Before Carmen I'd always had young and green horses that, while they didn't know much of anything, were pretty naturally trusting and confident. So when I faced it first with Carmen I didn't recognize it at all. Even when Johanna said 'she has no confidence in herself' I agreed but didn't really think about it too much. I saw it as a spooking issue, an evasion issue and/or a trust issue. And of course, because life is never simple, it was also those things.
|a few days after she arrived home in 2015. Man, she has filled out since then.|
Here she looks like a startled fawn.
Only now that we're approaching the other side am I seeing how truly lacking in self-confidence she was. She also lacked all confidence in me, the rider. She had zero faith that what I was asking her to do was possible.
And so she would fight me. On everything. And I would either give in or join the battle.
Confidence is a fragile thing. It's easy to chip away at it and that's what happened in the beginning with Carmen. I began to doubt everything. Slowly, with so much help I can't even begin to describe, we began to build a confidence that is on a much stronger foundation.
I am more likely to try to figure out what she needs. I'm not always right and I'm not always that thoughtful. Sometimes I'm more 'for fucks sake horse, just canter into the corner'. And frankly, sometimes that's warranted. Like I say, ad nauseum, it's a line between being in charge and joining the fight.
t's been fun seeing Carmen's confidence grow. We have set backs (looking at my last show) but we get it back more easliy. I am less likely to fall down the rabbit hole of doom. I don't know if I can describe how it's different. It just is- in the way she carries herself and how she wants to check out new things rather than shut down or run away.
I know that I have a tendency to treat every ride as though it's of utmost importance. Even if I just want to relax. I'm sure that this is very irritating. For god's sake, Teresa, it's just a ride. Lighten up! I'm not saying whether this tendency is good or bad. It just is.
One of my biggest worries has been what will happen if Carmen is scared out on the trail (mostly if we're alone).
I found out on Sunday.
We finished schooling in the ring and I dropped the gate to go for a hack (note that I only do this on my property and when Ed is home. Maybe someday I'll feel okay with going out on my own). We were fine at first walking by the field, but she was more alert than usual in the woods. When we were walking along the edge of our property there was a loud crashign and banging in the woods on the other property. Carmen spun away but stopped when I asked. We were surrounded by trees and brush and I didn't want a mad bolt. She was rigid and was dancing in place.
In my head I assessed this for several minutes but I'm sure it was just seconds. I decided that while I could (possibly) ride this out, I knew that Carmen would be much braver with me beside her than on her. I hopped off which surprised her (note to self- practice this next time when conditions are controlled). But she stood with me, clearly agitated and looking but not trying to get away. I spoke soothingly to her and kept my body relaxed. I figured that if she did get away she would run back to the barn since she knew this trail very well. But she didn't even try to run away. While clearly worried she stayed on a slack rein (another note to self- maybe bring a lead line with me next time).
Finally she let out a breath amd we started tp walk along the path. When she was a bit relaxed I found a spot to get back and we walked some more heading towards the barn. Down close to the edge of the property I could feel her getting agitated and I hopped off again. We walked home and up to the barn and she stayed behind me in perfect step. She didn't try to step on me or pass me.
By the time we made it back to the barn she was completely relaxed. In the past she would have been tight and reactive. Instead she was completely chill.
I don't know what frightened her but I'm going with it being a deer (it was large so it was either that or a bear but I don't think it was a bear). I remember when Irish was green I would hop off and walk him. Heaven knows we've done enough groundwork on this. I have no worries about hopping off either- I believe that doing this helped boost her confidence that I'm there for her when she needs me to be. Even better was that we didn't have any bolting. So far I've managed to keep the hacking out safe and fun and I want to keep it that way.
What about you- what struggles and triumphs have you had with your horse's confidence? Or has it been there all along and you just need to help it grow?
I have the same problem with Cisco. He really lacks confidence in himself, and this is hard for me because my other horses have all been quite brave and nonchalant about pretty well everything. When he gets worried he wants to stand right behind me in my pocket and let me be the brave one. Trying to work through things in a safe, calm manner can be a challenge when you are by yourself a large part of the time. Miles and exposure seem to be the best way to increase confidence, but when your opportunities are limited It's a little harder to do.ReplyDelete
I agree that miles are great but they need to be safe miles. We are getting thereDelete
Gem acts all brave and in charge but deep down she isn’t. It was horrific on trail when I started so I changed course and attached a lunge line without a saddle and hand jogged her down trails. That way I was beside her, couldn’t add to her tension with my own and then bonus was she learned to control her own feet a all times.ReplyDelete
I suspect that there are lots of walking beside her. When I first got Irish, I walked him for miles every where.Delete
Gosh I struggle enough with my own confidence that I knew it could be a really bad combo to have a horse that also lacks confidence. Idk if you remember (or were reading) back when I catch rode that mare Shen for a dressage clinic - but she was actually a sales prospect for me. And I REALLY liked her. And felt like maybe I could give her her confidence she needed on the flat. But.... I just wasn’t sure that I’d be able to hold up well enough to be her rock over fences bc sometimes I need some hand holding too, so ultimately I decided she wasn’t the partner for me. I still think about her tho. Even in the course of that ride, feeling the partnership and trust grow was incredibly rewarding. I imagine that must be what it feels like with Carmen, just on a much larger scale. She really is doing well!!ReplyDelete
Was that the mare who had ‘all the feelings all at once’? I th8nk I remember that post. It’s good to know your limits. It feels good with Carmen, except for the days it doesn’t. 🙄Delete
My first horse Erik was an habitual spooker at anything and everything. It took him years to have confidence in himself and me but although he never lost his spookiness he did get much better as the years went on. I think when I learned how to relax and ride with more confidence in myself he started to trust me and look to me for guidance. Dusty my mare was full of herself from the beginning and marched around like she owned the world. That was a nice change. Blue is just sweet and calm so he's a pleasure. I can tell Rosie is a little apprehensive about new things and takes the time to really "look" at something that's new but she doesn't really spook or bolt just assesses things and carries on.ReplyDelete
So in the grand scheme of things they are all different personalities but I think that the more confidence the rider has the more confidence the horses have. I just ride with the attitude of "you silly mare that's nothing to be afraid of" and don't pay things much attention so they won't give it a second thought either.
