Ever been afraid of a horse? No? I don’t believe you. Fear is a pretty natural response, especially if your feet can’t touch the ground. It’s common sense, horses are big. They have twice as many legs. Horses have a fear/flight response, and after a certain age, so do we. (Read this, about fear and confidence.)
If you rode as a kid, ignorance was bliss. It helped to bounce well, believe in magic, and love horses more than Christmas. Fear existed then, it just had a high-pitched, whiny voice that no one listened to.
But now gravity is not as forgiving. There are people and animals that depend on you. Maturity is a little more complicated than running your horse under a tree limb to dismount like Tarzan.
Fear is natural, what we do with our fear is the question. Some of us worship it. Some of us hide it like a selfish treasure. Some of us grow it like hay for horses. And for some of us, the fear of not riding is even scarier, so we make a meal of fear.
Here’s my recipe: First you have to catch Fear, he likes to hide in the dark and breed more fear. Pretty soon there’s a whole litter of slimy little fear-babies scurrying around. Reach around in that dark place and drag out the biggest Fear you can find. Grab him by the hind legs and hold on, he’s slippery. He’ll put up a fight, trying to be bigger than he is, but it’s all scales and spit. Drag him into broad daylight and smile at him, snout to snout. He looks smaller already, doesn’t he? Put Fear in a crock-pot on low, and leave him in the kitchen.
Then go to the barn, and get out every curry you have. Turn on some slow music and groom your horse forever. When it’s late and you finally get back home, remember that good horsewomen steer clear of kitchens.
The next day, do some ground work, think Liberty, for both of you. Be the one to start trusting first, he wants less fear, too. Let your ground work swirl around the two of you like a waltz, a jitterbug, a tango. Remember that your love is bigger than fear.
“You are not working on the horse, you are working on yourself…” Ray Hunt
When you are ready to ride, go into the kitchen and pull your cooked Fear out of the crock-pot. Put it on a pretty plate and get a sharp knife. Take a look: diminished and overcooked as my mother’s gray roast. But the fear is still recognizable: gristly self-doubt, tough old hurts, dried up limitations begrudgingly agreed to. You could yell Charge! and call upon all your cowgirl patron saints to help you wage war.
Or you could cut off one bite-sized piece. Not the worst piece, just the first piece. Maybe you aren’t comfortable out of the arena. So you take that small piece, season it with courage, and start chewing. Let Fear remind you to wear a helmet and once you’re mounted and warmed up, open the gate. You don’t have to ride down to the equator and back, you can walk a circle outside the arena to start. One step at a time, you don’t have to be perfect. Swallow that chewed-up piece of fear, and wash it down with a sense of humor. Can you say masticated?
Take the next bite-sized piece; if it’s tough, cut it in two and give half to a trainer to work on with you. Some days fast on the sweetness of the journey, and remember where you started. Congratulate your horse for his kind patience, and for every year over 50 that you are, score a double co-efficient. (Dressage words for really important.)
In no time at all, the plate is empty and a wonderful thing happens. You don’t feel full at all. As a matter of fact you have room for dessert! Pick something that’s rich and sweet, thick with calories that are good for you, like trust in the eye of your horse or a partnership that holds you safe and cherished.
Eat all you want, you won’t get fat… just rich and sweet.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.