Q: My horse and I have been competing well together at Training level for the last year and were even thinking about moving up at the end of this season. Unfortunately, we had a bad miscommunication on cross-country at our last event, and since that time, my horse (who’s 8) hasn’t had the trust in me that he had before. I don’t mind moving down a level to build back his confidence—and my own—but I’m worried we’ll never get back to where we were before. Help!
A: Laine Ashker
Dear Training level (and beyond) competitor,
The steadiest of relationships are indeed built upon the fact that they have persevered and become stronger through struggles. What you must do is first review why this miscommunication happened in the first place: was it a training fault, a riding error, or a simple misunderstanding?
Once the issue has been identified, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and pose the question to your equine partner, not only out on the cross country course, but also in the show jumping ring (and in the dressage court, if applicable). For example, when I had my fall from Calling All Comets last spring—an incident that caused him to lose a ton of trust in me—I soon discovered that because he was a homebred, a lot of why he would GO for me was because of trust, and there wasn’t enough training to back up the level in which he was competing.
His biggest issue was moving off my leg (or lack thereof), so not only did I move him forward and back in the cross country field, I also incorporated similar exercises to test his training in the other two phases as well! I then took the rest of the 2016 year in addition to the 2017 winter to back him down to the Prelim level while I sorted through the fundamental training elements that I had somehow skipped in his program.
Once I felt he was answering to my leg the way a proper two-star horse should, I moved him back up a year later. Coincidentally, the more training you put into them, the more trust they have in you…those two really do go hand in hoof.
The point here is that there really is no timeline for building back a partnership’s confidence in one other. My best piece of advice is that it’s a helluva lot easier to shake a horse’s confidence than to build it up, so I would suggest taking him down a level while you figure out what exactly went wrong to cause you to have the miscommunication in the first place. Believe me my friend, HE will tell YOU when he’s ready to move forward!
Best of luck and enjoy every ride!
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