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Rod Webb

Glasstap Limited

Director and Co-Founder

Read more from Rod Webb

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The Learning Zone and what a horse can teach us…


I can think of no better way to explain what I mean by the Learning Zone than to revisit one of the proudest achievements of my life to date; training a young unhandled horse from scratch and teaching him to be ridden.

I wasn’t sure if I could do it. I’d only owned/ridden one horse before, but I decided to give it a go anyway. 

The experience showed me that a horse, very directly and powerfully, demonstrates three distinct zones of experience; the Comfort Zone, the Panic Zone and right between these, the vitally important Learning Zone.

If you’ve time, (and you didn’t see them when I first wrote about this experience back in 2012) take a few minutes to have a look at the short, fun videos I made during the experience. Good examples of the learning zone in action occur in part 1, when Merlin is learning to jump, and when he’s becoming familiar with the plastic bag. 

When Merlin is learning to jump, he’s comfortable when he’s stood a distance away from the jump – this is his Comfort Zone. He’s relaxed here. Time spent in this zone can be useful – it gives him breathing space, a space to gather his thoughts and reflect on the experiences in the Learning Zone, but if he stays here too long, he’ll become reluctant to move away again, and less willing to enter the Learning Zone.

I use gentle ‘pressure’ – a flick of the string, or assertive body language - to encourage Merlin to move out of his Comfort Zone and approach the jump. The Learning Zone is that mental space where he feels challenged, a little bit nervous, a little bit anxious – but not to the extent that he’s in a state of panic.

If I pushed too hard, and he panicked, he’d stop learning. Actually, that’s not true, since we never stop learning – he’d just be learning all the wrong things – like, for example, that jumps are scary, I’m scary, that scary things happen when he enters the training ring etc. Panic would undermine Merlin’s willingness to move outside of his Comfort Zone again. 

So, when training Merlin, I had to strike a fine balance between encouraging him into the Learning Zone, whilst avoiding the Panic Zone. (You can see a case of near panic in the second video when Merlin shies away from the dreaded puddle, and how we then took things down a notch to re-find that Learning Zone.)

The Learning Zone exists in just the same way for people. Sometimes learners might show a reluctance to ‘try’ something knew – a role-play, or presentation, for example. The skill, for us as trainers, is gauging whether we’re pushing people into the Learning Zone, or beyond it into the Panic Zone, and being able to adapt our approach accordingly. 

But it’s not just the learners. Sometimes, I see a reluctance by trainers to use some of the really engaging, experiential training activities we’ve developed, and hear things like, “It’s a great exercise, but we couldn’t use that here”. Our materials might encourage you to take a step out of your own comfort zone sometimes, but as we’ve seen, that can be a good thing. So, why not take a risk this week and enter your own Learning Zone by using an activity you’ve never tried before? And if you're looking for inspiration, here are a few of my favourites from Trainers' Library, where we'll give you lots of support through detailed trainer's notes, reviews from other customers and our mentoring programme: 

Murder at Glasstap Grange
One Hump or Two
The Department Game

Finally, if you've not tried it alerady, take a look at Witches of Glum, which we give away as one of our free samples

p.s., I love getting feedback, of all types, so please do add your comments below. 

Rod Webb

Author Profile Picture
Rod Webb

Director and Co-Founder

Read more from Rod Webb

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