In 1999 a pair of Harvard scientists, Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris, performed an experiment where volunteers were asked to watch a video of two groups of people, one group wearing white shirts and one group wearing black shirts. The groups walked around the screen and tossed a basketball back and forth. The volunteers were asked to count how many times those wearing white shirts passed the ball. The entire video lasts less than 30 seconds. During the course of the video, a man dressed in a gorilla suit walks into the screen, stops, pounds his chest, and then walks off screen. The fascinating part of the experiment is that only half of the volunteers noticed the man dressed as a gorilla. This concept became known as "inattentional blindness". When humans focus on something with great attention, we often miss, or become blind, to things starring us right in the face.
Inattentional blindness happens in dressage training all the time, especially when we ride alone. It's easy to become so focused on a problem we are trying to overcome and forget to look at the big picture. Sometimes the problem has been fixed and is no longer an issue, but we have missed the gorilla walking through the arena, and keep drilling an issue thats been resolved. This happened recently, let me explain. We have a horse thats a hot tamale, and likes to take over in the canter. It became necessary for him to learn to wait and not rush in the canter. His canter was huge, and we needed to make it shorter and more controlled. The daily training became focused on improving this aspect of the gait.
Some time passed, and we began to focus on introducing the flying change but we began to have trouble with the change because we had now made the canter too short. He began to lose the jump and range of motion needed to make the change. The blind focus on improving the canter started to have the opposite effect! We became so focused on one element of the training that we lost sight of others. Why did this happen? Well according to those scientists from Harvard, because we're human.
Focused work and consistency are great, until they're not. While difficult, its important to occasionally stand back, out of the box, and try to see your training from an open perspective. You don't want to miss the gorilla walking through your ring!Happy Riding!