Updated: Nov 9, 2021
“Is your horse safe to ride?”
I ask every one of my clients this before we start working together, because it’s an incredibly important question to establish.
The word “safe” can be a difficult one though, especially when you feel as though you’ve lost your confidence as a horse rider. That’s because the language we use, and the stories that we tell ourselves, have a big impact on our confidence in different situations.
Even if you know you’ve got a safe, sensible horse, and that there’s no reason to have those fears, your conscious mind could still be shouting “what if this, what if that?” At best, you can’t enjoy your ride when this happens, and at worst, you don’t get to go for a ride at all.
But what if you could use language to regain your confidence and rebuild your relationship with your horse?
Where is your fear coming from?
I’ve been working with a client recently and digging down into her fears around horse riding. Because her horse was really safe, there was no reason for her to be fearful about riding her horse. So where was this fear coming from?
When we drilled down on what could be causing the problem, we discovered that the fear was actually related to what other people think.
This is something that comes up a lot in my coaching, because often the language our friends use in conversation is even more damaging than the language we use in our own heads. Something like “I wouldn’t go out today, the wheelie bins are out!” can create fear where previously there was none.
So what can you do about that?
Well, first of all, it’s important to think about the language that you use, whether it’s what goes on in your head or when you’re talking out loud or to your friends. There are also lots of really effective tools I use in my practice to address that fear of what other people think.
The language of your horse
As well as the language we use, I also want to think about the language that your horse uses.
Fear as a survival instinct
In the wild, horses are prey animals. Their instinct for survival relies on them being fearful of anything unusual or different because prey animals are eaten by predators. So when you’re out on a ride, your horse might be thinking “Uh oh, there’s something there that wasn’t there yesterday. Maybe it’s going to kill me”.
Now if the leader of the herd is strong and supportive, the horse will know it’s ok - it’s just a wheelie bin, or a piece of plastic. Whatever it might be, if their leader is confident, they’ll walk past.
A story about learning my horse’s language
I experienced this first hand a few years ago when my grey horse Jake struggled with a fear of donkeys. It became a real problem whenever I was hacking out near the yard where his stables were, as there were lots of donkeys in the fields by the bridleway.
Each time we got near them, he would start shaking in his shoes. If we got too close, he would literally run away. I remember being dragged through hawthorn hedges as he tried to escape a donkey that was contained within a field. It was at that moment that I decided I needed to do something about it and help my horse become braver.
This was how I first discovered horsemanship, and by working with an expert I began to learn the language of my horse. This helped me to understand that the reason he was fearful was actually because I felt worried myself.
After a lot of work, including work with Monty Roberts, Jake became confident and a huge part of that was that I had become confident too. It was much easier for me to understand and communicate with Jake, and that’s why I believe your confidence is such a key part of building a strong relationship with your horse.
The language of emotion
Horses also have a sixth sense that humans often miss. Their language is through feeling emotion, so they can sense exactly what we’re thinking. They know you’re fearful before you know you’re fearful, and that can also influence their response to the situation - just like it did for my horse Jake.
So one thing you could do to begin to feel more confident is to start to think about what your horse might be thinking. Is there something coming up that might spook them, or make them feel fearful? And if so, how could you make them feel confident in you as their leader, so that they can walk past that thing instead of getting fearful?