What is ‘confidence’ anyway?

As someone who is passionate about helping horses and humans develop deeper connections and confidence, within themselves, and within relationships with each other; ‘confidence’ and the state of being ‘confident’ is a word I hear thrown around a lot.  

But what does it mean to be confident? Here we’re going to look at it from two different perspectives, human, and horse. 

First off, let’s take a look at what confidence means to us human beings. 

Confidence is a word that can be construed in a myriad of different ways, and over the years it’s become a word that could potentially be quite loaded, depending upon its use, and the meaning from the person speaking it. In our society for instance, more often than not, someone who is deemed to be ‘over confident’ is someone to be disapproved of, thought of as arrogant, and to some, a person deemed to be so, could be seen as someone outspoken, opinionated, and perhaps even ‘gung-ho’ and thoughtless. As a nation of people who pride themselves on being stoic, humble, and self-deprecating, describing ourselves as being confident, is something that we often shy away from. 

The dictionary definition of ‘confidence’ however, is ‘the feeling or belief that one can have faith in, or rely on someone, or something’. 

Feeling, Belief, and Faith. Those words stand out to me in that definition, because I think they articulate perfectly what I personally consider ‘true’ confidence to be. 

For me, confidence isn’t about what you tell people. It’s not how you articulate your experience, or your knowledge, it’s not about how you present yourself, or even in the actions you take. It isn’t about jumping the highest jump in the arena, climbing on the bucking horse, or galloping out on a hack, when you’d rather just have a casual amble around the countryside, watching the world go by. 

For me, confidence is feeling that you are adequately prepared for any situation that may arise, and feeling relaxed, and happy because of it. It’s having faith in your own knowledge and training, and being open minded enough to ask questions and seek help, if something pops up that’s out of your comfort zone. It’s about having the grace, to understand that both horsemanship, and self-development, are INCREDIBLY closely connected, and that the journey of learning and growing both, is endless. It’s having the self-belief, to hold your course, no matter what others may say, or situations that may present themselves to you. It’s having the empathy and patience, to understand that everything and everyone can teach us something, for better, or for worse- and nothing happens to us that we can’t handle. 

Finally, for us humans, I think it’s so important to accept, that confidence is something that takes time, and can ebb and flow like tides of the sea. Starting new ventures, hobbies (for instance riding a different horse or in a different discipline) can often leave us feeling slightly vulnerable, and lacking in an abundance of the c-word, but with time and the right support, the aforementioned feeling, faith, and the belief, will grow and blossom. It is OK, and it is natural, to feel vulnerable. Without vulnerability, we cannot grow. We are only human of course, none of us are perfect, we all start somewhere, and we were all put on this earth to grow and learn. 

So, what about confidence for our horses? What does it mean for our four-legged friends? Going boldly where no horse has gone before? Handling any new experience without so much as a snort? 

What does a confident horse look like? 

For me, a confident horse is relaxed, and able to focus on the job or situation in hand. Whether that is chasing a cow, mooching around the countryside on a hack, executing a reining pattern in a casual, and super cool manner, or simply standing and enjoying a groom from their devoted human. This horse has soft eyes, feels relaxed enough to lick, chew and yawn on occasion, and has a casual interest in their surroundings. This horse, it’s important to add, is not to be confused with a horse that is ‘shut down’, (a subject for another time). 

 As prey and flight animals, horses are hard wired to question their safety in any new or potentially threatening environment, or situation. They have a primal instinct to want to survive and feel safe, and it is up to us as their humans, to help them relax and learn that they can trust in us, and whatever we may present them with. It’s important to add here, that we have to allow our horses to show emotion, and to respond to things. If we do this, making sure we are rewarding signs of relaxation, we can exercise their ‘panic muscle’, turning the ‘OMG’ into the ‘oh ok!’ without ‘shutting them down’. With understanding, repetition, and breaking down and building up the ‘scary’ things, we can help them build confidence, in themselves, and in us.  

Sure, some horses, as with humans, are born to be more relaxed and confident than others, and some can be ‘sharper’, more alert, and reactive, depending on breeding, genetics, and experiences (good or bad) in their lives up to now. But I think for us, it’s important to realise that we CAN help our horses, if we take the time to recognise stress indicators, body language, and the other small signs our horse may give us that they are worried, or reaching their thresholds of fear, and not feeling so confident about what they are experiencing in any given moment. 

By recognising and responding to the signs our horses are giving us, and working WITH our horses in every moment, we can help them to enter any new environment or situation with a little more serenity, and a little less ‘oh my god am I going to die?!’.  

By having the empathy, patience, and understanding to be able to break things down into manageable steps, we help our horses to feel seen, heard, and understood. While working in this way is definitely not a magical overnight fix, it will lay the foundations of a deeper connection, and a growth of trust between you and your horse.  

The results from applying this approach to your life with your horse in this way, are profound, and if your horse is confident in you, and trusts you, then you can be more confident in your horse, and trust in yourself, and achieving your goals, big or small. Then you can stride off into the world together, as a partnership, feeling pretty damn good about yourselves and wherever it is you’re headed! 

