Sally Cousins’ Weekly Training Tip: Confidence on the Flat

We are delighted to introduce Sally Cousins as our newest guest blogger, as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of weekly training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

Photo by Kasey Mueller

Photo by Kasey Mueller

From Sally:

As riders and trainers, we are very aware of maintaining and protecting our horses’ confidence to the jumps. It takes a long time to build confidence and not too many bad experiences to undo it. However, we also need to be careful to protect our horses’ confidence in the dressage ring.
Some horses are just nervous in the ring and can be taught to be more confident with quiet, relaxed rides. If we take a horse into the ring and ask it to carry a frame or do movements that it does not know well, we start to harm its confidence, and that can teach it to be nervous in the ring. First we need to deal with the amount of stress our horse can handle mentally, and then figure out what it can handle physically. We also need to have a sense that our horse has the confidence to be able to handle the extra pressure. There is often a fine line between asking for a lot in the ring and pushing a horse over the edge. As a rider, knowing where that line is comes with experience.
To help build a horse’s confidence when we ride it, we need to take the time to thoroughly warm up its muscles and make sure it is able to mentally focus on the work we are asking for. If a horse hasn’t done any ring work in a few days, getting him to focus may take a little longer. If the horse doesn’t seem to be having a great day, I may back off the pressure or not introduce anything new. I try to evaluate what sort of day the horse is having before deciding what to focus on that day. The horse has to trust that we will not ask more of it than it is confidently able to do.

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