Two steps forward — then one step back — help!

I am working on a post about some very interesting work yesterday and today that led to a horse having a “100%”improvement in being trimmed — and to a trimmer saying he would like to give my details to some of his other clients, the change was THAT big.

However I need a bit of time to write that — so for today’s post I am sharing a key question and answer about HOW to build confidence that is SUSTAINABLE:

“OK so i am trying to understand why, one day i am ok and the next i have an ooh err moment when I am riding bareback. I am putting in the hours at least 6 a week some times more. I can walk, trot and canter in the bareback pad and go round corners even a small jump! i am starting to canter a number of strides BUT but keep bumping in to a lack of confidence and seem to take two steps forward and one back… Why? I read “move closer stay longer” and I get it. I am not trying to ride the National next Tuesday i just want to make steady progress? Feel like a wimp! What do I need to change?”

Thanks for the question — and I am going to ask you some in return!

First – what is steady progress? what does that look like? feel like? sound like?
Does that mean you have to do more EVERY day than the day before? or are you looking at it over a week or month?
Does that mean you have to keep increasing the gait? hmmmmm

Let me share with you why I am asking that particular question….

Look at the following two scenarios:

Scenario 1:
You are out riding bareback, let’s say its day one — so you are just walking and everything is fine. So the next day you say to yourself “well we walked yesterday, and I want to make progress — so we will trot a few strides today….”
Then after a few days you say “oh I had better try canter as we have been just trotting for a while…

Scenario 2:
You are out riding naked bareback — and have decided that whatever happens, you are only going to walk for the first 7 rides, then you will review where you are. Now you can walk straight, do turns, bends, back up — but only walk.
Now it is day 8 – -and you are ITCHING to trot!… you trot — and you are only allowed to walk and trot for, say the next 10 rides….

Here’s the question for you — what is the difference between those two scenarios?

In the first one, you are putting pressure on yourself – you are saying “I should be trotting, I ought to be cantering, because that is progress” —

In the second, you are using some boundaries to make sure it happens more naturally, without the pressure of “should” or “ought” —

In the first, the ONLY progress you are visualising is your speed….in the second, you have to redefine your progress as not just speed, but activities, tasks, challenges at the slower gait….

As SOON as the words should, ought, must come into riding, then CONFIDENCE becomes an issue — with the emphasis on steady progress, we often over focus on the progress WITHOUT embedding or consolidating the progress at each stage.

In fact, your description of “two steps forward, one back” is characteristic — and actually often diagnostic — of someone who is doing too much too soon and would benefit from more embedding time to let the confidence foundations settle in.

Think about a horse who is a bit worried about jumping:

You would start with trotting poles — how long would you do trotting poles before you put up a 6 inch crosspole?

How long would you do 6 inch cross poles before introducing spreads?

If you read your horse well, you would do each one until your horse breezes over them without the SLIGHTEST hesitation, without breaking stride, without a mental pause…so you know he is relaxed when doing it.

If you put the jumps up before this, then at some height, his nerve will break, his tension will make it harder for him to jump — and he will start intermittently failing at that height….two steps forward, one back….

This is all a long way to saying although progress is a good thing — so is CONSOLIDATION.
For every ride where you make progress — how many rides will you have where you simply CONSOLIDATE what you know and are confident about?

A friend of mine was scared of jumping. So at the end of each riding session, she put up a jump, and jumped it. but her fear got WORSE. why?

Each time she jumped she was gritting her teeth and “doing it” — and feeling relieved when she landed safely. so the next time she saw the jump, her body remembered that tension and concern — and got ready for it!

So she changed what she was doing — she had a session with a really small jump — and she jumped it a hundred times….just trotting round the arena and popping over the small jump…during the course of her day, she went over it a hundred times —

–and the next day she was not scared.

Consolidation is the key.

With our horses we are careful to do approach and retreat

Sometimes in our search for progress, with ourselves we just do approach, approach, and approach again….

Where is the retreat for us?

yours in confidence,


2 thoughts on “Two steps forward — then one step back — help!

  1. Thanks, I needed that! You are so right about our ‘shoulds’ and the pressure we put ourselves under. Great idea to set up a program of steps and a pattern for ourselves to repeat on several days before going to the next step. We do it for the horses so why not for ourselves….? 🙂

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