As someone passionate about helping horses and humans develop deeper connections and confidence within themselves and 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 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. For instance, in our society, more often than not, someone deemed 'overconfident' is someone to be disapproved of, thought of as arrogant. To some, a person considered to be so could be seen as outspoken, opinionated, and perhaps even 'gung-ho' and thoughtless. As a nation of people who pride themselves on being stoic, humble, and self-deprecating, we often shy away from describing ourselves as being confident.
However, the dictionary definition of 'confidence' 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 perfectly articulate what I 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 have a casual amble around the countryside.
For me, confidence is the feeling that you will be relaxed and happy in any situation. It's having faith in your 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 are 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 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 important to accept that confidence takes time and can ebb and flow like tides of the sea. Starting new ventures or hobbies, for instance, riding a different horse or in another discipline, can often leave us feeling slightly vulnerable and lacking in an abundance of the c-word. But with time and the proper support, the aforementioned feeling, faith, and 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 is 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 can focus on the job or situation at 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 essential 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 whatever the situation.
It's essential to add that we have to allow our horses to show emotion and 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. Understanding, repeating, breaking down and building up the 'scary' things can help them build confidence in themselves and 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. It's essential 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.
We can help them enter any new environment or situation with a little more serenity and a little less 'oh my god, am I going to die?!'. We do this by recognising and responding to the signs our horses give us and working with our horses at every moment.
By having the empathy, patience, and understanding to break things down into manageable steps, we help our horses feel seen, heard, and understood. While working in this way is 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, trusts you, then you can be more confident in your horse, trust in yourself, and achieve 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.