Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Originally published in Horse Directory,                                                               December 2013

By Tom Gumbrecht

I guess we all believe that we know about trust. I know I did. But until I began my journey with horses, I didn't realize how much I had to learn. I was of course familiar with the Webster definition:

n. Reliance on the truth, character, ability or strength of someone or something.
v. To place confidence in.
Early lessons in trust taught by Laura Ruben,
trainer, and OTTB Lola
From the beginning of my equestrian pursuits, I was forever being told to "trust my horse." Looking back, I had but little trust and it showed, mainly in my hands. I had what many a trainer called "the death grip." I didn't think I had the death grip. I thought I had a firm grip, and that a firm grip was warranted. It was the same grip I had used years ago in sailing my boat in a squall, and landing an airplane in a crosswind. A firm grip. A very, very firm grip.

But horses are not objects or machines to be controlled, they are parters with whom we collaborate. The casual observer could not have known that for me, the mere act of getting on a horse required a tremendous amount of faith. I loved horses and wanted more than anything to learn not only to ride them but to someday jump in competition. Fear held me back. I was scared of getting physically hurt, but I was perhaps more scared of falling short, of not being able to cut it as a middle aged beginner. I had enough faith in the person who put me on my first horse to allay some of my fears. From that faith developed trust. I chose to have faith in the person who said that I was going to be all right, and began to trust once I actually was, relatively, all right.

For much of my life, I thought that trust was one of those "nice-to-have" things that developed or didn't develop over time. Nice when it comes, but also okay if it doesn't. The extent to which trust developed or didn't develop merely changed the dynamics of the relationship. In taking up riding, I was to learn a different way to think..

In the pursuit of competence in riding, I found, for myself, that trust is a requirement in order to get past a level of mediocrity. My mind had been toying with that concept for a while, when a well-accomplished rider told me during a chance meeting in a discussion about training that one of the biggest problems he observed was students riding with trainers who they did not trust. "If you can't trust your trainer 100%, find a new one" was how he put it.  He sort of rocked my world.

In riding, I had always thought of trust in terms of trusting my horse. But his point made perfect sense. In attempting to make progress in riding, we are constantly asked to leave our comfort zone. If there is not full trust in the person doing the asking, I will question the request, perhaps doubting the person's knowledge, intent, caring or motivation. Once that happens, even a little bit, the process shifts from "listen-execute" to "listen-evaluate-analyze-judge-agonize-possibly execute." Not the pathway to success for a rider. It's much too complicated, while mounted and attempting to execute a challenging maneuver, to be second guessing the person who is teaching me. Once I do, the opportunity to be effective has passed, the horse is confused, I am disheartened and the trainer is frustrated.

Experiences like that sometimes caused me to question my ability to even learn. Perhaps I was too old, too uncoordinated, too egocentric. I thought that maybe things that I struggled with were incredibly complex and it was just beyond my ability to comprehend. Actually all that was missing was that I had not learned to trust. Once that changed, everything changed. Two words changed everything for me, once I trusted enough to believe them: "You're fine!" She feels like she wants to buck. "You're fine. You can ride out a buck." She's really building up speed. "You're fine. You know how to handle it." What if she stops at a fence again? "You're fine. You have a good seat." What if she drops a shoulder at the canter? "You're fine. You ride with your shoulders back and your heels down so nothing will happen" What was THAT? Multiple bucks, a spin, and the drop of a shoulder!! "Congratulations. You have just seen the absolute worst this horse has to offer, I promise you. And you survived. From now on, anything this horse does will at best please you or at worst amuse you because there is nothing she can do that you can't handle."

Powerful words, that I learned to actually believe. In a safe and supportive learning environment, I learned to trust my trainer 100% of the time, and my horse 90% of the time. We are working on the remaining 10%, but we are worlds away from where we once were, when I trusted only my own judgment and believed that everything required my utmost scrutiny.

The payoff comes in the form of a huge grin whenever I ride my off-the racetrack Thoroughbred mare Lola over a short course of fences in nothing but a halter and slack lead rope. She needed me to trust her enough to let her be the magnificent horse that she is. She couldn't do that with me wanting to be in control of her every freedom of movement. Who could?

In the past, I had feared a struggle, and my attempt to control something that had not yet happened actually created that which I had feared. It makes me wonder how many other things in life I had created or at least facilitated by my perceived need to control and my inability to trust.

Magnificence, it turns out, does not flourish in a stranglehold. On a horse or anywhere. This is a lesson that I could learn only from a horse. Silently uttered by every horse everywhere, and available for reference whenever we are ready, is much wisdom:

"To enter my world you must trust me with your heart.
To trust me so deeply you must first trust yourself.
For where we travel with our spirits entwined,
Will be on a path of trust.." - Anonymous

Archived stories are available at tcgequine.blogspot.com Email us at tcgequine@gmail.com, Tweet us @tcgelec, or friend us on Facebook.com/TomGumbrecht. Our gregarious Paint gelding, DannyBoy, is on Facebook also: facebook.com/TheWorldAccordingToDannyBoy

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