What are you afraid of? Maybe this question. Take a breath and check your shoulders. Are they down where they belong? Move your jaw and tilt your head. Walk an arc. It’s OK, give yourself any calming signal you want. It’s how horses and humans self-soothe and return to the present. Now, can we have a conversation about fear that doesn’t frighten us?
Let’s call fear the thing that lives under the bed. At some point in our lives, we are too terrified to look because there are monsters. We just know it. Or later we don’t want to look because we know it needs to be cleaned out, but we’d rather put it off. Or we keep telling ourselves it’s boring, or that it doesn’t even exist, but that false bravado doesn’t mean we won’t panic about it later. Enough excuses?
The problem with fear is that it overwhelms us before we have a chance to think. How many times have you been startled by a movement, only to find out it’s the barn cat? If we can slow down that split second when we notice something under the bed and take a breath before we panic about it, things look different. That’s the instant we learn something we didn’t know, and things can change in our favor. We get more reasonable with each breath. Kitty, kitty…
I’ve had clients tell me that when they slowed things down, they realized they weren’t afraid of their horse, so much as afraid of how they were taught to train their horse. What an important distinction! They were told to be aggressive, to show the horse who is the boss. Isn’t that the voice we hear in our heads, the inner railbird? If we are more afraid of training methods than we are of horses, shouldn’t an alarm go off? Isn’t it common sense to stop? You should trust your intuition more.
We might be afraid of our trainer. Maybe what started as coaxing crossed a line and now, you’re intimidated. If that’s true, speak up for yourself. Give the trainer a chance to understand, maybe even learn something. If you don’t feel you can talk to your trainer about it, you need a new trainer. I’m not kidding. Fear-based training does not work any better on humans than it does on horses.
Some of us are afraid of criticism from our friends. We can’t make them change and trying to will make them defensive. We need to have horse friends because who else talks about horses enough? But we can certainly change how we hear our friends. And we can certainly send back an affirmative response. Friend: “You need a stronger bit.” You: “Thanks for your opinion. My horse thinks I need softer hands.” See? No blame. Not to mention less worry because now you’re trying to be clever and a sense of humor terrifies fear.
Most of us are afraid of getting hurt, but sometimes that fear is based on doing something that we know is dangerous. Those are totally reasonable concerns; see to your safety. Wear the helmet. Get an air vest. Your horse wouldn’t mind if you stopped doing the crazy-fast stuff entirely.
By far, what I hear most often from my clients is that they’re afraid they’ll harm their horse. I must exhale when I hear it. It’s my go-to calming signal for soothing horses and it works on me; it stops me from screaming ARE YOU NUTS? …Marginally composed, I continue in a more personal way… You are not cruel; you are not wicked in your heart. Horses are not built or destroyed in a day. That’s the inner railbird threatening you. Consider it good manners to tell them to sit down and shut up. Then kindly, get over yourself. You do not have diabolical powers. Donkeys laugh at you behind your back.
Are you anxious about being anxious? Maybe things have accumulated under the bed, and we haven’t looked at it for a really long time. Maybe a bunch of worries like your horse’s random lameness, work issues, the rising inflation rate, and general anxiety about the weather have all gotten balled together. Maybe we’ve been hoarding fear, anxiety, and insecurity like it’s the family fortune. And now it’s embarrassing, too. It isn’t a question of whether it’s real. It’s just been there so long that it feels normal. It’s taken up so much space that we’ve started to walk like coyotes. We’ve started stalking the things we love. It’s how we become acclimated, just a spoonful a day, to poisoning ourselves.
Maybe time to clean out under the bed? Excuses be damned, there is never a fun time to do it, but fear is taking up space where we could be keeping our best ideas where they’re handy to dream about.
Could it be as simple as a choice? Of course not. But a choice is how we begin to build a new habit. We choose to bring a small corner of fear into the light, and before we know it, we’re setting an extra place at the table and inviting them for dinner. Disarm fear, let it become a friend who gets us. Someone on our side. One day fear, feeling soft and mushy, has an idea. What if we suffer less? Would it be the end of the world if we focused on the things we love and ignored the rest?
Because did you notice what’s missing from this list? The thing people never tell me they’re afraid of?
Horses. We aren’t afraid of horses.
Some will correct me and tell me they’re timid, but that’s just their common sense talking. It’s a quality horsewomen have.
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Anna Blake, Relaxed & Forward
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