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HELP! Need to restore my confidence in my horse

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  • HELP! Need to restore my confidence in my horse

    Okay, let me give the backstory: I have been riding for about 15-20 years off and on, bought my first boy, whom I still have, 8 years ago. I am a decent AA on the flat, but didn't have a ton of jumping experience, the most came from the year I leased (3 rides/week) a point and shoot hunter, who really taught me a lot.

    I bought a semi-green 8 year old OTTB (Trav) from a professional back in early February '10. She had him for a year and a half and put some lovely work into him, he looked gorgeous when she rode (hence, professional). He had been to some shows and even got Champion at his first one in beginner horse. He has a great brain and lots of atheletic potential - I adore this horse and did from the start.

    Everything was great for about 4 months, I rode very regularly (5-6 days/week) and he was doing great. Then he started to do things like throw a little buck when you put on outside leg and he stopped listening to me as well on the ground (he wouldn't load in the trailer, something we had NEVER had issues with before). I had his saddle fitted (County) and a chiro out, teeth done, the works. Basically my trainer said he is smart and he figured out that I'm not as good a rider as his previous professional owner and he started to test me. Looking back, I let him get away with little crap that I'm sure added up to him thinking he was boss.

    Then came the culmination: he has always been a VERY honest jumper - if he knows where you want him to go and you are up there supporting him to the fence, he will go. Well one day he stopped. DIRTY. We came again, he stopped again, DIRTY. We came again and that stop got me off. Got back on, came again and again until he went. That was back in July I believe. So my trainer and I have been working on making him respect his rider again. For about 6 weeks, I was with her 2x a week, once with me riding and once with her riding. He has made a 180, he is back to his willing to please self, no more crap on the flat and jumps great for her and for me if I CHILL out and trust him. Everyone comments that it is obvious he loves to jump.

    Here is the problem now: I don't trust him as we approach a fence, so I tense up and he doesn't know what my deal is, and he stops because he can tell I am scared. I know this is the issue because if we jump something I know he's going to go over (like we've already jumped it or my trainer took him over), we are fine, he is happy, we are soft and supple and everything is hunky-dory. I need help trusting him to fences again and I just don't know what to do! We trot/canter whole courses with just poles on the ground and I am fine - make one of them an 18" vertical and I'm a mess. I have ridden other "point and shoot" horses with my trainer to build my confidence back and I am fine on them, no nervousness at all. I rode tidy rabbit's Aero over 3'6" oxers and was fine - it is MY horse.

    So I need advice - I'll take anything! Does someone want to hypnotize me? help me trust that my horse is going to jump - this is becoming a self-fullfilling prophecy at this point. I think he's going to stop, so he does, end of story. HELP

    And a few pics of Trav so you guys can see how cute he is

  • #2
    I have a friend with the same exact situation. What I tell her is to make sure she is very soft in her arm, because her tension starts from her elbow and then goes through her whole body. What has also helped her is to look UP and look where she is going, since she tended to stare down at the jump. While she is flatting she is also supposed to think about keeping the horse forward and keeping her body almost loose and floppy, patting the horse on the neck, scratching the mane, switching hands, rubbing the sides with her leg, anything to avoid tight and tense and give her a better feel for what her body is doing. We also do a lot of grids with much higher outs than the actual course (but starting from poles and working up, since grids can be intimidating), so that the horse's confidence in HER gets bolstered.


    • #3
      Make the jumps lower so that you can concentrate on the timing of your approach and the mechanics of getting to the takeoff point without worrying about "whether" there will be a stop or not.

      Very often when a stopping problem develops, the rider is left wondering, are we/aren't we, and the tendency is to wait till the last moment, and then over-release...the timing gets out of kilter, and soon the rider is hanging on, hanging on (in an effort to "support" and keep in contact), then shoving, and dropping the horse, frequently from a gappy distance that just invites either a crash or a stop.

      So while flatting, flat over rails on the ground. Walking, trotting and cantering. Make them into jumps gradually, and then, only after having done plenty of "no brainer" gymnastics, in a variety of formats so that cavaletti, xrail, vertical, oxer combinations are second nature. There is no distance in a gymnastic to worry over, and frequently a stopper is more comfortable working over jumps presented this way. Once confidence, and your position and timing is restored, the transition back to doing little courses should go more smoothly.

      Once your horse is jumping nicely around for you, you can, with renewed confidence and determination, and the muscle memory of many successful jumping sessions, try the odd new jump now and again. But for the most part, you should probably leave the task of facing your horse at new jumps to the pros for awhile.
      Inner Bay Equestrian


      • #4
        Many moons ago I had very athletic, gorgeous TB mare that was an amazing jumper. All was well until one day she decided to bolt through a course with me and I mean bolt. That scared the hell out of me as I had absolutely no control. My confidence gradually went down the tubes. I couldn't even hack her without her bolting off and then slamming on the brakes when it came to jumping. I just knew I had ruined her especially since everyone else could hop on her and have a beautiful ride. The barn manager even had her teenage daughter take her out with the hunt and she was a star. It finally got so bad that I couldn't even trot her over a pole on the ground without her going nuts because I was so tense and anticipated the "bad ride". I would drive home from the barn crying my eyes out. It was like we developed a personality conflict and that it just cropped up out of nowhere.

