Monday, August 7, 2017

the hive mind: collective intelligence

There are a lot of things I like about this equestrian blogging community. A lot.

I could go through the whole litany of what makes this corner of the internet special: easily networking with like-minded individuals, making new friends, and enjoying the community feel without so much of the drama and flaming that's all too prevalent in other social forums.

all photos are from 2016's Fair Hill International 3* cross country bc somehow I never posted them. sorry! hopefully you enjoy the eye candy to go with unrelated content! the above is Will Faudree and Pfun over the giant trakhener 

For today, tho, I'm delving into something a little more specific. Namely, the benefit of "shared" experiences.

Phillip Dutton and I'm Sew Ready
You might remember last summer when I conducted a survey on rider safety as it related to gear and equipment. That survey netted some really cool results (posts here and here) but one thing was glaringly clear through the information gathered.

easy in over the A of the first water complex
As I wrote then, we are programmed to learn through experiences. We know what we have lived. And as our individual experience with horses grows, we naturally tend to give more weight to our own experiences, while discounting the likelihood of things that haven't already happened to us.

The more we have seen, the more we think we've seen it all.

then tidily through B and C
The main problem with that (very natural) mindset, as any veteran horse person would say, is that there's more to learn and experience from horses than can fit into any one single lifetime.

Lauren Kieffer up next with Landmark's Monte Carlo
A counter agent to that fact is this existing network of collective intelligence. It's mind boggling how much I've learned about the wider world of horses just from following along with so many bloggers.

For instance, eventing always seemed pretty cool to me - but also an entirely different world from anything I knew. As if it existed in another universe and I just saw the glossy magazine shots.

as expected, they made nice work of this too
But now? Even tho I don't do recognized eventing, I feel reasonably well versed in most aspects of the sport as a whole - and feel pretty confident and competent in my endeavors as a low level eventer. Following eventing blogs made the sport feel accessible, and my knowledge grew from reading all about everyone else's experiences.

Will Coleman & Soupcon du Brunet over the c element
Dressage in general and endurance in its entirety were also sports I knew existed, but nothing more. And now, after following bloggers in those sports for so many years - it feels like I can hold an informed conversation with riders from those worlds, or describe the sport to someone unfamiliar. And hell, maybe I even dabble a little bit myself.

And those are just two examples among many! Being totally honest here, I've actually learned more about the hunter jumper world since beginning to read blogs than when I was actually doing IHSA and all the local h/j circuits in college.

and galloping off with purpose
Likewise, I've learned all about the care of various wounds, illnesses, hoof care issues, or general maladies that tend to befall our beloved 4-leggers, but that I haven't personally had to experience.

Included in this is a surprisingly broad education on the many ointments, powders, tinctures and tonics that keep our horses happy and healthy. Despite having never personally used many of them myself.

Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous, pre bloody mouth
And I've learned more about the typical sport horse life cycle too, as it relates to breeding, registries, trends, and types. Including how to research my own horse's pedigree.

Erin Sylvester and Campground into the coffin complex
Of course, we can't forget the gear either. If there's something this community is really truly excellent at, it's expanding the communal knowledge on the various attributes of rider apparel or horse equipment. Where to find a good deal, where to look for unbeatable quality.

over the ditch!
Perhaps most importantly, tho - from this wonderful community of horse lovers and riders, I've learned how to think more deeply about my own horse habit. My own needs and goals. And how to expand that knowledge into making informed choices about my riding - who I train with, how I advocate for my horse, and how to set us up for success.

and easy out over the brush at C
That's really where the rubber meets the road, right? How have I taken this communal knowledge, this equestrian blogger hive mind, and turned it into something real and valuable in my day to day life?

Madeline Backus and PS Ariana dropping into the main arena
Well. I found a team of trainers for my chosen sport. And another team of horse care professionals who are dedicated to keeping my horse in top form. The whole group has evolved over the past few years as circumstances changed - but all in all it's a surprisingly stable system. Even with changes in horses, and changes in farm residences.

They know me. Who I am, why I ride, what I want, and also what I need. And I trust them.

and making easy (if far away) work of those giant farmhouse corners
And that's the A Team, right? The group of actual paid professionals whose explicit purpose in my world is to guide and advise me in my pursuit of horse happiness.

Colleen Rutledge and Escot 6 on an easy gallop
Basically any critical question that I might have, any major decision I might weigh -- those are the folks I go to first. Ancillary to them are the many close horsey friends I've made over the years. The folks I know and trust, who know and trust me. Who understand my own little microcosm of horses. They are often a favorite sounding board as I weigh my options.

then up over some surprisingly tall and surprisingly upright offset vertical brushes
Which brings us back to this wonderful blogging community, and our collective intelligence. There are some things for which this community is invaluable at providing input and insight.

