The Confidence=Control Conundrum: Confidence riding in Company

” How does one start coping with a fear of speed in company? I know I’m not the only one who feels out of touch with their horse as soon as an open field and another rider is around. Groups are even more terrifying. I’ll canter and gallop alone almost anywhere alone, but feel physically sick and weak all over once in any company above trot and outside the comfort of a one-horse forest track.”

Thanks for posting the question – this is a challenge for a lot of people so I am glad you asked it.

First lets look at this — you are confident alone, and not in company — so what happens when you are in company that doesn’t happen when you are alone? well, one thing is that old favourite word CONTROL comes up.

When we are by ourselves, just us and our horse, we KNOW what we can control, we can get off, bend to a stop, walk when we want to and make decisions just based on ourselves and our horse.

When we have other people with us other things start to happen:
– we worry about what the OTHER horses will do
– we worry about the effect the OTHER horses will have on our horse…
– we worry about what the other people will do…

Then there is the effect other people have on us: unfortunately, for a lot of us, we worry about how WE are behaving as we don’t want to upset or bother the other people…

Looking at that list, its hardly surprising that riding in company can be challenging for some of us

Something else to think about too is remember my response to the first question – when I said that unconfidence is our unconscious mind keeping us safe; that is, the unconfidence is the result of the positive intent of our unconscious to keep us safe and secure.

Well — what is the POSITIVE INTENT of our unconscious when it causes us to be unconfident about riding in company?

What is it keeping you safe from?

For some of us, it is keeping us safe from those other horses — who barge, and get excited and run into us and take off at the slightest opportunity;

For others, it is keeping us safe from the fact that our own horse gets influenced by those other horses and we could lose control…

For some of us, it is keeping us safe from “those idiots” who gallop off the moment their horse’s feet touch grass without even thinking to check to see how the rest of us, way back in the trees, are doing…

…and for others it is keeping us safe from “what other people think”…..having just moved to a traditional yard after being by myself for a while, this last one is one I am familiar with!

Once you have worked out what the positive intent is — the great thing is that you can use your conscious mind to come up with alternate strategies for keeping you safe!

This is one focus of the Hacking with Confidence course — here are some of the things we do — and that you can do — to start to build your confidence.

* Exercises to build a strong “herd of two” between you and your horse.
IF you establish a relationship where your horse looks to YOU for support and guidance, then the presence of other horses will not influence him so much. To do this we do exercises such as disengaging and transitions — while other horses nearby are doing different things. we start this in the arena, then go into the field.
One game we play is “leapfrog”– one person rides their horse on the track and the other riders, starting a long way out to the side (often we start on the centre line) trot up behind and past them…and you reward your horse for not reacting. With some horses we have to start at the walk, but with almost all of them we can play leapfrog at trot and canter after just a short while of training.

* Emergency stops:
If you know you have a strong emergency stop, regardless of what other horses are doing, then your confidence will be much greater. SO this is another thing we practise: doing emergency stops and dismounts first without any distractions, then slowly adding distractions until by the end of the course, each person can stop and dismount safely while other horses trot and canter past them.

* Paying attention
One of the big mistakes we can make when riding in company is we abandon our horse. We become focused on chatting to our friends, we allow our horse to walk next to theirs — and our horse feels we are not with them — so of course they decide to become a herd with the other horses instead of us. So at the start of a ride, pay attention to your horse — ask him to do things he has to think about — ask him to take a different path, go the other side of the tree, go ahead, go behind and do some exercises — keep his attention on you so the other horses are just other horses and not affecting him at all.

Most important of all – remember that practising confidently builds confidence — so be very selective about WHO you ride out with while you are doing all of this….share your goals with them, and let them know that you are training yourself and your horse to be a herd of two…

I STILL am very selective about who I ride with. There are some people who would love to ride out with me but I will only ride out with them as their coach — so I still have control!

My confidence is precious. I want to keep it — I work hard at building it and strengthening it and I refuse to let other people affect it.

Enjoy your solo rides — and choose good company to ride out with — then you will find your unconscious will not need to protect you so much an done day you WILL be able to ride out with anyone at any speed – of course,by then you might not want to LOL

yours in confidence,



9 thoughts on “The Confidence=Control Conundrum: Confidence riding in Company

  1. Great essay, Cathy. I thought I enjoyed riding in company until I discovered that I had only been riding with people I could “control” – usually because they were riding one of my horses, or I was teaching them, or because they were very experienced and also very polite, and therefore wouldn’t do anything that I wasn’t okay with.

    Trouble is, I have relatively few opportunities to ride with others, and want to take advantage of those that present themselves more often. I’m willing to be choosy about my companions, but I think I have some trust issues. I’m looking for a formula for letting go of my need to control while taking care of my own confidence and safety. Would love to hear your thoughts.


    • Hi Kris — thanks for replying to the post: and how interesting! The one thing that is going to make a HUGE difference to you and your need for control — is when you KNOW you have control DESPITE the other people:

      so for you, the Herd of TWo concept is key

      When your riding partners can all suddenly canter away — and your horse flicks an ear back to ask “Are we going too?” and when you don’t say anything, stays relaxed in the walk — well, that is a Herd of Two at work.

