Our sport of three-day eventing requires a lot of skills to be successful and competitive, but there’s one that’s pretty easy to guess: you (and your horse) have to be brave.
The idea of being “brave” can be interpreted a lot of different ways, and not all of them mean the same thing. You’ll notice I referred to bravery at the beginning of this article as a skill, and truthfully that’s what I believe it is.
Throughout my career as an Olympic eventing rider, I’ve been called a lot of things: “gung-ho”, “bold”, “crazy”, “wild”, and yes, “brave”. But, while I may always love the adrenaline pumping, I also wouldn’t say I was “born brave”.
At the end of the day, bravery isn’t just some wild concept that we’re somehow either born with or we’re not. That’s really not true. Bravery is something you can learn to create over time. .
Now, it’s good to remember that I grew up in Australia, and I didn’t begin riding at a fancy farm or at a million-dollar facility. My very first pony, a good old boy named “Willy Do It” or “Willy” at home, learned how to jump cross country in my own backyard over random debris and fallen logs I would ask my parents not to clean up after big storms. I was an adventurous kid, sure, but a lot of my confidence in the saddle came from the time I spent making mistakes and learning from them. I realized pretty quickly if I could have a good, solid relationship with Willy, where he trusted me and my judgment, he’d do just about anything I asked him to do.
When you have a horse willing to do what you’re asking, it gives you a lot of confidence, and ultimately, that turns into bravery for both you and your horse.
So this is where it begins. Yes, some of us seem to be more enthusiastic about taking on risks and participating in more dangerous activities, which truthfully is something that runs in my family on all sides, while others approach life more cautiously. Both of these types of people, and every type in between, can still be brave and build confidence in their skills.
My new Equestrian Masterclass, now available on Noelle Floyd, is all about the idea of “building bravery”.
This is an important topic to me for a lot of reasons. In my travels teaching clinics all over the world, I meet many riders who feel like they will never be brave enough to tackle a demanding cross country course, whether that’s at Beginner Novice or Advanced. I wanted to provide some tools that would help any rider create their own sense of bravery in the saddle, and the result is the information in this Masterclass.
Personally, when I’m at my bravest as a rider and a competitor, I feel these three things, no matter the level I’m competing:
- I am Competent in my skills. I have practiced and repeated the exercises I need to in order to feel strong and confident in my position, which in turn allows me to communicate better with my horse.
- I am Prepared for competition and the challenges it may present. There’s not much that can give you more confidence than going out to walk a cross country course and realizing you’ve practiced harder things at home with success. Confidence and bravery go hand-in-hand with the preparation.
- I have encouraged my horse to think for himself. One of the greatest and most rewarding parts of being horsemen is the amount of time you get to spend with your animals. You come to understand their quirks and what makes them feel confident in themselves and in you as the rider. We always want our horses to enjoy their jobs and to understand what we are asking. If we have a horse that can think for himself, it reduces the amount of micromanagement that happens during our ride.
The riders I always want to emulate look like they are doing nothing in the saddle. This quiet style of riding is something that gives me a lot of confidence, because it means I’ve done my homework and I can just be one with my horse out there. Riding shouldn’t be a “yank and pull” effort, it should be smooth and polished. The less managing you have to do, the better prepared you will be to react in the moment if things don’t go according to your plan.
All of these skills, in my opinion, build bravery. Of course, bravery also isn’t a magical wand that you can suddenly wave and you have no fear. That actually isn’t a great way of thinking, if you ask me.
I’m not fearless by any means. I have tremendous respect for the risks I am taking, and the risks my horses are taking when we step out on a course.
Out of that respect, I always go back to the three pillars of bravery for me - competence, preparation, and knowing I’m on a horse who knows how to think.
These tools give me the best chance to go out there and not only be competitive, but also be safe and brave, which is what everyone should be aiming for every time they get a leg up.
Want to dive deeper into Boyd Martin’s training philosophy and program?
Then check out his latest 3-part Equestrian Masterclass Series.
Access 3 in-depth Masterclasses taught by Boyd Martin & learn his systematic process for developing bravery through competence, preparation and creating a thinking horse.
In this series, you’ll learn…
✅ How to develop bravery and confidence in the saddle while jumping
✅ What are the core the elements of bravery
✅ What the difference is between being scared vs reckless and finding that happy medium
✅ How to visualize what a ‘correct’ galloping position looks like and what doesn’t
✅ Why security and stability is important to feeling secure on your horse
✅ How to practice different cross-country and show jumping exercises to prepare yourself for competition
✅ How to introduce young horses to cross-country fences and elements
✅ Why you should be making more mistakes
✅ Why it’s important to teach the horse to still get the job done
Since releasing this Masterclass, eventing riders (and even riders from other disciplines) have been raving about the impact it’s had on their riding.