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By Sheryl Lynde | Horsetrader columnist

Motivated reasoning can be observed in any setting or facet of life. An important trigger of motivated reasoning is defined as a person who comes to a conclusion based on an emotional stake in the outcome. The emotional attachment can be formed subconsciously or consciously.

In the book “The Data Detective,” author Tim Hartford says people who form strong emotional opinions “will seek out only the information that supports their view”. That includes listening to the opinions of those in their inner circle. They seek out friends they know will support or back their views or decisions.

I understand both sides. Just being aware of our emotional attachment when making decisions can help us remain open to both the pros and cons equally. If ignored, we are more likely to give weight to information that supports our preconceived emotional persuasion and less likely to be open to any information that goes against or is contrary to our conclusion. Our emotions guide our beliefs.

This is evidenced in the horse community as well. It is seen when a young horse is purchased by a rider that has the best of intentions, however due to their lifestyle they lack the time and experience necessary to safely start a young horse. Or, conversely, rendering a judgement on a breed of horse as being unsuitable, or perhaps a particular horse at a barn as being dangerous or untrainable. These are all decisions rooted in emotion, not facts.

In my book, “Riding from the Heart,” I highlight some of those horses that came to me with such labels and how we came out the other side. One particular horse was Paloma. Her owners had called me as their last hope; their current trainer had advised the owner (Katie, aged 14 at the time), that this was an unsuitable mount for her. She would not be able to help Katie realize her dreams of competing, and perhaps Paloma would be best as a broodmare. She was a beautiful paint.

Paloma was fearful and lacked self preservation. I had my doubts when I first spoke with Katie’s mother, Christine. I could hear the emotional attachment in Christine’s voice, however, I also heard a perceptive commitment they had made regarding Paloma’s future. Out of concern for the rider, I had also given this advice to riders many a time in the past when a horse came to me that I didn’t believe was a good match for their skills and experience. I have stated this on several occasions — if a horse is green, the rider needs to be more experienced. If the rider is green, the horse needs to be more seasoned. If both the horse and rider are green, the end result is usually black and blue.

That being said, there are exceptions to the rule. I always allow the rider the opportunity to surprise me. Pain is a great motivator, especially as we become adults with grown-up responsibilities. The reality of possible injury threatens our livelihood. I point out the disparity in ability and then allow the rider to make the decision. There are several factors; do they have the time, commitment and teachable spirit it takes to bridge the gap?

In Katie and Paloma’s case, Katie had all three factors in spades. After Paloma was started, she and Katie went on to successfully compete in hunter under saddle, garnishing many ribbons and accolades along the way. They were a team and they believed in each other.

That was over 15 years ago, and they remained a big part of my life and career. When Paloma left my facility, the change in her was undeniable. Both Katie and I contributed a tremendous amount of time and energy to Paloma’s training. I saw Katie’s dedication and that was easy to reward. Because of Paloma, Christine, and Katie, my business increased and my barn was full. I will never forget the summer I spent with a little girl and her horse.

I have learned over the years to be aware of my emotions. If I have a strong reaction to a situation, I have found it is in my best interest to identify the emotion I am feeling at the moment and trace it back to its roots. When I am brought a horse to train, I listen to the story carefully and watch how the owner and the horse interact. I also ask a lot of questions as to when did the behavior present itself and in what way does the horse express the behavior — through bucking, rearing, lack of respect, etc. And then with an open mind and awareness of my emotions, I work with horse.

I’m not perfect, somedays are better than others. It takes constant vigilance, but that is what it takes to achieve anything worthwhile.


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