For most big things, tho, by the time I'm writing it out here as my own addition to the shared experience catalog - I've already decided on my course of action. I've already made my choices, determined what I plan to do for whatever outcome I hope to achieve.

more p dutty <3, I think here with Mr Candyman
It's actually fairly rare, then, that you'll find me looking for advice in that regard. Rather, the thing that keeps me coming back for more, the thing I want and enjoy the most from this community, is discussion of those shared experiences, of the various opinions weighing relative merits of different potential courses of action.

Marilyn Little again, this time with RF Demeter
Because we all know that old adage, "Ask two horse people and get three answers," right?

sporting their notorious black fleece bit guard
I kinda relish the knowledge that many of us will make different choices when posed with the same problem or conundrum. Sometimes the difference has to do with the type of horse we have: hot or quiet, sensitive or hardy, seasoned or very green. Or it has to do with our purposes, varied as they are. Or, ya know, our own personal non-horse lives (unthinkable, right? lol).

and the wonderfully named Clip Clop, ridden by Joe Meyer
Whatever the case tho - we all approach our choices with horses on the foundation of our own personal experiences, colored by whatever knowledge we've picked up elsewhere.

And even as I make my own choices based on the input from the professionals in my life, and my own opinions and experiences in my life with horses, I love hearing about how others have handled similar experiences themselves.

For this reason, I often like to end posts with questions for you readers and fellow horse people. Mostly I get really curious about your opinions, your discussion points: Have you had similar thoughts before? Have there been things you've picked up from the collective intelligence of this blogging community? Times when some seemingly random insight completely changed your perspective or gave you a huge 'aha' moment?

Or maybe there were times you felt differently - that to share too much information, or get too much input, actually made it more difficult to decide the course of action best suited to your purposes? Do you actively seek input or advice from the wider world of equestrians? Or do you tend to be more reserved in soliciting feedback from external or unknown sources? Does it depend on the situation?


  1. This is my favorite thing about the blogging community as well. Without it, I never would have tried eventing in the first place and definitely wouldn't have signed up for the CT last June. It is really helpful to read about other amateur riders out their getting it done. I learn a ton from others lesson posts as well.

    If it is a big major decision, I tend to not post until I have already made up my mind by talking it over with people I trust first and then post it to the greater blogger world when it is either imminent or already has happened. Minor things, like gear suggestions I love to get reader feedback as that is often the only way I learn about things outside of my own circle.

    1. yea i think you and i might be really similar in that way. i'm not sure i would have ever thought that buying my own truck and trailer was reasonable. or thought to seek a new training program. where i was at the time i started reading all these blogs was basically what i thought was all that existed. it was eye opening, to say the least, to see how differently everyone else could experience horses.

      also, yea totally agreed on basically having already made my decisions prior to actually writing them out (see: buying charlie, choosing a new farm, handling injuries/lamenesses, and basically everything else lol)

  2. I love to hear from the hive mind when I'm faced with a situation I've not encountered before. There is such a deep well of collective experience to draw from here, and I often read something novel that I would never have considered if I hadn't asked the community. Ultimately, like you, major decisions are made based more on the advice of my coach, vet, or other close friends who know me and my pony "in real life", but the shared experiences of fellow bloggers can often be an invaluable resource when it comes to looking at a problem from a new and creative angle!

    1. omg yes - so many things that never would have occurred to me, or so many instances where someone else's slightly different experience can manage to shed massive light on something i've been trying to work on. definitely helps with perspective!

  3. There are two sides to this (as every) issue though--by merit of being willing to put our equestrian experiences online, we are inviting commentary by others, like it or not. I venture that most of the time, that commentary is going to be away from the comment section as other people problem solve their own lives and your blog because an example. However. It's going to happen online too and while I 100% agree that it's important to have your in-person A-team and make your own decision, you are going to get feedback if you keep putting yourself out there. Some feedback is good--I have been contacted more than once by people telling me what a positive impact I've had on their life by blogging about XYZ. Some of it is negative--people going completely apeshit on me for reasons I may never know. I'm still here and still blogging because for me, for now, it's worth it.

    Welcome to the global town hall that is the internet.

    1. yup - and perhaps you noticed i didn't write at all about what type of feedback was or was not allowable or preferred here. i'm simply addressing my own habits of how i write and how i go about my own side of this interaction. folks are always gonna say what they're gonna say - this is the internet after all.

