Confidence – Use it or Lose it


Why are you not as confident around horses as you would like and what can you do about it?

That’s a question I’ve been getting a lot during my 1-to-1 private coaching calls that I have been doing recently. And by the way we have been having a blast talking about horses. So, if you’d like to have a private coaching call with me at no charge, just click the link at the bottom of this blog to schedule one.

I’ve noticed, while talking to horse people, that there are usually two main reasons they lose confidence around horses.

  1. They are doing something new and unfamiliar and they just aren’t sure how to do it. Then if they can’t do it right the first time out, they give up and say it’s because they aren’t good enough or don’t know enough.
  2. A traumatic event happened that threw them off kilter and shook their beliefs in their own abilities. Such as being bucked off, falling off, having the horse spook or run for the first time, etc…

And if you drill those two things down a bit you see that it all boils down to “fear”. The fear of not knowing how to do something new, feeling uncomfortable doing something unfamiliar, the fear of the traumatic event happening again, or the fear of not being able to handle a traumatic event.

Well, after hearing these stories a few times, I decided to do a little research. For those of you who know me, I love to do research. And here is what Science has to say about reason #1:

It’s just science. It’s simply in your Biology.


Everyone has an Amygdala in their brain. This is a tiny part of your brain that is the size of a walnut. But it has a big responsibility. It is responsible for our survival instincts. Because of this responsibility, the Amygdala is rather dramatic and black and white when it comes to new situations.

It is often referred to as the caveman part of our brain. Whenever there is something new or different going on, the Amygdala will flare up and be activated. And in the time of cavemen, anything new or unfamiliar usually meant that you were going to die, or get hurt.

Well even in today’s day and age, anything new or unfamiliar will trigger the Amygdala to say, “stay away, danger. Stop what you’re doing”. But it doesn’t differentiate between whether this new or unfamiliar thing is good or bad, it just sends up flares and gets dramatic.

Here’s how the process goes:

  1. All the Amygdala knows is that, “if she is going to do this new thing, we are going to die” (and I’m being really general here).
  2. Then the Amygdala sends a signal to the subconscious saying, “check this out, what do you think?”.
  3. Then the subconscious says, “let me check out all our memories to see if there is something that backs up the idea that she CAN do this.”
    1. If it finds a memory that says, “she’s done this before and has succeeded” then everything is fine and confidence abounds. And the subconscious tells the Amygdala that it’s all ok.
    2. If it can’t find a memory to support the idea that she CAN do this, then it goes out and looks for all the memories that show that she CAN’T do it and why she should run from this new thing. Then the subconscious tells the Amygdala, “you’re right, don’t do it”. Therefore, giving you a reason to lack confidence and not do this unfamiliar thing.
      1. It will remember past problems, like that time you fell off your horse, or that time you tried something new and your horse said NO, or the time you weren’t paying attention and your horse bit you, etc…
    3. Then your Amygdala says, “See I’m right, you’re going to get hurt, don’t do it”. And the body reacts and your palms start to sweat, you get anxious or nervous, your pulse elevates, etc…
      1. That’s when you see the physical reactions to the fear and you start believing the stories your Amygdala is telling you.

However, depending on the situation, you KNOW you’re not going to die if you try something new with your horse that is simple and not dangerous. However, you may still have these physical reactions. You chalk it up to a lack of confidence and you either try to work through it or you decide to give up.

When you know that this fear reaction, or this physical reaction, is happening and you say that it is just a lack of confidence, think about this process I just explained. Because knowing that it is just biology and your Amygdala may be overreacting can sometimes help you move forward and gain a little confidence.

“Knowing is half the battle”

So, what’s the other half? Remember as a kid when you learned to tie your shoes and you did it over and over until it became routine. Well, when learning a new behavior or a new technique with your horse it is the same thing. Practice, practice, practice.

Confidence - Use it or Lose it

You might not be great at it at first, maybe not even the first 3 or 4 times you try it. But, once you do it over and over you not only get better at whatever the new task is, but you also gain confidence as you see yourself getting better.

Your Amygdala and your subconscious work together to come up with ways to stop you from doing something new or unfamiliar (and trigger fear) and you hear yourself saying things like…

  1. I’m not good at this.
  2. I don’t know enough.
  3. Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten this horse.
  4. The horse isn’t a good match for me.
  5. Other people at the barn are going to laugh at me.
  6. What if someone says something nasty to me?

This happens to everyone. It is universal. This helps us with reason #2. “Stuff happens” and when it happens we either instinctually handle it, we are prepared and are able to handle it, or we don’t handle it well. Either way it is a situation that hurts our confidence. And normally it is a surprise.

But how we look at it and how we use it to learn or move forward makes a difference.

So how do you get past it?

This is what the Disney song, “Try Everything” from the movie Zootopia says:

Nobody learns without getting it wrong
I wanna try everything
I wanna try even though I could fail
I won’t give up, I won’t give in
I’ll keep on making those new mistakes

I love the ideas and the drive and the motivation that this song creates. But sometimes it is hard when you lack confidence to gain that momentum and the drive on your own to move forward. Sometimes you just feel stuck.

