Bravery: born or developed trait?

Just curious to hear others’ thoughts…

Is bravely in a horse (specifically re: jumping) something that they are born with? Or is it a product of training and exposure?

Looking at a 4 year old who is a bit of a chicken. Not sure if that can be trained out or not. He’s so young; I hate to judge prematurely.

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Both, of course.

You can teach them to be brave. You develop their definition of ‘normal’, develop their trust in you and teach them to grow their confidence in you and themselves. You take them places, show them the trash cans on garbage day and teach them how to be responsible, respectful equine citizens. This is the foundation of bravery, laid over the course of time with 100s of tiny decisions being done daily.

More important than bravery, in my eyes, is their sense of self and security. Are they OK being in their skin? Do they think they are hot stuff? Do they have the innate confidence - that look of eagles - that you can harness and develop? That self confidence allows you to mould them into a secure horse, one that doesn’t require all their friends and familiar surroundings for them to be ok. In my experience, some registries tend to value that more - i.e. Holsteiners in my experience have a very level head on their shoulders; thoroughbreds typically can be more reactive - but - with proper training (i.e. the ones off the track), they can be very workman like and understand what is required of them. That can translate into a perception of brave as they know what is expected and trust they can deliver it.

My best have been those that were born naturally curious. I worked carefully to nurture that, not quash it. Give them the time to investigate, reward them for wanting to go see that strange object in the corner, careful to not inadvertently reward the spook (critical difference). But I will tell you, as youngsters they were sensitive, hot and reactive. I really believe that our bond, knowing that I have their back and will never fail them, is what allowed them to develop into the confident horses they are. Had they been pushed too fast, over faced or inappropriately challenged they would not be the steady eddy types they are now.

Interestingly all of mine have very similar temperaments, despite starting out innately a bit differently. They’ve learned how we gel and have become a part of the fam; it’s how we roll. LOL

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Thank you for such a lovely and well-thought-out answer!

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It is also, I think, far easier to destroy a horses confidence than build it. There is no rush to building it. As was previously stated so well, it takes all the time in the world with many incremental tiny steps to make a horse confident–for example about loading and riding in the trailer, being away from home in a stall, going over different obstacles and terrain. Skip steps, rush things, lose patience, overface, create a bad experience and all could be lost. Think of building confidence and skills in the young horse as teaching it a foreign language–first the rules of grammatical structure in little bits, then vocabulary and finally introducing full sentences and then actual conversation once all the rest is understood. The personality and temperament of the horse can make the process take more or less time. Take the time and the horse will be a joy to work with and handle.

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Born with it, and has not had it ruined by an idiot trainer or bad riding.

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Early exposure and repetition and time helps.
We take our weanlings out for hand walks. Always 2 people so no one gets hurt. They love adventure time.


Deer sighting!

And they get ponied as yearlings we have trails and steep ravines they go up and down everything twigs snapping tree roots and over downed limbs; even on a road with light traffic. They are exposed to golf carts and 4 wheelers and the neighbor’s construction equipment.
Easy snaffle bit tied to halter. Too busy looking at the scenery to even care about wearing the bit. No chomping.

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A little bit of both.

Some horses are naturally brave and curious. They’ll often be brave to the jumps as young horses as well. In their minds it isn’t going to hurt them. As long as no one over faces them than that innate confidence while jumping probably won’t go away.

Some horses are naturally more careful. They need a second to check things out, confirm that it isn’t a danger, then continue on their way. If nothing bad happens, and they aren’t over faced, than jumping usually won’t be a big deal. Take it slow, and they learn that the jumps are all similar, and not that scary.

Other horses? Some just panic when exposed to new things. The jump might be the source of panic, or maybe the judges booth, or maybe the chair in the corner. They might still go over, but it won’t always be relaxed and pretty.

Some get their confidence shaken and may never come back from it.

And I would never assume that just because a horse was ok with trailering, hacking, bathing, etc that they’ll be brave to the jumps. The opposite is true as well.
Jumping isn’t just about being ok with new objects and new experiences. They have to have confidence in their ability to make it to the other side. Sometimes free jumping can help a young horse who hasn’t quite figured it out yet.
Sometimes an older horse starts to lose confidence in themselves as they get a little creakier. The long spot seems a little bit longer, the deep spot takes a little more effort to get out of. That’s when it’s up to the rider to move them down before they totally lose their confidence.

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Everything above is very well said and I agree 100%.

I guess the only thing I can add is - it sounds like you’re assessing a 4yo with some goal in mind. Really define what that goal is (a prospect you intend to flip in a year? Several years? Be your forever horse? Do you have A circuit aspirations in the hunters or jumpers and if so at what level? Or are you patient enough and have the money and the skills - or access to professionals with the skills - to take the time to develop the horse in whatever works for that not so brave personality)? Really understand your strengths and weaknesses as a rider and trainer (even if you’re not a defined pro, you are still training your 4yo every time you sit on him/her), the strengths/weaknesses of your groundsperson and/or the professional rider you work with should give you the context to answer your own question re this particular horse (or future horses) . There are many personalities of young horses, riders, and trainers and not all of them mesh.

A horse that is not very brave as a young horse is concerning to me if I am choosing a prospect with the intention to resell in any defined timeframe as a hunter or jumper. It is a bit of a gamble. If I loved the breeding/movement or felt confident that I could place the horse in a dressage home or other discipline then I might risk it. I have sat on enough well bred heartbreaker young talented horses that are afraid because somebody pushed them too far, too high and too fast (and this can happen in a jump chute) that I would have to have a very good reason to purchase one myself and ignore this red flag. Having said that, I too have worked with many horses like this that do really come out if their shell and jump the moon for a rider who can give them the kind of ride that supports their confidence. But again, my goals and context are not yours.

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Agreed—and to add, I think a lot of bravery comes from the dam!

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Very true, I agree fully.

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I also wanted to add that some horses can be funny about ground lines or certain types of jumps.
There’s a hunter at our barn who doesn’t blink an eye at a 3’6” oxer, flower boxes, brush, etc. But canter up to an airy 2’6” vertical? Or really any jump without a ground line and you better have your leg on.
She’s a home bred and she’s been like that since day one.
It would be a huge problem if the goal was the jumper ring. But she’s a lovely hunter for a child or amateur.

Something like that would be difficult to discern unless you took the horse for a trial though.

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