The writing question came first so … When I'm thinking of creating a character, at first of course I'll need to establish gender. Maybe. But I don't really care about any other physical characteristics, unless something jumps out and yells at me, "Hey I'm tall and very athletic." I might store that for future references. But mostly I'll address the physical characteristics as the story unfolds. I may set the stage with a brief hint such as, "With a delicate, quivering hand, she flipped open her phone, gazed at the tiny screen and carefully considered her next move."
I've never been real big on a horse's conformation, either. I see a horse from within. I believe every horse can perform at the highest level its body will allow. It's our job to make that possible. So I guess, as with my fictional characters, I don't really care about physical characteristics of horses either. We can address them as need be, as we go along. The first thing I might do with a horse who lacks confidence is ask for her to take a single step forward or back. I'll store how she took that step in mind for future reference.
After I establish in my mind my fictional character is tall, athletic and worried, I can paint a bigger picture. I look at the whole scene, like a painting on the wall. But I notice the little things in the picture. The big things will always take care of themselves, if you address the little things, such as how she enters a room boldly with long strides, but fidgets with her hands and dislikes eye contact during tense conversations. I can use these later when I need to add tension, or slow the reader down.
I notice the little things about a horse's confidence. How does she stand, walk, hold her head. How does she respond to requests? Does she focus on me, or look far away? Just as in creating a character, I'll keep them in mind as we move ahead into her story. I can use these foundations to build her confidence.
Now that I've laid the groundwork for my character, I can move ahead in the story and continue to add layer upon layer as I write the scenes in which she interacts with other characters or tackles situations, or thoughts, on her own. As I build the character I can always go back to the basics the reader already knows. She's tall, can be bold, but can be nervous, is athletic and thinks deeply. It's important, as I continue building the character, to keep the basics in mind to fall back on in times of impact or excitement. It's important to the reader to have characters they can rely on. Fundamentals matter.
When building a horse's confidence, after I've noticed her basic characteristics, thought process, what she's worried about, things she can tolerate and most importantly, things she really enjoys and looks forward to, I can begin building her confidence, one layer at a time. I do this by spending a lot of time asking her to do the things she already has a liking for, and the confidence to be able to handle. As we work together, adding layer upon layer of confidence by adding new challenges, I'll keep going back to those basics she understands and enjoys. Those basics are the foundation on which all else is built. They are the things the horse can rely on.
So there you have it, I guess … Whether I'm building a fictional character for a novel or building confidence in a horse, it's a matter of seeing the solid foundation and carefully adding layers until I have the picture I see in my mind established for the reader, or the horse. One little step at a time.