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.

Oct 16, 2019 Competitions

Fast Facts: 2019 Fair Hill International

The last ever CCI4*-L at the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International Three-Day Event is set to begin this afternoon in Elkton, Md. with the first horse inspection. After 31 years of hosting a CCI4*-L (previously CCI3*), Fair Hill says farewell to the level and hello to the CCI5*. In 2020 Fair Hill will host the Maryland Five-Star and will also run the CCI3*-L. So who will be the final CCI4*-L winner?

Oct 15, 2019 Eventing News

Carolina Horse Park to Host Anniversary Challenge

The Carolina Horse Park Foundation is pleased to announce the 2019 Anniversary Challenge, an online fundraising challenge. The Challenge focuses on the wonderful community who support the Park and make it what it is. CHP is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of open space for equestrian and recreational purposes.

Oct 15, 2019 Research Studies

Equine Medical Research Funding Receives USEA Board of Governors Approval

At the USEA Board of Governors meeting in August, the Equine Medical Research Committee recommended the funding of four studies using the $39,581 collected in 2018 and the Board approved their recommendation.

Oct 15, 2019 Association News

Blue Ribbon Award and Medal Certificate Error

The USEA has discovered that there was a printing error with the Blue Ribbon Award and Medal certificates and we are working to correct the mistake. If you have any questions, please contact Jennifer Hardwick at [email protected] Thank you for your patience!

Official Corporate Sponsors of the USEA

Official Outerwear of the USEA

Official Supplement Feeding System of the USEA

Official Forage of the USEA

Official Riding Helmet of the USEA

Official Feed of the USEA

Official Saddle of the USEA

Official Joint Therapy Treatment of the USEA

Official Equine Insurance of the USEA