By: Lesley Stevenson
- Confidence is crucial to both horse and rider in the sport of Eventing. If you or your horse don’t believe that you can so something, you most likely won’t be able to do it, even if you actually are capable. A solid foundation with good basics will go a long way towards building confidence levels.
Many times horses or riders lack confidence because of a weak link in their basics. It is so very important to find a good instructor who can identify what that weak link is, so that it can be improved. Many riders are pleasantly surprised to find out that they CAN do something that they didn’t think they were capable of, once a good instructor has fixed an underlying problem.
For example, I regularly see riders who think that they are just inherently not talented at jumping. They may have been attempting to improve for years, and don’t feel that they are getting anywhere. But when I show them how to find their balance independently of the horse in the two point, and they master that skill, they are suddenly much more secure and confident over jumps.
Why didn’t they already know how to find that balance? Because many instructors teach a particular “position” instead of balance. In other words, they say things like “shoulders back”, “heels down”, and “legs tight”. But without true balance those position corrections will be hard to maintain.
Once there is a solid foundation for horse and rider, the way to further build confidence is to put good, positive experiences on top of good, positive experiences. I like to compare experiences to money in the bank. Every great jump or successful shoulder in is like putting a deposit into your account of confidence. Every awkward jump or failed attempt at an exercise is like making a withdrawal.
The key to improving your odds on making more deposits than withdrawals is to be organized and methodical in your training, so that you are always setting yourself up for success. Try to recognize when you don’t have a great canter, and circle to improve it, rather than going down to that jump anyways. If your horse is a little resistant through the corner, change your mind and don’t attempt a trot lengthening across the diagonal, where he would probably become more resistant. Instead, do a 10 meter circle or two to improve the connection, and then attempt a lengthening.
If your horse stiffens at the beginning of a downward transition, or hollows at the beginning of an upward transition, don’t complete it. Abort – fix the problem, and try again. With diligence, you will be then able to make a good transition, which you can reward, putting money in the bank.
A good trainer will know what you are capable of, and may sometimes push you out of your comfort zone, asking you to do something that you would probably not attempt on your own. This can be a great way to make a huge deposit in your account! If you know you have a good trainer, and they know you well, and they tell you that you and your horse are ready to go down and jump that Training level ditch and wall – and you’re shaking in your boots – let go of your apprehension, trust your trainer, and do what they say. When you sail over that jump you will feel like you can take on the world!
Many times on cross-country, a rider will have a refusal that kind of perplexes them. It may be an easy jump, or one that they have jumped already. And they wonder why their horse stopped at it. Often it’s because the jumps preceding that one on the course were not smooth, making withdrawal after withdrawal on the horse’s confidence. And when he arrived at the jump that he finally refused at, he was just feeling rather empty on confidence. So to prevent that from happening again, the rider needs to make a mental note on course after a few awkward jumps to ride much more positively forward until there are a few smooth efforts to replace the recent withdrawals.
Confidence is the key to success in just about anything in life. And the good news is that confidence levels CAN be changed! As long as skills are built progressively on a solid foundation for both horse and rider, you will be amazed at what you and your horse can achieve!
Lesley Stevenson is an Advanced 3 star three-day event rider/trainer/coach,. She is a graduate of Jimmy Wofford’s training program. She also has an upper level dressage background with Spanish Riding School theories. Lesley was USET long listed in the years 2002-2004, during which she completed the Radnor ** and the Fair Hill International ***. She has also competed successfully through Fourth Level Dressage, with scores to 75%. Lesley is available for lessons and clinics, and is also available for online coaching at http://www.MyVirtualEventingCoach.com