By: Jessica Wright
Jesus said that when he was teaching the crowd: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” (Mark 4:9). Was he stating the obvious? Pretty much everyone has ears. Jesus was simply pointing out that it isn’t enough to have ears—we must have ears to hear. Did you know that a lot of us are poor listeners? When listening to others, we generally think about other things, or critically revaluate everything the other person is saying- running it through our filters and preconceived notions, or we keep busy formulating our comeback response. Some of us are so eager to get our comeback response out, that we will actually interrupt the other person mid sentence, as if to say, “What I have to say is so much more important than what you are saying that you must stop right now and let me have my say!” Ooh. Wow!
How does this relate to horse riding? When was the last time you had a riding lesson? If you are a person who takes lessons on a regular basis, when was the last time your trainer said something to which you answered, either out loud, or in your head, “I know that already.” I got into this bad habit for a while. My husband had made it his greatest personal challenge to teach me how to ride well, despite the sad fact that I had no natural horse talent, barely any coordination, and a super analytical mind that got in the way of learning any type of feel. After years of him saying the same thing to me over and over, (Sit! I said sit! Watch the cow. Get your weight on your outside foot. Sit in the center! Stop leaning! Soften your back!), the pattern recognition center in my brain told me over and over, “you have already heard that and you understand it intellectually, therefore you know that.” Sometimes, because of this pattern recognition feature of our brains, we even fail to hear a command if it is repeated over and over. Our brain files it under ‘already heard that,’ and so it doesn’t register. Trainers: any of you who have ever felt like a broken record, does this explain things?
I am ashamed to admit I even started to resent my husband for continuing to yell instructions at me even though, “I already knew that!” I began to talk back. I would say, “I know that,” and proceed to tell him about some article I had just read in some magazine. I would go to a clinic and hear the same thing said in a different way and feel like I learned something new. I would come tell him all about my new “knowledge.” Bless him, he never gave up. His treasure in heaven is probably huge after putting up with me for so long!
One day, God began to deal with me about this. He told me, in that still small inner voice, “Jessica, you think you know something because your brain recognizes the familiar words. But if you really knew it, you would be doing it. You don’t know something unless you live it. If you have ears, then hear the message.” Yeah. That was humbling! I resolved that day to begin to listen better when my husband was teaching me by dispensing with the, “I know that,” filter and approaching every situation as if I were a child hearing it for the first time. I got rid of the resentment and the pride, and opened up my ears to hear what he said. Something miraculous began to happen. First, my lessons got shorter because I began to perform better quicker. I’m sure my horse appreciated it as well. Then I realized I was enjoying learning so much more than before. This is the great thing about our brains. The pattern recognition feature is necessary, otherwise we would need to re-learn everyday tasks, well, every day! But, we are so fearfully and wonderfully made that we have a choice to override the pattern recognition feature and learn how to engage in active and attentive listening in any situation we choose. Think of switching your automatic transmission car into manual to navigate some treacherous terrain. Each one of us has so many interactions with other people on a daily basis that we have an abundance of opportunities to practice active listening.
When it comes down to it, a failure to listen because we think we already know something is prideful and self-defeating. If you want to get the most out of your riding lessons, try approaching your next lesson with a beginner’s mind. No matter how many times your trainer has said something to you, listen, and attempt to execute without placing a value judgment on what your trainer says, or how you think you are doing. Think of how Jesus said that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we had to come “as a child.” Little children have not learned how to be prideful yet. They are too busy listening and learning!
God bless and happy riding!
Jessica Wright is wife of cutting and cowhorse trainer Don Wright. She is an AACC Certified Christian Life Coach. She loves helping people and riding her horses. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org