      Then the other horses all spook or run at the sight of a scary plastic bag int he hedge, or the famous sabre toothed butterfly in the hedge — and your horse turns their head to look at you and ask “Should I be worried about that?”– that is the Herd of Two at work…..

      The next post will share some views on how to build that Herd of Two — so I hope you get some ideas from that — and add some of your own!


      • Cathy, I agree with what you are saying, although in my case I think I am less worried about my horse following the herd, rather than looking to me, and more worried about the interpersonal stuff with my fellow riders. Sometimes it’s more about knowing how to politely say “no” without feeling emotional, in my case. I don’t want to be a wet blanket, and sometimes it’s not practical to go your own way in the middle of a ride out. For me, it’s usually not about speed, might be about route or terrain, though.

        On the reverse, I have to work on myself not to push others when it comes to speed. I am aware that it can be frustrating when you and your horse are ready and keen to do something and your companion isn’t. I try never to push others, but I do get frustrated by their limitations, sometimes. Maybe that’s why I find it hard to say no to others.

        Hope that is clearer.

        Thanks for the reply. Trusting one’s horse can never be emphasised enough.


        • Oh right Kris !! I spend so much time in the horse world, I had forgotten about the human side of the equation……

          Have you ever been scuba diving?

          When you scuba dive with instructors or other divers, there are some guidelines everyone follows. Not surprising they have guidelines as it is your life on the line when you go underwater relying on an artificial air source!
          These guidelines include:
          – sharing levels of experience, and areas of inexperience
          – agreeing the “one new thing” to be done on the dive (a key safety rule is only add one new thing per dive to avoid brain freeze!)
          – planning the dive profile: the descent, the pauses, the route, the depth, the time — the signals, the communication……

          I generally apply this to hacking now — so I will hack with anybody IF they are happy to do this with me the first few rides together…..

          I share what I expect — and what I hate on a hack (people changing gait without checking to make sure I and my horse are ok!)

          I make sure I know the route and have a map — a friend laughed at me for that, but it really helped when we discovered problems with her memory — the map saved the day

          I talk about how we will communicate — I ask how they like to hear things, and how I tend to say things — particularly we develop an understanding of how to say “no- I am not happy doing that ” BEFORE we actually DO that!

          Of course, some people find this boring, and don’t want to bother — these are the folk I will say “well, sorry, but this is how I hack”; some people talk the talk but once we get out there — it changes and they “forget” – I only go out with them once

          And some people turn out to be great hacking partners who are as concerned about my fun as theirs — and we end up hacking out for miles together and having fun with our horses which is, of course, what it is all about……

          And of course, we can dig a little deeper into the whole thing about being emotional when you say no — you might find it useful to ask yourself what that emotion is protecting you from …….

          yours in confidence,


          • That last part is quite important I think. I wouldn’t think of that type of emotion as protection. Can’t get my head round that at all, but open to the possibility.

            I agree with most of the earlier stuff, and to some extent do it. What’s happened a few times is that over time these habits slip, or when grouping several people together who were good with this approach one on one, the dynamic shifts when the group is larger.

            • Hi Kris — I totally agree that larger groups seem to “devolve” — what happens is that everybody thinks that somebody is taking care of safety and so nobody ends up doing it…..which is why I like smaller groups to ride with!

              Letting habits slip? well I have to say if a habit slips, then it isn’t yet a habit — and the old habits are still there — which tells me that the old habits give you some significant secondary gain: what that means in english is that for the old habits to still be there, there HAS to be some positive intent they are fulfilling — and the “newer”habits do not fulfil this intent.

              An example of this is someone I was working with recently — she really really wanted to be confident riding her horses — but wasn’t. We went through the usual materials, tools, techniques — and she wasn’t making progress.

              So we sat down and I asked her: “go 12 months from now — you are ridin gboth your horses confidently, cantering up the hills, walking in the sunshine on a loose rein — what else is happening?”

              and she replied, without even thinking “my husband has left me…..”

              Wow — that was a surprise! When we looked into this, it turned out that she was worried that if she was relaxed and happy, while her husband was still stressing and worried about his own life choices — they would move further apart from each other. By staying worried and unconfident she felt they were more connected.

              It may sound strange, but that is how the unconscious can work! We spent the rest of the session developing strategies for talking with her husband about her concerns — and later she shared that by walking and working together they were BOTH enjoying themselves and were still together!

              So if we were in a coaching session I would be asking you — what positive intent does the old habit fulfil that the new one doesn’t? It might not make sense, but it is what your unconscious is working on — so if you can find out, then you can come up with other more useful ways to fulfil that intent and enable yourself to move towards the new habit!

              In the same way, the avoidance of riding with others keeps you safe somehow……the not being able to say no keeps you safe from something…..

              The next post on the blog has come to mind — watch this space for a post on how to get your unconscious and conscious minds working WITH each other instead of against each other — I think you will find it very interesting!


    • Thanks Jo — let me know if there are any specific things that would be useful/of interest!! Often it is only when the question is asked that I realise there are some answers to share!!


  2. Brilliant, it’s really made me look at my relationship with my horse more. Please can you let me know if you are working in Derbyshire any time soon? Thanks, Lynn.

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