Contemplating the Welfare and Training of Horses

The Politics of Presupposition, By Damian Stenton.

Presuppositions can be described as central principles or beliefs that provide a guiding philosophy for our lives or systems within which we operate.  They are called ‘presuppositions’ because you pre-suppose them to be true and act as if they were.

Now, there are countless many presuppositions out there which we have all personally formed and live by or which are thrust upon us by others.  In fact, many forms of communication or interaction between parties will contain a presupposition of some kind.

I wonder how many times the question “Good morning, how are you?” has been answered with “Oh, not so good!” much to the askers surprise.  The asker having entered the conversation with a ‘presupposed’ answer of “OK!” as the question was merely a polite greeting.

For the purpose of this article I thought it would be interesting to take a few examples of presuppositions from Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and consider how they may affect our thinking when working with clients, colleagues, horses and our ‘self’.  I am going to take the liberty of replacing the word ‘people’ with ‘beings’ where necessary so we might consider the horse too.

My intention is to state the presupposition, provide some explanation and briefly outline possible positive and opposite actions attached.  In doing so I aim to expand thinking and open possibilities for us all.

Beings respond to their experience, not to reality itself

Each being is unique and experiences the world in their own way responding to their own ‘map’ of reality, not to reality itself.  We each have our own set of maps created from experiences, memories and beliefs, but a map can never be completely accurate, just a guide.  We might view training as a way of understanding ours or another’s map and assisting with redrawing it to provide greater freedom of action.

  • Positive:  Respecting other beings beliefs and values.  Allowing them to have their own views while making sure you take care of yourself.
  • Opposite:  Believing that you have the truth and other beings are wrong.  Insisting they see things your way.

Having a choice is better than not having a choice

Having a number of options provides more opportunities for achieving results.  The more choices you have, the freer you are and the more influence you have.

  • Positive:  Always acting to increase your own choice and giving others more choice to develop greater flexibility.
  • Opposite:  Trying to take away a being’s choice when they do not threaten you or anyone else.

Beings make the best choice they can at the time

Given an individual’s map of the world, they make the best choice available at the time.  The choice may seem self-defeating, strange, malicious or just plain ‘stupid’, but for them it is the best way forward.  If given a better choice they will take it.

  • Positive:  Honouring your own and other beings actions as the best they could do at the time.  Realizing that if you had another’s upbringing, experiences and thoughts and were put in the same situation, you would act the same way they did, you are no better than they are.
  • Opposite:  Thinking you are better than others, condemning other’s choices from a superior position with 20/20 hindsight.

Beings work perfectly

No being is broken.  We are all living out the scripts of our lives perfectly, but it may be that the script is poorly written, inappropriate or ineffective for the circumstances we now find ourselves in.

  • Positive:  Seeing every one of your actions as the best you can do, while striving to learn more.  Find out how you and others operate so the script may be rewritten to something more useful.
  • Opposite:  Treating yourself and others as if they are broken and need putting right from a position of superiority.

All actions have a purpose

Actions are not random; we are always trying to achieve something, although we may not be aware of what it is!

  • Positive:  Being clear about your own goals and those of others.  Establish the goal at the end of the action performed and the values driving it.  Develop ways of using these values to create desirable and motivated actions.
  • Opposite:  Drifting randomly as if your actions have no purpose.  Not bothering to find out what other people want.  Using your values to explain others actions.

Every behaviour has a positive intention

A being is not their behaviour, given a better choice of behaviour that also achieves their positive intention, they will take it.

  • Positive:  Acknowledging the positive intention in your own mistakes.  Acknowledging the positive intention behind other beings actions whilst protecting yourself from the consequences.
  • Opposite:  Thinking that you or anyone else is a totally bad person and condemning some actions as having no merit to anyone, however you look at them.

The meaning of the communication is the response you get

While intention may be clear to you, it is the interpretation and response back that reflects the effectiveness of communication.

  • Positive:  Taking responsibility as a good communicator and paying attention to feedback from the other being.  Acknowledging the intentions of others while paying attention to the effect you have on them, as they perceive it.  There is no failure in communication, only responses.  If you are not getting the result you want, change what you are doing.
  • Opposite:  Thinking that when you communicate and the other being does not understand, it is automatically their fault and they are stupid.  Judging others by what you think of them and judging yourself by your own intentions.

We already have all the resources we need or we can create them.

There are no beings that are not capable of resourcefulness, only states of mind that prevent a being from being resourceful.

  • Positive:  Giving others the space, time, environment, help and guidance to find their own solutions.  Knowing you are not helpless, hopeless or undeserving, but stuck in a state of mind that is not resourceful.  Learning to elicit a resourceful state of mind.
  • Opposite:  Believing you are completely dependent on others for motivation, knowledge and approval.  Treating education as a transfer of knowledge from those who have it to those who do not.

Mind and body form a linked system

Mind and body interact and influence each other; it is not possible to make a change in one without a change in the other.  When we think differently our bodies change.  When we act differently our thoughts and feelings change.

  • Positive:  Taking care of our thoughts as well as our bodies, recognizing and avoiding toxic thoughts and toxic states as well as toxic environments.  Use body positioning exercises to influence thoughts and emotions.
  • Opposite:  Using chemical solutions for all physical and mental problems or trying to heal physical illness by purely mental means.

Modelling successful performance leads to excellence

If one being can do something, it is possible to model it and teach it to others.

  • Positive:  Constantly looking for excellence so you can model it.  Noticing your own moments of excellence and modelling them so you can have more of them.  Learning from everyone you meet.
  • Opposite:  Taking ‘in-born talent’ as an explanation for excellent performance.  Not giving people a chance to develop if you think they do not have this mysterious ‘talent’.  Feeling resentful instead of fascinated if someone does something better than you.

If you want to understand, act!

The learning is in the doing.  You do not know what you are capable of or what your limits are until you reach them.

  • Positive:  Constantly testing your limits and testing your beliefs.
  • Opposite:  Claiming plenty of impressive-sounding beliefs and ideals, but never putting them into practice.

My Challenge to you is to not only consider the above but also notice any presuppositions you are operating with and decide if they are useful or not.  Some you may want to keep and some you may want to shelve.  After all, having choice is better than not having choice!

By Damian Stenton


Thank you to Damian for an interesting article on NLP.  Enjoyed this article? Then please donate a little to The Equine Independent to keep us writing without a subscription. You can donate via paypal to Even the smallest amount is greatly appreciated. Thank you for reading from everyone at EI.