"If we want them to be calm, our internal selves must be calmed, I think." - @Hondo
One of the bad bits of advice I got with Mia was to pretend
I was calm. "Just act calm - sing or do something - and when you pretend to be calm, she will be calm.
" But there were two problems with this advice.
1 - My calmness didn't always remove her fears, and in fact her worst episodes tended to come when I was genuinely feeling very calm...maybe because I was so calm that I didn't recognize the tension in her.
2 - I'm no good at lying to my horse. I might get away with it once in a while, but they get pretty good at seeing thru me.
Instead of pretending, I needed to create a new reality - based on what was real. So if I had legitimate concerns about falling off, then I needed lessons, or to get more experience on a different horse, or a change in tack or position or SOMETHING that would give me genuine reason to have less fear.
And then I needed to ignore the advice so many gave - push through, ignore your fears, don't let her look, never back off and dismount, etc - and simply:
Take smaller bites, and chew thoroughly.
"You stop enjoying it, suck it up and just go through the motions, without feeling, without heart....or you fight." - @Reiningcatsanddogs
That was me at times. And it was Mia at others. Because what I'm learning with Bandit is that trust and confidence is MUTUAL. We ride as teams, even when we refuse to admit it. Your discussion of ice skating is spot on!
And a TEAM cannot move with confidence and timing and balance and feel unless BOTH are working together and trusting EACH OTHER. Mutual
When Reiningcatsanddogs's partner treated her like a sack of potatoes, it prevented trust. When I would try to push Mia on regardless of her tension, it created fear. When I tried to push on in spite of MY fears, it reinforced those fears!
I needed to honor Mia's fears, but I also needed to honor mine. She could not relax and be confident with a scared, tense partner. And neither could I. So we needed to take smaller bites, and chew thoroughly. Stay mostly within our capabilities - our capacity as a team - and slowly build on the time we spent working together at a level where our trust in each other was genuine. It is important to expand the envelope by taking small excursions past each of our comfort levels, but pushing past our comfort level should have been done in smaller steps, and only after building a solid foundation of trust.
There were times I was afraid and my horse was not. OK, back off. Mia would not have objected. She, like most horses, was not very goal oriented! There were times she was afraid and I was not. OK, back off. A little discomfort, for a short time, is a teaching experience. Pushing past our fears, OTOH, merely reinforces those fears - for both members of the team!
People get upset that I often reject the common wisdom of riding instructors. I think that common wisdom is built on having a lot of experience with compliant lesson horses and young riders who can break an arm and be ready to ride the next day. I think a lot of riding instructors have almost no experience teaching an older rider to ride a nervous horse. Heck, many of them (IMHO) focus so intently on what worked for them while showing that they forget to teach a rider how to ride defensively - how to keep the horse between you and the ground when things aren't level, smooth, and the horse is green or scared.
But so much of the advice I got with Mia was flat out WRONG. It not only did not work, it made things worse. It helped me dig a much deeper hole, and then made it much harder for me to fill it in!
And the root of the bad advice was a refusal to admit the horse has a mind. And a heart. And feelings. And a refusal to view the horse and rider as a team. I was supposed to make Mia fearless by dominating her, and by lying to her about my own fears and weaknesses. But Mia wasn't the sort to accept dominance, and I wasn't able to lie to her, and I should never have been encouraged to do either one
I reject a lot of "proper riding" because I tried it and it FAILED. Yet much of that advice came from people with 40+ years (or so they claim) of riding. Either they had forgotten what it is like to be a newbie, or they learned bad habits on compliant horses and never got beyond the "CA with a problem horse" stage of training.
If I had spent the last year riding Bandit using what I was told to do with Mia (and did, or tried to do for the first few years), Bandit would be getting worse instead of better. I took a nervous but very willing Arabian mare and made her worse, and didn't start crawling out of the hole until I did two things I was told not to do - switch her to a curb bit, and follow Tom Robert's advice about slack reins and giving my horse some real choices...
And yes, I feel awful about what I did wrong with Mia, and I have some anger for the many experienced riders who encouraged me to treat her like a machine...and to sometimes treat myself like one.
I'll add this: About a month ago, Bandit and I were out riding. He didn't put a foot wrong. He never stopped going forward. But I felt he was very tense. Heading back, I finally decided to dismount and lead him. He walked beside me for about 5 minutes, then blew hard a few times, and then rubbed his head against my shoulder. I swear he looked apologetic! By the time we got home, he was relaxed. Truly relaxed.
Did I teach him to dominate me by pretending to be tense? Or did I teach him to trust me because I would put aside my goals and respond to the tension inside him?