This is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about for some time, and it seems especially pointed after today’s unmitigated disaster* of a lesson. The Trust Bank is a concept I was first introduced to by, I believe, Yves Sauvignon, and a crucially important aspect of every relationship between human and equine. It is the reason I can trust Murray to save me, and he trusts me to save him, it is how we have come so far.
* Ok so this is an Asian-mother-reared unmitigated disaster, which really just means that I was a bit off and Murray saved my butt repeatedly, but also spooked ridiculously and unnecessarily.
This image brought to you by: The Trust Bank
The trust bank is not a physical bank, but it is a very real thing. It’s the balance of trust between you and your horse, and you draw on it every time you ride, but especially when you get into a sticky spot and need your horse to help you out and – you know – trust you a little bit. Every time you save your horse or make the right choice or ride with forgiveness, you make a little deposit in the trust bank. When the balance is good, when you and your horse trust each other well, you both work better.
When my trust bank is strong, I can count on Murray to go over any jump, from any angle, from any spot, without question. Ignoring the most epic of rider screw-ups, when our trust bank is strong, Murray will get me out of absolutely any sticky spot I can put him into. When the trust bank is strong, I know that pointing Murray at a fence means he’s going, no matter what. I imagine the trust bank exists for dressage also, but I don’t really think about it there (dressage is more of a negotiation in my mind). More importantly when our trust bank is flush, Murray knows that I’m not going to let him down, dump my aids before a fence, or set him up for failure. When the trust bank is strong, we easily forgive the little mistakes one another might make, and together we are better than we would either be alone.
Making a withdrawl, and ultimately failing (or: how to make my good horse stop). A scary fence, a crappy position, a bad approach.
When my trust bank is low, Murray might stop if I get ahead of him or don’t support him enough with my legs to a fence, or if I ask him to take something from a funny angle. When the trust bank is low, there’s a little hesitation before the fences – are we going? When the trust bank is low, Murray is spookier and less inclined to work. When the trust bank is low, I have rides like I did today. When the trust bank is low, I know I need to make a deposit.
There are lots of ways you can make a deposit in the bank, but generally, it involves making the right choices with your horse to the fences (once again, in my jumping-centric example). Every time you support your horse to a fence when he’s a little confused, and prove to him he can get over it, you make a deposit. And every time you ask your horse to save you, to make up for your mistakes, to get you out of a tough spot you put the two of you in, you make a little withdrawal. Bank accounts of different sizes can stand different sizes and numbers of withdrawals – but like any bank account, you can’t withdraw forever without making a deposit or five. Or ten.
The beauty of this analogy is that it doesn’t make trust some immutable, euphoric state that some riders and horses can achieve and others can’t. You don’t have to worry about lost trust as something that will never come back, or something that can never be achieved. Trust isn’t like zen or nirvana. It’s a rising and falling commodity that is completely in your control. If you want your horse to trust you, prove to him you’re trustworthy. Given time, he will prove it back to you.