So here’s to cultivating that feeling of confidence, whatever that means to you, and your four legged friend. 

R.E.S.P.E.C.T…find out what it means to me…?!

‘Respect’ is a bit of a buzz word in the equestrian and horsemanship industry, and in my opinion, it’s a word that is often misconstrued, and can mean very different things depending on which trainer you talk to. 

The dictionary definition is; 1. ‘a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements’    *or*   2. due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others’ 

For me, number 2 is the most integral when communicating with other living beings, horse, human, or otherwise.  

Often, you will hear some trainers, talking about ‘getting a horses respect’.  

There are a few trainers across the globe who may mean it in a potentially unpleasant way, some who mean it in the way I’m talking about in this blog, and others who don’t quite communicate how they mean it. 

For instance, I recently saw a video on a social media platform that got my goat a little, showing ‘Signs Your Horse is Disrespecting You’, detailing things such as a horse throwing his head up when being haltered, or showing distaste at having a girth tightened. Many of the things listed in that video were signs that the horse may actually be in some discomfort, and/or adequate communications lines were not present, and not, in fact, ‘disrespect’ from the horse. 

Horses are wonderful, amazing creatures, capable of learning and achieving incredible things, and ultimately, unless there is something very neurologically or hormonally wrong (or they’ve had a terrible human experience at some point in their lives) they are not out to get us, they are not looking to ‘disrespect’ us, they are simply responding to their environment, the communication they are receiving, and whether or not their needs are being met. 

For me, all relationships, across all species, should be based on MUTUAL respect and understanding, with a dash of empathy thrown in the mix also. Gaining respect through dominance, does not result in a solid foundation with horse or human, and can result in mistrust, stress, anxiety, ‘shutting down’ and inconsistent results.  

So, what about – rather than focusing on gaining a horse’s respect, we worked on establishing clear, consistent communication, and look instead, to gain their TRUST, and their FOCUS. 

What about – in moments of so-called ‘disrespectful’ behavior, we looked at the bigger picture, and asked WHY it was happening? Pain? Discomfort? Lack of understanding? Basic Needs not being met? Feeding routine?   

Often, there is a reason for the behavior, and it is up to us humans, to respect our horses enough, to look into why, and how, we can help them. 

Approaching your relationship with your horse in this manner, will result in deeper understanding, better communication, connection, and happiness and relaxation for all involved., with zero drama. 

Sounds like the perfect relationship to me…! 

What does respect mean to you? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Over and Out!

How are you showing up for your horse..?

As horse people and animal lovers, we inevitably look upon our horses as our friends and family. We give them hugs, tell them our problems, and if they’re lucky (or very unlucky in Snoox’s case) we might even sing to them too!

We can also, through no fault or thought of our own, show them sides of us we’d rather we didn’t.

Lucky for us, horses are forgiving creatures, and will do what we ask, more often than not, however we ask it, despite us not necessarily being ‘our best selves’, time after time.

What do I mean by this?

Well, I could mean afew things, but ultimately, when we show up and work our horses, and we’re tired, stressed, dehydrated, hormonal, emotional, or just had a really rough day, we cannot possibly give our horses the best versions of ourselves, and therefore we cannot expect our horses to give us ‘their best selves’ back!

Of course, I am not suggesting we should discredit how we feel, and I am not suggesting on days where we don’t feel great, that we should avoid our four-legged pals completely, because as I, and the rest of you reading this will know, horses have an incredible way of healing us and making us feel better (aside from the fact that not seeing them for two days because you’re pooped is impractical for many!) and also, exercise can make us feel great too!

What I AM suggesting however, is that we NOTICE how we are showing up to our horses on any given day, and we tailor our sessions to co-inside with that.

Sometimes, a simple fix will suffice before we get to work, for instance, have your basic needs been met that day? Are you hydrated? Fed? Rested? (More info on this in my free course) (shameless plug…!) Do you need to call a friend to talk over something that happened in the day to ground yourself or help your mind unwind? Do you need to have a quick dance/karaoke party in your car to your favorite ABBA song (no? just me?!) to unwind, dispel some cortisol and get some endorphins flowing?

Other times, when an easy fix isn’t available, it’s important to have an open mind, and be flexible in your working routine, so you and your horse can have an easier session with low expectations, including lots of downtime, where you can both just relax and enjoy each other’s company. For instance, for me, if its ‘that time of the month’ and I know I’m going to be hormonal, I know that I won’t have the patience or mental clarity that I normally do, so I’ll ensure our sessions are short and not taxing on either of us.

Now, for those of you concerned that your horse HAS to be worked because they are in some kind of fitness or weight loss program, fear not! There are plenty of ways to exercise your horse, without making your tired/harassed/’just not feeling it’ self’s bucket overflow. A nice easy walk, in hand, or ridden out and about in the countryside is a lovely way for both of you to get some exercise AND relax. You could go through some ground work basics, tackle some poles or obstacles in hand to engage your horses mind and body…the possibilities are endless if you open your mind to them.

