1) The feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust

2) The state of feeling certain about the truth of something

3) A feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities

Self-confidence: A feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgment

1350–1400; Middle English, probably c.1430, from Latin. confidentia , from confidentem, prp. of confidere  “to have full trust or reliance,” from con- , intensive prefix, + fidere  “to trust” (see faith). “Faithful” uses “fidelity” as its root. Both “faithful” and “fidelity” come from the Latin word for “faith”, which is “fides”.

Confidence, therefore, means “To trust”.

In riding, it must include both parts of the endeavor, rider and horse. Trusting yourself as a rider, and trusting your horse.

“Overcome rider fear – become confident on your horse” typical of a bazillion anecdotal, opinions on the internet.

Google ‘confident rider’ and you’ll get a page full of amateur fixes, complete with the typical, “I fell off and got scared but overcame it with Bach Flower remedy” stories. Not all are as junky. There are some good articles on restoring confidence, and some bad ones, but the bad thing is you have to click through a lot of pages before you find any little gems of wisdom.

I found a few, however.

Her opening paragraph:

“Confidence is crucial to both horse and rider in the sport of Eventing. If you or your horse doesn’t believe that you can do 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.”

From Maryland eventing stable Full Moon Farm:

“Eventing is a confidence game and if confidence is lost, it WILL take time to rebuild.”

I remember that Danny Warrington told me once, that he went to different trainers when he or his horses needed different things. “I go to Phillip (Dutton) for confidence”, he said. Confidence to Phillip, because Phillip instills that in his young horses, with his methods of training.

Holly and Rugby

I know that at one of the clinics I rode in with Phillip, he let us in on one of his secrets to training. He reminded us that horses are creatures of habit, so make your habits good. Ride consistently well every time you ride, he explained.

I think that creating confidence in a horse, has much to do with repeating successes at every training session, and using the horse’s own instincts of being careful, attentive, and avoiding pain to get the necessary skills taught. This does not need to be done with whips and spurs, but with brains and patience.

I rode in a recent clinic with Boyd Martin. His basic exercises, building one upon another, built confidence in all the riders who were participating. I watched a small group of very young riders on some nice patient horses, who were just beginning to jump around a course of fences.

Boyd was quite focused on having each of the riders jump in their turn through the simple exercises; coaching them on what to expect (“the “spooky” fence is in that line,”) and kept all safe, but stretched them, too. The simple exercises grew to more complicated ones, and even this group of beginners was jumping a figure 8 through a two stride in and out at the end of the session. Confidence. It’s grown with brains, and patience!

It was slightly surprising to me that the word, “confidence” had its Latin roots in truth, and faith. You know, to some extent, jumping a horse is an act of faith. If you have ever ridden a horse who does not want to jump, or who has learned how to run out of a jump, or stop and not jump at all, you do understand the complete faith we have in horses that willingly jump even when they do not really have the skills or strength to do what they are doing.

Watching children jumping horses, who have every right to run out or run by a jump because a tiny little human on their back is barely noticeable….you can see faith, and truth. Honesty. And patience with tiny humans who are learning, and making mistakes.

I listened to the horses at Rolex strain over the really big fences at the Head of the Lake. Even with a good pace, and the rider getting the right striding to the obstacles, the water still made the efforts very large.

When the rider wasn’t quite right and the horse had to take over and jump from an off stride, or make a large effort from way back, you could hear and see Truth and Faith grunting and squeezing his feet up to his chest to make it over the huge carved wooden obstacles. Even over the noise of the crowd and splash of the water. Brains – and patience.

Confidence is sort of taken for granted sometimes; at least it has been by me. I did not realize how poor my confidence was until I jumped in and out of a water jump in Boyd’s clinic.

I was riding very defensively to push Rug out in front of me and squeeze him forward. He was tense, and trying not to be forward.

Rugby had been eyeing an upturned canoe at the end of the ring the entire lesson, and now it finally time to jump it. I took my stick out in the last three strides, ready for a run-out or punishment should he try to spook and avoid it. Yet, he pointed down to it and jumped it handily. I think he just trusted me to not make him jump something terrible, and figured it was better to get it over with than risk a tap with the crop, which he truly hates. He holds a grudge for a while if he gets a tap.

As soon as we jumped it going away, Boyd had us jump the complex going back without hesitation – canoe, drop, water, and then up the double banks. It rode like a roller coaster, Rugby well in front of my leg which surprised me, over jumping and pinging up the banks to gallop forward down the hill over the ditch.

I suddenly felt like I could jump anything on this horse, and it took to the very last jump of the session to create that feeling. It just popped right out, the confidence, as soon as we stopped. It felt very good to have Rugby jumping well and in front of my leg. That is as good as it gets.

Confidence makes you eager to keep trying. To get out there and practice again, to look forward, once again, to schooling, taking lessons, competing. Suddenly the obstacles to riding hard aren’t so immense. Your imagination begins, once again, to get into the groove of thinking just maybe, you could do this. That you are good enough, despite all the problems that have overtaken your riding plans in the past year or so.

  • You just have to school yourself patiently, and use your brains.
  • Do things logically.
  • Do things completely.
  • Ride as well as you can, consistently, every day.
  • Stretch yourself with the help of an outside set of eyes, such as a clinician, or instructor.
  • Do anything to trick yourself into trying harder!

Trust and have faith in yourself, and your horse will grow. And so, I learned yet another lesson about riding.