Wednesday, January 10, 2018

An Antifragile Connection

Fragile objects are harmed by chaos. Example: a glass breaks when dropped on the ground. Or, a sensitive horse loses his mind when his threshold is crossed.

Robust objects are not impacted by chaos. Example: a nalgene water bottle does not change when dropped on the ground. Or, a solid lesson horse continues trotting along on the lunge, unfazed by his flapping child.

Antifragile objects are made stronger through chaos. Example: the human body rebuilds itself stronger after exercise. Or, the connection I'm considering in this blog post.

The rain has made for some really lovely photos that are not at all horse-related...

Has your horse ever offered you a few strides of the most amazing, connected, powerful trot? And you relax, thinking "finally!" Maybe you have the sort of horse that took your relaxation as reinforcement for the behavior and you got more of that amazing trot, and maybe you don't have that sort of horse.

I've watched my students experience those moments countless times. The warm-up led to a happy, supple horse, and the student and horse seem to be in the right mood to really come out to play. The horse brings his back up and powers across the ground, showing himself off. And then it all crumbles -- maybe a leaf moved or the rider sat down too heavily or the rider accidentally bopped her leg against his side or maybe the horse got tired.

I bet you've done it too, held your breath while you hoped it could go on forever.

... as highlighted by Justin the Slug. He has 27,000 teeth.

I know I have. Those moments are the epitome of a fragile connection. I also know that in the last year, I've learned to seek an antifragile connection, primarily through how I've thought about it.

An antifragile connection is one where you can place your inside calf against his ribs and he steps more deeply into the connection, where when the cat jumps out of the tree he brings his back up rather than runs away, one where you can feel his balance change and correct it before he even thinks to come off the bit.

For me, I've learned that the connection needs to be able to tolerate a bit of chaos, that the connection isn't really working until it gets deeper through a few moving pieces.

It's not just about "on-the-bit", either, this antifragile connection. When we go to horse shows and subject our horses to the chaos of warm-up arenas, spectators, our well-meaning but overzealous friends, our own uncertainty, all those elements are bits of chaos that we're earnestly introducing to our horses. I have found that approaching those moments with a sense of, "this chaos strengthens us", rather than imagining that we have to endure until our horse finally adapts or submits to what's happening around him makes me enjoy it more.

I'm talking about these experiences differently with my students as well. No longer is the stormy, windy day one to hold our breath through, it's one to wake up to and celebrate the opportunity to practice our antifragile connection. Am I able to hold enough things constant (my position, my mental attitude, my expectations) that the chaos of the world around us makes our connection better?

If not, why?

This curiosity meets a bit of eagerness to create calmer horses. I expect you (and me) to get stronger through chaos, so let's meet it with introspection.

Have you ever experienced an antifragile connection with your horse? If so, how would you describe it?


  1. This is a brilliant post. I love how you've used antifragility to completely re-frame inconveniences as extended training. I'll be pondering on this.

  2. SO timely! I just watched this: and Robert Dover was talking about this exact same thing! I think you will love it too!

  3. I've definitely looked for these opportunities in the past, but never thought of them this way! I like the image a lot. Especially because I have a horse with whom building strength and confidence is a Sisyphean effort.

  4. Really good post - this is how I need to think when I work Dante sometimes. Tackle things head on, no over coddling, develop some grit

  5. I like this attitude. I've found the antifragile moments in older horses (maybe with a stronger sense of their own confidence). And then truly, when you've had the pleasure of meeting a horse that'll be willing to go to battle for you, that's one heck of a special connection

  6. Oh my goodness- I just found this post. I need to do a lot of thinking on it- it's a paradigm shift for me. Thank you!