“If he’s breathing, he’s dangerous.”
“Never let him smell your fear.”
“Green horse + green rider = black and blue.”
“One end kicks, one end bites, and the part in the middle is out to buck you off.”
Scary stuff, that. So is the concept of a half-ton monster with four sledgehammers on the bottom and a taste for human flesh.
Say what you like about horses as friends, partners, and fellow sentients (and there’s plenty to say, here as elsewhere), there’s still the fact that they outweigh us as much as twenty to one, they’re wired to bolt at the slightest hint of danger, and if they get aggressive, they’re bloody dangerous. How do we as humans cope with this?
The answer is actually not too dissimilar to the way you cope, as writer, when you come face to face with that blank page.
You fake it.
Or rather, you make a realistic assessment of the situation, keep the dangers in mind–and then put them aside. You approach the project, or the horse, with the conviction that you can do this, you’re going to do this, and you’ll get the job done. All your fears (I can’t write, I can’t ride, my ideas are crap, my training sucks, the editor will hate it, the horse will freak out and dump me) get pushed down out of anyone’s sight but yours. With your chin up and your best fingers forward, you project an aura of confidence.
Not, bear in mind, overconfidence. It’s a bad idea to get delusional about your skills. Throwing caution to the winds has its distinct uses, because caution kills originality, but you also have to be pragmatic. Pick your battles. Focus on the ideas, or the training concepts, that you and the project or the horse can best accomplish in the current situation.
With a horse, you’re also dealing with a sentient creature who has his own distinct agenda. This makes the interaction fascinating and wonderful and all the rest of those nice words, but it can also be a problem if you don’t trust him, yourself, or both. The horse as a herd animal will take his cues from you as the herd leader, but if you abdicate or demonstrate that you aren’t going to lead him competently, he’ll take control. He might take care of you, if he’s that kind of horse. Or he might get rid of you and bolt for safety.
Your best defense is to not get defensive. To take charge, calmly and confidently (no matter what you’re feeling underneath). To lead, and to encourage him to follow.
Same goes for that novel that’s giving you fits. By all means we should pursue those wild left turns and those startling character developments that turn the humdrum into the exciting. But comes a time when we have to rein them in, get them under control, and make them work within the rest of the novel. With novels it’s an artistic imperative. With horses, it’s straight physical safety. A novel off the rails usually ends up dumped in the trunk. With a horse off the rails, it’s the rider who gets dumped.
Confidence. It’s not just for pretty. It’s what you project when you’re bloody scared, and if you do it right, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The confident rider (or writer) creates a confident horse (or novel, or story, or…).