What is “unconfidence”?

Welcome to this blog about Confidence for Horse And Human!

I thought a good place to start was by sharing one of the most common questions I am asked: What is “unconfidence”?

The easiest way to answer this is by using a question as an example:

“Hi there. I am an experienced horse rider, and have finally got my OWN horse again after ten years of riding other peoples. And I am scared of riding him! I have no reason to be scared — I haven’t had a fall, he has never been nasty to me — but I am really scared of getting on him. WHY is this?  What IS unconfidence?”
What a great question — and one a LOT of people ask.

A LOT more people than you might think go through periods when they are unconfident — and that includes a master of the hounds who led the hunt for years!

Interestingly, we spend a lot of time trying to find the logical reasons for our dips in confidence – -the challenge is that there often isn’t a logical reason at all!

It helps if we understand a bit more about unconfidence.

One thing to know about feeling unconfident, or even afraid – is that it is just our brain’s way of trying to keep us safe. When you feel nervous, worried, frightened about something – this is the way your unconscious mind has of telling you “Don’t do this!” or “you’re not safe doing this!”.

If you think about it, this is a very useful mechanism to have. When you sprain an ankle, your brain quickly realises that relying on that foot is not sensible, and so kicks in with its “safety management” plan – and makes sure you don’t put weight on it while it is healing up. Even without thinking, you will find yourself doing most things with the other, healthy foot. When you are a child, and put a hand in the fire, you learn that it hurts – and from then on you don’t even really have to think about it, you don’t put your hand in flames again!

Sometimes, however, this wonderful survival mechanism gets in the way. I remember when I sprained my ankle, and discovered over a YEAR later, that I was still favouring my other leg and not putting my full weight on the “injured” one! My brain had developed a habit of protecting my sprained leg, and I had never corrected it.

Our unconscious mind acts very instinctively and often without any connection with our conscious mind.

So when you feel unconfident — it is your unconscious mind communicating with you, telling you something. And if you don’t pay attention — what happens? it gets worse.

Why do you feel unconfident? I can’t give you the logical answer you are looking for, but I CAN tell you that you feel unconfident because your unconscious does not think you are safe riding your horse.

This could be because your unconscious knows it is ten years since you had your own horse, that it is very different owning your OWN horse vs riding other people’s, or a part of you has just realised you have made a huge commitment…it could be because of things going on in your life that have nothing to do with your horse…

The fact you are AWARE of your unconfidence is a great thing — I have known people who will say to my face that they have no fear, that they are confident — and yet it is easy to see from how they ride and work with their horses that fear is a key factor in their relationship with their horse.

Once you are AWARE you are unconfident, then you have the option of doing something about it. And you can be SURE about that – – confidence can be built and developed, however worried you are right now. I worked with someone who had actually given up riding — and she is now doing fun rides with friends and riding out alone as many days as she can because she loves it so much!

Of course, you are probably going to ask me HOW you can rebuild your confidence — that is a MUCH longer answer — its the subject of the 5 day Hacking with Confidence course — so lets wait and see what other blog posts come up over the next few days!

yours in confidence,



3 thoughts on “What is “unconfidence”?

  1. Hi Cathy

    This is such an interesting subject and something I’m very interested in as a teacher because it’s the focus of so much that I do. I am not a naturally brave rider myself so I feel I understand the issues people have.

    I have a horses, Seven, who I sent away to be started because I new he was going to be tricky, he threw a girl and she broke her back so he was returned to me straight away with this issue unresolved. I restarted him myself, all went well until one day he bronked me off and I broke my ribs. I went away for three months training in America, with broken ribs,so Seven went to James Roberts for riding on. Upon his return I rode him three times before having a seriouse fall off another horse, Seven has been turned away since as he went lame just as I got better.

    My question is that of coarse I have a fear of riding this horse, he is sharp and sensitive and extremely athletic. My fear seems valid but my desire to ride him is still there, I’m capable of riding him. I am going to start with him in April, do I just have to feal the fear and do it anyway or is there some method of controlling that? I think if I have a few good rides my fear will diminish. I will set myself up for sucess however Seven has a very hight play drive and taking it too slow could be a problem in itself, I don’t want to bore him. I feel I just need to say a prayer, get on and do it, is that the case or is there some way of managing the step of getting on and riding? Michele

  2. Hi Michele — the good news is — this IS fixable!!

    And in fact, the posts on this blog will go a long way to helping you do it —
    one suggestion I have is to take a look at the series I am writing for Horsemanship magazine (you can find the e-subscription at http://www.horsemanshipmagazine.co.uk ) The series is called the DIY Confidence Course and covers the basics of the Self Coaching for Confidence workshops I run. If you subscribe you get access to back issues as well so you can see part 1 from February, and part 2 is in the April edition

    One aspect of confidence is that every time we grit our teeth and push ourselves through a fear or worry, our unconscious goes “see, I knew I couldn’t trust you to listen to me — so next time I will have to shout even louder to get your attention and to keep you safe” and in fact we often find the fear getting worse rather than better…so it is great that you are asking this HOW question, as it will make a huge difference to your future with Seven.

    Now of course if there were a quick answer, everyone would have it — in fact, most people find that the HOW is covered in the 2 1/2 hour talk I do — so I am afraid I am not going to write that all out here! However I suggest two things:

    1. Come along to, or organise, a Self Coaching for Confidence talk — I am doing these for travel costs only until the end of April — and its a great opportunity to get the basics of measuring and managing your own confidence

    2. Keep reading this blog — my intention is that all the material form that talk will eventually be covered here — however it might take a while to write it all out in a way that’s as easy to understand as when we are in an interactive talk!

    Another aspect of this is how horse specific it is: from your description I would say that Seven is LBE? If so , one challenge with young LBEs is their exuberance leads them to not notice their OWN confidence thresholds, so they go right through them without realising — until they suddenly notice — when, as you have found out — their reaction is extreme! Working out how you need to identify and support Seven’s thresholds FOR him will be a key element in your successful riding of him!

    So I would like to leave you for now with two main thoughts:

    First, equip yourself with the knowledge, tools and skills to manage your confidence (I can help with that!)

    and second — equip yourself with the knowledge, tools and skills to support Seven in noticing and managing Seven’s “overconfidence”…..



  3. Pingback: How to know when you DON’T need a Confidence Coach | Confidence Blog by Effective Horsemanship

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