How to help others with confidence…..

How to help others with confidence.....

Several of the questions I received a while ago when I started this blog – and a recent comment – were about how to help and support friends who are having confidence challenges.  Or crises.

And why, when our unconfident friends ask us for advice or help, and we rack our brains coming up with good ideas for them to try – they then turn around and say “ah yes, but that won’t work because…”

Sometimes it almost seems they are HAPPY being unconfident….and don’t really want to change at all!

First of all, I thought I would ask some of my clients and students – what DOESN’T help – at least then we know what to avoid.

Here were the most common answers on what NOT to do:

–          Tell me to just “get on with it” – if I could do that I wouldn’t have a confidence problem in the first place!

–          Tell me what I should be doing. I probably know what I “should” be doing, I just can’t do it right now

–          Tell me I am wrong to be unconfident – now I feel wrong AND scared!

–          Show me how confident YOU are – that just makes me feel worse

–          “jolly me along” in a loud voice and manner – ignoring my feelings doesn’t make them go away

–          Offer help when I haven’t asked for it – I know I may look desperate and am probably slow but I have to do it myself in my way

–          Talk about me and my confidence to other people – if you really want to help me I have to be able to trust you….

–          Tell me lies: don’t say I am ok when I am not, or that I ride well when I don’t – that just makes me feel even more unconfident as now I can not only not trust myself, I can’t get honest feedback from you either!

So what CAN we do?  I have been in situations where I have lost confidence myself, but rather than just go from my own experience, I thought it would be more useful to ask readers, clients and students this question too.

Here are the most common answers on what to do:

–          Just be there for me:  having another person there makes a huge difference. Being in the yard grooming your horse when I am grooming mine, bringing yours in when I am bringing mine in – that can be a really valuable thing on some days

–          Give me permission to be unconfident – when I say I am scared, let me be scared. Sure, don’t let me dwell on it, but accept that right now, that is where I am…

–          Give me honest feedback – yes, there is a difference between honest and “brutally honest” – so a bit of care how you phrase things will help, but I would rather you say “you would benefit from some work on your seat” than tell me I am fine when I know I am not!

–          Take me to places – this is where you CAN nag me – get me to come with you to watch clinics, demos etc – seeing these things can inspire me to work on myself, whereas being in the same old routine doesn’t

–          Help me remember what it feels like to have confidence – sometimes it seems so long ago I forget its possible, when you talk about the old days I remember that I WAS confident and that gives me hope I WILL be confident again!

–          Ask me if I want help – with specific things – sometimes it is hard to say that I am worried about picking out my horse’s feet, or leading him, or riding him – or getting him through the gate into the arena – so if you see me having difficulty, asking me if I am ok is fine – and welcome!  And sometimes I will say yes, often I will say no, but just the fact you have offered will make a difference to me. Of course HOW you ask is important – a simple “would you like  a hand with that?” will be easier to accept than anything else in most situations…..

–          Leave articles and books around – lend them to me – this is far easier than talking about it in most cases – and sometimes I am stuck because I don’t know what is possible, reading an article can be a GREAT help in giving me more ideas – wish I had found this blog earlier too – so share this blog with people….

Ok, so that is what the people I work with are saying.

I will just add a couple of things about my philosophies.  Some of you will know these already.  I have a belief that we are all on our own journey – and part of that journey may be to work through confidence issues in our own way, in our own time.  So when I see someone who appears unconfident, the most I will do is ask if they need a hand, or share this blog as a resource (good to see that this fits with the lists above!!) because only THEY can decide when they want to make a change.

As I have written about in previous articles, sometimes the lack of confidence with horses is a reaction or response to other things going on in life, and therefore might actually be NECESSARY for that person right now.

One person I worked with a couple of times was having huge confidence issues: her horse was frightening her more and more even though she knew her horse had a good nature and no nastiness in him, the slightest thing he did would worry her.  When we looked at her current situation she had SO much pressure in her life, so many parts of her life where she had to be strong, knowledgeable, resourceful (caring for parents, sick partner and in a caring role for work too) that the horsey part of her life was a place she needed to come to for comfort.  In the end she decided to sell her own horse (he found a good home by the way) and help out at a local horse rescue to get her horsey time – this helped her have time with horses without that total responsibility we have when we own them – and she found not only was she happier – she was also more confident.  In this case her lack of confidence with her own horse probably kept her from taking on too much or doing too much when she was already pretty overwhelmed in the rest of her life.

But what about the person who has lost confidence, asks for help – but never takes that advice?

Well I did think that might be another article, but then thought that it is quite simple really:  in coaching there is something called “secondary gain”.  This is recognised in the medical profess and is defined in Mosby’s Medical Dictionary  as “an indirect benefit, usually obtained through an illness or debility.”

In this case it means that although there might seem to be a strong, logical reason to CHANGE behaviour – there is also a compelling and not so obvious gain or benefit from KEEPING the behaviour.

What possible benefits could there be from NOT being confident?

Again, when I asked this question of some people I have worked with, they had some very insightful answers:

–          As long as I wasn’t confident, I didn’t have to put a lot of effort into my horsemanship

–          When I wasn’t confident I got a lot of sympathy – now I feel more confident it’s as if everyone else doesn’t want to be around me as much – I’ve got out of the “unconfident clique” but haven’t found any confident friends to ride with!

–          At my yard we used to bond over tea and coffee about our confidence issues – since I have been working on my confidence I miss this!  I didn’t realise at the time but I think that was one of the things holding me back

–          To be honest, I think that I was unconfident about hacking because if I was confident dong that I might have to seriously think about doing other things like shows etc which I am STILL unconfident about – and rather than face that, I preferred to stay unconfident about something everyone seemed to understand

–          As long as I was unconfident and not enjoying my horses, I had my family’s support – I think I felt guilty about enjoying my horses as it was time away from them – I had to sort all that out before I could start my confidence journey!

I think you will agree that some of those comments are quite interesting!!!

So, I know I haven’t covered ALL the bases in this post – that would fill a whole book – but I hope that sharing what has actually been experienced by some of the people who are on their own confidence journeys might help some of you on your own journeys –

If you have any questions, or have your OWN do’s and don’t’s you would like to ADD to these, then please comment – or if you have some thoughts on what is YOUR secondary gain from remaining unconfident – please share!

Yours, in confidence



4 thoughts on “How to help others with confidence…..

  1. Very interesting, I love the idea that unconfidence could actually be a totally separate issue, I ride a very large athletic and challenging horse, for years I just got on and rode him, I cringe at the thought that I have been cross country training on him, gone out for silly excitable rides etc. Then I found Parelli, it took me a long time and a couple of bad falls to give myself permission to say “does that horse look rideable ” Suddenly the horse was never “rideable”, only a very important deadline that encouraged me to get on to ride for a clinic, had me work through it, lots and lots of approach and retreat, and i found that the clover leaf pattern was a life saver it stopped me over focusing on what he would do next, it gave him and me something else to think about, it was all very interesting. I looked at everything in my life, which was very stressful, changes with my home life and my job, see my confidence improving, it’s getting easier to be that person, that can ride through the issues, and when he isn’t rideable I can give myself permission to get off, or not to get on in the first place, and it isn’t causing the loss of confidence it used to. It turns out that the pressure outside the yard was so great, that there was no room for any additional pressure, my lifestyle changes are making a huge difference to my confidence with my horse.

    • Thanks for sharing your story Lisa — a good example of how confidence with our horses can be affected by many other things — and also a good idea to use a pattern to give both you and your horse something to think about OTHER than the fact you are riding


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