Sep 11, 2018

Daniel Stewart's Tip of the Month: Confirmation Bias

USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.

A few months ago we started a seven-part series on limiting beliefs, the tendency to sometimes place limits on our ability to succeed - not because we’re incapable of it - but because we tell ourselves we’re incapable of it. This month, let’s continue this conversation by discussing a new blindspot bias called confirmation bias. If you recall, blindspot biases are negative thought-tendencies that we’re not really aware of - but like a vehicle hidden in your car’s blindspot - if they’re there, there’s a pretty good chance they can get you into trouble. So far, we've discussed bandwagon bias, telescoping bias, and bad guy bias.

Here’s quick story to help you understand confirmation bias. A few years ago a rider in one of my cross-country clinics was riding a horse who was clearly too fast and clearly not listening to her aids to slow down. So, I asked her, “How long have you been trying to slow your horse down?” to which she replied, “Over four years!” So, I asked her to try something new. I asked her to try calming her horse down instead of slowing it down (after all, one definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result). Then I gave her a list of calming aids to try, including softening her hands and seat, riding small circles, using a calming voice, and leaning forward a bit (she was leaning so far back to slow her horse that she’d put herself in a chair-seat and was unintentionally driving her horse forward with her hips). To this she simply replied, “It’ll never work,” to which I replied, “Well let’s not tell ourselves it won’t work until we at least try it.”

Unconvinced it was going to work, she picked up the canter and when her horse began to speed up I said, “Here’s the perfect time to try and calm your horse.” She thought about it for a few seconds and then all of a sudden abruptly threw her reins away and thrusted herself as far forwards as she could, causing her horse to speed up and run away with her! Then after a few minutes of leaning back and yanking on her horse’s mouth to make him stop she came over to me and said the five words that I knew she was going to say: “See, I told you so!”

So, let’s break the story down. This rider had a belief that you can’t calm a horse down, you can only slow a horse down by pulling and leaning back. That’s her bias. Then when I gave her the opportunity to try something new (which I was fairly certain would work) she responded by throwing the reins away and thrusting her shoulders forward so that she would confirm her own bias (and, therefore, get to prove that she was right all along). But, here’s the sad part. When she purposely acted in a way that would confirm her bias, she missed out on the opportunity to try (learn) something new and possibly solve a problem that had plagued her for years. In the end, her desire to be right was stronger than her desire to solve a problem that could ultimately have made her and her horse a better and more successful pair.

So, have you ever unknowingly used confirmation bias? Maybe you think a judge is mean because you only think of her criticisms (while forgetting her compliments) or maybe you think you won’t ride well because you only think of the times you rode poorly? If so, always remember that “there’s nothing wrong with you that can’t be fixed with what’s right with you,” and begin confirming your own biases that the judge is helpful, and you are wonderfully capable!

This fall, please consider joining me at one of my Equestrian Athlete Training Camp at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs or Lake Placid, or at the IMG Elite Athlete Institute in Sarasota, Florida, where we’ll spend four days discussing rider fitness, sport psychology, athlete nutrition, team-building, yoga, injury prevention/recovery, and much more. Riders of all levels and disciplines are welcome and members of the USEA receive a $255 scholarship. For more information, click here.

Jun 02, 2020 Education

Daniel Stewart's Tip of the Month: Your Ego is not Your Amigo

This month we’re going to begin a several-month series about defense and coping mechanisms. It’s common for these two terms to be used interchangeably, but they’re actually quite different. Coping mechanisms are mental strategies that resolve stressful events, while defense mechanisms are behaviors that attempt to avoid or hide from them.

Jun 01, 2020 Association News

USEA Horse of the Month: Talon Ted

While every story submitted to the USEA for the June Horse of the Month was unique and special, it was Teddy’s story that stood out. Therefore, the USEA June Horse of the Month is Talon Ted aka "Teddy", a 14.1 hand, 17-year-old Paint Pinto Gelding owned by Eran Murray and ridden by Eran’s daughter, Brooke Murray.

Jun 01, 2020 Eventing News

Event Cancellations and Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19)

This article will be updated to include statements as they are released from upcoming USEA recognized events regarding actions they are taking due to the coronavirus (COVID-19).

May 31, 2020 Grants

Apply Now for the 2021 Worth the Trust Scholarship

In 2000 and with the support of Joan Iversen Goswell, the Worth the Trust Scholarships were established to provide financial assistance to amateurs to pursue their education in eventing. The funds from the Worth the Trust Educational Scholarship may be used for training opportunities such as clinics, working student positions, and private or group instruction, or to learn from an official, course designer, technical delegate, judge, veterinarian, or organizer.

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