Do you Believe?

Do you Believe?

Do you believe?  I mean, do you REALLY believe?


Recently when I’ve been working with people one of the biggest things I have found that’s been affecting their confidence is something as simple as belief.


Belief in your horse, your horse’s belief in you – and of course your belief in yourself.  If you don’t believe things are possible or that you can do things – then  of course you are not going to have any confidence.  Let me explain this a bit further.


I was working recently with someone who is quite a capable person.  In the rest of their life they are very confident.  They are a therapist working with people and in their work they are incredibly confident; They know exactly what they are doing and as this involves massage and physical work you can imagine it’s very important they have this confidence.  In fact in their area of work they talk about accuracy integrity and intent as being key things that make their treatment effective.


However when it came to being with her horse, she had lost all that confidence and felt scared and intimidated by him.  What had actually happened was he had lost all belief in her as well – so there was a vicious cycle going on


She would go out and try and do something with him but be nervous and worried.  He would pick up on these nerves and worry and wonder “omg should I be worried too” – he was only a youngster – and start acting to protect himself and keep himself safe from this uncertainty  by nipping, moving fast, blocking and barging – which of course only reinforced her belief  she wasn’t safe – and so the spiral would go on.


The first thing was to break this pattern and establish some belief that things were just possible.  How did we do that?  First we had to establish a belief it wasn’t all just her.  Yes its very fashionable now to say that any problem with a horse is a problem with the human, with yourself your knowledge,  your confidence or your whatever – but sometimes it’s just a horse being a horse and you doing the best you can and there’s no fault or anything and it’s just a matter of working out how to move forwards from there.


So the first step was developing a solid belief that she was not hopeless, she didn’t have to get out of horses and she was a good person, focused on doing the best she could for her horse.


When we went out there and we saw her horse I saw a horse doing a lot to protect himself and keep himself safe – I was a bit concerned too – I certainly was not confident about putting a rope on and going through a few games and demonstrating how brilliant I was!


In fact I don’t think that would have worked with him, his belief in humans was so low we had to take another path.


There we were, with a horse who was behaving in a way that was not causing ME to feel safe, let alone his owner.  So, what did we need to do?


The first belief you need to be confident is a belief that you are safe – from yourself, the environment and the horse.


Easy to say – but how can you be safe?


A previous blog looked at this in more detail, but basically if you believe you can move that horse around, that you can claim that space, and that he is not going to encroach on you and get too close to you – then you feel safe.


Now you feel safe,  you can think.  You have the breathing space to process and analyse.


When you are out there and you are scared and worried about whether he is going to barge you or bite you or walk through you – there is no way you can relax enough to be analytical and think “hmm I wonder how this will work” and “how can I help my horse” – when primal instincts like fear and safety are being triggered you just can’t hear or see much at all.


So first we had to prove she was safe.  Playing the “claim this space” game using the bubble mindset made a difference: first I showed her I could do it, then she did it with me standing behind her as back up.  With me standing behind her, she BELIEVED he would move, which meant, of course, that he DID – and that added to her belief.  Once she started going in with belief – then I started standing further and further behind her…


It’s like when you teach a child to ride a bike: first you hold the seat, you continue to hold the seat then, when they have the belief and ability, you let go but you are right there ready to take hold at ANY moment to make sure it’s a success – and only then do you slowly move further away until they are doing it totally by themselves….


The key thing is the belief.


First we did that – and her relief was enormous.  Once you believe you are safe, it is SUCH a relief of stress you often didn’t even realise you had – and, what is more relevant, you can now start thinking about communicating.


The next time I saw this client, there was a big difference – she suddenly looked her full height.  It was as if before she had been minimising her height and size, hunching a bit to “not bother her horse” – now she was walking around at her full height, relaxed and smiling – and her horse was more relaxed too.


Belief is important for your horse too.  Horses get belief in us when we are consistent, predictable, and they know we don’t take things personally.  When we accept them as HORSES, not as extensions of ourselves, our egos – or expect them to have human feelings and levels of understanding.  And these are some of the reasons why I must never do anything when I am over a 5 on my unconfidence score – because then I am NOT clear, consistent and emotionally neutral – and so the horse starts losing belief in ME.  Every time you grit your teeth and do something when you are over a 5, your horse knows it.  They know you are lying to them and they lose some of their belief in you.


