Match the Message: How to Get Your Students to Hear You

Part 1 – Improve Your Students’ Performance Using Eight NLP Principles

How many times have you told your students to do one thing and they did another? Even though you have a definite intention behind your communication, that intention is meaningless unless it matches the message your students receive. In other words, the map is not the territory — meaning your students’ perception of what you said is what creates their reality. Taken even further, what your students think about their own ability creates success, or failure, every time they ride.

But you said what you said because it was what they needed to do! There is a saying among Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioners that goes like this, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got!” This goes for the trainer as well as the student. Read on to learn how NLP can help your students hear what you are saying and help them ride better.

What is NLP?

NLP is a great tool for every trainer to have in their tool chest. It’s about altering perceptions, as they are what define what we call “reality.” Just as your memory is not an exact replication of what has occurred in the past – it is your perception, or your visual representation of past occurrences – what your students perceive you are saying is based on their belief system. No one has access to absolute knowledge of reality, but only to a set of beliefs stored over time about reality.

By becoming knowledgeable and, more importantly, skilled, in the techniques of NLP, you will be able to:

  • communicate more effectively
  • think more clearly
  • manage your emotions more effectively
  • enjoy being and create more success as a trainer.

NLP techniques set out to alter our verbal and nonverbal communication so we produce the results and actions we intend to produce.

If you are ready to move up to the next level as a trainer, the first step is deciding that you need to change in your approach. Then comes learning in order to create that change. Finally, and probably the most important step, is practice.

Let’s start with a little more about NLP. NLP has been called an owner’s manual for the brain. It is also called the study of excellence, the study of success and the science of achievement, all of which are accurate. It is based on observable phenomena, not theories. It is simple and it works.

N = Neuro, referring to the mind (and particularly its connection to the body)

L = Linguistic, referring to the potential for change using language

P = Programming, meaning the study of pattern that create success and failure, and programming yourself with the success patterns

The process has two core steps:

  • It works by examining the underlying patterns of thought, belief and behavior of success.
  • It seeks to reproduce the thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that create success, thereby reproducing success.

So, back to your students. And you. What keeps most riders and trainers from accomplishing their goals is the simple fact that they are attached to their past, because it is what they practiced the most. And the past creates the future as long as you remain attached to past experiences. In other words, with a few exceptions, there are no flukes when it comes to outcome. Every failure –  and every success –  has a clear path that leads to it. NLP is about examining the clear paths to success and creating similar paths so you can reproduce success as a trainer, as well as success in your students.

We are all products of patterns that we have created—consciously and unconsciously—for our entire lives. Nothing about us is because of chance.

That can be good, as we may have developed patterns that work for us. But it can also be bad, as we have unwittingly developed patterns that are destructive or, at best, unproductive.

The Eight Principles

Here are eight essential principles of NLP that will help you shift your perception as a trainer:

1) There is no such thing as failure in NLP; there is only feedback.


If the feedback you have isn’t what you wanted, you should change what you did in order to change the feedback. In other words, if what you’re doing is not getting the results or outcome you desire, you ought to change what you’re doing.

2) Everything that happens is neutral.

You may have seen the bumper sticker that reads “Life Happens.” In reality, everything that happens is neutral. Life, death, accidents, or even one of your students performing poorly in a competition; they’re all neutral. Only when we label them positive or negative do they take on a life of their own. The happening is simply neutral, but the way you look at life can affect the body and how it performs, and that includes athletic performance and even your ability to help your student ride better. Thankfully, we all have the innate ability to choose how we look at any given set of circumstances or events. In NLP, we refer to “reframing” as that shifting of our perspective, and by changing our approach, the outcome most likely can be altered.

"the way you look at life can affect the body 

and how it performs, and that includes 

athletic performance and even your 

ability to help your student ride better."

3) The meaning of a communication is the response you get.

As a trainer, this is key. You may blame your student for not doing what you said, and blaming others and being defensive is a natural reaction. Even though your intention of the communication may be correct, those intentions are meaningless unless they match the messages that those around you receive. If someone receives a message that doesn’t match your intention, the responsibility falls on you to change that outcome. In other words, you may not be getting the response you want, but you will always get a response to what the other person heard.


It’s easier to change yourself than it is to change anyone else—and that includes your student or your student’s horse!

4) The map is not the territory.

We covered this earlier, and it relates to the paragraph above. Though you have an intention behind your communication, that intention is meaningless unless it matches the message that those around you receive. In other words, the map is not the territory—meaning our perception is what creates our reality.

5) You cannot not communicate.

Think about it. Everything someone else can see, hear or feel, that is coming from you, is communicating something about what you are thinking and feeling. Your body language, eye movement, and tone of voice all send a message, as does the speed of your breath or pace of your speech. We communicate virtually all of the time – we can’thelp it. Again, this is vital for the trainer, and a key lesson for your students. Emotions create physical responses that are not conscious. Anger, fear, disgust and love are all accompanied by clear physical indicators. If your student brings outside worries and concerns into the ring, it affects their overall performance.

6) What you think is what you get.

There are four mental-conditioning laws for the conscious mind that I have found are particularly helpful to my clients:

  • You are what you concentrate on.
  • What you concentrate on seems real (because real and imagined cannot be discerned).
  • What you concentrate on grows.
  • You always find what you concentrate

7) You don’t know what you don’t know.

In NLP’s model of learning, we call this unconscious incompetence. Experts/coaches/therapists/ hypnotherapists are helpful because you don’t know what you don’t know. But once you do, you are at the point of choice. Then, you know what you don’t know, and you can choose to do something about it.

In NLP, when we achieve peak performance, excellence, or personal best, we say that we have evolved from . . .

unconscious incompetence -to- conscious incompetence -to-

conscious competence -to- unconscious competence

Think of it this way, every rider starts with unconscious incompetence, not knowing what they don’t know. Then the rider learned about just how much they didn’t know and reached a state of conscious incompetence. This may be where you, the trainer, are introduced.

After some training and practicing, the rider becomes aware of what they are doing to be successful; reaching the state of conscious competence. And finally, your student reaches a state where they are no longer aware of thinking about what they are doing to achieve success. This is your ultimate goal when working with a student and it is called unconscious competence.

8) If one person can learn to do something, so can you and so can your student.

This doesn’t mean that every student who steps into the ring can win gold in the Olympics just because they’re human and know how to ride. It does mean that your student can learn from an Olympian’s success. The same goes for you as the trainer. There is always something to learn from the success of others.

The fastest way to excellence is to find someone who already exhibits it and do what they do. NLP uses several techniques to produce and reproduce excellence. The ones I use most in my practice are:

  • Modeling
  • Circle of Excellence
  • Theater of the Mind
  • Anchoring

And as a hypnotist, I have learned that when you combine NLP with hypnosis, you create the opportunity to speed up and deepen the changes you want to create. This powerful combo puts you on the fast track to excellence!