Here are two other ways, according to the latest research, to help yourself get over your fear reaction and gain more confidence in your own abilities:

  1. Ignore the fear and push through – Not the best way, but it can work.
    1. You are now giving your subconscious the evidence that you can do it. Then the next time you do this your subconscious has evidence that you did it in the past and the fear response is lessened. Then the more you do it, the easier it becomes, with less and less fear, and the more confident you can become.
      1. But this way takes longer, is harder to achieve, and may cause you to go backwards if you continue not being able to do it.
  2. Become an observer to what’s going on and write it down – This is the choice that I use and that I recommend.
    1. Choose to notice what is happening and take stock of what your mind and body are telling you. Don’t fight with that little voice telling you to stop and bringing up fear telling you that you’re not ready. Observe what is happening as if it is happening to someone else. Be aware without an emotional reaction and notice what is happening.
    2. Humans have the ability to have a thought and observe the thought at the same time. Don’t get upset with yourself, don’t get emotional. Get curious and watch. Notice your physiological changes and write things down.
      1. Thoughts produce feelings. So, when you notice the physical symptoms like your palms sweating or your heart rate increasing, stop and ask yourself what you were just thinking. Be curious.
      2. Write these thoughts down. Write down whatever the thought is that caused the physical reaction. Do not try to think through this, write it down so you can stay an observer and take out the emotion. If you just try to think through it, it will spiral out and become worse. Write it down! Write, “My Mind says,…..”
      3. After you write it down, wait a minute or two and calm down, and then look at it (observe it) and ask yourself if you believe that thought. Most of the time it will be a NO. If you get…”I don’t know enough” – this is too general. Get more specific.
      4. Now actively disprove what your mind says. Once you disagree or get specific, then write down, “But, I say,…”.
        1. Therefore, if your mind says that you “don’t know enough about horse behavior”  then add, But, I say, that I can watch my horse, and practice with my horse, and learn what I need to know”.
        2. Or, if your mind says, “Your horse freaked out and lost it on you, so you shouldn’t be riding”  then add But, I say that I actually was able to handle the situation, I didn’t get thrown, I didn’t fall off, and I didn’t get hurt. So, I must know enough because I am ok”. See how that changes the fear into a realistic bit of confidence?

You don’t need to stop what you’re doing because of fear, talk to yourself (in written form) and do it because that’s the way you learn.

Give yourself the ok not to do it perfectly the first few times and understand that you will become more confident in yourself through practice. That is how we all learn, through observation and practice.

The more you allow yourself to stop yourself from doing something new, the more you will stop your forward motion. My mother used to say, “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward”. So, if you want your dreams to come true with your horse, then you need to learn and develop the skills necessary to reach your dreams and continue moving forward.

Your horse doesn’t expect you to be perfect and neither should you.

I like to mix the Disney version and the research version. I know I want to reach my dreams, I have a strong desire to learn more in order to reach my goals, and I understand that it is possible and probable that I will fail or make mistakes the first few times I try. But it is ok and I’m going to keep trying until I succeed.

I always tell myself, “the more times I fail, the closer I am getting to success”

Then when I get stuck or really stop myself, I look at what’s really going on. When I start to be afraid or feel a lack of confidence I become an observer in order to figure it out. I sit down and start writing. I write down thoughts and physical reactions and emotions as a 3rd party observer.

Then I look at what my mind is trying to tell me and I then try to refute it. If I can refute it, then I make a conscious decision to keep going. I know that with practice and patience I will become better at whatever I’m doing that is new or unfamiliar, and with that will come more and more confidence.

Very important – if I can’t refute what my mind is telling me, then I listen to my mind.

For Example: My goal is to get on my horse and go for a beautiful ride through the country without any bucking, kicking, or attitude.

My mind says, “Teddie your horses are really excited to get out in this warm weather to ride and they are going to be a handful to deal with, don’t do it”. But I want to figure out a safe way around this.  But, I say, “That is correct…so, Teddie be safe and allow your horses to release some of this excess energy first, before getting on them”. This decision makes the ride safer and more enjoyable for me.

I listened to my mind warning me that my horses had too much energy and were dangerous to ride. But even though I didn’t ride them in that state, I was also able to find a solution in order to ride safely.

I hope this helps you if you are one of many horse people who sometimes have trouble with your confidence. It has helped me in the past and I still use this method when something comes up that surprises me.

Oh, by the way, here is that link if you would like to schedule a private coaching call with me to talk about horses, at no charge. These are trying times right now and if I can be of service, I would like to help you any way I can.

I’d love to hear how you’re bearing up in the Comments below and also it would be wonderful for all us to hear any good news stories you have to share! Thanks 🙂

Please Share

  • Yes so true. What I do when I am in a good mode or a bit fearfull is that I watch my horse and if he is calm I do something a bit scary. It can be something that is scary for me or something I know perhaps will be scary for my horse. And if my horse has a lot if energy I do something more calming thing with him and just do something that I know will work well. Thinking small steps.
    Thank you it is nice to read your blog!

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