Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Confidence For the Unthinkable

“The definition of confidence is knowing that you are prepared for the unthinkable." Ray Hunt.

I saw this quote the other day and it made me think about my training with Beautiful. We've hit a stand still. She's had the saddle on and off a million times now. She's had it cinched. But that's where I've hit the brakes.

When I started this, I was determined to do all my work in the arena and not shorten it to a roundpen. But now as I sit here and wonder why I'm not taking the next step, I think it is exactly because I'm not comfortable with my choice. And the reason why I'm not comfortable is because the only other time I did my first saddling and moving out in an arena, rather than a roundpen, was my first colt in 1986, and that did not go well.

At that point, I was not prepared for the unthinkable. I cinched him up, walked him, cinched him again and then did something bad--I let him go. Something happened that I did not expect.

First, he sucked in more air than a normal horse since it was his first time moving out with a saddle, and he did not exhale after a few steps like a normal horse does. Instead, I assumed he'd let it all out and he hadn't.

Second, when I let him go in the arena and he began to really move out, he released the air and the saddle got loose and slipped underneath him. When that happened, he was scared and he went off bucking. Luckily, he was a smart, calm horse and quickly realized he needed to stand still until I could help him. Which I did. All was fine and we continued the training and he turned out to be a wonderful trail horse. Yet, that doesn't erase the memory or, the even more powerful thought, of what could have been.

Since then I've done the first saddling on two more young horses and they went fine. I did more preparatory work in the weeks leading up, made sure the cinch was truly tight, and moved them out in a round pen on a lead line.

I think I'm ready for the unthinkable, but I also feel I need the security net of the round pen. I'm going to ask my husband and son to help me shorten it tomorrow when they're home. Better to be safe than sorry. At this point, Beautiful's ready and the only thing holding her back is me.

After the saddling I have another choice to make--bit or bitless--or both. I've never rode a young horse bitless, but I've come to think that if you've done everything right on the ground, you shouldn't need the bit. What does the bit really do for you anyway? Isn't it an easy way out of proper communication? We all know it isn't the bit that stops the horse--or bends it--it's the horse's own will that bends its body or brings it to a stop. Somehow we've influenced its will when we accomplish these things.

I'm not against bits--I use them on all my other horses. It's how they'ved learned and what they know. I do try to be light on their mouths by using the neck-rein cue, legs, and sitting back in the saddle to signal the stop. Sometimes I wonder what good the bits are doing anymore other than clanking around in their mouths.

A friend and I had this discussion on a trail ride recently and she said her horse is used to the bit now and is confused without it. I get the same impression from mine. It's tradition, habit, security, but not much else.

I'm kind of thinking I might do both just to get her used to both, but starting with bitless rather than going backwards later.

***Just got off the phone with my husband. He says we'll shorten it up tomorrow. I think it'll be worth the effort.

Quotes for encouragement:

Unless you have courage, a courage that keeps you going, always going, no matter what happens, there is no certainty of success. It is really an endurance race.HENRY FORD, Theosophist Magazine, Feb. 1930

The shortest route to courage is absolute ignorance.DAN SIMMONS, Endymion

Courage is finding the inner strength and bravery required when confronting danger, difficulty, or opposition. Courage is the energy current behind all great actions and the spark that ignites the initial baby steps of growth. It resides deep within each of us, ready to be accessed in those moments when you need to forge ahead or break through seemingly insurmountable barriers. It is the intangible force that propels you forward on your journey.
CHERIE CARTER-SCOTT, If Life Is a Game, These Are the Rules

Either life entails courage, or it ceases to be life.
E. M. FORSTER, Pharos and Pharillon


  1. Here's hoping tomorrow is uneventful to the point of being boring.


  2. I think you will be better off in the round pen for now. It may give you both a sense of security. Hope all goes well with Beautiful.

  3. Knowing when to change and what changes to make are the key to advancing. I hit the wall a few times with Chickory and had to rethink strategy and my own expectations of myself. Being humble is a lot safer than the pride that "goeth before a fall". Safety first, and never be afraid to ask for help.

  4. Absolutely work in the round pen if you feel safer there. Nobody will think less of you for that.

    I know all about the fear factor. I've been on my girl once since the bucking episode and that was what-a month ago? We're working back up to it but I can tell she's nervous and it freaks me out. In the meantime we'll ground drive and she'll be even more ready when I do get on her again.

    Both of mine were/are started with a sidepull. My boy doesn't seem to have any problems switching between the bit and the sidepull now.

  5. Have you used just a surcingle on her first and let her move out? The feeling of the cinch is one thing to get used to, let alone the whole saddle. I agree, if you "feel" safer in the roundpen, then if you use it, your confidence will be communicated to your horse. I was very intimidated with training my first horse (and mustang) and took everything very slowly and step-by-step, more because I needed to convince myself that the horse would not buck me off when I mounted for the first time, and everything went fine! In fact, Chico NEVER bucked while I was training him to the saddle and riding. I even went so far as to tie wood pellets to the saddle and had him walk trot and canter before I mounted. You can do this. I also started mine in a halter and did the first rides (in the rounpen) with a halter. My very first rides were with someone else manning the lunge line and I was just a passenger. I did ultimately switch to a bit when I got to the point where I wanted to try to ride him outside the roundpen, simply because I figured it is harder for a horse to ignore the bit if something is grabbing their attention and it gave me more confidence to control him. But I chose the most mild bit I could find (a double jointed snaffle with a nice smooth center-piece). Oh, and I did eventually get bucked off, and it was on our first ride with a strange horse. Chico wanted to sniff the other horse, and I didn't want him to. When I pulled him away with the reins, the side of the bit slid through his mouth (I learned from this experience that I needed a chin strap on my snaffle bit), it freaked him out, and he panicked and bucked, I fell off, but still had a hold of the reins, so I mounted back up and he was fine. I think you need to do whatever gives you the most confidence because that is more important to your horse than your actual tools.

  6. I think a round pen is a good idea. You can leave it as soon as you're ready, which will probably be soon.

    Do you still want those halters you mentioned on my blog? For riding in, I have a newer creation that I like a lot better than the halter with rings in the nose knots. I can email you a picture if you email me. andrea v at turbonet dot com. Sorry it took me so long to respond. I have been super busy and just remembered at two in the morning that I needed to make you halters. I can make them today and mail them, or I'll be in Spokane tomorrow if you want to meet up. Or I understand if you changed your mind or already got something else.


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.