The main thing, is that you NOTICE how you’re feeling, and you address it, for your own mental and physical health, and your horses. We are SOOOO conditioned into ‘just getting on with it’ which I know I bring up a lot, but it is because it is an ongoing theme that we need to quash, as a community.

‘Just getting on with it’ causes more harm to us and our horses in the long run, and stopping, noticing, and responding accordingly to our feelings and needs, AND our horses, is so incredibly valuable to us as humans, and to horses as our partners.

Horsemanship-No Cowboy Hat Required.

What is horsemanship? Does it require a cowboy hat? Chaps? Manically waving about a carrot stick or a flag? …and why do people stop and just stare their horses all the time? 

Well, first things first. You do not need a cowboy hat, or chaps (admittedly I own both but that’s not the point here!) You can wear a cap, a hard hat, a sombrero…whatever floats your boat. Jods, leggings, breeches, joggers…whatever you like! You can use a carrot stick if you must, but they’re really not my jam…I find them abit cumbersome if I’m honest. Flags are pretty handy though, although I don’t tend to use them every day. As for stopping and staring at your horse…well, I’ll explain that later. 

Recently, with a few rather hairy and well publicised incidents in the Pentathlon in the Olympics this year, the need for a knowledge in better horsemanship across the board in the equestrian industry, has become very clear. While there is a currently a movement of ‘change makers’ gathering speed and audience at the moment (I like to include myself in this, but really, we’re looking at the big guns, like Warwick Schiller and Tristan Tucker), there is no doubt more can be done, particularly in the equestrian education sector in the UK, such as including proven techniques that help train and educate horses in a manner which works WITH the horse, focusing on connection and relationship, rather than just trying to ‘make them do the thing’. 

So, lets rewind back to ‘what is horsemanship?’  

The dictionary definition of ‘Horsemanship’ is the art, ability, skill, or manner of a horseman. (Ahem!…or woman!) This is fairly accurate, although I’d like to throw a big fat wadge of ‘knowledge and understanding’ into that definition too. Skill and ability can only take you so far, if you want a happy and engaged horse.  

What if you could understand why your horse does what they do, and what if you could help them learn in a way in which they actually stay relaxed? What if you could help them to feel more confident in all they do, truly helping them to be their best selves in all situations? This includes going to shows without being ‘sharp’ and losing their minds, being able to deal with plastic bags floating about, loading with no stress, lunging without being dragged around by a bucking looney, and hacking out with zero drama. What if they could truly enjoy their work and their time with you?! It’s all possible, it just requires time, patience, good preparation, and opening your mind to the possibility of trying something different.  

You may be reading this, and thinking ‘pffft, what a load of rubbish’…and you know what? That’s OK. We’re all entitled to our own opinions, and sometimes, you’re just not ready to open your mind and try something different, until… you’re ready. 

The truth is, we all question our methods at some point. I didn’t start out with a knowledge of horsemanship, I started out as a teenager in a traditional riding school, and I learnt to kick and smack my way over jumps, I learnt that if a horse dragged you about when you were leading them that ‘it was just them’, I learnt to poke a horse up the bum with a broom if they didn’t want to go into a stable or into a trailer, to a use a stronger bit if you couldn’t stop, and saw lots of much worse things in practice way back in the day.  

The frustrating thing with these methods, is that they do work in some cases. I’d like to point out however, that this is nearly always temporarily, and only to a certain degree; because essentially, you’re making the horse internalise a behavior that they’re demonstrating either through pain, fear, or lack of understanding, so we are not addressing the problem and helping them work through it, we’re just making them do x despite of it, which can cause further pain, trauma, and more adverse behaviors later on. We’re conditioned by old ways and old establishments to ‘just get on with it’, which can be damaging not only to the horse, but often to us physically, and in some cases harmful to our mindset too.  

So, what does it mean to practice horsemanship?! 

 Really, it can be as simple or as high level as you want it to be, and anything is a good start! At a basic level it can mean taking your time, and noticing your horse. It could mean learning their body language, learning about their coping mechanisms, and teaching them that they are safe in their environment, and safe with you (this is where some of the standing and staring part comes in!) It can involve a good groundwork program, where you can carry out body control movements that will help you with all you do with your horse, and one in which you can enrich your horse’s working routine with. It could include giving your horse variety in their routine, exposing them to different scenarios, and helping them ‘prepare’ for situations rather than just ‘getting on with it’. The possibilities are endless and the rewards really are many.  

To conclude, horsemanship can come in many forms (and in many outfits!) but ultimately, it all stems from a need and a want to better understand our equine friends, and to help them to be their best and happiest possible selves, in whatever situation or environment they find themselves in.  

We owe our four legged pals that much, surely…? 

(Photo Credit to Lunar Photography)

And then, there was one…

Hello All. I hope you’re arriving at this blog safe and well, and I’d like to just congratulate each and every one of us for successfully making it to March! Woohoo! Spriiiing is aaa-comin’! 

 It amazes me how fast this winter seems to be disappearing, the birds are tweeting, the flowers are doing their flowery thing, and that light at the end of the COVID tunnel also seems to be getting significantly brighter. 

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