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Building Confidence and Creating a more Confident Relationship with your Horse

It is not uncommon to experience a loss of confidence in the saddle.  For some people it can be a short-term thing, for others it can turn into a long-term frustration where you discover there are no quick fixes. It can also be situational.  For instance, you might feel confident to ride your horse in the arena but avoid trail riding.

If you are a coach, trying to help people that have lost their confidence can be tricky.  You know what they need to do, you know how to help the horse, but you find yourself repeating the same advice and lessons.  For some people you see confidence build, for others they stay stuck.  Sometimes people buy a new horse and watch it deteriorate just like the horse before.

As a horse trainer, coach, and researcher, I was intrigued why some people were able to overcome confidence issues and others struggled. I had my own experience as an 11-year-old with a loss of confidence when my new bolted on me, although I stayed on, I was too scared to ride for a week. With the encouragement and support of my parents and coach I was able to build my confidence back.

However, I aways remained cautious in my riding.  After the bolting pony incident my interest in eventing disappeared and I focused on dressage. Over the years while I had never experienced the paralysing fear of that time as an 11-year-old, my level of cautiousness was dependent on the horse.  There were horses I would canter through the bush and other I would only ride at one end of the arena because they were so spooky.  Then my interest in training horses grew.  The more horses I worked with and the more competent I became at influencing them, the more my confidence increased.  Instead of being cautious, I became meticulous at training and trusted my horses, because I trusted my skills.  The horse I could only ride at one end of the arena became trustworthy out on the trail.  I had learnt the skills to be able to influence him so that he was no longer worried about the world.  Therefore, these personal insights from my experiences allowed me to connect the growth in my confidence to the development of my expertise and competence to train horses. This aligns with what research has revealed about the development of expertise and link between competence and confidence.  Therefore, when I started to coach people, the answer to help them was simple – I just had to teach people how to train horses.

However, working with people quickly taught me that there was more too it.  Some people struggled.  This made me realise there were barriers to people developing skills and learning to trust their horse.  People would be able to comprehend what they had to do to help a horse understand and be willing but would struggle to action it.  They would be inconsistent and avoid practicing.  They would also struggle to make good decisions that fostered the progression of the training and relationship with their horse. For instance, they would just be building trust with a horse and suddenly go and throw themselves and the horse into a high-pressure situation such as entering a competition and have a bad experience. This would send their relationship with the horse backwards.

After working with hundreds of people struggling with confidence, listening to their stories and insights; watching the development of their skills; my background in research helped me identify the development of a person’s confidence with horses was complex.  There were typically multiple layers to it. Yes, a lack of skill and experience was a major cause of lost confidence.  However, there are a range of causes and barriers to the development of confidence.  These include fear associations and phobias after a traumatic event like a fall from a horse; subconscious beliefs connected with fears of rejection, safety, or sense of failure; a sense of vulnerability could be triggered in people due to illness, injury, aging or becoming a parent.  Then there were conditions that individuals might have such as generalised anxiety disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, depression etc. that could create further complexity.

Therefore, building confidence turned out to be more complex than I first thought. It also explains why some people struggle and why they may use certain approaches to try and help their situation but remain frustrated as they still experience persistent anxiety when they ride their horse.

To have the best chance of building confidence and trust in a horse you need to understand all the causes that relate to you and strategically target each cause.

I see it as helpful to see confidence as an equation:

Confidence = Competence (in yourself) x Trust (in your horse) x Time

During COVID-19 lockdown in 2021, I wrote a book describing what I have discovered.  It is called “Confidence & Trust – Solving the Horse + Human Equation”.  In this book I describe how to use the equation to help people discover the layers that impact their lack of confidence.  What aspects of themselves or experiences they have had that may be a barrier to learning skills and/or learning to trust their horse.  Strategically targeting each aspect so that growing confidence in themself and trust in their horse can allow them to build confidence.  Feedback on the book has been overwhelmingly positive with amazing stories of transformation.  Readers that have been too scared to ride, now cantering or trail riding with confidence.  People find new clarity to their situation with a clear plan to follow not just inspiring but a relief. 

Therefore, if you are someone that has been frustrated with your lack of confidence with horse or a coach that would like a greater insight into the issue and ideas how to help people, my book it is available in hard copy or eBook via this link: https://www.calmwillingconfidenthorses.com.au/shop