Yup, you heard me right. I’m afraid of my best friend. I have to put my head between my knees every time I think about riding. My heart rate quickens to a nauseating speed just before I open the gate. I feel silly to be writing a horsemanship blog, when horses are one of my greatest fears. But it’s also one of my greatest joys, and I’m going to explain how that works in a minute.
Lots of equestrians struggle with hidden, irrational fears. I mean, we interact with 1000-pound beasts with sharp hooves, ripped muscles and the nervous system of a squirrel! This may be an exaggeration, but to the fearful-minded, it’s very real. We can’t ignore the fear because we can’t ignore the facts. Often, fear keeps us from enjoying what we already have. It blinds us to the good in our lives.
In university, I was surrounded by young adults who were numbed to fear. At first, I thought I needed to become more like them because they seemed to have more fun. Partying and drinking and doing drugs looked so cool when someone else did it. They weren’t afraid of getting into accidents, finding themselves drunk in a random bed, or being in the presence of violence. But I soon realized that their inability to feel fear was not a good thing. It deteriorated their lives and their relationships. I, on the other hand, have always gotten home safely; I have never been to the doctor; I wake up refreshed every morning; I feel loved and safe.
Fear can be crippling, but it is the body’s call to feel safe. That air-headed feeling when you begin to hyperventilate is your love for life making itself known. When we recognize that, we can learn to work with it and love ourselves for it.
I haven’t had a traumatic incident with a horse to blame my fear on. My instincts have always flashed threats at me every time I mount a horse. Isn’t it something to be conquered? Heck – there are programs that can help you get over your fears through approach and retreat. Only problem is, I end up retreating more than approaching and when I finally do feel safe, something happens to break my trust again. But ever since I’ve started training Storm, little switches have been turning on – helping me to accept and survive through the fear. Here’s what I’ve found:
Your body and mind won’t settle until you get it right!
If you are a fearful person, you have an excellent thermometer telling you when you’re doing it wrong, and when you’re doing it right! The first time I mounted Storm, I realized that it was the first time I hadn’t felt afraid getting on a horse. There was no logical explanation for it. I was doing something incredibly dangerous – Storm is still green – I had no idea what he was going to do. But my fear wasn’t there, so I had no choice but to trust. Confidence seems to work the same way as fear – it makes the wrong thing very difficult. My key for recognizing subtle fears, is to notice when I feel unmotivated or grumpy. This is a fear grenade waiting to explode. Ditch everything that you SHOULD be doing and do something that will make you both successful. Trust that when the time is right, your fear will turn to confidence.
Fear is a sign of sensitivity.
With horses, I found it harder to see the benefits of fear than in society. I still doubted my methods and my own leadership. But when I learnt to love myself and my fears, I stopped doubting, even though the fears were still there. Fear is a sign that you are sensitive to inconsistencies and changes – much like a horse! You have the ability to empathize to a greater degree than the cocky-confident human beings who don’t know when to stop. You can feel pride in your instincts, even if they keep you from some of the activities other horsemen are reveling in.
You don’t have to go fast.
This was HUGE for me. When I was first learning to canter, I started telling myself this. My horse at the time was very inclined to break into happy galloping at a moments notice, and I was a bit too young and insecure to handle it. What I needed was confidence. My key was to develop a calming mantra: “I don’t have to go a step faster than I want. I am in control of myself.” I must have said it about 50 times in the half hour session, as I rode around the arena at a walk.
From there things just got better. We took our first and last canter that fall because Epic tragically passed away after a farm accident the next spring. I was so happy that he’d taught me confidence before he passed away.
Trust is earned.
Lot’s of the time, our fear has to do with the premonition of a scary situation. We think about what our horse could do, not what he actually is doing. The way I train now is different from before. I’m not going to get on if there are any doubts in my leadership. But the fear sticks from when I used to push past it. My key to trusting again is another mantra: “He could, but he’s not.” Staying in the moment is HUGE! You can imagine all the bad things happening, but what’s actually happening might be amazing! Open your eyes and look at reality. You may find that you can trust your horse a lot more than you thought.
You do you.
Stop trying to impress others, and do something that impresses you! That’s where true confidence really comes from. As little kids, we pretended that we were royalty and we felt smug about ourselves – pictures serve as an embarrassment of happier times. Well, it’s time to go back there and be that embarrassing little kid again. Your horse will only thank you for loosening up, and you may find that your fears dissolve when you stop being so self-conscious.
Fear can ruin you, or it can make your success. Every day I choose success over ruin. That’s what makes fearful people so special – fear gives us the choice. I’m glad I experience fear, and I wish someone had helped me accept it sooner. I hope you find peace and accept yours, so that you can move forward with empathy and awareness.