An homage to the trust bank

Don’t tell my trainer. Don’t tell my barn owner. Don’t tell the local DQs – I may get ostracized.

But…

Robbye and I have been jumping!

Granted, the jumps are crossrails and cavalettis. And yes, we’ve been using the dressage saddle, with full-length stirrups.

But some of them were good jumps – and all of them were fun jumps.


I think I first heard of the trust bank from Nicole at Zen and the Art of Baby Horse Management. The basic concept is that trust is not binary – it’s not something a relationship inherently has or doesn’t have. Instead, it’s a constantly flowing resource from which and to which both the horse and the rider can withdraw and deposit. I completely biff a transition, hang on the reins, or give a too-long correction? I’m withdrawing from the trust bank, and therefore Rob has less of a reason to give me the benefit of the doubt. I give a fair correction, hand out a timely cookie, or ride a movement particularly well? I’m putting a deposit in the trust bank, and our relationship grows.

Robbye can withdraw and deposit as well, and she has always taken full advantage of that privilege…to the point of putting our trust bank balance way in the negative. Every time she ran out, every time she bucked across the arena, every time she “spooked” (this horse is not spooky – she’s “spooky”) – she was taking out of the trust bank. I could no longer rely on her.

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Smelly saddle pads, yummm.

Two and half years ago our trust bank hit an all-time low when we crashed into a fence at a show. I had withdrawn from the trust bank by entering a class we weren’t 100% ready for. She had been withdrawing from the trust bank for months through dirty stops and run-outs and bucking tirades.

For the next year she and I continued to withdraw from the bank without ever replenishing it. I continued paying for lessons from someone who didn’t build us up (one of my most egregious withdrawals – and I made it for two years). Rob continued bucking, bracing, and generally being a nasty snot. We didn’t like each other and certainly didn’t trust each other.

And then we switched trainers, and things got a bit better. I got fairer and she understood her job better. She still ran out and I still made stupid mistakes, and overall we were still withdrawing more than we were depositing – but at least the completely reckless pace of decline had slowed.

I got tired of the fighting. I put her in training for the first time, with the trainer who had already helped stanch the flow of trust. Rob’s boot camp started on the ground – something, it turns out, my mare and I both desperately needed. I needed to learn how to treat her like a horse, and she needed to learn how to respect me as a leader.

Ever since that training we’ve been adding to the trust bank. Of course we still make withdrawals – and really, recently, it’s been 90% me making those withdrawals. Robbye knows her job and understands her place, now. For years I was treating her as my partner, when horses…can’t really be partners. That’s not how horses work. Robbye needed to either be the leader or have a leader.

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“I also need that candy cane.”

Slowly, slowly, we refilled the trust bank. If we hit rock bottom at negative a thousand, then by last summer we were finally approaching negative 100. I was starting to see the results.

Can we ride bareback again? Yes!

Can I stop longeing before every ride? Yes!

Can I ask for a canter extension without fearing for my life? Yes!

Can she trust me to use the whip in a fair, clear manner? Yes!

Then the summer was over, and we hadn’t spent trust on any shows, and we had continued taking lesson from our amazing trainer, and I was very careful to maintain both fairness and dominance, and finally, finally, I felt our trust bank hit zero for the first time in years. Suddenly our progress in dressage launched forward. Suddenly Rob wanted kisses and snuggles before riding time. Suddenly bucking and bolting just wasn’t a thing that we did.

The past six months have been spent filling our trust bank to overflowing.

In a dressage lesson a few weeks ago, Rob made an extremely dirty move and ducked out of the arena. I’m sure I had “left the door open” so to speak; we had been working on controlling her shoulders and I probably over-corrected. Either way, it was a turd move and she knew it.

I disciplined her fairly, I corrected the shoulder bulge the next time around, and we moved on. Small withdrawal from the trust bank on both our parts.

But we have trust to spare, and a small issue like that doesn’t affect us anymore. In fact, it turned out to be confidence building. My dominance was reestablished, my need to control her shoulders was reinforced, and she saw yet another fair and timely correction. Our ride the next day was better because of the withdrawal.

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So proud of himself.

Our trust bank balance has been so healthy, in fact, that jumping has actually sounded…fun. I’ve been missing it. I thought jumping was out of the picture forever, and a couple years ago I was happy to see it go. Now, I’m wondering if eventing is a legitimate option again, after we’ve topped out with dressage.

Our trust bank is overflowing, so I can withdraw a little bit to point Rob at a jump when it’s been 2 years since I rode over fences without fear.

She pops over it with no drama and with happy ears – and now we’re back to overflowing. I’m beaming, she’s happy, and we’re cantering around to approach it again, long stirrups and dressage position and all.

Thank you Robbye, thank you trainer, thank you hard work, and thank you trust bank.

 

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