  4. I think you've really isolated and put into words what I find so appealing about blogging -- I can take a peak into corners of the equine world I don't know much about (eventing, endurance, driving, what have you) or find out about products people are using with various degrees of success, whether it's remedies for minor ailments or useful tack or fun clothes. It's greatly expanded my horizons and knowledge bank, which is always a good thing!

    1. agreed completely! like, even stuff i don't realize i'm internalizing -- suddenly some horse or friend i know will come up with some question about a skin funk or a question about like, idk, stirrup irons or something, and i'll be like, "Oh yea i've actually totally read about this before! here's what other ppl used or found helpful!"

      it actually in a weird way kinda feels like i've got all these "past experiences" that exist only in my mind bc i've read about it from others lol

  5. I agree with this very much. After watching Rolex 2016, and suddenly thinking I just might want to try eventing, I immediately felt overwhelmed. I knew absolutely nothing about the sport, hadn't even ridden English in years and felt that I'd be a total failure before even attempting to try. But slowly I kept looking at things that "oh okay I really can do baby stuff" and "maybe this won't be so daunting". Then I stumbled upon a blog because of a review. Low and behold it was an eventing blog. Then through their blog I found yours and others that I now follow. And it was amazing, like there actually are other people like me who are doing the small stuff, who are starting out new and fresh or just doing the small stuff like I want to. I think finding that blogger community really helped me realize I could do these things - within my horse's parameters, of course, but that hell I can try. I was originally going to just blog about things I'd had, western and English, but it was after reading your blog as well as others that I thought maybe there was someone else out there just like me - western and wanting to suddenly try something very different. So that was what ultimately caused me to start mine. And through reading yours and other blogs, I have gained so much more knowledge about things. I have yet to develop my own "A team" if you will, simply because I am unable to at the moment, but it's difficult because I believe there are two people in Vegas who've evented - thankfully one's a vet and one is a trainer. So right now I try to learn from you guys. And it really has been so informative and helpful. I don't have many readers or commenters, but that's not why I post. It makes me write down my progress, it makes me take photos so I can look at myself and learn, and it allows me to maybe help someone else as you guys have helped me. And I really enjoy this community who understands horses and the struggles with them. Haha sorry for the rambling! That was a little long, but this post really spoke to me.

    1. "hell i can try that" --> YES, that's exactly the feeling i had too! that's exactly that feeling of accessibility i got from reading about other like minded individuals of similar backgrounds, resources, and interests who were going out and making things happen for themselves.

      and agreed that it's been so helpful and inspiring in transitioning into a new discipline, as eventing was new to me too (previously was an h/j rider). keeping my blog up during that transition was also very helpful for me in seeing the changes over time too. hopefully you find the same thing to be true!

  6. I agree- in that I like reading about how other people handle their individual situations, and I like sharing my own experiences. I do not necessarily blog to seek input about problems- unless it's looking for the next "it" brand of tack, clothes, etc. Basically, the big decisions are made by my A team (trainer, assistant, vet, farrier), and the little stuff I try to figure out of my own. I DO like input on small conundrums, preferences, etc. I really like to read people's product reviews for example.

    Great post!

    <3 Kelly @

    1. yea i love seeing how other ppl handle their own individual situations too. my own personal style of thinking things through often leads me to act like theres a "Way" things ought to be done -- except simultaneously i also tend to believe that's not at all true for horses. that, instead, there are many 'right' ways to do things with horses and actually surprisingly few 'wrong' ways. so finding out how everybody goes about their own ways is really useful for me to remember that my way isn't the only way lol

  7. I have learned a lot from reading about other's experiences. In some ways it's so real- rather then the books (which are useful of course). I love reading about struggling AA's and their less than perfect horses and I find it inspiring.

    1. agreed completely - esp about it being so much more real compared to the pros or whatever else. it helps normalize all the nitty gritty little steps in the process. or something. haha

  8. I also love this post and agree that reading about other like minded people and their experiences with horses is really motivating and educational to me. So much different than always reading about the experts or finding out about products through people who are being paid to promote them. Through blogging and reading other people's blogs I've gained new perspective and found new ways of thinking through problems and for me that's the most valuable part.

    1. the motivation is SO REAL! and agreed that it has an entirely different feel from when the pros or paid sponsors write about horses too. like i was reading doug payne's EN post today about how to help a horse that rushes the fences, and like, yes it was useful. but also, i don't ride like doug payne so..... idk haha. whereas when i read about a mere mortal's techniques it feels a little more attainable lol.

  9. YES. Put perfectly into words, Emma. I wouldn't have gotten into dressage OR eventing without the blogging world. I would have continued to wonder about it but wouldn't have ever gotten up the guts to try! Shared experiences have given me new friends, new knowledge, and have brought a lot of fun to my life I'd have otherwise missed.

