Many of my students know when they ride with me, I’m bound to connect physics, math, and other topics in with the riding lesson (because guess what, it’s all connected! Don’t worry though; the most math you’ll have to do is basic arithmetic, even if we talk about calculus). One of my favorite math principles to connect to riding, however, is the Fibonacci sequence.

For those of you who don’t know about this sequence, it’s fascinating! It is a math sequence seen all over in nature. You can find it in the way flowers bloom, a nautilus shell, a galaxy, a hurricane, and more. The math behind it is a series of numbers added together. You start with 1, then add 1 to 1 and get 2, then add 2 to 1 and get 3, then 3 to 2 and get 5, 5 to 3 to get 8, 8 to 5 to get 13, and so on. The numbers start small, then as they start to grow, they grow rapidly.

So what does this have to do with riding? In my experience teaching and training, learning goes very similarly. You get one good step, then you lose it. Then you start getting one every now and then, broken up by a lot of steps where you don’t get it. One suddenly becomes two, two becomes three, then it jumps up to 5, 8, 13, 21, and suddenly, you’re going around the arena doing the thing that was so hard to begin with! Healing, too, takes the same path. You have one good moment, then another, then before long, those moments start to blend together and get longer and longer. Before you know it, you look back and realize how far you’ve come.

Most of us don’t always have the patience for this in the beginning. We want to do it well for a period of time we can be proud of. First time doing shoulder-in? We want to do it well all down the longside. Relearning how to ride without back pain? We want a whole ride to be pain-free. But that’s not how nature works. Nature works in small steps in the beginning, separated by a lot of stumbling or periods of rest in between, but those steps build on each other. When you’re learning or healing, you have to give yourself (and your horse) the grace to start with the beginning of that sequence. Each little moment you get every now and then prepares you to then have that moment twice as long.

Likewise, however, as the numbers start getting bigger, the jumps can seem slower to get and more daunting. Breathe. Give yourself grace. Keep practicing at that number and wait for it to jump to the next one. Rather than trying to get from 21 to 34 quickly, make your 21 steps/moments as good as you can get them. On the flip side of that coin, it gets easy to be lulled into thinking you’ve conquered your challenge, and then you hit the end of the number and have a period where you have some stumbling and have to let things rest a little while. In healing, this is especially true. You may think you’ve finished healing, but there is no such thing. The process is ongoing; you’ll have a large number of “good moments,” and then it will undoubtedly speak up and call for a rest.

That’s not to say learning or healing always literally follows this numerical sequence. Sometimes, we slide back and have to go to a previous number. Usually, we have no idea how big that number actually is. And all of that that is okay. The key is to listen and observe, celebrating the jumps as the numbers get higher and giving yourself grace if the numbers stagnate or shrink. Learning and healing is not linear; it’s a spiral. And that spiral can be beautiful if you take a step back and appreciate it for how far you’ve come from the beginning.

-Emily Wright