I have been thinking about the topic of young horses (insert: green horses) and their need for rider confidence lately as I have been preparing to write this post. This one is tricky because there are some real risks when it comes to starting and bringing along a young horse, which is why people typically and rightfully seek professional help.
For the sake of this post, let's discuss the adult amateur and her young horse who is safely under saddle but has minimal knowledge. I am also assuming that the rider in this case is basically fit and capable of riding a made horse in the walk, trot and canter on both leads. The fear of 'confusing' or 'screwing up' the young horse is usually the most common concern brought up in this scenario.
And to be perfectly honest, these are valid concerns. I often tell people that when you are teaching a young horse, you are teaching them the alphabet they will be using for their whole lives to come. With these letters they will be spelling all of the words and sentences of the advanced work. So it is a bit intimidating when you think that if you screw up their education at the beginning, it will stay with them throughout their careers.
But I think what most people misunderstand is that the most common way we 'screw up' is by being unclear and inconsistent with the young horse. Lacking clarity and consistency are first and foremost confidence issues. I am going to divide this post up over the next few days to make it a more maneagable read.
So for tonight, I will quickly discuss learning and tension. Anytime true learning happens it is accompanied by at least some tension. Learning new things is hard. It is hard and it takes lots of repetition. Lots of practice. Of course the good teacher breaks down difficult concepts into smaller more maneagable ones that are built upon in order to lead their students to success. And the balance between easy and hard tasks, fun and relaxing versus challenging and difficult has to be carefully navigated. We have to be sensitive to whether our students are getting bored or whether they are being over taxed and somehow ride the line between these things. But we should not try to, or expect that we can, avoid all tension in the learning process.
Letting horses confront what they don't understand and learning that you, their leader, will not challenge them more than they can handle, is a huge part of the long term partnership you are building at the beginning. So before we discuss clarity and consistency and how they relate to confidence, think a little about what training you have been avoiding in your horse because the tension they exhibit as you get close 'to their soul' has caused you to back off and not reapproach.
Typically this pattern in training is based on the classic fear that tension in your horse means that you have done something wrong. And maybe you have. But maybe you haven't. Maybe you were approaching education based tension and the teacher in you, not the mom, needed to lead the day.