Confidence Help

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  • SLequestrian Original Poster SLequestrian
    Topics Started: 2Replies Posted: 1

    Hello, I need help with confidence issues in the saddle. I got a new mare a week or two ago and I get nervous when she picks up her pace because she does that sometimes but I haven’t gotten used to it. Any “remedies” to build my confidence ? I sorta ain’t used to being that high up on a horse due to the fact I’ve rode an 11.2hh pony most of my “miles” on horses. Also I can’t figure out what bit she is most comfortable in, the stable she was at used mainly Tom Thumb bits but they said “Oh you can use any kind of bit on her..” My instructor who has 20+ years experience riding horses says to use a pelham because she is quite strong on the bit but I’m not too sure about it.. Any other bits than a pelham ? I’m not a big fan of pelhams. I really need help.. xD

    Mapale Mapale
    Topics Started: 4Replies Posted: 421

    My 2cents:
    When I got my first horse as a kid, she was an ex-barrel racer and she had two speeds: Fast and Grazing. She put my cousins and my friends in trees, hung them on the clothesline, or swiped them off in the shrubbery. I was afraid of her and shamefacedly admitted this to my dad. I was embarrassed because by this time I’d been riding a few years, just not on my own very new and seemingly wild horse. He told me that confidence was a decision like any other decision, that fear was a choice. This made me angry, he was so logical and dispassionate, but because mostly he was right. And yet this has been a philosophy that has served me well in life, and not just on horseback. Perhaps the greatest gift our horses (especially the challenging ones) give us is courage, which by the way means being brave when circumstances give us warning, not by disregarding the warning, but moving forward in spite of concern. Make up your mind to control your anxiety, breathe, and believe in yourself. The more you practice, the better you will become. Make yourself a believer in you – and then your horse will look to you for leadership which is how we obtain our greatest ‘safety’ working with them.

    In a lifetime of horses, I have found that they can only trust us as much as we trust them, and this begins on the ground. Each time I’ve worked with a new horse, I’ve put many hours with that new horse in lunging, grooming, hand grazing, hanging out and getting to know him/her. You will find it easier to trust her when you KNOW her. This includes her new and faster way of moving, and how you feel when in the saddle – this is bought with sweat equity and comes with time.

    Don’t get in a hurry. Work at smaller sessions and build up. As for bits, don’t make too many changes on your new mare at once. Learn to ride her as she has been ridden, she’s just as concerned about changes, maybe more, than you are. Check her speed before she gets going with one rein and release immediately as she eases back. Ride her in a very controlled environment in the beginning until you are sure you can control her speed. This will help build your confidence where it is weakest.

    When we start with a new horse, we all start at the beginning, no matter who we are, old saddle dames, or young ones. Good luck, and enjoy your new girl.

    (BTW, within a few days of my candid talk with my Dad, I was riding that mare bareback and with a halter, but she still tried to put everyone else off except for Daddy, of course. Years afterward I thought of her every time I had a first day on the job, a new school, or out on my first date with a new guy, when I had my first child, and when I had to walk away from loss, in fact every time I looked for that needed bit of courage, I remembered that fast paint mare who loved me back, and I am still so grateful for her.)

    Alois Podhajsky: “When I hear somebody talk about a horse being stupid, I figure it’s a sure sign that animal has outfoxed them. ...

    Joan Fry
    Topics Started: 11Replies Posted: 324

    Wow, Mapale, what great advice! I love your stories, especially your mare dumping your cousins in trees or wiping them out under the clothes line. When I was about 12, my next door neighbors got a horse. Since they both worked, they “paid” me to feed him and put him away in the late afternoon by letting me ride him whenever I wanted to. This guy was 16 hands, and if he didn’t feel like being ridden that day, no way could I get the bit in his mouth. And after a couple of hours of being ridden, when he’d had enough, he would scrape me off a low-growing branch of the apple tree. He taught me to ride.

    SLequestrian, I can’t add much to what Mapale said. My new horse is 16 years old and much bigger than the QH I previously owned, so I’m facing some of the same confidence issues you are. And like you, I’m agonizing over bits. I decided to get to know him better before I change his tack– especially his bit, even though I’ve never been a fan of twisted wire snaffles.

