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Opinionated Equestrians Confidence Issues
 By Polo the Weirdo   •   20th Feb 2017   •   800 views   •   0 comments
Opinionated Equestrians Confidence Issues

As an occasionally arrogant, usually opinionated, and ‘always right’ equestrian, I feel that my opinion on all equestrian matters is relevant and important. Of course, this view is basically the ‘crazy horse lady starter kit’. We’re all guilty of it, at least sometimes, and the problem is that – fairly often – it works out accurate (to a degree). After all, one of the best and worst things about the equestrian world is that there are thousands of ‘right ways’ to do things. This may lead to much conflict and disagreement, but it also provides infinite opportunities of learning for all of us.

That being said, I want to share my opinion on one of many training issues that has been brought to my attention over social media. Facebook is great. People ask for help or opinions, and a plethora of strangers (both experienced and not) who are mostly ignorant of the details of the problem will converge on the post, and express, disagree, argue and insult to their hearts’ content. Maybe this sounds terrible, but in the end, it gives our original poster a number of different ideas (pros and cons often pre-listed) which they can test out to try to solve their problem. Every horse is different. It doesn’t seem that crazy to assert that the same problem in different horses may require different solutions. Nevertheless, where one doesn’t know the individual personality of the horse in question, I find assuming a generalization of basic horse psychology a good place to start.

This brings us to the current issue: The poster was asking for ideas to build confidence in a horse that had been frightened by crashing through a jump, and subsequently began stopping at fences, requiring a few attempts to make it over.

The most common response was something along these lines:

“Go back to ground work, walk your horse over poles, give lots of praise every time the horse does it right, let it learn that poles won’t hurt it.”

This is certainly a lovely, kind way to go about it, and for some horses – especially where the problem is very severe, and the horse extremely sensitive – it may in fact be the best approach. However, in my opinion, this approach will not work for your average horse, and is quite extreme overkill for the problem described. I’ve worked with frightened horses plenty of times, and not once can I say that walking over a few poles and smothering the horse with praise solved the problem.

Basing our assumption on general horse psychology, horses are made brave by assertiveness. A horse is willing to approach a jump because it trusts its rider as ‘leader’. If the rider is assertive, confident, and pushes the horse to take on a task which frightens it – demands, even, that the horse do it – that is when a horse is most likely to respond positively. It may seem mean to be firm and demanding with your frightened horse, but in doing this, you are giving him confidence. You are telling him that it is alright. Ultimately, you are telling him that it will be okay, which will give him the confidence to try. Once he is over the jump, you can praise him to show him that he has given you the desired result. Next time, the horse is more likely to be confident. However, if you approach the issue in an overly tentative fashion, asking your horse to step over a pole, braising him when he does, but never demanding or asserting anything from him, you are showing no more leadership inclination than he is. You are not giving him a reason to trust you, so you are not giving him confidence. If your horse is scared of a jump, you don’t walk your horse up to it and ask him to step over. You pick up a big, fast canter, get his heart rate up and his adrenaline pumping, and ride positively through the jump, pushing and encouraging as he backs off. This is what will make him brave, and as he feels braver, he will start to enjoy and understand his job.

My advice to the original poster centered on approach, attitude and riding, not on exercises, as I feel her problem didn’t require going back to the foundation to fix. What it required was a change of perspective. I suggested instead that the rider approach jumps the way mentioned above, and if they felt they weren’t doing an appropriate job of it, that they find another rider who could give the horse confidence until the problem was solved. My other suggestion was to take the horse hunting. If your horse has been frightened by a jump, there is no better way to recovery his bravery than to have him approaching natural jumps at high speeds surrounded by other horses. This is when the average horse will be at his most confident; it might not fix the problem in the showjumping arena as the horse may not learn to associate the experiences, but it should at least boost his courage enough to give a good starting point to fix the problem.

You may not agree with my approach, but all I want to offer is one more idea, an alternative to the common view asserted on the post. In my experience, this is the best approach to this problem for the majority of horses. When it comes down to it, training is about trial and error. Disagreement, conflict, argument, is good, healthy, to the commons of knowledge available for training horses. It gives us alternative approaches with different pros and cons, each of which we can tailor to our own horse’s needs, and our own individual preferences as riders.

So, if you have your own input on this problem, or a problem of your own that you want new ideas in solving, then please post. Assert. Share. Be your opinionated selves, my crazy-horse-ladies-and-gents. Honestly, with this strange sport we work in, it’s the best way we’re likely to get anything right. Let’s keep the conversation rolling.
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