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”Establishing a Proper Relationship with Equine”

Part IV: Confidence

By Rick Harper


One of the most fascinating stories I’ve heard has been passed down through the ages about a young man named Alexander and a young, frightened horse named Bucephalus. As the story goes, it was the custom in the days of old for the breeders of horses to bring their best stock to the courtyards of royalty to be considered for purchase. The courtiers of the court would ride the horses as the prospective buyers observed. On one such occasion at the court of Phillip of Macedonia, one of the young stallions, Bucephalus, seemed very anxious and inattentive. The courtiers proclaimed him to be unrideable. Young Alexander, who was the son of Phillip of Macedonia, proclaimed that he could ride the horse and wanted him for his own. No one present believed that the young man could ride the nervous horse, but figured that Alexander might learn a good lesson by trying. Everyone present watched in amazement as the young Alexander lead the horse away from the shadow that was the cause of his apprehension, and then mounted him and rode him back into that same shadow. Years later, Alexander the Great rode this same horse to victory over his enemies in many battles. The horse, Bucephalus became famous and had a town named after him. How wonderful it would have been to watch as this young man gave a lesson to the older, more experienced horsemen. It is no wonder that throughout history many great leaders have also been great horsemen.

Alexander the Great was successful in his endeavor because he believed in himself and in the horse’s ability to overcome its fears. He did not act foolishly by jumping on the horse’s back immediately but instead made a sensible plan by evaluating the situation. Alexander determined the cause of the animals fear, the shadow. He then took the horse from the source of his fear, taught the horse to face his fear and then to overcome it. His accomplishment on that fateful day did not require brilliance. It did require desire, determination, careful thought and planning to turn a negative experience into a positive one.

The opposite of confidence is insecurity. Insecurity is born out of a lack of positive experience in a given situation, combined with negative thought or imagery. It is easy enough to just say that one should simply get over it and replace the negative thoughts with positive. If we could only make that substitution and not just cover over the apprehension, we could easily overcome our fears. A more practical approach would be to understand that the probability of the worst happening is not very realistic. We can then set aside the negative thoughts and fears, focus on a positive outcome and mentally create a plan to minimize the danger. In this way we can project confidence in our self and to the animal we are working with and create a positive experience. If on the other hand we choose to dwell on our fear, we will most likely create an even worse situation.

Building confidence in both people and equine can be achieved by setting up challenging obstacles and situations in practice before we are confronted by the same situation in reality. We can build positive experiences for us and our equine by working through these practice situations, achieving success and conquering our fears. Start with things that create a small amount of difficulty or fear, such as walking up to a piece of plastic or an open umbrella. These types of exercises can be achieved either with the person having the horse in hand or with them in the saddle, depending on the person and the horse’s abilities. Other exercises can include crossing water, backing over logs, taking a slicker from a tree or post, having the equine stand on plastic or plywood, etc. If the person starts by going through the exercises on the ground, they should eventually progress to the point of accomplishing these difficult tasks under saddle. The key is to work at a pace which allows the person and the horse the opportunity to be successful in handling these stressful situations together, thereby building self-esteem and confidence in each other. For this type of exercise to be successful, two way communication between the person and the animal must be developed. It is up to the person, however, to develop leadership skills and to project confidence to the equine. As the team of man and equine learns to face fears together and to interact positively in difficult situations, both will gain confidence and will eventually be able to face any situation together. If a person or an animal chooses to get through life by avoiding all that causes fear or stress, there is a likelihood that at some point in time avoidance of danger will be impossible, and tragedy will occur. The fact that they will not be able to act rationally upon realizing their inability to escape will lead to disaster. It is much wiser to take small steps today toward facing our fears in order to learn how to project confidence in stressful situations. In developing exercises to build confidence, we must never be foolish and place ourselves or our animal in needless danger because of a lack of careful thought and planning. The purpose is to patiently build positive experiences in difficult situations. Recklessness will lead to negative experiences and will undermine the development of confidence

Rick Harper



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