The two most important factors in a relationship with any horse are trust and consistency. Especially when a rider is approaching an obstacle to be jumped, the horse needs to feel that the rider is trustworthy—that is, the rider is presenting the horse at a reasonable take-off spot from which it can safely clear the fence. If the horse knows from experience that the rider can be trusted, it will usually make every effort to obey, without being hindered by fear and anxiety. If, however, the horse has found the rider’s judgement to be unreliable in the past, it will nervously try to figure out the situation and protect itself, sometimes chipping in or even stopping at the fence.
Trust is developed when the rider is consistent in his approach to the horse. If you think about your relationships with other people, who do you trust? Would it be the person who was supposed to pick you at the airport, but forgot? Would it be the person who owed you money, but never paid? Of course not! The people we trust are the ones who consistently come through for us, time and time again. People are not perfect and can make honest mistakes; but you have to realize that for every mistake, even an honest one, you’ll have to work very hard to regain the trust of the person—or horse—affected by it.
To be a “benevolent rider,” your full attention has to be on your horse every minute you’re on its back. Your legs and hands should be giving the animal guidance and support so that it can relax into a relationship with you. Without clear guidance, the horse is left guessing about what is coming next, and this causes a certain level of anxiety that is increasingly heightened as speed and obstacles come into play. If you want compliance from your horse, prove to the animal you are trustworthy. You build this trust by being reasonable in your demands, accurate with your aids, and constantly thinking ahead so that you can guide the horse calmly and securely through even the most difficult courses.