The Foundation a young horse gets is very important to his success later in life. A performance horse that has a good solid foundation, or a horse that has a lot of confidence in the basics, will be prepared to be more successful for his future job. Horses that deal with a lot of confusion from the start end up being more nervous, scared, frustrated, or resentful. The first impression or introduction in every phase of the training program is very important.
Confusion and confidence, although they are opposites in this sense, have one thing in common: they are self-perpetuating. Once you establish one or the other in a horse, it will keep working for or against you, whichever the case may be. The difference is, confidence is very useful and well worth the time and consideration to develop, and confusion can torment the horse and rider a great deal for a long time.
One thing, regardless of the type of training program or discipline, that almost all great performance horses have in common is confidence. Maybe it was developed from the rider, or maybe the horse had a lot of determination and developed confidence in spite of the rider. Not many older horses maintain a solid performance career, if they are scared or confused. They either weaken in their performance or break down mentally or physically, crippling or hurting themselves in some way that significantly weakens their ability to perform.
Bringing the horse along in a program where he can be more sure of himself the bigger percentage of the time he is challenged, but without destroying his confidence, can be a great training aid. It is a tool that is not for sale and can’t be bought, but is very valuable to use on any horse in any program.
Take a look at any horse, and determine what percentage of the time he understands what is being asked of him and what percentage he is confused. If the horse is confused 75 percent of the time and confident 25 percent of the time or less, he will be a long time reaching success. If he is confused 25 percent of the time and confident 75 percent of the time or more, he will likely be successful to the limit of his physical ability and probably have a long career.
If we can recognize what is allowing the horse to progress with confidence and capitalize on these techniques, and recognize what is creating confusion and eliminate the cause, we may have better luck developing a horse to perform to the best of his and our ability.
In most disciplines, there is likely to be a point when there is some uncertainty. If the horse is uncertain and the rider can’t fill in for the horse… will be likely to fail. If there is a point that a situation at hand changes quickly and there is not time for the rider to relay instructions to the horse but he is confident in what we have previously established they can take over, knowing the right thing to do, and fill in for the rider. It’s a real good feeling knowing we are both on the same team and it’s not everyone for themselves.
This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.26