Ask people what advice they would leave behind for the next generation and you will get a lot of plausible answers. Many say, “work hard” or “do what you love.” Others say, “be kind” or “give more than you get.” All of these are good things to ask of oneself and others, but one of the most interesting answers I have heard was on trust. This person, who I admire and even more so after hearing their explanation, said, “build trust in everything you do. Whether it is a business relationship or personal relationship make sure everything you do is building trust rather than breaking it.” I had not thought of trust in this way before. I know trust is good, but to make it a priority was profound to me.
It seems simple, but so many of us fail to build trust in every move we make. When we are late to an appointment, even a casual lunch with friends, we lose trust. When we ridicule people behind their backs, we lose trust. Not necessarily with the people we are ridiculing, but the people we are ridiculing them with. If someone will make harsh judgements of others, we must know they are doing the same to us. When we say we will do something, but we do not, we lose trust. It is so easy to lose the trust of others and it can be so hard to rebuild it.
I, of course, had to take this piece of advice and apply it to my horses. I began thinking about how to handle them with trust as my goal. How could I build trust with every action I make when it comes to my horses? I found this concept easier on the ground. My horses already trust that I will feed them regularly and provide water and treats. They trust that when I reach my hands up to their face, it is to be kind and not cruel. They trust that my moving around them is without ill intention.
Naturally I took this concept to the saddle. Here it was and is harder. I must make sure that every action is to get the horses to trust my leg, hands and artificial aids. I now work hard to ensure that my horses can trust that when I pick up the rein or move my leg it is to balance and guide them and not to harm or punish them. The horse must trust that the whip will serve as encouragement more than punishment and will always respect the horse’s efforts to find the correct answer.
Building the horses trust in my movements and actions builds their relaxation and far improves their performance. With further thought I have found that trust also builds on respect. It seems to be the difference between respect and fear. It is such a fine line, but we must walk it with our significant others, our children, our friends, our horses, our employers and employees, and every other relationship we maintain. Fear and distrust come from inconsistency, unreliability, and pain. Respect is when we trust someone or something to be consistent and fair and to always have our best interest in mind.
Having the horse’s best interest in mind does not always mean being the horse’s friend just as it can not always mean being your child’s friend or being your friends’ best friend. If we really want the best for them sometimes building trust means asking them to do things that are difficult. My horses do not think that haunches-in or collection or self-carriage is easy, but if I want them to use their bodies correctly and avoid soundness issues, they must trust that I want them to succeed and that I will help them do so, to the best of my ability. Most of all they must trust that their efforts to do the difficult things will be acknowledged and I will not ask more of them than they can give.
Give your horse and your people a reason to trust you and you give them, not only a reason to respect you, but a reason to communicate to you. If you trust someone you are willing to ask them questions and not feel stupid. If you trust someone, you are willing to be honest and sincere with them without fear of ridicule. Trust opens the door for communication which leads to clarification, understanding, and innovation. Your horse needs to feel open to this line of communication to tell you when something is wrong or right or when something could be done better. Beyond the riding aspect, our horses simply enjoy being with us when they feel like they are being understood.
To be understood is a wonderful feeling and yet another benefit of trust. In order to have access to all these benefits we must build trust. Trust is where communication and respect originate, and those two ingredients are key in the success of our relations. The more we trust and respect one another the more we are willing to understand and communicate with each other. I believe a lot of issues could be addressed with human to human relations and human to horse relations if we could make building trust a priority.