    My only suggestion is to see if you can find a lesson-giver who will help you get “legged up” on another horse. She essentially longes the horse with you on him at all three gaits (you don’t have reins), and gives you hints like, “heels down,” or “what diagonal is he on?” The experience of learning to sit on a big horse that’s not your horse but is like your horse will not only make you a better rider, it will help you gain confidence. Good luck to you both.

    Mapale Mapale
    Topics Started: 4Replies Posted: 421

    Thanks Joan, for your kind words. My big family and close farming community growing up made life interesting. That paint mare was seen as a challenge and everyone tried to ride her and got a rodeo instead. I was horrified when it was my close cousins and friends, but the day Nancy hung my cousin Jimmy in that pine tree was a choice day indeed. You see, he “didn’t NEED any instructions on how to ride a horse”. Nancy gave him some anyway.

    I’ve had this conversation about confidence with both of my daughters and said exactly the same things to them. My Dad said “If you don’t rule fear, fear rules you.” And I was such a rebel, I didn’t want anything ‘ruling’ me! I know that SLequestrian will have what it takes when she makes up her mind to do it!

    I cannot imagine how my life would have turned out if I hadn’t had the influence of horses. I shudder to think.

    I prefer a big horse if I’m riding horses not my own. They have longer strides and offer a cadillac ride. I ride pasos because of their intelligent spirit and movement, but it is in spite of their smaller size. It takes adjustment going from Mr. Mischief to Carmagirl because they move differently even though they are both paso finos. She has long pasterns and is a full hand taller (15hh) than he, and can really move out, easily keeping pace with 17hh TWH – we do this all the time. Mischief cannot, and when extends, he loses some of his smoothness and balance, so I must maintain collection even at his faster largo, releasing him yields a canter. OTOH he’s so much more agile than she, and performs the piston-like fino step which she cannot. She rides in a bitless bosal, he in the standard double-rein jaquima, barbada, and with a paso bit and pisador. It’s always an adjustment that keeps me on my toes as both horses require a partner, not a passenger, and I must make adjustments in hands, seat, and legs to properly cue them. As to who is more fun to ride? It depends on the day. Adjusting to a different horse is tough, but it can really focus the mind and make a person a far better thinking rider.

    Alois Podhajsky: “When I hear somebody talk about a horse being stupid, I figure it’s a sure sign that animal has outfoxed them. ...

    Joan Fry
    Topics Started: 11Replies Posted: 324

    I like big horses too, but I have to admit, it gave me a sense of security to be on a horse that I could wrap my legs around if I had to! Thanks for sharing your experiences, Mapale. You’re a great story teller!

    SL, I know Scout doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, so if something happens, it’s my fault, not his. With that in mind, I decided to be brave and do some off-roading with him, which he has clearly never done before. In other words, as Mapale put it, I made myself his partner, not a passenger. He has a very fast walk and I usually let him choose his own course because it’s easier–he gets very impatient (and walks even faster) when I try to guide him. But after crashing through bushes and some narrow escapes involving pine trees and rocks, I put myself in charge. He seemed to welcome the opportunity to slow down, and actually started listening to me–to my leg aids (or lack of them, since I wanted him to slow down), letting me guide him around rocks, large downed trees (good cover for rattlesnakes), and in general being the one who called the shots. In the past I used the deep sand in an old riverbed to do the same thing with a part-Thoroughbred I owned. He liked to run too.

    In other words, is there someplace close by where you could ride that
    provides natural obstacles that you can use to your advantage? You can make your own obstacle course in a ring, but it’s a lot more fun for both of you if you can do it somewhere else. But first, as Mapale said, make sure you can slow him down in the ring before you go outside the ring. Good luck to you both!

