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February 2, 2019: Internal and External Focus

I’ve been reading Gabriele Wulf’s book entitled, Attention and Motor Skill Learning. I never thought that a book on this subject would be of interest to me, but this reaffirms what I now know to be true, which is never say never. Our lives often take unexpected twists and turns, and in the process our interests change.

Kathy Sierra, who for some time was posting Intrinzen videos, cited this book in talking about internal and external learning. And Steinar, in his coaching videos, used the same phrase. And so, I decided to read this book, in hopes that I might learn more.

Alys and Raudi liberty
Alys and Raudi liberty

I have not been disappointed. In fact the wheels in my head have been turning as I’ve been making the horse/human body awareness connection. Wulf’s premise is easy to grasp. Focus on externals, say, the center of the racket, the front of the soccer ball, the tip of the bat, the shaft of the golf club, this as opposed to focusing on internals, say, the movement of the arm, the kick of the foot, the turn of the shoulder, or the position of the hand.

The connection to human body awareness is this: I now routinely do standing jumps, up onto a square table containing round weights for added height. I now know that I will rise up and land in the right place if I look at the object I’m to jump onto, this as opposed to looking at, and thinking about, my hand or leg position.

The connection to horse body awareness is now this: I now routinely have the horses move in the direction of a target knowing that they will then have a more external and intrinsically motivated focus. My rewarding the horse for moving a foot here or a foot there, as I was doing previously, makes for a more internal and extrinsically motivated focus. The horses focus then is exclusively on getting the treat.

I came to the above-horse related conclusion late last night, when I was supposed to be sleeping. I have been flummoxed about how to teach agility in a manner that complements externally-motivated behavior. Today, two and two finally came together as I made the not so tangential connection between Steinar’s visual coaching example and Wulf’s text-related example.

I decided to make a runway along the outside perimeter of the Playground of Higher Learning, and have the horses move forward on one side, and me move forward on the other. I used a target, the PVC pipe pole that has a fun noodle attached to it. I worked with Tyra, Hrimmi, and Raudi. The horses, it seemed had a far better time than if had I insisted that they get every little move just right.

Tyra was her usual engaged self the entire time, Hrimmi was her usual engaged self for part of the time, and Raudi – I made inroads – was engaged mainly as she was heading back to the barn at a canter. I clicked and she came racing back to me.

So my plan this month for horsey homeschooling is to continue with the external target training, and I’ll have the agility obstacles be a part of the runway. There are only five this month, so this is going to be easy. I usually have all three do the regular agility course early on. But I am going to instead, have them do this course at the near last minute, say, three days before Pete videos them.

This is an experiment. We’ll see how it goes. I’m pretty excited because I suspect that the outcome is going to be very positive.

Next: 34. 2/3/19: Stupor Bowl Funday

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