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?