Monday, January 25, 2010

+/- Confidence

I've learned a hard lesson.  When you are older and ride, your confidence must be continually nurtured to retain it's high level. 

Trying to get back into the swing of things after the holidays has been difficult.  Last week I woke up on the morning of my lesson and that old familiar feeling of dread was with me.  I came up with numerous excuses to NOT go out and ride, worried about what 'mood' my horse would be in.

Recently Champ has been plain nasty.  My barn pals tell me all the horses are fresh, but Champ's behavior outshines them all.  Bucking, nipping, kicking, you name it.  Being around Champ recently has not been any fun.  I'm afraid to ride him, I'm afraid I'm going to get hurt.

I got myself so worked up before my lesson that when I brought Champ into the arena to greet Hero Trainer, it was all I could do to keep from bursting into tears.  In a choking voice I told Hero Trainer how I mourn the loss of my hard-won/yet fun-won confidence, coupled with the fresh loss of Cisco who I could always count on to help me rebuild any doubtful times. 

She has seen how nasty Champ can be and she listened quietly while I got it all out of my system.  I was an absolute emotional mess, standing there next to Champ, barely able to breath because I was so choked up with emotion and fear.

Hero Trainer was kind but she was also direct - something I appreciate about her.  She told me that Champ is the type of horse that you can't peg on any day.  You will never know what you are going to get when you come to ride him.  She told me I need to be prepared for anything when I ride and she suggested that perhaps he isn't the right horse for me. 

That was hard to swallow.  I explained how he was our 'family horse' who we'd had for over seven years.  How we'd invested not only money, but so many emotions into him and our daughter's riding career.  I just didn't know how we'd part with something that was so much a part of us and was doubtful my family would even consider it.

Hero Rider responded very simply with straight talk.  If I am to continue to ride Champ, something must immediately change. 

She brought up what I already knew - you can't build your confidence if you aren't out there with your horse, and I've been very absent.

She suggested I introduce ground work to our routine noting there is an issue regarding respect.  She said I need to be out with Champ every day, now that I'm retired and have the time, and she warned me if I was to continue down this road that she will be holding my feet to the fire. 

So her expectactions were simple;  (1) Show up every day; (2) Utilize ground work every day; (3) Ride at least four times every week (noting commitments, etc., that may come up) and even if it's a short ride, RIDE.

Back at home I grabbed my pile of Horse and Rider Magazines and found I have all the copies of the sequential articles from Clinton Anderson regarding Lunging for Respect.

I found my 'stick' in the tack room, grabbed my leather gloves and lunge line.  And starting the following day and every day since for seven days now, I am proceeding down the road of becoming Champ's leader and gaining his full respect.

I've always felt part of the joy of being around horses is that there's always something more to learn.  In this case, I'm errant in not bringing ground work into our routine prior to this and I'm now paying that price.

My first few days were pretty wild and we still encounter some rodeo on the lunge line.  BUT I'm encouraged to see a positive change in our relationship with me now coming out as the leader.  No more nipping, kicking, head bumping.  Champ now stands quietly at the cross ties and respects my space at all times.  The 'gleam' in his eyes is still there when we start, but it's leaving quicker every day and the licking/chewing is replacing it.

I'm off for my first lesson since I had my melt down last week.  I feel better today about going out to ride and am actually looking forward to my interaction with Champ and Hero Trainer.  My confidence is higher from seven days of ground work.

I'll report out on my next blog how things went.  But leave with you with these thoughts because if you are like me and have lost your confidence but still have that need to ride perhaps they may be helpful:

I must earn my right back to a great ride and this is how I'm achieving it, through respect via consistant ground work. 

The return in my investment of this time will be a better behaved horse (already is after 7 days) who looks to me as his leader - and that equals a higher level of confidence for me.



  1. COngratulations on feeling better and getting more respect from Champ. Glad you have Hero Trainer to tell you things you need to hear but don't want to.

  2. Oh I feel you. I bought Fred in 2008 full of sunshine and anticipation and he bucked all the fun right out of me. When he came home he was skinny and weak. Then good food and gentle treatment brought out his true self. Which is NOT mean! but it IS very clear that he has a strong opinion about some things.(like being made to work when he doesn't want to) Now I have Mandy and she is the perfect fit for me. But I know that to conquer that fear I need to get back on Fred and earn his respect. I'm lucky that I have Juan who was willing to ride out the bucks on Fred and he's already a different horse two weeks into a regular riding schedule.

    You will get there, but I agree, once loose that *bouncability* of youth it's much harder to get back on the horse.

  3. Good for you for taking the bull by the horns.
    Clinton's Lunging for Respect cd's are my Holy Grail, and I KNOW it works.

  4. You have a very special trainer! Don't ever let her go!

  5. Been there done that. Got the t-shirt too. I handle my mare every day simply so that I don't lose my confidence in MY ability to do it.

    Daily handling, even just leading with starting/stopping/turning works wonders. When I was having trouble finding my confidence I had a friend or my barn owner or daughter just walk along beside me. That steadied the mare and that in turn made me more confident. We are at a point now, where Paige and I work together well and I am grateful for that every day. I rode her last night (and it's January in PA so that means it was cold) and I had a steady mount who could stand still for me to get on, trot out nicely and stand in the middle of the arena when requested. I so appreciated that last night.

    One of the things I was very firm about was the fact that there was .no. playing when someone handles you. Zero. No bucking on the lunge line, no hopping around when leading, no deciding she did not want to do this or that. It has now become habit for her to just do as asked.

    You will get there with Champ too, this time of year is hard as the weather is so uncooperative, give yourself some time to rekindle that confidence!

  6. I have also been having a hard time getting back into things after the holidays. And it seems like the more I don't ride, the easier it becomes to make excuses. And my confidence sinks yet further. I like what Hero Rider said. And I think I just need to put my foot down and tell myself that that is how it's going to be! I can only make it better if I get out to the barn, and ride that horse! I heard a great comment on TV a few days ago. The man said something to the effect of, if you stay in your comfort zone all the time it will actually start to shrink and you'll gradually lose confidence so you need to always be working to expand your comfort zone. This is an idea I plan to take to heart.

  7. :) oops, I meant Clinton Anderson's DVD's (not cd's) Can't wait to hear how things are progressing for you!

    Take Care,

  8. I am a firm believer in what you have on the ground is what you have in the saddle. Impeccable ground manners translates to an animal that hears you and respects you anywhere and everywhere. No matter what. When I say whoa, I want those feet to stop moving. Period. We do showmanship patterns just for that effect. Now if only the QH would learn that it means his head, too!!!!