It’s a cold fact, but we’ve all seen it. Green riders riding big, fancy, talented horses—and they are scared to death. They lounge the horse until it is exhausted, wait until the arena is empty, or find a secluded part of the show grounds, and get on with great trepidation. They hold their breath and tighten every muscle in their body. Through clenched jaws they mutter “Ho! Ho!” in some attempt to make the horse “relax.” Meanwhile, the horse, which looked completely calm while lounging, now has his eyes rolling to the back of his head. Mom doesn’t think this is a good idea, so why should he? Inevitably, they won’t have a good ride, the rider will lose even more confidence, and the vicious cycle will continue.
To break the cycle, the best case scenario is to get the horse in training, followed by the rider getting lessons as well until horse and rider can form a partnership. Another perfectly reasonable decision would be selling the horse for something more suited to the rider’s speed. This could be anything from an OTTB packer, to a TB/Draft cross that comes with brains “pre-installed.” At the end of the day, we’re out there to have fun, and how much fun is it to ride a horse that is bred to do Rolex, if you can’t get him around a novice course?
Confidence, for you AND your horse, is like a bank. You can put confidence in, you can take confidence out, but you can’t take out more confidence than you put in. If you and your horse have been jumping 2’6” really well for a few months, you’ve been making small deposits in to that bank. If, then one day in the course of a jump school you raise one jump to 3’ and it goes well, you just put in a BIG deposit for your next beginner novice! If, however, you raise the entire course of show jumps to 3’, you will likely become a little strung out and frantic, and even if all the rails stay in the cups, you just took a big withdrawal out of the bank to make it happen.
Many upper level riders will only ride preliminary sized cross country efforts in the lead up to their biggest shows for this very reason. It’s important that horse and rider have done their homework well in advance of these big shows, so for the final lead up, they work on doing something the horse knows he can do, and feel good about it, adding money to the bank. When he gets out on the Big Course, hopefully his rider is giving him a good ride, but if the rider has a little bobble somewhere and the horse has to fend for himself and get them both out of trouble, he takes that big Withdrawal, but hopefully keeps going.
So think about that the next time you’re asking a big effort of yourself OR your horse. Is there money in your confidence bank?