The four steps of learning

Sometimes it seems that learning is very slow and frustrating. A lot of times we might feel that we are stagnant and not moving forward at all.

But each step is a learning process and progress comes from awareness rather than perfection.

So, I thought we have a closer look at how learning varies and the distinct steps that allow you to recognise your progress.

The first step is Unconscious Incompetence.

This is the stage where you don’t know that you don’t know.

It is the stage of blissful ignorance and the stage of learning where most riders feel the most confident and competent. Why?

Because riding is still easy.

  • You kick and the horse goes faster
  • You pull on the rein and the horse slows down
  • You pull left and right and the horse turns
  • You hang on and it seems like you can ride


Who said riding is complicated.

This only happens when you don’t know that you don’t have a clue.

Then the next stage of learning is Conscious Incompetence.

This is when it becomes a bit more frustrating because the rider has learned enough to realise that there are skills they don’t have yet and that there is more to riding than first thought.

A lot of riders are at this stage and often they feel like they have gone backwards.

The feeling of going backwards comes from the fact that their theoretical knowledge has developed quicker than they physical ability and skill.

Theoretical knowledge can develop by reading books, watching videos, reading training articles, talking to other riders, watching lessons and so on…

Riders can spend a lot of time improving their theoretical knowledge because there is no horse required to do so. The internet is all we need.

Competence and skill on the other hand can only be developed by doing. The more you ride the more your skill and competence develops. It’s bum time in the saddle!!

This is difficult because not every rider has the ability to ride every day nor the opportunity to ride multiple horses or hours a day.

That is why this stage of learning is so common and riders need a strong mindset and some determination to move through this stage without giving up.

After that we reach the next stage, the Unconscious Competence.

When it comes to skill development, unconscious competence refers to the rider having skills but not recognising or trusting their skills.

That means that the rider has improved a lot, but they are unconscious of their improvement. We see this a lot in riders who doubt themselves. As a coach I often find myself arguing with a rider because they don’t believe me how well they are doing.

This typically happens after a rider has developed more theoretical skill first and then has spent a lot of time practicing. When their skill improves, they are often still so focused on their lack of skill that it takes the mind a bit to catch up.

Then finally there is the Conscious Competence. This is the stage when the rider is fully aware of their competence, and they believe and trust themselves too. Conscious competence is when you know that you know.

This means you are not only confident in yourself and your skill but you are also able to access this skill whenever needed.

The following quote by Albert Einstein comes to mind when referring to this stage of learning.

'If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.' 

Conscious competence means that you understand what you know, you have the belief and confidence that you know, and you are fully aware of what you know.

This is when your theoretical knowledge and practical skill and ability have caught up with each other and are at an even level.

Something we are all thriving towards.

Happy riding everyone!