Posts Tagged ‘Dressage Today’

Conscious Incompetence

I was perusing Facebook recently and came upon a post with a link to an article titled How to Embrace “Incompetence”. Sometimes one just feels compelled to read something and so I did. I didn’t read the article word-for-word, but I did skim the highlights and what I read really hit home. The article is about Noel Burch’s philosophy of learning which contains four stages;

• Unconscious Incompetence

• Conscious Incompetence

• Conscious Competence

• Unconscious Competence

In case you are wondering, I’m at stage 2; Conscious Incompetence. This means, in a nutshell, I know what I’m supposed to do but just can’t seem to get it done.  At least not all of the time. Often when I talk to people and they ask how I did at a horse show I have some sort of snarky response about how great Sterling was, but his rider not-so-much. People who have known me a long time, and especially horsey friends will feel the need to reassure me that I’m a great rider. The thing is, I may be a great rider, but I still don’t really know what I’m doing when cantering around a hunter course! There are SO many pieces to put together and all of my riding muscle memory is from riding western or riding English, but in western style.


One of the biggest differences between western in English riding is how the rider uses their legs. In western riding the rider will give an order with the leg and then leave it alone. In English riding there is constant contact and support with the leg with occasional stronger cues. My western trained legs KNOW they shouldn’t just be hanging there, but they still seem to be incompetent to get a move on and do what I want them to do all the time. Hence the competent incompetence.

Moving from Conscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence requires lots and lots of practice doing things correctly. I’m right in the middle of four horse shows in a row over five weekends and this is giving us quite a lot of opportunity for practice, practice, practice. The great news is that my horse is awesome. Almost no matter how things go in the warmup, or lack thereof, he’s always good in the ring. This gives me the good fortune of getting to practice creating new muscle memory and learning from my mistakes generally without having to worry about my horse spooking at something or refusing jumps. He’s also settling in much better at each show. Eating all his meals and drinking his water. Things Jaguar would never in a million years have NOT done! My trainer lives five hours away so I really only see her at horse shows. This means we are learning on the “stage”, but it has the added benefit of being at a horse show. You can never ever duplicate the energy of a horse show at home.


Hopefully by the last weekend I will have, at least in part, moved to some level of competence and be rewarded with that elusive blue ribbon.