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Tracy Courtney

Spiral of Learning

One of the many incredible things horses have taught me, is what I have termed the Spiral of Learning. We grow up in a system that teaches us a very dissected & direct way of repetition in how we are to learn & retain. It is very mechanical in nature, like taking apart the engine of a car piece by piece, working on each piece individually & then putting all the pieces together again. We carry what we've been taught into everything we do because it's all we know. Generally, we break training our pets into these boxes that we've established. We create a goal, a program & then dissect that goal into pieces, to work on & perfect at every step, before moving forward into the next step. This has created belief systems that revolve around building staircases to climb, one at a time.


The main issues I see with this widely established belief system, is that it places the onus on us to create a detailed curriculum & we have to spend a tremendous amount of time intellectually formulating all the pieces & parts of this staircase, just like our professors did. In building this house of cards, we are very aware of what will happen if we miss a step & how easily this stack of information can tumble with the slightest breeze. When we begin to add in other factors such as, different personalities of our pets & ourselves, how one might learn more easily through different types of application, emotional levels, past traumatic history, physical challenges, etc, this can become a daunting challenge not only to create, but there will inevitably be factors along the way that we simply can't anticipate, which will cause us to have to rethink our presentation quite frequently. 


We can all relate to our own experiences in our traditionally taught education systems, where we can attest to the amount of stress & avoidance we all felt. Nowhere is this more obvious than the atrocities inflicted on the Native American children during their forced abuses, neglect & murders. Although there may not seem to be a correlation on the surface, upon deeper examination, the only real differences lay in the ability to mentally, emotionally & physically abuse these children to a much higher degree without consequences. Our educational systems also rob us of our own identities & selectively program us to know only the pieces & parts of history that most benefited their agendas & rob us of our individual identities & personalities. In my own personal experiences, I was often spanked, shamed & had my knuckles cracked with rulers quite frequently. I was literally placed in a corner numerous times & forced to wear a dunce cap all day, while the other children pointed & laughed at me. How many of us recall having to always walk in single file rows on one designated side of the hall only & any deviation from this was an immediate punishment? How many of us can say that we loved school? I don't think this number would be very high & not just because of the trauma inflicted, but with the dogmatic & boring presentation of the curriculum itself. How many people do we personally know of who quit school without finishing? Have we ever stopped to consider why there was so much stress & anxiety associated with our educational experiences & what the causes of this discomfort were?


How do we teach our horses & dogs? We have limited patience, we cram information down their throats about the topics we decide they must learn, we shame them with derogatory names & statements & we are constantly retaliating with our whips, spurs, stronger bits, tie downs & driving them harder & faster than they want to go. How many of us micromanage every aspect of our time with our pets?  We force them to stay beside us, force them to focus on us, only on one side of our body & any deviation is met with aggression. Sound familiar? 


How often do we stop, slow down & ask them what the problem might be? Try to see things from their perspective & place ourselves in their shoes? Did I choose to carry this baggage forward into my life & use it to play the victim role? No, I chose to dissect it, understand it from all angles & use it as a tool to better understand how we carry these things forward & into everything we do in life. I chose to understand the deeper underlying factors behind the common & myriad of problems we experience with our pets. To find the answers that weren't available elsewhere without the use of force, learned helplessness & gadgets. Isn't it interesting that the answers didn't come from external sources or the addition of multiple letters behind my name, but from analyzing my own thoughts, feelings & habits?


What if the recognition & cognitive implementation of the Spiral of Learning could enable us to eliminate the common associations of stress, anxiety & discomfort that inevitably lead to aversion? What if the Learning Spiral could create the opposite effect, in creating more interest & fun? What if the Learning Spiral could allow us to not only learn significantly more in a shorter period of time, but also create a deeper & more meaningful relationship with our pets & ourselves as a natural side effect? Have we ever noticed that experiences repeat themselves? Many look at these repetitions through a negative perception as I also once did, however the horses have taught me that once I chose to changed my perspective, I could then begin to see these recurrences for the gift that they are; an opportunity for deeper understanding of the subject at not only a conducive & relaxed pace, but a much deeper understanding that's lasting.


 In any given subject, we begin with a basic intellectual concept, then over time & through experience, we gradually begin to grasp deeper meanings to these subjects. Our conditioned educational examples teach us to focus on one subject & continue to work at it until we perfect it. We are also conditioned to grasp subjects through an intellectual understanding, which will always lead to more questions than answers if we continue to follow the curriculum without the addition of experience to quantify & qualify the information. Essentially, we are taught to stay in & function from our heads predominantly. This is a significant barrier to grasping subjects at deeper levels. I have worked with many students who function this way. All they were interested in was the intellectual understanding & would always make excuses or reschedule when it came time to work with the information on a physical level. They were not able to move out of their heads in order to fully grasp the information, creating a significant self-imposed barrier to affecting the application. They were never able to progress or solve problems with their pets in the application of the material, thereby creating an endless loop of having to move onto the next teacher & the next teacher, where they would eventually reach an end & quit altogether or invest all their time into verbally bashing every teacher because nobody was as smart as they were or able to teach them how to do things with their pets.


What is the Spiral of Learning? It's what I've come to recognize through my own experiences of how we inevitably learn, even though we may not realize it, & how we and animals learn more easily. It allows for the release of tension, rather than an accumulation, caused by focusing on one subject. It allows more time to understand what we're learning from a more relaxed mindset that also offers optimal retention & creates a natural willingness to continue to explore the material through choice as opposed to feeling like we're being forced to do something. If we visualize a wide spiral that winds slowly downward, what we would find as we came back around to revisit the same material on gradually lowering levels, we grasp the material a little more deeply every time we revisit it. We have plenty of room on the first layer of the spiral to add many different subjects of interest. In this way, we can avoid information overload on a given subject, begin to understand several topics at a basic level & improve our understanding each time we come back to revisit the individual topic on the spiral.


This is like reading a really good book. For those of us who read our favorite books repeatedly, did we notice how we always learn something new every time we read it? Our current level of understanding on the first read only allows us to pick out familiar material that we've made a mental notation for in the past, but as we begin to digest that particular material, this opens up space during subsequent readings to grasp & digest different parts of the material previously unnoticed, to add more depth to previous levels of understanding. We slowly begin to build on what we already understand, every time we revisit the subjects. This is often why I suggest to read these articles repeatedly. There are always multiple, more subtle understandings to be had within this material, however they can't be accessed until other levels of understandings are grasped. The words & sentence structures don't change, but once we've taken time to dissect & digest the material on the first reading, new ideas & concepts will begin to come forward for new recognition, dissection & digestion.


If we look at this a little deeper, we can begin to recognize that this still revolves around our own desires & making our pets do things for us, this still does not leave enough room for personal opinions or feelings to be expressed by our pets. The way I cognize it, is that we've been conditioned to climb a staircase leading upwards. We stay on a particular step until we've perfected it, then move onto the next step, symbolizing heightening our intellectual understanding. The downward Spiral of Learning symbolizes moving away from predominantly intellectual understanding & flowing into deeper experiential understanding that progresse into flow, rather than a stop & start senario, thereby helping to move away from the boxes we've become so accustomed to functioning through. Although this is still a more subtle form of force, it is a valuable stepping stone toward changing old habits of making all decisions & transitioning into the ability to allowing our pets to lead the discussions, so we can learn how to ask the right questions & begin to build a mutually beneficial & cooperative relationship.