It is natural for every horse person to feel slight apprehension at doing something on or with their horse which has previously not had a pleasant outcome. However, what many people don’t realize is how strongly our apprehension can affect our horse and the performance they give us after that point. For example, say you are a trail that you have ridden on without incident more times than you can count, but one day something unforeseen scares your horse and he leaves you sitting in the dirt while he high-tails it home. It is only normal that you would feel a little timid at that spot or throughout your ride the next time that you are out on the trail. Unfortunately, if you get tense, so will your horse. It is very important to look at each ride or time spent with your horse as a fresh start.
Your horse will react to your emotions and feelings. That is because your body automatically (and sometimes involuntarily) conveys your mood and emotions. If you are nervous, your muscles tense and your body curls in on itself ever so slightly to create a barrier against the thing causing the nerves and to give you a “safe” space. Your horse will be able to feel that defensive position that you are in and become tense himself, since [clearly] there is something to be nervous about near him. So if you are nervous when you go back out on that trail, fixing the problem from last time will be infinitely more difficult than it should be since your nervousness will likely cause an unwelcome reaction, which could in turn just make you more nervous. Thankfully, the opposite is also true. If you are relaxed and confident, your posture will straighten and your muscles will relax. A horse will be much more willing to cooperate when he senses this confidence. If you go back onto that trail with the mindset that it is a new day and this is a new experience, your horse will be harder pressed to find a reason to balk.
One of you has to be confident in order to accomplish any task.
Most of the time, the confidence is left to you since you are the one capable of thinking through a situation all the way to the outcome(s) and acting on a continuing train of thought. So how will you know if you are ready to go back to that scary trail? After a scary, unnerving or traumatic experience, go back a few steps in your training and skill set. Either go back to the arena and work on something you can do well to build your confidence back up or handwalk your horse out to that scary spot and work through the issue from the ground where you may feel more comfortable and more at ease in handling him if he gets snorty or spooky. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to give yourself a pep talk before returning to the scary obstacle and focus on breathing deeply and steadily to keep your muscles relaxed.
Remember, each ride is entirely new, even if its a ride you’ve done a hundred times before.
Think about the times before that you’ve done that particular thing successfully. If you’d never attempted it before, the give yourself a pat on the back for trying and take what your learned from the experience to make it better for the next time. I guarantee that when you get past the nervous bump, the personal reward of accomplishing the task successfully will be the thing that sticks with you for the long haul!