    Joe-Joe Joe-Joe
    Topics Started: 17Replies Posted: 1205

    Well, Joan and Mapale took all my words! The only thing I would add is that if you never have fallen, you just haven’t been riding long enough. Your horse is probably just as dismayed as you are, because you are a totally new experience for her. Put energy into reassuring her, and you won’t have time to be nervous yourself. In the very, very olden days, we used to practice falling off our horses (preferably while they stood still), so that it became nothing to fear. Worry about changing bits later – you do not have to use the curb rein if you do not need it, and you don’t want to confuse her with too many new things all at once.

    It is never the horse's fault

    old country girl
    Topics Started: 1Replies Posted: 8

    Hello SL, I too have had horses speed up on me. Usually the thing to do at first, is to ride in a controlled area doing some exercises like circles and figure eights. Get comfortable with those. If your horse gets going too fast during these, tighten up the circles, smaller and smaller until she relaxes and slows down. She can only go so fast in a tight circle. Then when she slows down, loosen up the circles a little at a time. If she goes faster again, tighten up the circles again. Do it over and over till she learns to keep a steady pace with a loose rein. Eventually, you will need to do this at all of your desired speeds, walk, trot, canter etc. When she has learned to control her speed in your controlled area, take her out. If she speeds up while out, put her into a circle right away. She will have learned the discipline of speed control within her circles, and she will remember it no matter where she is being ridden. This will give her confidence knowing that she is doing something right. Then continue to ride on. you may only have to refresh her memory once while you are riding out, or many times. It’s okay. Don’t despair, she will get it! Remember, the faster she goes, the smaller the circle. When she slows down, enlarge the circle. Don’t be embarrassed if you are riding with other folks and you need to “circle” your horse. They will appreciate your knowledge and the discipline that you are teaching your horse. A really neat thing to remember yourself is that every time you ride a horse it is an opportunity to teach your horse something useful. As for the bit, well, I only use a regular snaffle on my older horse, but he goes just as well bitless. I will be training my 3 year old next spring with a Nurtural bitless bridle right from the start. He will never have a bit in his mouth. Your horse can learn all you need to teach no matter what bit you may choose to use. The bit is really the least issue as long as you are not hurting her with it. The key to teaching is consistency and your body language relaying what your asking her to do. Good luck

    Joan Fry
    Topics Started: 11Replies Posted: 324

    Well put, old country girl! Let me add one caveat. Once your mare has figured out circles in the ring (in other words, once she knows that if she speeds up, you make the circles smaller) and on the trail, don’t go back to the ring and ride endless circles on her. Horses get bored with circles very quickly. Figure eights are a good alternative. My old ASB mare was very chargy when young and liked to speed up too. Fortunately I had access to a big riding ring. I would ride her in a figure eight that had a straight line between the two loops of the 8, not a curve, just for a couple of strides. Sometimes I would complete the figure 8, other times I would transition into a circle. Since she didn’t know which one I was going to ask for, she would slow down. Or else I would ride her straight down the middle of the ring until I was almost to the fence before asking her to turn one way or the other. Same idea–she didn’t know which way I was going to ask her to turn, so she slowed down. Mapale and country woman are right. The more time you spend with her, the better you’ll get to know one another, and your confidence will increase. My trail horse now waits to find out what I want, whether we’re out on the trail or off-roading.

    G & S
    Topics Started: 16Replies Posted: 253

    The one thing no one else has mentioned is that horses are incredibly good at reading (and possibly misinterpreting) their rider’s body language. In other words, if you are a very tense rider, a horse good at reading body language will pick up on this, and will make the at least partially incorrect assumption that you, the rider, can see, hear, or somehow be away of something the horse can’t see or hear. That the horse can’t ID the source of what is disturbing the rider is even more frightening to an animal that, as a species, has survived primarily by running away from trouble. But if the horse can’t identify whatever it is that is making the rider tense, he doesn’t know which way to run. It never occurs to the horse that the rider is tensing because of what the horse might do. Really good riders have figured out how to control their body language so the horse “hears” what the rider want’s the horse to hear. It can take a lot of practice to be able to control your body language and relax tensed muscles, especially if you are not aware of tensing these muscles. But it is a learned skill, and one that can be learned. The first step is to learn to recognize when you, the rider, are tensing muscles, and learn to relax them. In the beginning you will have to force yourself to relax, but as your confidence grows, and you learn to recognize tensed muscles and make yourself relax, riding with relaxed muscles instead of tensed muscles will become the norm, not something you have to force yourself to do. As you get better at controlling your body language, the horse will have more confidence in you and your leadership, and will also relax.