Let’s look at another example of belief.  I was recently working with a student who has just started doing some classical lunging work to help her horse place his weight in his different legs at her direction – a useful exercise for helping a horse develop his balance, and for helping the human develop their “eye” and “feel” for how a horse is balancing.


First we did a simulation, then I demonstrated with her horse so she could “see” what was happening – and then it was her turn to have a go.  She did well – she was achieving a lot of the movements and weight placement – however, one of the moves required her to step towards her horse’s shoulder and for him to step AWAY from her to weight his outside legs, and she realised he wasn’t moving away from her when she walked towards his shoulder .  He was ignoring her completely.  When we stopped and talked about this, she revealed that in fact, she didn’t believe he WOULD move his shoulder, so therefore she would start making the move but not really believe in it – which meant that her energy was low, she was already thinking he would not move – and her “bubble” asking him to move over was soft and ineffective.


So again I went through some steps to instil belief:  First I did the move with her behind me, so she could get the feel, and believe that the horse WAS capable of doing the movement.  Then she took the rope and I stood behind HER, using my energy to keep the bubble firm, and so she realised that he would move even when SHE had the rope.  Then, as her belief grew, I started moving further and further back from her – until she was doing it on her own.


Her smile when she realised she was now doing it herself was priceless.


Her horse’s relaxation when he realised she was now communicating clearly and precisely, and he KNEW what to do – that was priceless too.



Our beliefs also significantly impact on our riding.  What we BELIEVE is possible, will affect what we actually do.


For example, here at the NSAE where I am working on improving my classical riding for 5 weeks – we are working on riding using just the weight of the reins.


Yes, really, that light.


So I was on one particular horse, with my coach holding the lunge line – and I was holding the reins.  I took a contact – -then lightened it until I could feel the weight of the reins in my hands – and through them the incredible sensation of being able to feel each side of his mouth move as he relaxed and chewed.  With tight reins I couldn’t feel any of that information.


Then my coach had me just, with the reins in this position, circle my thumbs counterclockwise on top of the rein.  Nothing else moved.  Then I circled them the other way – and the horse changed position.  The horse could feel that slight movement – and respond to it.


Today I was on another horse – Loki, a well trained black Andalusian PRE gelding.  With my reins just carrying their weight, and with my legs relaxed, and just by GIVING a slight finger movement and leg movement on each side – he offered me piaffe.


And when he “lost” it – or rather, when *I* lost it and he relaxed and moved forwards—I  had to do was lift my body by breathing in and he came to a stop.  No tension.  Just that simple, that light.


So now I BELIEVE in that lightness: I believe I can stop the horse with the weight of the reins and my position, so I can relax and actually start thinking about what *I* am doing with my body.


If the only role model or example I have is someone who rides “as if you have a bag of sugar in each hand” – then that is what I am going to believe – and that is how I will ride.


This lightness is only possible if you believe it is possible – for developing that belief,  schoolmasters and good instructors are valuable allies.  Going to clinics and watching what is possible…..doing your seatwork so you know you are balanced enough to be ABLE to do this lightness with your hands while the horse is moving – believing that the bit is for communication and not control….


Until we believe, we can’t be confident….




Belief and confidence are closely related. Understanding how to BUILD belief in yourself, your horsemanship – and your horse’s belief in you is a key part of your own journey – and your horse’s journey – to confidence in whatever path of horsemanship you choose to follow


Yours, in confidence






13 thoughts on “Do you Believe?

  1. yup, recognised myself in your first client……..thats me, although the ground isn’t the place I loose confidence, it’s the getting in the saddle thing. Although some of that does come from stuff on the ground. So I am off for some lunge lessons at my old riding school, back on what I call my confidence zone horses to see where the issue really is!!

  2. I love this Cathy. It really brings to light the close link between confidence and belief. As I read it I realized that when my confidence started to return, it was at the same time I started believing in myself. Huge aha moment over here 🙂 thank you again for your amazing insight.

  3. Excellent article..sometimes one is so close to the situation that it is difficult to see what the issue is..thank you for reminding me..

  4. So true! Am just getting over the flu, so have not been near my horses for two weeks 😦 Yesterday, went out to say hello and found my bubble a bit weak after this absence, am sure it will return but I needed reminding about it! In case anyone is worried, my OH has been looking after them for me while I was ill!

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