Imagine the following scenario. You live in a community that believes that the world is flat. Throughout your childhood, at school and at home, you have been repeatedly told that the world is flat. The evidence of your own eyes clearly supports that view. As far as you can see, the land stretches out, quite clearly flat.Then one day, a traveller (me) appears in your midst proclaiming that the world is round. Imagine how you would feel. How ridiculous is this traveller? Are they crazy? Or stupid? What they (I) say directly contradicts everything you have been told by those that you admire and respect. And it appears to contradict the physical evidence that you are observing. But then the traveller (me) begins to explain just how it is that they know that the world is round. “I have travelled right around it”. They present video and satellite photographs to confirm that what they say is true. All of a sudden you are faced with a choice. Accept the evidence that I place before you and change your mind and your viewpoint. And perhaps also have to change what you do and how you do it. Or refuse to believe what I have to say, no matter how clear my evidence may be, and stay steadfast in your original view, regardless of how the scientific evidence may contradict that.

The emotional discomfort that you face when your viewpoint is challenged is what is known as ‘cognitive dissonance’. It is a very uncomfortable / unpleasant state to be in, and few choose to remain there, instead either stepping forward into the new world of possibilities or stepping back into the comfort of denial and dismissal.

I make no apologies for at times saying things on this blog that cause discomfort, although I do my best at all times to minimise that discomfort, where possible.

Change is uncomfortable, but without change we stagnate, we do not grow. I’m not immune to the effect of cognitive dissonance. I certainly don’t know it all or have all the answers. At times my views are challenged. I like to think that I step forwards bravely each time this happens. But I don’t blindly accept what I’m told either. I’ve been trained to think critically, to analyse and to question, to seek the evidence that supports the theories, and to seek that from a variety of sources.

As Nick Thompson the homeopathic vet said to me over a decade ago, keep an open mind, but without letting your brain fall out.

If we want to be the best trainers that we can be, we can’t just blindly accept what we are told by ‘the experts’ or those we admire, nor can we necessarily accept the evidence of our own eyes. We need to read deeper, observe more widely, and, most importantly, we need to look at the science and what the evidence there suggests we should do.

I don’t train the way I train now because it’s what I was taught to do, or because it’s what everyone else does, or even because ‘it works’. I train the way I train because, when I studied psychology, (and more specifically, learning theory, animal behaviour and welfare, and emotions, neuroscience and learning) I experienced cognitive dissonance, I realised that what I thought I knew about horse training didn’t sit so well with what the evidence suggested was the most ethical way to train. I therefore changed the way I trained so that I felt that I was training in the best way I could according to the evidence that was now available to me. That has been a continually evolving process for me since I graduated in1999. I am still travelling. I’d like to invite you to be brave, travel with me, don’t just do what you do because it’s what’s always been done, or because it works. Find out more, probe deeper, help develop our knowledge and understanding. As we do this, remember to never apply the science in a mechanical way, but always to understand that the horse is a living emotional being.

And if you know that something I say on this blog is incorrect or inaccurate, and you can provide the evidence based explanation for why that is the case, then please do share it with me, because I also wish to continue my journey, not to stagnate, not to believe that the world is flat!