Confidence has long been a cornerstone as well as a primary goal of my teaching and training. It informs what I do on the ground and on horseback and it’s what I try to give my students and their horses when I work with them.
I think it’s of equal importance for horses and riders and that’s true whether they simply want to enjoy each other’s company or progress together towards higher achievements. Nothing — not even a near-perfect position, and I’m a stickler for position — gets riders and horses further along, more quickly, than confidence.
Who knew this better than Alexis L’Hotte, whose famous guiding principle for training horses is “Calm, forward and straight?”
Calm is based on confidence (which L’Hotte likely took as a given where riders were concerned).
The manner in which horses gain confidence may vary slightly from horse to horse. There are outliers, for sure. Some horses need a supremely strong leader — certainly “alpha” mares, stallions and those geldings who, were it not for the knife, would have themselves led a herd…
While most horses are exquisitely tuned to the rider’s emotional and mental state, there are also those rare horses whose emotional and mental states are completely independent. Giving those horses confidence can be a challenge, as they often present themselves as hostile or timid. Both find it hard to trust.
It is trust, most of all, that breeds confidence. Luckily, for most horses, building trust is relatively straightforward:
Be present in the moment, as your horse is.
And in every moment, be the kind of person that your horse believes can handle anything. Your horse needs to know that no matter what happens next, you know what you’re doing and you’ll take care of it, along with him (or her).
Easier said than done, you say? True enough. So where to begin? With yourself, of course. And that means for yourself, as well as your horse, you need to be consistent and kind and respectful and present in the moment. You need to know what you’re doing and you need to take care of things. So if you’re not confident, you need to do whatever it takes to center yourself, to live in the present, to respect the process of growing and learning, to consistently strive to reach your goals without criticism and self-censure.
You’ll never become confident simply by swinging the end of a lead rope or running around a round pen, the way some cowboys would have you believe. That’s not to say that knowing how to do that won’t help you in your work with horses or put a feather in your cap that can help you feel good about yourself as a horseman. But it’s a phantom achievement if it doesn’t help still the little voice inside that tells you that you’re not good enough, you don’t know enough, you’ll never get there.
You’ll never get there. If you’ve ever said that to yourself, you’ve told yourself The Big Lie. Because there is no there. There’s only now. A dear friend, years ago, sent me a card when I moved to a new house. On the front of the card, it said, “Wherever you go, there you are.”
Accepting that, and the choices you make — just for now — are what will give you the confidence that will help horses blossom in your presence.