Kentucky 5 year old Rocky/Kentucky Mountain with 3 years of professional training ridden with smooth chain or snaffle wonder, mullen mouth short shank in flat cutback saddle with thick pad in ring and pasture by intermediate level rider.

Question: My trainer, Sandy, can ride my horse just fine. Since I had my baby in April, I haven't been able to ride him much and have lost my assertiveness.  The first few times I rode him after the baby, he did wonderfully.  Sandy was riding him 5 days a week.  Then all of the sudden he started throwing fits that really scared me.  

Now when I ride him, I am affraid to spur him to make him listen to me and he will just jog trot and I pull him to a stop. Sandy then gets on him and he does fine.  I have ridden and shown another less "hot" horse since then and did just fine. Does he just "have my number" and know that he can get away with it?  Should I make him work at the trot so that he won't think he can stop every time he does?  He works well on verbal cues and leg pressure for turning.

From Panelist Erica

I would definitely have to say that he has your number somewhat. He has been getting away with things because he has found holes in how you are working him. He can easily scare you out of working him hard - so he does. :-) Maybe have your trainer work YOU to work him the right way, and help regain your confidence.

Erica Frei

From Panelist Liz

In this situation you will have to dig deep in your self and get the grit to get past this hesitation on your part. As long as the horse feels this no matter what you ask him to do he will sense the advantage. He is reacting to you.

Get more lesson work maybe on another horse that does not intimidate you and see if you your self can get past this first.

Liz Graves

From Panelist Stella

I think your evaluation of the causes for your problem is right on target, since otherwise your trainer would have likely mentioned to you if there was a problem in your riding skills or otherwise, causing the gait problems. There's something about getting older and having a baby, situations where you become more acutely aware of other responsibilities and
obligations that would be impacted by getting injured while riding, that affect our assertiveness. 

Of course, the problem with that is, when we lose assertiveness, it also robs us of true control of the horse, and therefore puts us in the very situation we fear - but that's something we do to ourselves!  

Needless to say, in the absence of our control, the horse has little choice but to make decisions for themselves, if we abstain.....not necessarily so much taking advantage, but filling in the gap. In the hierarchy of horses, the more assertive horse needs an even more assertive rider than they are, to respect their leadership, its just part of the natural survival instinct. The one that seems more capable gets the job.

Of course, first and foremost is to change your own mindset, reframe your thinking. Your own fears are getting the better of you even more so than the horse. I know it sounds much easier than it really is! One thing that would help would be to return to riding the
less assertive horse regularly, to develop a substantial set of positive experiences under your belt to build, reinforce, renew your self-confidence in your abilities. Develop a conscious awareness of not only your mental state, but how this translates into your body language and reactions in control and response of the horse. Aside from bolstering your
confidence, you will also become acutely aware of the subtle differences between how you handle this horse vs the other, more intimidating one, to know "where" some of your actions/responses need to change and how; not only your repeated successes will bolster your confidence, but repetition also creates a more of a habit of being able to at least physically respond more assertively, that can be "turned on" more readily despite emotional misgivings by the very nature of being so "fresh" in our reportoire, giving us greater ability to "turn it on," despite ourselves....and yes, perhaps in the first action, fool the horse more so than ourselves, but as soon as you see it works to gain the control you seek, you'll feel much better, be able to build from there.

See if you can ride for several weeks regularly on this other horse, while the trainer rides the other horse, so its also maintained in the habit of control. Try observing the trainer carefully, in case there's a few other differences in how she maintains control and elicits proper gaits you may have previously missed. If possible, try the first few sessions in the same day, and preferably not too long after riding the other horse successfully, to help sustain "the good feelings" and visceral, as well as pyschological memory, because the first few times you will have to force or talk yourself into mimicing the exact same feelings and physical responsiveness if you've just gotten done "practicing," doing "dress rehearsals" to
literally play the role! A few convincing performances will confirm to you that you can not only "play" that more assertive character, but be one. 

One thing you will discover in your practices is, that you are likely already "cluing the horse in" on your lack of assertiveness on what seems to be very minor and subtle little details-to us, but not the horse -long before actually asking for gait. Every little interaction counts, even on the ground, in how they "size us up," so dont forget to pay attention and learn the whole "part." You'll probably find yourself answering your own question about "making the horse go on" and just DO IT! With out the hesitation that is characteristic of lack of assertiveness. 

Luckily for you, this hasn't been any dangerous misbehavior problem - yet. But if you dont solve it now, it can escalate to be one. For persons who've lost self-confidence and assertiveness from dangerous situations, this methodology of confidence-building and switching to practice on a horse where success is far more likely, regaining and rebuilding one's own self-confidence FIRST before tackling a bigger problem works well, just may take longer.


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