    1. that's so awesome - and i agree completely about crediting reading all about these sports from other bloggers for showing me the way to all these new friends and new experiences. i'm not even sure in my case it was even about "guts" to try the new thing - vs not even really knowing how, or where to start, or where to look, or if even had what it took haha. turns out, tho, yup. we do!

  10. There aren't very many fresh OTTBs at my barn so I get most of my OTTB behavior knowledge from blogs (thank you thank you). However, I do have a very reliable and very good set of professionals that I lean on. I know my circumstance is unique (who's isn't though?) and try to keep that in mind when I read about what others are doing with their riding endeavors. Comparison is the thief of joy, right? But it's so easy to get caught in that trap.

    1. omg yes - that's such an important point, and one i really didn't touch on at all above. but yea that trap is basically just sitting and waiting for us to fall into it. comparing oneself and one's own progress to someone else is definitely usually *not* productive, but is so easy to do with blogs. and it can be super hard to resist that temptation. so yea.... now that you mention it, that would definitely be the double edged sword of all these shared experiences. how can we learn from them, grow from them, apply that information in a positive way -- without falling into the trap of feeling like we're somehow not measuring up, or that we're 'falling behind' or something like that. good point.

  11. The blog community is half the reason I don't just fall to pieces when I have no idea what I'm doing. Friends, and now friends of friends are who seem to be my outlet for how to handle new things.

    Last night was a big night for Jean-Luc and me. We came together and we just rode. It was the first time all the work I've been putting in resulting in BOTH OF US having fun. It was amazing. Since April, most of the times I'm with Jean-Luc, he tends to see me as "that woman that makes me do things." He was out of shape, pacey, and had yet to really "click" when I asked him things. I am sure he saw me as a nagging, etra-large fly on his back because it always seemed like we had "something" to work on. He should really be upset with the blog-o-sphere, it's their fault I learn things! ;)
    It was a distinctly happy, color-filled evening to just ride, and have my horse remember his lessons! With little reprimand, I could tell he was happy because he was "gett'n it!"

    I remember sitting in the driveway, getting ready to leave the barn thinking, "What will we work on now?"

    Friends and the blog-o-sphere of horse people reassure me that there's never a shortage of things to do, fun to be had, and means to make the best better!

    Great post Emma. Your blog alone serves as my link to so many others. You've created quite the community around your nexus, and for that, I think we're all thankful! (PS It's also the reason I keep cutting my deadlines at work pretty close! There's just never enough time to read all my morning news and comment back!)

    1. i love that distinctly happy, color-filled feeling <3 it's so fulfilling! glad that reading blogs has provided both inspiration and motivation for you just like it has for me and apparently so many others! also, uh, yea i know what you mean about edging up against work deadlines bc of blog reading... whoops lol!

  12. I feel very similarly! I use the blog world to experience others experiences. There are so many opinions and experiences to share! I can't say I take anyones "advice" nor would I expect them to take mine. That's why we have pros in our lives. I love your blog as it's always upbeat and the tone is "here's what is going on and here is what I am experiencing." It's fun to read and never makes anyone feel bad about their own experiences. Good work, and keep writing!!

    1. aw thanks! i try really hard to reflect reasonably accurately my current experiences with horses - mostly bc i spend a lot of time reflecting on it, and often refer back to past writings to try to keep gleaning new insights. so it's definitely in my best interest to keep good records! and i like the way you phrase 'experience others experiences' -- i think that's exactly what i like too and it always adds new perspective, something completely separate from 'advice.'

  13. Agreed. Horsekeeping and riding can vary quite a bit from discipline to discipline, location to location, and horse to horse. My own knowledge is mostly limited to what I see and learn within my horse/discipline/location and so I feel like reading blogs helps me to fill in some holes in knowledge about the more vast expanse of horsemanship. You never know when that might come in handy, and even if I never directly use some timbits of knowledge, it's still fun to learn them :-)

    1. agreed completely - i've picked up all sorts of shockingly useful snippets of info or ideas just from perusing everyone's stories or recaps or reviews or whatever.

      before reading blogs i always felt like my horse world was so small - like i just had the one barn where i rode and the trainers i rode with and the horses we had. and everyone was kinda gunning for position within the system, from the weekend warriors to the ambitious juniors. it felt like a strange place to be post-college when i felt more independent, and reading all these blogs kinda gave shape to the idea for how i could find my own way.

  14. One thing I enjoy about the bloggin community is that I find they are more aware of good horse care and ownership based on the reasons you mentioned above. More opinions, stories, ideas, and others read and see the results and follow suit. I have gained a lot of knowledge from reading blogs, and inspiration.


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