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  • Writer's pictureLouise Stobbs

Rider confidence

This is such a huge issue for many people and can range from wanting to have the confidence to go galloping on the beach to anxiety so crippling that the thought of getting on saps all enjoyment out of even being around horses. There is a lot of discussion around mindset and psychology and those things can be invaluable, but I want to offer a slightly different perspective that seems to rarely be acknowledged.

If you ask most people what they are scared of they will say being out of control/falling off. Those seem like perfectly logical things to be worried about to me. I also really don’t fancy being galloped off with or bronced around the arena, but I have no worries about getting on my horse because, due to the training we have done together, I am pretty confident those things won’t happen and, if they were to happen, I’d probably see it coming and de-escalate the situation.

How many times have you heard the phrase “horses are unpredictable”, I actually disagree, I think horses are very predictable, they always behave just how I expect horses to behave. If you can learn to read behaviour, see what’s really going on and then use that knowledge to train in a way that will produce a calm, amicable horse, I imagine a lot of people’s confidence issues would become much more manageable.

There is so much pressure to “just get on with it”, as if the only issue is you and maybe if you can just keep kicking this time you’ll find your confidence on the other side of it. I think this is really unhelpful for both people and horses.

Let’s take a common scenario. Sue’s horse always spooks and doesn’t want to go over to one corner of the arena, Sue asks gently and the horse still says no, her trainer tells her to add more pressure and the horse escalates the behaviour, threatens to rear and Sue starts to feel frightened about what he might do. Sue is too scared to add even more pressure so the trainer gets on and bullies the horse into the corner. The horse now goes into the corner but he is still worried about the corner, he’s learned that if he says no nobody listens and they will use escalating pressure, this does not create a calm, relaxed horse. Sue is left feeling demoralised and like a failure because she’s just not “brave” enough to ride through the behaviour and she still has a stressed out horse. 😩

There are several options here but for the sake of this post let’s say Sue dismounted and led her horse into the corner of the arena, stood with him quietly until he felt safe, then got back on. If it was a real deep-rooted issue for him she could take him out there every day and work on getting closer to the corner without ever pushing him over threshold, then she could get on and have someone walk with him, then go solo. Nobody needs to kick or pull or shout or rear or feel frightened. Now, not only has Sue successfully trained her horse to go into the corner (🥳), her horse feels listened to, relaxed and trusting that he won’t be put under more pressure when he’s stressed. Horses trained in this way feel more relaxed about work and just so happen to be much less reactive, which I’m sure is the aim for all of us.

Now I’m sure some people are reading this rolling their eyes 🙄 thinking what a waste of time, he just needs to learn to go where he’s told and get on with it. These kinds of attitudes are what cause the conflict behaviours that frighten people. I think most of us want to have the kindest relationship with our horses that we can, but it is so difficult not to feel pressured or ashamed when you’re surrounded by this “make them do it” sort of attitude. Do not let people pressure you, not your friends, not your family and not your trainer! If you constantly dread your lessons, change trainer. The amount of times I’ve seen someone pushed to do something they, quite rightly in my opinion, didn’t feel comfortable doing which has ended with them having a fall is so frustrating. Of course accidents absolutely do happen but many mishaps you can see coming a mile off and the trainer really let them down.

A quick note on other factors. Of course the fitter you are and the more stable you are in the saddle the more confident you will feel and I encourage everyone to seek out ways to improve their seat. But on the same note you don’t need to be able to stay on a bronc to be able to ride safely 😅. I also think surrounding yourself with the right support is so important, however well-meaning people are they can still be detrimental to your progress if they’re not on the same page. Developing the ability to say “no thank you” when people are offering their advice or trying to pressure you into doing “more” is probably one of the most important skills to learn, and the most difficult for many of us, as so much of horses is wrapped up in community.

Feeling nervous about sitting on the back of a half-ton flight animal when you have no idea how they’re going to react seems pretty rational to me 🤷🏻‍♀️. Especially when you’ve been taught horses are unpredictable, crazy, naughty, out to get us etc and are told conflict behaviours are something we need to learn to ride through.

You can absolutely set yourself and your horse up to succeed and start genuinely enjoying your time together rather than just feeling relieved that you survived another ride. I encourage you to start by learning what their behaviours actually mean, exploring kinder training methods and “finding your tribe” to support you. What is it you want out of the relationship with your horse? You’ll be surprised how your goals might change and how fulfilling a new direction can be once you learn to really listen to your horse. 🐴

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