Part Four is by far one of my favourites; Building Confidence.
Building confidence is not just about your new furry friend, it is also about you.
Taking an OTTB fresh from the track to a Dressage Competition, Show Jump show or a local Club day can be daunting.
He/she may be a little nervous and scared at all this new stuff !!
Any of us who have been there will know you kind of have to roll the dice on the day!
Especially the first outing.
You can prepare as much as you like by hacking them out on trail rides and driving them around and visiting places on the float, but nothing is going to prepare you for what you might get at your first show.
And you need to be mentally and physically prepared to go through it. The Dressage test, even if you are an Eventer, will be the most difficult. Your OTTB cannot run and get the anxiety out of him that way, he has to accept the 60×20 and go through it; and that even means walking!
I relate it to the top of Everest, that’s your goal!
Everest is a nice supple, soft and responsive horse who ties to the float, is a dream and stands still when you want to get a coffee or break for lunch and in the ring gets 6’s and up the entire test.
Everest sounds awesome yes! Getting there will be a hard slog of a climb, but when you are there the view will be breathtaking and everything will seem worth it.
That’s what building confidence is like.
It’s a bit of a double-edged sword at times too.
You want this awesome new horse of yours to go out and do his thing (and let’s be honest; win a ribbon or a rug maybe too!)
but in order to do that you have to go to probably a dozen or shows before he/she gets their head in the game.
Those shows can be hard work; plain and simple.
As I am a goal-setter from way back, (yes, my Grandmothers next door neighbours dog was quite possibly a goal-setter) I find it easier than some to conquer this part of the plan. I do not expect much and I am therefore surprised often.
I will admit though, the first time I took Moo to a Dressage Comp, afterwards I cried like a child. I threw a tantrum and was very “poor me” about it all, but then I realised; Mel you set yourself up for failure, and I have never done it again.
It had been a while since I had trained an OTTB and I had forgotten how bad that first show can go! 😦 I put way too much pressure on myself and him and well… I blew it.
So here is my first piece of advice to building confidence “Expect the unexpected and yet expect nothing also” (maybe that should be on a shirt somewhere). 🙂
Don’t expect too much; out of you, out of your horse. It’s not fair on either of you and nerves will do you no favours come competition day.
Horses feed off energy. They are herd animals and in a herd environment, well.. they react like the rest of the herd. They do not think for themselves if there is spook in the air. They react with flight, fight or freeze the same as us humans do.
If you are a nervous wreck your OTTB will be like “Why are you nervous? Is there something to be nervous about? Am I about to be eaten by that giant yellow umbrella?” They will feed off you and you will make them anxious and they will in turn
make you anxious by being anxious and you will again be more anxious and so will they.
(Insert a new Dr Suess book here)
This one is my favourite though just in case anyone was wondering 🙂
All I am saying is Building Confidence and fear cannot be in the same room together.
I have learned that it is okay to be scared and anxious but to not show it. But to be truthful I am not scared or anxious when I am on a horse, very unlike my two legged self. I have the same fears as other people but when I put my foot in the stirrup I accept that the worst possible thing that can happen is that I am killed. The second worse is that I end up in a wheel-chair.
Can I accept that fate? Yes. So what is their to be anxious about really?
The way to build confidence is by having fun, making everything a positive, even when it isn’t and just getting on with it. That’s life though isn’t it, just keep on keeping-on. One foot in front of the other; always.
If your horse is nervous then I have a few little tips I use and they quite often work.
- Be prepared and get there early. Just be early, be prepared, try to get there when the place is empty if you can. If you arrive and there is 50 floats there and 80 horses then it is alot more daunting then pulling into a deserted show ground and cars and floats arriving.
- I try to walk as much as I can, I mean like for an hour or so before I start to warm up; just walk. If I am on at 10:00 I will be in the saddle by 8:30 at least.
- Transitions. Just heaps of them ok. Walk to Trot, Trot to Walk, Rein backs, Halts, Canter circle for half a circle then walk for minutes. Just mix it up, keep them interested in you.
- Kicking it up a gear is the one Moo responds to most. If I am walking and he is not listening I then Trot. If I am trotting and he is not listening I Canter. I go Trot to Canter, Canter to Trot until he gets a little puffed and then goes “Hey Mel, can we walk? Let’s go back to where you asked me to walk!” This one works ever time.
If you are at a show and someone offers you advice, at least listen to what they have to say. You never know, they might have trained OTTB’s for twenty years and can help you out. Never be afraid to take sound advice.
Also, never be afraid to ignore advice that is not in the best interest of you or your best mate.
Happy Riding & Keep Smiling