By Ann Kirk
It is September of 2020. As I sit down to write, I am looking for a subject that is key to almost every horse person I know. When I participated in Ride the West, one of the sessions I did was a lecture on Lost Confidence, how it happens and how to regain it. The lecture area was packed. It was clear to me that this is a very hot topic in the horse world. I have had many occasions where accidents have led to a loss of confidence which is crippling in my line of work. In this article, I will share some things that have helped me to regain my confidence while working with horses.
I have been training horses for 40+ years. I was practically born on a horse and have never been without one. When I was 6 years old, a horse spooked out from under me and I fell off and broke my arm. Was I scared? No way! I was riding again before the cast came off. I rode bareback and raced all over the place with my sisters. We rode blindfolded, backwards, standing up and bridleless, (and our horses weren’t taught controls without a bridle). It really didn’t matter if I fell off. I just picked myself up, dusted myself off and jumped right back on. There wasn’t a horse anywhere that really intimidated me. I was invincible.
But, as I got older and the horses got “quicker”, and the ground got harder, and the injuries hurt longer, it became much tougher to make myself “just get right back on”. That’s when it became important to find a safer way to train. I began to follow the John Lyon’s methods and this solved a huge amount of issues. It was my first real introduction to ground work lessons that focused on emotional training for the horse. Well, I thought I had found the Golden Rule for horse training and that I would never get hurt again.
But, that was not so. Too often, I would skip steps or get too frustrated and cause the horse to revert. Or I would just misjudge the horse’s reaction to a stimulus and I would be nursing more bumps and bruises as I tried to figure out what went wrong and if I could prevent it next time. And, every so often, the cause of injury would be some “freak” incident that defied preparation. These are, by far, the most unsettling for how can you fix what you don’t know could happen.
One example was a young Tennessee Walker gelding I had in training. He had started nice and I had been riding him on the trails for a couple of weeks when our neighbors hauled in some cattle for pasture. Back then, I would let a horse approach to the distance it felt comfortable and let it stop when it wanted, then proceed slowly until past the perceived threat. We were riding on a road with a field to the left and the cow pasture to the right. This colt was bold and approached fairly close before stopping to look.
When he realized that they didn’t smell right, I knew that he was going to whirl which didn’t really concern me. But what I didn’t take into account (and neither did he) was there was a 2 foot rise into the field to the left so when he spun, the bank swept his feet out from under him and we went down hard. As I rolled up onto my knees, I saw 2 colts running off through the field. I was sure that wasn’t good. Luckily his round pen training took hold and he came back to me. I mounted up, rode him home, unsaddled him and took the rest of the day off (and a couple more). Now that was something I could have prevented but still was so unexpected, I would never have thought to prepare for it differently.
There are many examples, such as when I had a filly fall with me in an arena because she bolted and I overreacted when the sprinkler system came on unexpectedly. I sustained a concussion and a cracked rib. Or 2 ½ weeks later when a yearling unexpectedly exploded as I began to cinch a saddle on and kicked me in the ribs resulting in 4 broken ribs and the end to my work for the year. Suffice it to say, I have had my share of incidents that can and have led to a loss of confidence and the quest to regain it or be paralyzed in my ability to continue doing what I love.
So, how do you regain confidence once something has happened? Confidence has to do with trust; trust in yourself and your abilities and trust in the methods you use for training your horse. If you purchase a horse, or if you already own one, one of the first things you doubt is if the horse has enough of the right training to be safe for you to handle and ride. It looked okay when you purchased it but it is acting different now that it’s at your house. So now what?
DON’T JUST CLIMB ABOARD AND HOPE FOR THE BEST!!! There are certain “tests” that your horse must pass before you should get astride. You do not have to take the horse at its current level of training and just hope to survive it. You can teach your horse to respond the way you want it to so you can have “confidence” in what it knows. You must teach it what you want it to know. So few people realize how easy it is to train most horses. But you must have a plan. Don’t count on just doing damage control all the time. Be prepared to teach and guide your horse so you are the leader and he is the follower.
When you know what lessons to work on and have practiced them enough to be confident, it takes away a lot of the apprehension of working with your horse. When the fears and doubts start to rise up, you will know where to focus your mind and how to focus your horse’s mind as well. And I’m not talking about super hard lessons that require youth and athletic abilities to perform. Almost anyone can do bridle work from the ground, directional control exercises, round pen work, etc. Far too many horses that people are riding are not really broke and when the control is needed, it just is not there. You must be an active rider if you are going to be truly safe with your horse.
This is just the tip of the iceberg concerning this issue of confidence. I would be happy to answer questions in more detail if you would write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Working with horses is great, but it can be scary. But, the only way not to face the possibility of being hurt by a horse is to not have a horse. But then you might be hurt by your dog! So if you are willing to take the time it takes, contact me and I can give you more information.
Confidence is lost when what we thought would work doesn’t. It’s often not as easy as pull back to stop, and if we get hurt because the brakes don’t work, it shakes our confidence. When you can find the right method to fix your horse’s brakes, it helps restore that confidence. Until later, God bless you and keep you safe…….Ann
For more information on Ann Kirk and her Sensible Horsemanship Programs, go to www.annkirk.com. And check out the Sensible Horsemanship DVDs now available!