Building Confidence in Horse and Rider: Part 2 of 3

Building Confidence in Horse and Rider:  Part 2 of 3

This post is a continuation of a discussion about Confidence in the Horse and Rider based on an article by Clinton Anderson in “America’s Horse” an AQHA members’ only magazine.

Anderson discusses exercises for the horse and rider as a way to build confidence in the rider. The first exercise is the one rein stop. Beginning while the horse is standing still, slide one hand down one rein and ask your horse to tip his nose back to your leg without walking off. If the horse walks off, say “whoa”, stop him gently and ask again. I have found it can help explain what I want to my horse if I place my free hand against his neck and press lightly. There are 3 levels of asking your horse, “whisper”, “speak”, and “shout”. This exercise is a “whisper”. Patience is key. If your horse tries to turn or walk off, pick up the opposite rein and quietly hold it out to the side to steady his head. Slide your hand down the rein towards your horse’s nose, say “whoa” and gently ask again.


If this is hard for your horse, be sure to stop and praise at the first tilt of the nose. Ask again, asking for more and more bend. Walk your horse off every few times, asking again until he slows, stops and tilts his nose until it is touching your leg. Be sure to practice both directions, asking equally for both sides. Horses must learn skills to the right and to the left. They do not generalize what they learned one direction to the opposite side. If this seems strange, try swapping hands when you eat dinner tonight!

This exercise establishes the rider in control, requires the horse to bend and stop and is done at a slow and gentle pace that relaxes horse and rider.

After the rider feels confident with the one rein stop, it is a good time to try the serpentine or snake-y, gradual turns, right then left then right again. With one rein in each hand, the goal is to walk, jog and then trot changing directions in an easy, fluid manner. Your horse is already accustomed to responding to one rein in the “one rein stop”


I like to use the poles around the small indoor arena as markers to set a serpentine course, changing directions at each pole. If your horse is resistant to giving to your request for a slow, fluid, serpentine turn, ask for a circle at each turn – keep asking every time he resists and he will soon decide serpentines are easier and less trouble.

This is a good way to develop a nice jog in your horse. After you feel confident at the walk, ask for the same serpentine at the jog. If the jog is not fluid and relaxed, ask for a circle. Release pressure as you come out of the circle. As your horse speeds up, another circle. Once again you are making the task, the relaxed jog, easier and less troublesome for your horse. Walter Wright told me that the rider’s thighs should “shake like jello” if they are relaxed. Glance down, are your legs relaxed? Your horse is picking up information from your voice and body language as well as leg cues, body position and reins. A well trained horse will interpret a rider’s tense legs as an imminent command for a change of task. If you like what your horse is doing, sit quietly.


Finally, to build confidence at the canter, ask your horse to canter, bend him around in every decreasing circles until he jogs, then walks. Start again, varying the sequence of gaits. As you feel your horse respond, confidence will grow.