Something I've struggled with a lot is being confident; confident in myself, confident in my training, confident in what I know, what I believe. Which is weird considering I broadcast my training and much of what I do with my horses across social media. It seems different though. Being surrounded by other horse people that don't train the same way I do and don't "get it" is very different than sharing through a medium like social media. It's different when you're in person... when someone is RIGHT THERE watching you.
When I'm around horse people that don't train the way I do I struggle to not be tempted to just do a little R- instead of R+ to "fit in" a more. I struggle to not push my horses a little further than I usually would, because people might judge me for "giving in" kind of thing or being "lazy" with my training. Or I might be more secretive with my clicks and use of food rewards as to not draw as much attention. Nothing extreme, but probably not what I would do at home or by myself..
Why is that? Why is it different? Why can I be so liberal and passionate with my training when alone or when sharing on social media and then suddenly feel insecure and like blending into the crowd when I'm around people?
Part of this I feel is because I like to make people happy. I like people to like me and I want to fit in. I don't necessarily like being the odd one out, the center of attention, being "weird". I follow the rules, I blend with the masses, I try and fit in.... having people stop and stare, watch and ask questions (especially the hard ones that would take a lot of time to answer in full) is challenging and makes me question myself and what I do.
Social media also offers some level of protection and anonymity that we can't have in real life interactions. As much as I try and be very "real" on social media, I still don't have to look you in the face and try and explain why I'm dismounting my anxious horse vs "working through it" from in the saddle until the horse "respects me". I can just write a caption, put it with a picture, and blast it out to all 60k+ of you and be done for the day. Sure, I may get some unpleasant comments, but I don't know those people.. I don't have to explain myself... you take it or leave it. It just *feels different* when you're in person. It's more *real*, their head shake of disapproval is very tangible. Watching them seemingly make "more" progress in a shorter time with a different approach than yours feels very *personal* and like *defeat*. Especially if these people are people close to you or ones you interact with regularly. You have to be strong to go against the tide. Not physically strong, but mentally strong. Strong in what you value. Strong in your goals. Strong in your belief system. Not close minded or dense, just strong. In other words, you have to be able to not take it personally.
For me this has been a struggle that has improved with experience. The more I know, the more I'm around others that train and keep their horses like I do, the more results I see from the work I do, and the more I put myself out there.. the better it gets. Age has also made a big difference for me. Over time I've realized it doesn't really mean that much in the grand scheme of things if some does or does not approve or "get" what I do. Again, this isn't to say you should blindly do whatever you want to do and ignore the science and others thoughts on the matter (cognitive dissonance), but which will mean more at the end of the day? One person's opinion of what I do? Or my relationship with my horse and my horse's opinion of me? Growing up I was raised with the knowledge that everything I do is for an audience of one. What that meant was that it didn't matter what anyone else thought of me, it mattered only what God thought of me and my actions. And as a result.... my actions were always in effort to be kind and considerate to others, to always be trying to do better but also at peace with my best, and to be prioritize my relationship with God, because this is what my faith teaches. This really cultivated a sense of confidence in myself, in what I did, and why it was okay that I sometimes did things differently than my friends that they didn't understand. Regardless of your religious beliefs though, I think this sentiment applies well to working with our horses. Everything you do should be for an audience of one... your horse. At the end of the day, as true horsemen and horsewomen, this is the most important aspect of what we do. How we train, how we interact with our horses, the decisions we make for our horses... it's all about the horse and how they perceive it.
It's not about the ribbons, it's not about what the person at the clinic thinks, it's not about what the barn manager thinks, it's not even about what your brother or sister thinks... it's about what your horse thinks.
photo by Danielle Vargo Photography