Monday, August 19, 2013

Building Confidence

I'm a little bit of a holding pattern right now.  I sent an email to my trainers about selling Tessa and I got back a brief reply saying they would like to talk to me about some ideas.  It's the last two weeks of busy time for them, with the championship dressage show next weekend so I'm not surprised that we don't have time to talk it out yet.

Also, though I feel good about deciding to sell Tessa, I also am open to ideas that change things.  What I know for sure (for DAMN sure) is that the status quo is NOT working for me and I won't let it go on any longer.  I will be interested to hear what their ideas are.

I also met up with a friend of mine who is quite talented with horses and asked her opinion.  She was of the 'devil you know' opinion and felt like I should stick with Tessa.  But she didn't really have any solid ideas on how to make that work, so I'm taking that with a grain of salt.

I went out yesterday for a ride and Tessa was mostly pleasant, forward and non spooky.  Since I'm reasonably sure my trainers are going to have ideas about Tessa that don't involve selling her, I thought I should push the envelope a bit and try doing the things I want to do with my new, well-broke horse.

So I took her outside.  I didn't ride (I wasn't brave enough to ride this time)  but I did make her go through the gate and part of the way down the driveway.  The good news is that we walked.  I carried a dressage whip and when she froze up, I simply waved the whip around behind me without touching her. We paused a few times, but mostly we marched forward.  She was tense.  I was tense.  But we did it.

Then we went on a walk around the barn.  There was a section where she tuned me out with her head high and started spinning.  It's that sort of behavior that I don't want.  It scares the daylights out of me.

My fantasy horse would take new things in stride.  I could ride or walk and my fantasy horse would walk next to me, mellow and happy.  My fantasy horse would be Tessa minus two major things - her spooking/tenseness and her not wanting to go forward and feeling the need to buck/kick about it.

So, since we probably have a few weeks before I will get a chance to sit down with my trainers, I thought I would work on building confidence for Tessa and I.  Are there specific exercises you can do to build a horses confidence?  If you send a horse out for training with a confident trainer, will it be able to come back and handle less confident riders?  How long does it take to build confidence?  Have any of you had to build up a horses confidence?  Nature or nurture?  Books I should read?


  1. I found that Confidence has to come from both of you, otherwise its a vicious self-fulfilling cycle. I'd look into some sports psychology/therapy.

  2. You have a tough situation. We used a Bach flower remedy for stage fright on our ArabX that seemed to help. He is a bolter and would scare the heck out of us. It took 3 yrs of ground work, then a trainer riding 2x a week for about 3 months and deep breathing exercises before we could really ride him with out worry. His potential for bolting is still there, but his blow up point is much further than before. Each horse is different.
    Really look deep in yourself about what you want and whether you will be able to get past previous memories to move on with her.
    I hope your able to come to a happy decision.

  3. Agree with what L. Williams said. Also, take part of the ride to do things that you know you guys do well already. Praise Tessa for doing so so she knows she's a good girl!

  4. Here's a book you could refer to: The 100% Horse: How to Create the Go-Anywhere, Do-Anything Horse. It's co-authored by this guy:

    Also, try some on the ground work exercises on this site:

  5. One trainer I had always told me (and I've seen it myself) that they could get on a horse, and the horse would be fine for them, but the nervous rider could get back on and the horse would be spooky again. I think you have to make the horse you want to ride by pushing them out of their comfort zone a little at a time. Always end on a good note.

    At my barn, I've been taking Oliver on trail rides with my BO. Her horse is steady, and Oliver feels comfortable with him. We push him further outside his comfort zone each ride (having him lead, get farther away from his buddy, etc) and he is getting better and better.

  6. I think my comment got lost . . .

    Anyhow, I think a confident horse needs to have self-confidence and also trust in its rider - the two things aren't the same but are reinforcing, either for good or bad. Too much to say to put it in a comment . . . post coming . . .

  7. I second looking into the AEBC stuff, sports psychology and groundwork.

  8. I agree with everything above! have you considered getting her a massage? Whisper is moving like a new horse since the massage therapist worked on her. she is in a much better frame of mind and is giving me even more of herself than she had been! Seriously, I didn't expect this much difference so quickly.

    Have you looked into Clinton Anderson's method? My aunt shared her videos with me so I knew exactly where her horses were coming from. I can see this being HUGE in the confidence building arena because it teaches you and your horse what to expect from each other. And it starts on the ground, where everyone feels safer!
    Don't hesitate if you want to have long, aimless, analytical e-mail discussions about it!

  9. I think you're honestly getting yourself into a spot where you're at risk of spending another 6 months "trying" to "fix" Tessa without actually seeing the progress you seek, being frustrated, anxious and stressed about it. Waffling on decisions or letting people convince you your decisions aren't right, makes life very stressful.

    And I do apologize for being blunt. I think Tessa's wonderful, I think you've worked very hard and I think you're a talented rider.

    What I don't think, is that Tessa behaves as she does because you're failing her as a rider.

    I believe that not every horse works for every person. Just like you can't have a successful marriage with every man you meet, no matter how sweet he is, or how hard you try and how much time you put into making it work.

    It just doesn't work that way. This is about personalities. You can love someone to death, but know the marriage just isn't going to work. He's messy, you're a neat freak. You need to be cuddled, he likes to slap your butt. You like quiet walks in the park and he loves spooking at the sight of squirrels.

    Doesn't mean anything is wrong with either of you. It's just not a compatible match. Eharmony makes millions on these things. We need EHORSEHarmony imo...

    Remember, your trainers MAKE MONEY OFF OF YOU. When your fancy competition trainers watch you buy an over-broke cowpony who'll happily trot you through a field and trailers out to distance rides and hops over little x-country jumps without 18 hours of training and $450 boots, they're not supporting their farm anymore. Sounds harsh, but this is a business for them too.

