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The Magic is in the Grey

In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang describe how apparently opposite forces are actually complementary; for instance, shadow cannot exist without light.

So the duality is symbolized by yin and yang.

There are many dualities, such as these obvious ones:

  • Black – White
  • Left – Right
  • Day – Night
  • Horizontal – Vertical
  • Male – Female
  • Full – Empty
  • Small – Big
  • Right – Wrong
  • Good – Bad
  • All – Nothing
  • Always – Never
  • Future – Past

And related to horsemanship, there are these dualities:

  • Map – Territory
  • Leading – Following
  • Together – Opposed
  • Desired behavior – Undesired behavior
  • Positive – Negative
  • Punishment – Reinforcement
  • Conscious – Instinct
  • Benefits – Drawbacks
  • Action – Relaxation
  • Give – Take
  • Pressure – Release
  • Increasing – Decreasing
  • Outside-in – Inside-out

And related to the ‘mental’ rider, there are the dualities such as:

  • Think – Act
  • Observe – Produce
  • Knowledge – Experience
  • Intellect – Intelligence
  • Dividing – Unifying
  • Science – Art
  • Facts – Feelings
  • Logical – Creative
  • Analytical – Imaginative
  • Rational – Irrational
  • Linear – Cyclic
  • Parts – Whole
  • Static – Dynamic

Now when it comes to other subjects, the list is endless!

It’s even expressed in sayings and proverbs:

Almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise:

without yin no yang, without yang no yin

Together, they keep the balance.

Static & Dynamic

In nature, there’s always a continuum running from day to night and back, from low to high tide and back, from rain to sunshine and back.

So in the real world, nothing is absolute.

The map can be static, but in the territory, nothing is static.

Therefore, in our ST laboratory, balance can only be found in the dynamic and experiential process.

Now our logical, rational, analytical, conceptual view on the real world can be a sort of linear thinking.

But when we start to apply ST concepts in the real world, we will notice that:

Actions, interactions, and reactions run:

  • on a continuum,
  • or in cycles 
  • or in circles
  • or in spirals 

They are not

  • static (fixed)
  • absolute (always/never)
  • linear (direct line)

So our ST lab is a dynamic environment where we are:

  • Facing different layers.
  • Touching several dimensions.
  • Expirimenting with the range of possibilities.
  • Shifting in response to the training, the interaction with our horse, and the environment.
  • Changing our approach in reaction to the teaching and learning experience.

Yin & Yang: Contradictory

Yin and Yang seem contradictory, but in Chinese philosophy, they need each other:

  • There can’t be a release (yin) without pressure (yang).
  • Desired behavior (yin) can’t exist without undesired behavior (yang).
  • Every concept has its benefits (yin) and drawbacks (yang).

Without Yin no Yang, without Yang no Yin.

Yin & Yang: Complementary

Yin and Yang are also complementary forces.

Forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts.

The Yin Yang symbol shows a balance between two opposites with a portion of the opposite element in each section.

Either of the two major aspects may manifest more strongly in a particular situation, but nothing is completely yin or yang.

Without yin no yang, without yang no yin.

There is always yin in yang and yang in yin.

Together they are one.

The interaction between two opposites expresses life.

Now we know more about the Yin & Yang concept, let’s take a deeper look at the forces ‘static’ vs ‘dynamic’.

How does this relate to horse training?

Still 24

Let’s have a look at the ways we can train a horse:

Now some riders have a low level of consciousness and an extreme dedication to a single approach, technique, concept, teaching principle, tool or strategy in horse training.

When it comes to motivating a horse the world can be very black and white in the horse world.


So there are ‘one concept camps‘ (-R only) that’s against another ‘one tool tribes‘ (+R only).

But in ST we feel that this black or white approach limits us.

So this is how we see it:

In horse training, we can reinforce desired behavior, and we can correct undesired behavior:

  • Desired behavior (yin) cannot exist without undesired behavior (yang).
  • Reinforcement (yin) and correction (yang) are also complementary.

Now some riders are completely against correction.

Some even reject any form of pressure and only wants to work with positive reinforcement (+R), and stick to this approach only.

On the other hand, some riders are very much against the use of treats and mainly rely on the ‘pressure/release’ techniques, i.e. negative reinforcement (-R) and positive correction (+P).

But in ST, we believe that extreme dedication to a single approach ignores the benefits of the other approaches and is denying that opposite forces are complementary.

There can’t be a release (yin) without pressure (yang).

Therefore every rider uses negative reinforcement, even if they don’t want to admit it.

All the Magic is in the Green

In ST, we prefer a Yin/Yang approach, so we can avoid the ‘red’ extreme and stay in the balanced ‘green’.

This way, we can choose the approach that works best for our horse in the given situation:

  • Negative reinforcement (release (yin), taking away pressure (yang)):  Considering that a horse is very much used to deal with pressure/release in the wild and while living in a herd with other horses, this technique is very easy to understand for a horse when applied properly with a clear intent and good timing and dosing.
  • Positive reinforcement (reward, adding something pleasant (yin) ): By using treats or a lot of praise you can get an additional effort of a horse in meeting your request. They can become more eager to perform, because of the extra reward in the form of a treat. By giving a praise you can use a more yin approach (high, soft voice) or a more yang approach (low, strong voice), it depends on what the horse prefers.
  • Postive correction (adding pressure (yang)): When a horse ends up in a more pushy state, you could act like ‘electric fence’ and warn the horse by projecting the idea of “I would not touch me if I were you‘. But if he does, it’s in his own interest that he discovers the clear boundaries and that he is corrected (yang), just like the electric fence would do: totally without emotion (this is the yin in the yang), so without any form of anger, fear, or frustration (too much yang). Like a calm, wise, older mare would do with a tomboy youngster. By keeping your calmness and wisdom (yin), you can use this yang technique wisely, so keep the yin in the yang!
  • Negative correction (taking away something pleasant): A horse should always see a treat as a gift from you to him, he may never have the idea that he’s taking the treat from you, that puts you in a submissive position. So if he’s too eager in taking the treat (he’s too yang), I just remove the food, I tell him it’s mine, and he has to wait until he is in a more polite and well-mannered state (more yin).

So we are flexible and we keep the balance by avoiding the extreme, and staying in green.

And we are also flexible and ‘green’ when it comes to other concepts we use, such as:

All the Magic is in the Grey

In ST, we prefer to have all yin and yang tools in our toolkit, and we choose the strategy that suits the situation, the type of behavior and the personality of the horse best.

There is no single right way that suits every horse.

Having the flexibility of choosing the appropriate “tool” out of our toolkit leads us to tailor-made teaching, which is necessary because every horse is unique.

Thinking out of the yin and yang boxes will lead to the magic.

It’s the black in the white and the white in the black that ensure balance!

Create Some Magic Today!

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