December 23, 2020

Dogs and Horses and Confidence Issues

Mary said something to me a couple of weeks ago that stuck with me. "If you were as confident with riding as you are with training dogs, you'd be a lot more effective rider."

Kate, of course, made me unpack that because that's what Kate does. "Why do you think you're not as confident with horses?"

The well-trained Dingo

I think it's that I'm so used to thinking of myself as wrong, my biomechanics as flawed, and my reactions as bad, and the horse as the long-suffering and wronged party, that I have a hard time thinking "I don't like this behavior and I am going to change it" like I do with dogs.

 I can't subconsciously pull on a dog's mouth or accidentally hit them with my spur or sit crookedly on them. I use the equivalent of a big bit as an emergency brake and finesse tool (prong collar), yet it almost never engages because they're so well-trained to focus on me. I am VERY black and white with dog training - my dogs are solid citizens and know what's expected of them in every moment once we install the basics. Does my horse?

Aeres looking downright #chonky last week <3

Watching Mary ride Aeres two weeks ago, I was struck by how she got on and made things black and white, and how quickly Aeres submitted to her and got down to business. Wrong answer, don't do that, try again. Right answer,  GOOD PONY! It's the same way CGP rides Connor.

"Yes ma'am"

When I told CGP about this particular confidence hangup last weekend, and she said, "You are always right. Even if you're asking for the "wrong" thing, the horse has to listen as if you were right. You have to believe you're right."

I'm starting to ride Aeres with more authority after realizing this, because letting Aeres get away with whatever she wants to is a recipe for a very unpleasant ride. However, letting Connor get away with whatever he wants to is, as I put it to CGP last weekend, "this perfect homeostasis that we're both comfortable in and in which nothing terribly bad happens." But also nothing good - no progress - can happen there either.

Aeres yes ma'am'ing me last week

I think it's just as possible to blame yourself too much just like it's possible to blame the horse too much for what goes wrong in a ride. But submission is a collective for a reason - the horse has to submit to whatever you're doing. And hopefully we as riders are educated enough that we're asking for the right thing in the right way.

Thoughts? Anyone else been through this transition before? It's hard to have spent my entire adult life taking lessons that amount to "here's all the things you're doing wrong" and to now have to step up and say "I'm doing some things right and you need to listen to me!"


  1. This post has me thinking about how much I overthink - I love how you put, "wrong answer, try again" or "Good pony!" because it really is that simple (sort of) if we get out of our own way. It's hard to reroute years of "it's never the horse's fault" into, "I'm right and you need to listen to me". Goose is going to be pissed in the new year when I hop back on and demand he listen to me all of a sudden!

    1. Haha! Poor Goose! But really not poor Goose, because they do better with structure as long as the structure is fair. Glad it got you thinking! It really is hard to turn this corner.

  2. I absolutely struggle with confidence. I found a lot of confidence by 1) stepping away from trainers who treat me like garbage and in general taking a break from lessoning and instead trying to discover what I think when it comes to horses (I think this empowered me to become a more engaged, thinking rider - this break happened a few years back), and 2) having the right horse for me.

    I'm surprised to hear you say that you lack confidence. I was so impressed with you when you came to Colorado and hopped on Gav like nbd. I kinda hate riding other people's horses (another confidence issue peaking through), so I figured you must be a more bold rider.

    1. I've never had trainers that treated me badly, but I definitely have a lot more confidence now than I did before I took a break from lessons a few years ago, it's true. One of the women in my barn is going through this same thing now that my old trainer isn't training anymore, and I feel for her, that's an even harder juncture to be at than where I am.

      I think this is partially born out of Dressage continually setting me back on my heels as I go up the levels, which is a big reason why CGP is in my life at all. I think I'm doing everything right, I get 60-65% at shows, and then I try to move up and it's like "yeah sorry that foundation you built is all wrong." I can confidently ride a horse, but asking for the right Dressage thing is like...????

      And I'm a huuuuuge chicken about riding other peoples' horses, lol. The only reason I was confident on Gav is that after riding over a dozen Castleberry Cobs, I have more trust in them than any other breed or breeder!

  3. YES! I've had a similar discussion in which trainer reminded me that even if I'm wrong, I need to be confident in it. And it's amazing how much better the rides go when you just believe in what you're doing.

  4. Such a thought-provoking post! I see your point, although I think about it differently. I can 100% be wrong and asking in a way that makes it hard if not impossible for my horse to comply, and if he doesn't, I need to unpack why. BUT, I also need to believe that my horse can do it, and hold us both to a high standard. I need to acknowledge or reward the "try" even if it's the wrong answer or not quite enough. I also need to be quick to correct when things start to go south (like falling on the forehand) instead hoping the problem will go away (my personal fav) until it has become such a huge problem that I have to take drastic action to fix it. I think of it less as "submission" (because I really dislike that term, it makes the horse sound like he must be an automaton and do everything we say, no questions asked) and more as "teamwork". That said, confidence in riding is hard to come by, and it really helps to be convinced you know what you're doing... or if you're like me, 'fake it till you make it'!

    PS: You look AWESOME on Aeres!

  5. Yes! I have the most positive, amazing coach but every lesson my brain filters it to remember all the things I’m doing “wrong” and I lose confidence in a weird sort of way despite the fact I’m actually learning and riding better thanks to the advice I get. I find I need a time out now and then from lessons to be more present and responsible for what I’m asking for and accepting from the horses. My coach’s house actually has a view of her arena and she’s amused at how much better (in some ways) I ride when I need to step up on my own and get it done.

  6. Very interesting - I've definitely seen this in my riding - mostly due to being "uneducated" in how to ask for some stuff. I hope this helps you develop your riding even more!

  7. Once again I find one of your posts so fitting for me. I lost so much confidence in my ability to handle and ride horses when I moved (though I am not adept at training dogs so I guess that part is not apt haha)