Some people are naturally bold and others are not. Add a horse into the mix and you either get a big hot mess or a transcendental experience.
People who are bold are prone to taking risks. If it means taking a fence that they are not yet ready to, the result could be a bad fall. On the flip side, it could result in pushing themselves just enough to advance their riding faster than if they didn’t take a chance. People who are timid play it safe, which often results in less broken bones but also slower progression.
However, being bold or timid is a continuum. In some circumstances, a person may be bolder or more timid than in others. For example in the ring versus on the trail. Horses can also bring the best or worst out of us. A bold rider who thinks they can ride crazy horse may have her confidence significantly shaken when it turns out to be too much for her. A timid rider who is mounted on a bombproof schoolie may become confident enough to try a higher fence or new dressage movement.
Speaking from experience, being a timid rider and being over-horsed is the worst situation. You never gain confidence, and without confidence it is almost impossible to advance because you are afraid to push yourself, even a little bit. That first medium canter is scary if you don’t trust your horse not to take off bucking.
So what do you do if you find yourself with a horse you don’t trust? The easy answer is get rid of it, but that’s usually not an easy decision. So many things factor into the decision to sell a horse. First, is he even salable? The problem you’re having with him will not suddenly go away with his next rider. Maybe he has a physical issue that would turn people away (eg, a little arthritis, cribbing, etc). Second is the emotional component. You may get along with him most of the time, or may just be very attached to him, or maybe he has some other qualities that you are getting something out of. Third is the financial aspects. Horses are not cheap to buy and they can be difficult to sell, especially in this economy. It is likely that the horse you need is out of your price range, for example, a fourth-level schoolmaster.
It helps to have a good instructor who can talk you through the scary stuff and push but not too much. But unfortunately, there are no easy answers. I am lucky to have a horse I now trust, but all of my bad experiences are lurking under the surface waiting for something to happen to bubble back up into my consciousness and make me afraid. I only bring this up because a friend got thrown from her horse today. It’s a horse she loves dearly but can be a bit of a handful. Her confidence took a fall with her. What he did to get her off was a total fluke, not his normal naughtiness – he was genuinely afraid of something worthy to be afraid of, but that doesn’t help her fears. She was having some really good days with him too, but today was a two-steps back experience, and maybe more like a ten-steps back experience. Luckily no one got hurt and she got back on. It just made me think about my own fine line and what I would do in her situation. I just don’t know and I hope I don’t have to find out.