TRUST. I looked up the definition and found that trust is “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc of a person or thing; confidence”. And I believe that most people, especially those of us who are true “horse junkies”, would agree that without trust, there is nothing.
Most of us don’t tend to think about it on a day to day basis, but really without the trust your horse has in you, most things would not be possible. Horses are inherently prey animals, as most of us are aware, with a VERY strong “flight” instinct, but some people take for granted how much that plays into the relationship with your horse and what he or she is willing to do for you.
A horse who doesn’t trust her rider is going to cause all sorts of issues. After all, the horse outweighs most of us tenfold! If my mare didn’t want to do something that my 5’1” 115 lb frame was asking her to do, she would simply not do it! No amount of force would be able to overcome that.
But that’s okay, because trust is much stronger than force.
When you have the complete trust of your 4-legged companion, nothing is impossible. Jumping affords some great examples of this. Many of us know at least some about a horse’s field of vision versus our own, but we may not all have a very good idea about what exactly our jumping partner is seeing on the way to a fence. The video below points out that horses’ eyes don’t focus the way ours do, so several strides out, the fence will become very fuzzy and depth perception will be more difficult to gauge.
What a horse sees
In addition to that, on the approach to a fence in order to try to gauge it as best he can, a horse has to rely on his “binocular” vision but even then, the jump disappears before the horse reaches it, and the field of view is very small (horses have a blind spot directly in front of their forehead).
So what does all this have to do with trust?
Well, you know how your instructor always tells you to keep a hugging leg on and give a little squeeze at the base of the fence? You’re basically helping to tell your horse where the jump is since it has pretty much disappeared at that point to him!
Now, can we all ALWAYS get the timing perfect? Nope, I doubt any of us can do that 100% of the time! But that’s where trust comes in.
If your horse knows that you’d never do anything to hurt her or put her up to something you didn’t have total confidence that she could do, she’s going to trust you and jump the fence. If, on the other hand, she doesn’t trust you or she feels like you’re uneasy and questioning the jump yourself at the approach, you’re very likely to get a run out or end up going over the jump by yourself!
The most frustrating AND rewarding thing about trust is that you can’t develop it overnight. While some horses find that they can trust their human counterparts more quickly than others, don’t expect it to happen right away – Rome wasn’t built in a day, right?!
And don’t skimp on the groundwork! Horses tend to be far more confident when you’re on the ground next to them versus perched on their back which really when you think about it, is a “predator position” for them (think mountain lion in Flicka)!
So if you’re just starting out over fences, you may find it a good idea to go participate in a schooling day and walk your horse up to and past some jumps, through a water complex, over those scary horse-eating tarps until he feels relaxed and willing.
Building trust is like building anything really…if you rush the foundation work, eventually the first big storm that comes through is going to knock the building down.
Take your time, have fun, and make sure you build a strong foundation because when you least expect it, a storm will brew up and you’ll be glad that you did! When you have trust in your horse and she has trust in you, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish if you set your minds to it!