One of my favourite moments in teaching is pairing horses and riders and watching those partnerships develop. Most riders "get used to their new horse" slowly and so do many horses go through a slow process of getting used to their riders.
Today I watch one of my young riders trying a new horse so we can decide if it's the right pairing for the moment. She rides the horse tactfully and he goes very well for her. I'm delighted as it's potentially a nice horse that can give her plenty of education and benefit himself too.
I keep the whole session simple and add a little pressure as we go and it's clear to me the horse trusts the girl. He allows her to correct his way of going in a way I have not seen him react before and it's wonderful to watch. The more he responds to her, the better she rides him of course and that cycle of trust produces confidence that in turn gives us some lovely work today where they both learn from each other.
That volatile trust between horse and rider is what I reckon makes or breaks the lines of communication. There are more and more courses, workshops, advice out there on "building confidence" but the more I watch those first encounters or moments of reunion of horse and rider after incidents of being bucked off, the more I wonder whether it's trust manuals that we need to master, not confidence ones...
Don't get excited, I have no real clue how one would go about this!
A lot is said about how it takes a lifetime to build trust and seconds to destroy it. It sure is true in many cases but I also know that sometimes I can sit on a horse and before it even makes a step, I just know I can trust it (within reason mind you!). How do I know it? If I knew I could probably make a fortune ;) The length of the neck that somehow just becomes part of my arms? The width of his back? Energy?? Whatever it is, that feeling of trust lets me give the horse a good ride even though I don't know it well.
Similarly with people. I don't know about you but I might know someone who I feel I can trust with whatever I share with them which in turn makes me feel at ease and myself in their company. For sure it doesn't happen often and with many horses or many people. In fact, it could be a rare state of affairs indeed.
On top of that we can be very wrong of course ;) The horse we trusted bucks us off on the second ride or someone we had a great time with screw us right over but that's a separate point.
The fact remains however, that in the particular moment in which we allow ourself to trust, our behaviour and actions are very different to when we are defensive, worried and unsure of what will happen next.
What comes first then? Confidence or trust? Can one exist without the other? Can either be truly taught...? Should we teach riders how to trust the horses and horses how to trust the riders? Or should we teach guts and grit?