    Topics Started: 0Replies Posted: 8

    Everyone has given such great advice (and fun to read as well!) The only thing I’ll add is that you might need to consider whether some of the “speed” problem that’s concerning you could just be the longer stride. In addition to the normal difficulties of coping with a totally new mount who is putting you considerably higher off the ground, you probably are unconsciously dealing with the different “feel” of a longer-legged animal. Give yourself time to get used to that–review things you already know well; try things at slower gaits even if you could do them well with the 11.2 pony at whatever gait you wanted. If someone can help you along with review lessons or some friendly coaching, that will help, too, since they can tell you if what you are feeling is really something “wrong” or if it’s just the new way things feel to you.

    As for the Pelham problem–I agree, it is hard to get used to two things at once (new horse and new bit). Is it the double rein that’s causing the difficulty? If so, you might try “rounders”–a strap on each side that connects the snaffle to the curb ring, with the single rein attached to the rounder on each side. That would leave the new horse with the bit she’s used to, while making your life easier at first. Your rein aids will be a little less distinct, but that’s probably better than, say, having you inadvertently hang on the curb rein. Another alternative is to find a Kimberwick bit with the exact same mouthpiece–a Kimberwick has D-shaped rings with a single rein (as well as a curb chain, which should run through the D just like with a Pelham, instead of behind it) working exactly as the rounders do on a true Pelham. Eventually, though, do learn to cope with the double reins–after all these years, I’m still not a fan of Pelhams, either, but there is still the occasional horse who likes one and goes better in it, so our preferences take second to the horse’s! (Plus, if you ever need to use a full bridle, you’ll already be familiar with the double reins.)

    Good luck, and let us know how things go!

    Topics Started: 0Replies Posted: 3

    Hi All, when I was a junior I was a very accomplished rider on what was then the AHSA circuit. My ponies were nationally ranked. I left riding, went to college, started a career, owned my own business etc. Later, while in my mid 30’s I bought a 5 year old OTTB. As it turned out, he was very kind but I was nervous with him. I had not ridden in 15 yrs. He was much bigger than my ponies and very young and green. I spent time grooming him, giving him treats etc. When I was confident working with him, I started getting on. One day there was a trot pole on the rail and so I trotted over it, no big deal. At least that was my plan. He jumped it. Caught me totally by surprise. We were both fine and the trainer who was in the ring saw me, laughed and said do you want to jump a jump? So I did. I got confidence from something I hadn’t planned. I was relaxed thinking we were just gonna continue trotting on the rail. I’ m sure I was more relaxed than if I had intended to jump him the first time.
    Another time, he had just recovered from an abscess and hadn’the been ridden in a while. When people saw him tacked up the asked, if I was going to lunge him first. I didn’the know if he knew how to lunge so I just got on. He was a little fresh so I trotted in a serpentine. Every time he got quivk, I turned which of course slowed him down. Now besides circles and fiqure 8s which will work great you have another tool.
    You did not say if it was at a trot or canter. If it is at a trot and you ride English, you can slow your horse down by posting lower and slower.
    In teaching now for many years, I have learned confidence comes from success. Take it slowly. You now have a few tools to use if necessary. Go out, do as much as feels good and then next time do just a little more. I bet in no time you will look back and feel so accomplished for overcoming your fear. Enjoy!