I know that things are much better when I’m calm. I’ve been really working that part of myself.Delete
You brought up my big shame issue. I don't ride alone often anymore, on my new horse. It irks my soul, but I don't feel safe on most of these multi-use trails, with very little elevation. I ride with a partner or very short spans where I feel safer than normal. Mag cannot handle loose dogs or bikes coming up fast behind him, and I'm doing what I can to mitigate those encounters. To my shame, cuz he's not a reactive horse. My red mare taught me the real fear of these things.ReplyDelete
No need to be ashamed for knowing your limits. We all have them. I’m sure that Mag does not care.Delete
It's just that lately I've got arena-phobia after seeing Mag panic twice, I start to feel him anticipate like Carmen and I'm just done - I'd rather ride on trails where he's not waiting for something to happen. And since I have to go way out of my way (and pay) for an arena, I'd rather not. Sad cuz I love dressage. I'm waiting for the day when I'm back in America and there are free, public arenas for everyone to use, and mountains that go straight up and end in snow.Delete
Mine very much lacked confidence for a long time. I did a lot of ground work with the clicker to teach him to be curious about things. He got clicks for approaching new objects and touching them. So now he will be nervous about something but he'll usually move toward it slowly vs running off with me like he used to.ReplyDelete
And undersaddle the biggest thing that helped was taking things more slowly than he was physically capable of in order to stay at his pace mentally. He could easily get through tests two levels above where we're showing but that would mean that I'd be constantly telling him he was doing things wrong/needing to do them better, which is going to shoot down his confidence.
I haven’t done clicker with Carmen but we’ve done (and continue to do) groundwork. It’s been invaluable. Carmen also gets upset if she thinks she has the wrong answer (or doesn’t know). I think that was the issue from her early training- she was pushed too hard and fast.Delete
It's a tough thing, bc I feel like I personally lack confidence in things and kinda bring my horse down.ReplyDelete
I think Annie's lack of confidence in things is mostly bc things are new. She's young, green, and when we approach new questions she may go forth and do the thing, but you can just feel she's not sure at all, haha. She isn't fearful when she lacks confident - she gets kinda puffy chested and tries to do the thing faster (esp on trail rides) instead of *thinking*. So, she needs confidence to SLOW down and assess vs just lurching headlong haha. I've found it's gotten better the more and more I trail ride her and it isn't hugely noticeable to the outside viewer (I've had a lot of comments about how quiet she is).
You are gaining so much with Annie, you should be proud. And I know what you mean by it not always be observable by others what you are feeling.Delete
Levi used to be confident and he's gotten less so over time. I imagine my own state of panic is a contributing factor there. The mare I had in college would get upset about crossing water or ice and the second I got of, she would instantly calm down and follow me anywhere. I think she's had a lot of ground/nh training and if the water didn't kill me I guess she could touch it.ReplyDelete
I suspect that his confidence wasn’t deep and you are seeing it now that the training has put more demands. He’s doing really well lately though.Delete
I'm a big fan of jumping off when you need to. There is a point of no return, and you have to do it before then. The sooner you can read it, the better. And, yes, practicing it at home, is a great idea. I do it here and there for odd reasons-sometimes, to help another person on the ride, or open gates, or whatever. It's all good practice. Eventually, you jump off less and less.ReplyDelete
I agree- I do not worry about jumping off so much and I don't think that it's a failure. This is where 'better safe than sorry' applies.Delete
What a good girl and smart thinking on your part! I'm glad you also have a bit of an answer to the "what will happen when she's nervous/bolty on trail when we're alone" because I know that had to be weighing on you! It sounds like you're on the right track for troubleshooting future trail "moments". =)ReplyDelete
Ah, confidence. Stan has it in spades, Griffin is really good and is easily bolstered by verbal praise in iffy moments, and then there's Q, my work-in-progress who, as you well know, is Carmen's soul sister in so many ways! My fighting against her lack of confidence set us back for years. It wasn't until I stepped back to a slow place and did more stopping than walking and more walking than trotting and now more trotting than cantering that we've finally reached a really fun, enjoyable place. Just last night I was out with her on trail with friends and realized as we rode along how NICE it was to not be on guard every step. Her confidence is to a point where she is so relaxed that I'm also relaxed and thus able to look about and enjoy the beautiful scenery. I'm confident enough in her building confidence, too, that I can trust her not to be a total dumb-dumb about the world so that even though I know she's going to spook some, it doesn't fill me with dread-worry that I'm going to hit the turf. I've still got work to do to get her to an ever-better place, but damn does it feel good to be where we are now!
Thank you! You and Q have come so far. These strong minded, not confident mares are very trying. :)Delete