confidence_bvc“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…).


cairo_bvcJudith writes fiction about horses, too. Read the first chapter of A Wind in Cairo free right here on Book View Cafe. The rest is available at as a trade paperback or a PDF download.

She has also contributed to the exclusive Book View Press anthologies, Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls and The Shadow Conspiracy.




Confidence — 3 Comments

  1. The main problem I see is not so much riders who are fearful than riders who think they need to pretend otherwise. This often leads to them being more forceful than warranted, which horses don’t take well. (I”ve also seen a number of riders hit horses because they were afraid; needless to say, this is not a safe course of action.)

    The best way for a rider to acquire confidence is to get training: if you know how a horse will react and learn to feel the first signs, you can usually head the behaviour off and *not* escalate it; and if you have a very large toolbox and many ways in which to react, many strategies with which to approach a situation, you will not run out of options quickly.

    And the last is a lesson from fencing: you can’t win by being purely defensive. If you have a difficult situation, you need to do something (even if it’s getting off and refusing to ride the horse until he’s calmer) – picking a bad strategy will at least give you feedback, whereas just sitting there waiting for things to happen tends to create really bad situations indeed.

  2. Thank you for this post. It’s exactly what I needed. I’m riding a mare who has recently recovered from EPM (diagnosed after a multi-year history of tripping (including a nasty fall on top of me at a canter)). She is the light of my life but it is a blow to my confidence to be afraid she’ll trip. Every time I get on I have to set aside those fears and just evaluate how she is doing (and how we are doing in the ride).

    I trust her, but it is very hard not to tighten up every time she mis-steps.

  3. Kim! I deaarly hope you see this. Tteam and ttouch work, pioneered by Linda Tellington Jones, may well really help your mare. They have actually published a booklet that you can purchase in PDF or print format on dealing with neurological issues in horses — and it is all stuff you can do yourself. YOu can get the booklet here: