Calming Signals: What Are You Really Afraid Of?

fear and dread worry us but we can become confident

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.

Yes, I’m a turtle on a fence post. My identity has been stolen on Facebook and I’m unable to get to my business page or get help from FB. If you appreciate what I do, please subscribe below or come join us at The Barn School.

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Anna Blake, Relaxed & Forward

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24 thoughts on “Calming Signals: What Are You Really Afraid Of?”

  1. Brilliant. All so true and so well said. Fear as a friend who gets us. YES!
    You will appreciate the Ben Franklin quote: “Trouble knocked on the door, but hearing laughter hurried away.”

  2. Your advice with horses is advice for life. I teared up at “we are not afraid of horses.” The rest is just clutter under the bed. Dust bunnies.

  3. Love this, Ana. I still hear from people here about how much they loved the clinic last May in California. Would like you to know how your bravery in touring, solo!, has touched so many human and equine lives.

  4. But I am afraid of riding my horse, even after 2 years of the newer Warwick Schiller methods of gelding is a 9 year old OTTB and is very reactive to his surroundings. And I am 75 year old woman, still playing Pickleball and in fairly good shape. But the balance issues surrounding riding are a bit of a problem. A young trainer who comes to northern Michigan in the summer can ride him with no problems in the arena, but out on the trails he is reactive even with her. He is wonderful on the ground, and good with children. We don’t have trainers in our area who subscribe to our methods( i.e, they are all very old school make the horse do it no matter what) style, so that’s an issue. So I’m thinking it’s time to sell him, but would be very particular about who I sell him to.
    Any thoughts or advice would be very much appreciated.

    • Mary, I surely don’t know enough to have an opinion. I don’t know a thing about your horse. I think about how I use intuition in my life. An idea of rehoming doesn’t come easily, if you continue to think about it, there is no shame in getting him a different home. I think you should trust your judgment. You know him. Best wishes.

  5. Fear and turning the tables so it can be an ally . Absolutely!
    This post , as often happens , came at the very right moment.

  6. I really miss seeing your videos on FB. So very sorry you got hacked.
    This will do, as I love your writing. I don’t have a horse, nor have I ridden more than a couple of times in my life.
    It doesn’t matter, as I have had some remarkable things happen on a horse and with a young wild mustang.
    These guys are so amazing. Maybe next lifetime I’ll be a horse person.
    I look forward to the next posting!

    • Being a horseperson doesn’t require a horse necessarily, you know they are amazing, so you’re in!

      I miss FB, My friends disappeared along with 3 business pages…but I know their dark side now…

  7. I apologize for bringing this up but anything about horses always grabs me. The whole horserace issue turns my stomach anymore – after watching the races when first Ruffian & then Barbado(?) broke down plus all the others after I stopped watching- with the number of young thoroughbreds being sent to slaughter. But the Derby issue? SEVEN (7) young horses dead before the big race! The idea of at least two deaths without an answer as to why? How has there been NO question of some kind of equine virus being the cause – I guess the other five were “only breakdowns”!
    As I said Anna this is far from the topics you write about – but this weekend was hard to watch.

    • I thought of you Maggie, this horrible death week. We are Barbarians to race baby horses, I totally agree with you. The only high point, and this is miserably sad to say, is this group of deaths so close to the Derby will draw attention. Or at least I hope so, because it seems to get worse every year.

      • Good horse people in this country need to boycott any sponsors of horse racing. And it needs to be done very publicly. We also need a celebrity to speak out about it. Too bad the likes of Springstein or Gates won’t take the lead. Would be nice.


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