    *YOU* know what you want. Maybe you really aren't ready to give up on Tessa. Or maybe you are. But PLEASE, please find YOUR decision and stick to it with stubborn indifference to everyone else. I WANT you to have a happy marriage, I want you to show up every day thinking "This is my heart horse. My heart is in this horse. This is love."

    I've been there, I've passed up many a good horse and many a bad horse, and can honestly say, the right horse for you, is the horse that's right for YOU. No one else. That's your decision to make.

  10. All of you are so wonderful. Your thoughts are exactly what I need. I'm not sure where this will end up or even where it's going right now, but yes, yes and yes. And Kate, I can't wait to read your post. I'm just interested in exploring the nurture/nature part of confidence in horses. They say riders can ruin a horses confidence, so it would stand to reason that even if Tessa got more confidence that if she's sensitive, I could ruin it quickly.

    I look forward to updating everyone soon and seeing how this plays out....

  11. Also, the remarks about my trainers are right on which is why I'm taking what they say with a grain of salt. I don't think they would ever intentionally try to get me to keep a horse that's inappropriate, but they stand to lose a regular client AND a horse they can use for lessons.

  12. I'm coming at this from a slightly different perspective: I have a lovely stubborn, opinionated mare who I love to death, but who had some Strong Opinions about going on the trail by herself, specifically certain sections of trail. She was absolutely not the right horse for her previous owner, and luckily her previous owner has several other horses that ARE the right horse, and enough space she could hang onto Miss Opinionated until her person showed up years later.

    Are you sure she's not-confident, or does she just plain not want to do what you're asking? My mare was faking fear, but it was actually the latter (yes, really, and I can tell now the difference in how she feels).

    I rode her on the back trails with other horses. Then I walked her on the back trails, me on the ground. Then I rode her alone on the back trails. I'd let her stand still and mentally process if she was genuinely concerned about something (deer, water, whatever). I'd ask for a step forwards, and the answer was *forwards* - not sideways, not backwards, not spinning, not up. Praise when she went, persistence when she didn't. Even now, if I think I'm mentally overwhelming her and I'm afraid I may be asking too much (lots of body tension, not much brain, doesn't happen often but it DOES happen from time to time) I get off and lead her down the trail for a few minutes. No shame in doing that if that's what needs to happen. I won't do it for stubborn, but I absolutely will do it for fear.

    You're not giving up on Tessa because you want something she isn't. You're being fair to both of you. Some horses are happy in the arena. Some horses are happy on the trail. Some can do both; some can't. This is supposed to be something fun - and if at the end of the day you're dreading trying to do what you want on her, I'd seriously advise considering a different horse and/or different trainers.

    This is getting terribly long already.. but yes, it took me about a year of riding 5-6 days/week to gain the pony's trust, most of the time. We're three years in now and for me on the trail, she's pretty solid 85% of the time, pretending to be scared to get out of work 13% of the time, and genuinely concerned 2% of the time. I can generally take her out by herself and I know what her triggers are. Two years ago, we couldn't even go in the front of a group, heaven forbid go out alone.

    That said? I can't ride her confidently in the arena. Several other girls can. I can't. That's all me. I have lingering anxiety in there with her and I think she picks up on that, so I don't ride her with the kind of 'you will be totally fine' confidence she needs.

  13. I am no expert on horses. But I feel I am an expert on lack of confidence when it comes to horses. :-)

    Coming into riding at this stage in my life has had it's challenges. In my case, my horse was going to be my only horse, so I did a lot of research. I didn't have a clue what I was doing when it came to riding and my horse knew it and took advantage of it. He resisted, stuck his nose up, refused, pushed me, dumped me. A lot of that had to do with me not being skilled at communicated what I wanted from him, so he was frustrated. It was hard and my dreams of loping through fields with the wind in my hair seemed unattainable. A friend of mine, a serious N.A. competitor in reining, told me that the first year is getting to know each other and testing boundaries - not too many owners survive this period. The second year, rules have been established and serious work begins to build a respectful relationship. The third year is when it starts to gel and a partnership is established. She was dead on. I reminded myself of this timeline many many times and it got me through many frustrations.

    I would highly recommend training. Gem went on 30-day boot camp training last summer and it was the best money I ever spent. Having a confident, skilled rider on him consistently, day in and day out, helped tremendously. He's skills were fine-tuned, he came back to me focused and happier - he knew what was expected of him. I did take some private lessons to build my confidence and learn where the buttons were. We are much more of a team now and are really enjoying each other.

    I am sending positive thoughts your way. You have a lot on your plate right now.

  14. Post is up - here it is:

  15. If Tessa isn't the horse for you, then wouldn't it be more fair to both of you to find more appropriate partners so the time spent riding is enjoyable? From following your blog and experiences with Tessa, it seems to me that Tessa NEEDS a confident, self-assured rider that she can count on to lead. If you know you're not that confident rider and fearless leader, she will always be nervous with you in the saddle, no matter how much professional training you put on her because she simply won't trust that you can keep her safe. Some horses are like that. It doesn't make you, or her, a failure, you are who you are.

    It is a very, very hard decision to make when you know the horse you have fallen in love with and spent so much time working with just isn't the right partner for you. If Tessa is unable to be the partner you want, then it's okay to find a partner for her that she can be happy, comfortable and have fun with and you do the same.

    Riding is supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be a way to get away from the stresses of your every day life (it is for me, any way), but if riding becomes a stress and isn't enjoyable, then re-evaluating why is the absolute best thing you can do for BOTH of you. I guarantee that if it's stressful for you, it's also stressful for her.