time is right for them to learn.      5. The process is positive and encouraging.

These 5 points applied to both Rhett and me and each was observed with more clarity the more we played with the philosophy, theory and practice of our “Clicker Therapy”.

The science behind positive reinforcement made perfect sense on paper and, in practice, was beginning to make an impact on our time together.  The technique of the clicker was requiring less effort on my part, I was beginning to acquire skills and a skillset.

I was moving from Stage 2 of ‘Conscious Incompetence’ into Stage 3 of ‘Conscious Competence’ in the ‘Four Stages of Learning’  with positive reinforcement and the clicker.   It wasn’t as much of an effort any longer and was becoming more of a ‘skill’ or a ‘skillset’.   (Language Lesson)

We began to learn what most would call ‘tricks’ with the clicker,  but for Rhett, they were confidence builders, assuring him as much autonomy as was safe….to allow him to create comfort on his timeline.  (Learning and Language Lesson)

 Rhett’s attitude began to change, as did mine, with our “Clicker Therapy”.

I learned that little/no pressure (Rhett’s perception) + food rewards + trick = One Happy Horse  with great attitude.  🙂



noun:  a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior.

Click here for Rhett’s first ‘pick-up’ trick for Happy Horse = Happy Human.


Change and progress with positive reinforcement!

We kept merrily rolling right along, rolling right along with many fun, consecutive days of play, learning and confidence building, in us both……2 steps forward, 3 steps forward, 8 steps forward, 1/2 step back and all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere….


HUGE backward steps.  HUGE.  Not steps, leaps !  Many more backward steps than forward steps in the short timespan of less than an hour!  I had hoped being in the roundpen would be a non-event , since we had been using it for our target training.  I was in the process of building a strong reinforcement history of only good things happening with me in the roundpen.

BUT the gate had always been open so Rhett had the freedom of leaving the area if he felt the need, which 8 out of 10 times, he would do.   This was the first day I shut the gate and there were no intentions on my part for any new training.  If anything, we would just play with familiar targeting, and things that made us feel successful !

Rhett quietly said, “I didn’t know I was there, I didn’t know you were there.  I had to leave my mind to keep from hurting someone or myself.”    Rhett’s mind must have been a sad and scary place to be!

Click here for a short video once we were out of the roundpen from the end of the above emotional session !!   We obviously visited some areas that set off nonthinking reactions from Rhett to man-made learned behaviors.    (Learning Lesson)


Know that you are going to experience steps forward and steps back!  It’s one of many ways lessons we are meant to experience are learned.  It’s HOW you allow those words to affect you that creates negative or positive feelings.

There were times from session to session, day to day, or week to week, that were filled with ‘Two steps forward, TEN steps back’ and the connotations felt heavy with negativity.

Rhett would have ‘setbacks’  showing those dangerous ‘learned behaviors’ that had been incorrectly,  usually through punishment, but strongly reinforced.

With the strong reinforcement history, the learned behaviors had become his immediate ‘default’.   (Language Lesson)

Those setbacks and stumbling blocks allowed us to see the holes in our foundation and in the basics of our relationship.

The setbacks always came from the place of emotion based mental anxiety of fear and anger and also showed up as physical challenges.  They allowed me to explore finding trust, honesty and authenticity within myself to create the necessary actions to make the changes toward our progress.

It’s just semantics whether we think ‘two steps forward, one step back’ OR “one step back, two steps forward”.  It’s STILL progress!!   We are still making progress.  And progress is growth!!   (Language Lesson)


We would have these big breakthroughs, assuring us that we were on the right path, going down the right road, finding the actions that allowed the changes for progress and growth to happen.


“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” – Chinese Proverb

“Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.” – Samuel Johnson

This Japanese Proverb perfectly resonated with me.  The vibrations felt perfect for this moment in our journey.

Thinking positively,  understanding  and growing my awareness helped me realize that sometimes taking either 1 step back to be able to move 2 steps forward or 2 steps forward and 1 step back was absolutely necessary for progress.  And growth.

“Falling down seven times, stand up eight” was growing!  Slow and steady wins the race!


“1 Step Back, 2 Steps Forward” means instead of complaining or feeling guilty about a step back, you still come out ahead if you hold your focus and goal and push forward.”


Steps back with our horse training can take many forms: injury to horse or owner, a family vacation, breaks in our barn routine, personal tragedies or that lost weekend in front of the TV, computer and social media.


When steps backward do happen, a better strategy is to simply take two steps forward, with whatever will help us and our horses feel successful. You’re still ahead of where you were before, and far beyond where your training started.

Guilt can be demotivating  to our training with our horses and debilitating to our overall health.  When we feel we messed up (or when things are messed up for us), it’s natural to feel guilty.  At that point, you have a choice:   let that guilt plunge you into a cycle that could have you worse off than you were before, or to accept the step back and say “where do I go from here – wait, I know, forward.”


Consistency with our horse training and success is still something we should strive for.  It’s something we should strive for in life !  (Life Lesson)

We still need to shift away from ‘old’ habits and patterns, remember?  We should still work hard to keep those backward steps from happening.  It helps to be prepared with a plan(s) and a positive attitude for when they do happen.



As Rhett and I began to make changes for each other, I also began making changes for myself and my day to day ‘being’.  I would take walks through the woods to clear my head (and spy on the new neighbors!).  I had a ‘cheerleader’ mantra that re-energized me when I felt no progress was being made in this horsemanshipand life-man-ship experience.


I learned to take breaks, mental and physical, when I realized I was trying too hard.   It was challenging not being too hard on myself.   Habits and patterns were easy to slip back into but it was time for this change.

If not now, when?




With these changes, I was learning to grown my awareness and find my authenticity.  Awareness is not enough for total transformation.   I knew I must change my belief systems and behaviors.

I must let go of our old stories and upgrade our communication, language and programming.  I must begin to do the emotional work of healing old, past traumatic issues, so they no longer define Rhett or me or hold us back from progress and growth.

I took the tools we both had and the skills we’ve learned and began to put them into action.

I was constantly reminding myself of my and Rhett’s success.  One of the hardest things for Rhett to accomplish was putting his feet on ANYTHING.  It was like he thought he was going to be zapped with an electric pulse if he touched anything new with his feet.

It always provided a boost of energy and clarity.  I saw these small changes  begin to make an impression and a profound change in our impressions of each other, while producing huge positive changes in our relationship.  “Clicker Therapy” rocks !  (Learning Lesson)



Change.   Change.  It’s called a learning process.   Use it as a learning process. Make a commitment to do as much right as possible as much as you can.


Progress is impossible without change.   It’s growth.  For us all.  Personal growth.

Fall in love with the process, and the results will come.

The further I go on this journey of horsemanship with Rhett, the further I go into my own journey of life-man-ship.

Next:  “Self Growth….disguised as Horse Training”

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One Reply to “Blog 15 “Change – One Step Back, Two Steps Forward””

  1. Karen thanks it makes sense. I get so impatient with myself. The other big thing is I feel pressure from others who have such a different idea of what I should be doing with Reinie. I do recognize how far she has come in the two weeks. I need to remember she needs to feel loved, accepted, and not bullied. Seems to be the midwest way

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