Building confidence

I like to think of myself as a confident rider. I’m not fearful or especially nervous, and I know my horses well enough that I’m rarely surprised by their actions.

That said, I was not feeling confident last week about my chances at Willow Draw.

I’ve been spending a lot of time hacking Moe to build his fitness and working on his dressage. I haven’t spent a lot of time jumping him. My reasoning is this: he’s not a young horse, working on young joints and muscles. He also knows his job- he’s never been one to stop, run out, or otherwise act a fool about jumping. (Well, other than progressively picking up speed.) He was great at Gallery Farm’s combined test and marvelous at the hunter pace back in the fall; Moe is a horse who is jumping well and feeling good. I don’t see much point in drilling him over fences.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to get over some fences now and then, so last Thursday I set up a low vertical and a two-stride combination, a crossrail to a vertical. Moe was fine warming up and jumped the little vertical with his regular enthusiasm. But when I took him through the two-stride, he promptly ran out at the second element. It wasn’t a spectacular disobedience- he just dropped his left shoulder and scooted around the jump. Shocked, I directed him through it again. And again he dropped his left shoulder and ducked out. At that point, I realized that while Moe is a good horse, I probably still need to ride him. I got him through the line a couple of times and called it quits. I felt anxious and disappointed.



Thursday’s ride wasn’t very inspiring, to say the least. I dwelled on what had gone wrong, how poorly I’d ridden, how things might be terrible in Texas later this month. I decided I needed to jump over the weekend- really jump. So when I headed to the barn on Saturday, I had a plan.

I set up a course of four jumps that could be ridden in either direction. I reset the combination to a more generous three strides. I also made the jumps relatively low, around 2’3-2’6. That’s smaller than we’ll be jumping at Willow Draw, but I figured I’d rather have a boring, completely successful ride over small jumps than a ride that made me feel the least bit freaked out. I was looking to build my confidence back up. (I’m not particularly worried about Moe’s confidence, as he’s never seemed very perturbed by things going wrong.)

I spent a lot of time cantering over the small verticals in both directions. Moe jumped them just fine. There was no hint of a run out, no thought of refusal. He jumped enthusiastically, and better yet, we saw eye-to-eye on distances. They were generally good distances, too! We only had one very, very long spot (which we both agreed was better than an awkward chip). I worked on keeping my leg on, keeping my chest up, and not over-releasing. When I finally felt ready to send him through the three stride, I did. I felt him think about going left and promptly applied my left leg. He took an awkward step, hurtled over the jump, and cantered away.

I put together a little course after that. We navigated it well, and I ended our ride with lots of pats and praise for my good little horse. Moe took it as his due, swaggering around the arena at a bouncy walk to cool out.


I take Moe for granted more often than I should- yes, he’s an eager and honest jumper, but it’s not reasonable to expect he’ll do all the work for me. He’s a horse! I can’t sit on his back like a sack of potatoes. If I give him a fair ride- a supportive leg, a good approach, a confident ride- he will do very best to get us to the other side of the jump.

If I’m confident, he’s confident. I can’t ask for better than that!

Author: Stephanie

Equestrian, amateur cook, people person.

18 thoughts on “Building confidence”

    1. It really is! I definitely don’t want to drill him over jumps frequently because of his age; he’s in great shape for 21, but I’m very aware that great shape at 21 is very different from great shape at 11.

  1. Cosmo is like Moe: knows his job, does not need to drill, but needs to be ridden to the jump. If i check out, so does he. If I do my job, he does his, always. Glad you guys got back on track!

    1. Yes, absolutely! Moe’s also been getting a little bit of jumping in his lessons (over things that are MAYBE 12″ tall- so elevated canter poles, really)- I’m not sure if that’s having a mental effect on him. You know, like “Oh, wait, what? Why are the jumps suddenly 3x as big?!”

  2. Totally get where you’re coming from wanting to save Moe’s jumps. But it is just like anything, you need to practice a little bit to keep the muscles used for jumping in shape. Just flatting doesn’t work the jumping muscles. Sounds like you both just needed a little refresher! Good idea to practice ahead of time. I’m sure you’ll be great at the show. Plus, they’re always a little extra pumped when they get off property. Can’t wait to hear all about it!

  3. So distracted by wanting to smush that cute little face and play with that poofy little forelock I can’t even.

  4. Oh Moe! He just wanted to remind you he’s smart enough to know the way out of work? Glad the rides have been going so well now, and that he’s back to his jumping machine self.

  5. I’ve fallen into that trap too. It’s so easy to forget to ride every stride regardless of the horse. Glad you sorted it out well before the show. You’ll do great! So much luck!

  6. Sometimes when you have a horse that is just plain good it is hard to remember that you still need to ride! I am sure you will be fine at your upcoming show. 🙂

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