Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Only Thing We Have To Fear...

Good morning!! Had a fantastic conversation with a good friend two nights ago, and it got me thinking about how we process fear. Let me give you some background...

My friend Chris and I have been best buds since third grade, and share a common history of horses. We showed together in 4-H, local shows and on our high school equestrian team. We have also spent countless hours riding together for fun, discussing horses, breeding, training methods, showing, etc (and have had our share of conversations about guys, family, kids and all that stuff too!!). She has always been a fantastic rider, one that I respect very much. Not only has she won awards in the show ring, she is handy and cool-headed, balanced and strong, and I always thought....fearless.

But a couple years ago, Chris was riding a young filly that she was starting, and the horse dumped her. Hard. She layed on the ground, trying to catch her air, thinking, "I have kids! I have things to do! What if I get hurt?" And even though she recovered, and began to ride again, the seed of fear had crept into her heart.

I myself had a similar incident. Several years back, I was riding a training horse, loping along in an arena at a boarding stable where my clients kept their horse. The arena needed dragging very badly, but it didn't occur to me that I shouldn't ride. I was invincible, or just ignorant. Anyway, we were going along, having a great time, when this mare tripped and fell. BOOM! I torqued my arm and shoulder quite badly, but was able to get back on, and gingerly finish the session. My shoulder has never been the same, nor has my bravado. A couple of years after that, I stopped riding for two years to have two babies, and when I decided to start riding again, the fear of falling was enough to send me into a cold sweat. Every tiny stumble nearly stopped my heart. I had ridden my whole life, but honestly wondered if I would be able to ever ride again.

Slowly, slowly both Chris and I have been making our way back. The first thing to do was acknowledge how we were feeling. We talked to each other, and other friends, about how the falls we took knocked us down physically, mentally and emotionally. Then we started riding horses that were trustworthy and tolerant. I can't stress this part enough. When you are feeling uncertain or downright fearful, that is NOT the time to take on an unstarted baby or even a broke horse with attitude problems. Find a horse that will wait on you and not be so quick to react to the fear in you that they will inevitably sense. And then, just get out there and put in the miles. Take your time, and go easy on yourself. Forgive yourself if you make a mistake or have to get off to gather your emotions. This isn't a race or a competition! Also, listen to your gut instinct; if it tells you that a situation is too much for you, get out or get off right away. Better to look cautious than to stick it out and get yourself, your horse, or someone else hurt. Human fear has a way of compounding our horse's emotions, and something that you might be able to handle just fine on a confident day could turn into a real train wreck if your horse senses that you are afraid.

More than anything, continue to talk about it. You will be surprised how many people feel the exact same way, but are too embarrassed to speak up. Give each other support, positive reinforcement, and a safe place to work through the situation. Before long, you will see yourself getting braver and taking on new challenges.

As for Chris and I, we are both doing very well; we have taken on training horses, and ride on a nearly daily basis. We are still working on things, and while we may not ride like the bold 18 yr olds we once were, I think we both appreciate what we can do, and understand our strengths in the saddle. Occasionally, we may hesitate to push our horses, in the worry that we might get hurt again, but at this point in the journey, I think that it is less "fear" and more "prudence."

Happy trails, and have a fantastic day!!