    Topics Started: 0Replies Posted: 2

    You cannot be confident on a unsafe horse, if you are trying to learn to be confident in the first place. And the horse needs to understand that when you ask her something, she needs to do it, and she gets rewarded. If she is a pleaser, a generous voice reward and nice patting will do. If she is treat spoiled already, you may have to have a small treat ready to be given to her ONLY when she does a job. If she is a nervous horse, you need to start from the ground and must infuse her that you will provide her the safety and security she needs – so she does not have to look for it by herself. And all this should start on the ground – literally. If she does not step aside when you poke her side with yoru finger and cluck, there is something wrong with this picture already. Your horse does not understand you or respect you, or even worse, if she thinks that you will prevent her from getting the security and safer condition (holding her mouth when she is trying to feel safer), all of these will lead to unsafe riding condition. The goal is that she has to look up to you for your leadership. Do everything with calm confidence and authority. If you are not sure what this means, you need to get someone educated in horse communication physically near you to teach you the ground manner to your mare and to you. You do not have to beat her up – but you have to be proud, stern, insisting, consistent, and maintain this every second that you are with your mare. I mean, every sigle second. (It is a very fatiguing thing if you are not used to it, but you will eventually grow into it). It will be as much about your psychological workout as your work ethics. You cannot achieve this once a week for 1 hour dealing with your horse. Learn how to stand next to your horse. Even if your horse does not have to move, make her step aside a few times every day in her stall, if this is a safe thing to do (meaning she will not bite or kick you) – just to make a point, move her around, and if she moves, pat her, voice reward her, and even give her a mint. In a horse world, the one that makes the other move is higher in ranking. Also, learn to use your voice command while you work her in hand. Cluck means go. Whoa means stop. Slooow means slow down. If she does this on a longe line, commend her. If you cannot move your horse one the ground with your voice command at all, this is the first place to start. (My horse reads my body language on the longe line). Learn how to read the horse’s language, too. Do not ever let her drag you in lead rope. If you are moving from point A to point B, she cannot eat the grass. She can eat grass in lead rope ONLY IF that is what you want her to do, not because she found grass where she is standing. Draw a rule and stick with it, but understand that one time slip is a total negation of your training. If she grabs a mouthfull of grass while you are leading her from pasture to stall, you just gave her a new rule – “when I can get a bite, go for it, as this person does not control me”. Good luck.

    Joe-Joe Joe-Joe
    Topics Started: 17Replies Posted: 1205

    Jint – all good points. I might add that HOW one holds the leadline will tell a horse if he may or may not hand graze. When I want my boy to just go from one place to another, it is shorter and when he is allowed to eat (and that is only in one specific area) it is more like a dog leash. And, it can be a real help if one can find out which words a horse already knows to mean specific things. I have an OT Arabian, and he understands “hold back” to mean a temporary stop in hand, and “halt” to come to a complete stop under saddle. He has not yet mastered “stay”. Knowing what the horse has been taught already can make life a lot easier for everyone.

    It is never the horse's fault

    Sweetiepie’s Mom
    Topics Started: 0Replies Posted: 3


    I agree with a lot of what has already been posted but there’s an old saying, “the slower you go the faster you get there!” I know this sounds like a contradiction but it was meant in relation to working with your horse or horses. You can never be in a hurry as it simply works against what you are trying to accomplish. I have a mare that likes to speed up and the half halt is a method that I use to bring her back to me and get her to round and then I release and give to her. If she speeds up again, half halt again and so on. Eventually she decides it is easier to keep the slower pace and not have me in her mouth telling her to slow it down. I keep my hands kneading the reins so as not to hurt her as I am riding in a curb bit. You need to, as the others stated, not to try and change too much too quick. You will do great and groundwork as well as just spending quality time gives you the foundation and develops the bond allowing you to become a close partner with your horse. Best to you, Sweetiepie’s Mom

    Topics Started: 1Replies Posted: 1

    Hi SLequestrian, I can see why you might be a bit nervous, and that’s okay. I can understand where you are coming from when you speak of not feeling confident in the saddle, because I used to feel that way in the very beginning of my riding career. But I feel that finding your true confidence comes with time, practice and dedication. As for your mare, I would say that you both seem a bit unsure of each other still, and to that I say bonding is key. It’s normal to not feel adjusted to her gaits and speeds just yet, but when you truly get to know each other a bit more, and feel acustommed to her pace, you’ll both have a much better riding experience when in the saddle. For the bit, I would try the one your trainer recommended, but if she seemed uncomfortable after a while, I would try something else. I truly hoped this helped you a bit, and good luck with the new mare 🙂

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