Dressage is incredibly hard, and in the beginning, it’s difficult to really understand what it is you’re supposed to be doing in the first place. Beyond that, it’s even harder to get your brain to make your body do what it is that you want, even once you know what that is. The added difficulty of our sport is that then we have to make the horse, another species, also understand what to do and then we must get his body to do it, too. Phew, it sounds exhausting just writing about it—and maybe even a little depressing.

There’s good news, though. Absolutely everyone (even Charlotte Dujardin, I’m betting) knows that same feeling of incompetence and they have had to deal with that over and over again throughout their learning process. If we, as riders, can learn to embrace those moments as a very important part of our learning curve, we can move past them more quickly to faster approach those feelings of competence and then maybe one day, even that feeling of effortlessness.

To make progress through this learning process, it is helpful to understand a model called “The Four Stages of Competence” and it applies to learning any skill in the world.

This idea was developed by Noel Burch, who was working for well-known psychologist Dr. Thomas Gordon in the 1970s. The stages are:

• Unconscious Incompetence

• Conscious Incompetence

• Conscious Competence

• Unconscious Competence

Everyone, and I mean everyone, must go through these four stages to learn any skill in the world—piano, reading, soccer, woodworking, skydiving, arithmetic and, yes, dressage. In this article, I mostly want to focus on the first two stages: Unconscious Incompetence and Conscious Incompetence.

I know those both sound pretty depressing, but they are hugely important, and we can’t move into the competence stages without them. As a teacher, I see a lot of people trying desperately to skip one or both of these stages, and although that desire is understandable, it makes learning harder and longer in the end.

Read the full article on Dressage Today…