“Confidence” is leadership in action, and "Fear” is your brain telling you that you don't have control. No doubt, to some people the fear of getting hurt or of doing the wrong thing can be crippling. There are two types of fear - irrational and rational. An irrational fear is a morbid fear. It is an intense, persistent fear of certain situations or activities. The main symptom of this disorder is the excessive, unreasonable desire to avoid the fear. A rational fear is a reasonable fear that can be healthy. If you have a morbid fear of heights, you would not just climb to the top of a tall ladder and say, ‘I am cured.’ No, it takes baby steps to build up confidence.
Just because we take horses out of their natural environment does not mean they do not still have the need for leadership, or fear what they do not know. Horses are instinctively herd animals, bent on survival at all costs; and fear is what drives a horse to fight or run from what they do not understand. It is for this reason that we, as their stewards, need to give them leadership for their soundness of mind. If we fear that they are going to hurt us, we have lost control of the horse. The horse will know this and will lose confidence in our ability to lead. At this point, the horse will take it upon himself to control his own body and activities, leaving us as a subordinate part of the herd. We can unknowingly teach our horse behaviors that can cause us to be fearful. A good example of this is when we pull on the horse’s mouth and the horse reacts by rearing. Our gut reaction, the fear of getting hurt, will cause us to release or let go of the reins thereby teaching the horse to rear. It is not the horse’s fear, but rather our fear that will teach a horse to have a certain behavior.
Have you been too kind to your horse? This is another example of leadership gone astray, and may lead to fear. If we approach a horse with food, kisses, loving attention and affection, the horse may see this as an inferior and subordinate action, and may treat you as a subordinate and not a leader. Does this mean we always have to treat the horse like a soldier? No, but our balanced behavior will not confuse the horse as to the proper leadership roles. When we put two horses together they don't generally start kissing and loving on each other; most of the time they spend the first day or so kicking, biting and gnashing their teeth at each other. Why? To establish leadership and a sense of safety.
The solution is simple- take baby steps to establish better control of their feet. A horse can move in six major directions at three major speeds. If you have ever lost control of your car while driving on an icy road, you know how frightening it is to lose control. The same can be said if you are sitting on top of your horse and he begins going in a direction and/or at a speed that you cannot control. Learning exercises and maneuvers such as counterbending, moving the horse’s hips in and/or his shoulders over, sidepassing, backing in circles, leg yielding, half-passing, etc. will help you to regain control of your horse’s feet, thereby making you feel safer and more confident. In turn, your horse will see you as a leader. One thing leads to another. Once they see you as confident and taking the lead, they will follow because that is what is natural to them. Your fear will start to diminish as you regain control. Are you ready for some teeth gnashing? By Randy Byers Horsemanship