        Well one of my good friends took pity on me and decided I was going to get over this hump with my mare or I'd die doing it. LOL!! It took about 3 months but eventually I regained my trust in her and she in me.

        We just went wayyyy back doing little baby things with the object being that as soon as I felt tensed up or nervous/scared I was to stop and analyze that feeling and where it comes from and why yadayada. It did work to the point that when I 'd make a turn to a jump my mare would oh so very gradually slowwwww dowwwwn. Really, really slowly. Well, we just had to laugh because the last thing on her mind was bolting. LOL!!

        Give it time. It takes time to repair it when the trust is lost but you can regain it. Just be patient and praise your horse and yourself too so you start to think in a more positive way about yourself and your horse too.

        Gads I hope all this makes sense.


        • Original Poster

          You are all so great! Thanks for all the kind words and encouragement!

          CBoylen - I used to be (getting better, but still am a little), a very tense rider, not from nerves, but just because I am a high strung tense person and I always was basically trying too hard. I have improved a TON with this one the flat, I keep my hands/arms supple, and my lower leg hanging and not gripping. Trav taught me that - if I am tense when we are flatting, he gets fast and starts being crazy. If I am chill, he is chill - as is the case with most horses! The problem is, once I know we are about to jump, that all goes to he!! and I forget how to ride, LOL!

          M. O'Connor - before this started we were only jumping 2' so we have dropped down to 12-18" verticals and crossrails. I have cavaletti, we work over those - I am totally fine with poles. I will trot/canter over a course of poles with no problem, as I mentioned above. Put one of them up and I get tense and lose it all. I think I'd be really scared going into a gymnastic, what if he screeched to a halt in the middle of it?! I am such a wuss, thanks a lot horse

          kaluha2 - thank you! It really helps to know that someone else came back from a bad confidence break with their horse.

          I must add, however - after I wrote this, I was really annoyed with myself. I have this great athletic horse who had a couple of bad weeks and has noticibly moved past it and changed. He is willing to work, he tries hard, and he wants to please me. So! I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and told myself we were going to jump and jump well today. So guess what? We did! Funny how much positive thinking can help! I just rode toward the fences with a solid seat and positive thoughts of jumping and there we went! He tried to slow down at the first fence and I just put my leg on and we went over - after that I just pointed and shot and we jumped around everything I had out (2' was highest and we only jumped from the trot). I was VERY proud of me. I got my sh!t together and rode my darned horse and just LOOK what happened Who knows if I'll be able to get to that mental place again, but today was very positive and I really needed it. Writing this was carthartic and made me want to get better!
          Last edited by HappyHorselover; Sep. 26, 2010, 12:30 AM.


          • #6
            WooHoo! You did it--you made it over the hurdle.
            From now on, only think positive thoughts and be a little aggressive to the fences.

            You are over the hump!!


            • Original Poster

              Originally posted by kaluha2 View Post
              WooHoo! You did it--you made it over the hurdle.
              From now on, only think positive thoughts and be a little aggressive to the fences.

              You are over the hump!!
              I don't know about over the hump, but it is def a step in the right direction! I over-think everything, so I'm sure I will mentally psych myself out again. I really need to pop him over a fence like every ride just so I start thinking of it as no big deal. He already does as long as I don't turn into a tense mennequin up there


              • #8
                Just my opinion.
                Horses have personalities just like people. Some are very generous and some are less. When I was a kid, my mare who was everything to me, was the kind of horse that continually tested you. We got along fine because I was a very aggressive rider but when other riders would hop on they often had trouble especially if they were used to an easy horse, she could put kids in tears and yet I trusted her completely because I knew what she needed.
                So my advice is, -you can decide for yourself if you can become more aggressive, or if you are the personality type that needs their horse to give them the confidence by always being there for them. No shame in either. Like I said, riding a horse is like having a relationship and not all two personalities are going to make each other comfortable. He may make you a better rider or he may just undermine your confidence because he too needs someone to give him confidence about what he is going to do.

                P.S. They say it is a good thing Hickstead found Eric Lamaze as not everbody would have got the same results from him. Even the pros are not suited to every horse.
                Last edited by stoicfish; Sep. 26, 2010, 01:13 PM.


                • Original Poster

                  stoicfish - I totally know what you mean! I do think he needs a confident rider and I like that he is teaching me to be that rider. I have already learned more from this horse (and my trainer) than I had previously learned in all my years of riding. My trainer and I have talked about whether he may not be the right match for me and she thinks he is good for me and I would be bored with less of a horse. I trust her judgement and I love this horse, so we push on!