By Raye Lochert
Confidence is a funny thing. Depending on the situation, you either have it or you don’t. It takes time to attain but can be lost in an instant. Having confidence makes life more enjoyable. Not having it makes life scary.
By definition, confidence is trust or faith in a person or thing. People and horses both want confidence. People want to have confidence in their horse. They want to feel safe and know that they can control their horse when they need to. Horses want confidence in themselves and in their rider – the leader. If their leader says to do something the horse wants to believe that is the best thing. They don’t want to be scared.
Gaining confidence in your horse will not only increase your self-confidence, but your horse’s self-confidence as well. The key is to do what you know you can do and build from there. Break down your goals into small steps. Take your time. Nothing has to happen right away. As a matter of fact, if you only allow 15 minutes it will take all day. Nothing builds confidence faster than setting you and your horse up for success!
Building a horse’s confidence is a matter of repetition. When you teach them a new skill you must practice it 300 or more times. Soon they will do what you’re asking effortlessly. Another key is to make it better each time. This will help keep the horse motivated. Again, make it simple to start and then build your way to your goal. Using trailer loading as an example, maybe you can get your horse within only 30 feet of the trailer. Practice that until your horse will get within 29 feet and build from there. Each time you approach the trailer practice backing up as well. You can break it down even further by having your horse stepping up onto a raised platform before you ever approach the trailer. While practicing these exercises you are covering the basics of trailer loading without the added anxiety of the trailer. You are developing confidence one step at a time.
Developing confidence in yourself with your horse is sometimes best done under the guidance of a good trainer or instructor. Look for someone who has the patience to take all the time necessary to get you to where you want to be. Find someone who is skilled at breaking down goals into small steps. To force someone to start with his or her goal is to set someone up for failure. For example, cantering your horse may be a scary thing for some people. A good way to help people to get to the goal of cantering is by having them practice transitions. Start with walk to extended walk transitions. Not only are you building the rider's confidence by building speed and slowing them back down but you are building the horse’s confidence at the same time.
In the beginning of this article I said confidence was hard to attain. Maybe with the right approach it really isn’t all that hard!