-Part 1: What is NLP?
twohorse2 NLP is an abbreviation for Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or literally, (Neuro) mental processes (thoughts), linked to language (linguistic), linked to behavior (programming). NLP started out as a brief therapy technique invented in the ‘70s by John Grinder, and Richard Bandler. What they developed was a step-by-step way of thinking about, and understanding, of how language relates consciously and sub-consciously to the generation of observable behavior.

From this original model of thinking about how language, in the conscious and sub conscious levels affects behavior, came many off shoots of how one could influence people to do a huge variety of things simply by altering language to “fit” the individual’s mentality, while focusing on the intended outcome.

Originally designed for therapists to help dysfunctional people become functional, NLP has many applications for “normal” people as well.

The most publicly famous person linked to NLP is Anthony Robbins. “Tony” Robbins had the thought that if you could make dysfunctional – functional, you could also turn functional into “super-functional”. Tony explored one aspect of NLP, motivation, and made a fortune motivating people to set goals and take the necessary steps to improve their lives, and reach their goals.

How does NLP work?

Every person experiences the world through their 5 senses; vision, touch, sound, taste, and smell. Your brain takes the input from your eyes, ears, sense of touch, taste, and smell, processes the input and gives it back (re-presents) it to you as your own representation of the world. Because your brain did the representation, your representation of the world is unique to you. No one, then, is living in the exact same world (representation). As NLP teaches, “the map is not the territory.”

You can take control of your senses. NLP enables you to live life by choice, not by happenstance.

The world is a big, bright, noisy place and it bombards you constantly with so much input that your brain develops “filters” that enable you to filter out some of the stimuli. If you didn’t develop filters, you would become overwhelmed by the enormity of everything and be unable to make sense of anything. Most “normal” people develop filters through parenting, education, and on their own, whether they are aware of it or not.

NLP principles teach that you can take control of your senses. By dialing some sensory inputs up and some down, you can create, delete, or alter the make-up of your filters, enabling you to more effectively manage your experience. By tuning your senses, or creating filters, in line with a desired outcome, you are more likely to reach that outcome. NLP enables you to live life by choice, not by happenstance.

How NLP impacted me

This brief summary of what NLP is and how it can impact your horsemanship is hugely incomplete, but may serve to pique your interest.

Taking the courses to become a certified “Practitioner,” and “Master Practitioner” took a two year commitment to budget my time while still being a professional horseman with clients to teach, horses to train, and shows to attend. What I learned was worth every minute of time and every dollar in expense multiplied by a factor that isn’t definable.

Through NLP, I was able to become a much better listener, a totally different communicator, and a motivator. As well, I process what I see with much more focus and am more appreciative of every chance that I have to observe excellence. NLP enabled me to have the confidence to change from strictly being a horse trainer, to being a consultant, coach, and a much more effective clinician.

I would urge anyone reading this to at least read one book on the subject. That book would be an introduction to NLP, by Joseph O’Connor and Ian McDermott. After reading the book you will have a better understanding why I feel that every 16-year-old child should go through NLP Practitioner training. Completing Practitioner training is like being given a handbook on how to run your brain, including all of the cool things no one told you it could do!

Part II: Four ways NLP will help your horsemanship

-Part II: Four ways NLP will help your horsemanship

The importance of language

language_smWords focus thoughts, thoughts generate actions, and actions are what get results. I have always been a “nut” about words and language.

NLP really brought into focus the fact that choosing just the “right” word, or phrase, enables one to more accurately depict what is actually happening, in one moment, and accurately describe something that must happen, in the next moment. Using just the “right” word at the right time can motivate a student to ride differently than what he/she has in the past, saving time wasted on repetitive monotony.

Using just the “right” word at the right time can motivate a student to ride differently than what he/she has in the past, saving time wasted on repetitive monotony

Careful use of language can focus a student’s attention to learn the nuances that make a specific movement truly functional and useful. Subsequently, using NLP techniques to help the student visualize how these mechanics become important in the upper level movements in the future, can really anchor into the student the importance of learning correct movements and riding in the first place.

All of these different thoughts and uses of language cause a student to move through different mental and physical levels of learning. The outcome is for the student to gain a much more complete understanding of horsemanship.

Strategic thinking

A basic NLP presupposition is that excellence in any field leaves a “trail of good decisions.” strategy
Being able to identify, along the trail, the choice points in the decision making process that made the “difference that was the difference”, between average and great results is the trick to speed up the learning process on how one person does things better than another.

  • How does any great horseman, for example, know exactly when to change to a different exercise with his/her horse?
  • On what criteria does he/she decide to make tempo changes, for schooling purposes, within the same gait?
  • How does he/she know when to quit on a certain exercise?
  • Would your decisions be the same?
  • How do you know it’s time to quit a certain exercise?

Wouldn’t it be fascinating to hear the decision-making strategies of your favorite famous equestrian? Having this mindset, and others that are central to NLP thinking, helps to focus your eye and better mentally process what you see, when watching others ride.


In order to improve any particular skill set, it is first necessary to “unlearn” something that doesn’t work very well before replacing it with something that works better. How is this done?

Once that mental change occurs, the physical motions will come easier because there will not be any internal conflict

This is accomplished by first, changing the way a person thinks about what is to be unlearned versus the replacement behavior. A person must agree that the change or learned replacement needs to happen. Once that mental change occurs, and exists as an agreement, the physical motions will come easier because there will not be any internal conflict. An example of internal conflict may be represented in internal dialogue (self talk) i.e., “This is what I have always done, why not do more of it, instead of doing it differently”? Or, in some situations there is no self-talk, just a reluctance to abandon the technique for “no particular reason.”

Learning occurs in four stages:

  1. Unconscious incompetence – You don’t know what you don’t know.
  2. Conscious incompetence – You know you are not a very good rider.
  3. Conscious competence – You can ride well, but riding requires your total concentration. You make many errors because of no planning, or no awareness of where you are going.
  4. Unconscious competence – You ride well. So well, you are on autopilot most of the time.

The ability to visualize and subsequently go through visualization exercises is irreplaceable

As well, the human brain can only process 5 – 7 things at a time. When a rider is required to use both legs, both arms, and their seat in a separate manner, see where they are going in a dressage test, and plan, in advance, how to prepare their horse for the next movement, the tasks easily add up to more than 7. What this means is, the correct body posture for producing the movements must be learned and linked with instinctive half – halts, in order for the rider to control the quality of his ride “in the moment”, and plan and prepare his/her horse for the next movement.

Changing old habits requires the student to become consciously aware of the habit in order to consciously change it.

Fully understanding this process aids a riding instructor to have the flexibility to design a lesson plan for a specific student with specific weaknesses that will combine separate movements in order to make the movements intentionally, sequentially linked. Once learned, muscle memory helps with the accuracy of the new unconscious movement.

The power of visualization

Learning is experiential. By going through a movement with a horse, you have the opportunity to learn. visualize

The movement was reality based, it really happened. Specifically guided visualization can be so realistic that the brain can be “tricked” into the belief that the visualized mechanics of rider and horse, action and reaction, are “real”, in the sense that if duplicated, the response will happen.

For equestrians seeking to learn something new, or practice riding a test, the ability to visualize and subsequently go through visualization exercises involved with the new learning is irreplaceable. You can only ride your horse so many times in one day. You can visualize as long as you like.