By: P. Ann Turner What do you fear? What does your horse fear? They are your living Mirror, how can you work through this together? Where did the fear start, where did it come from, this life or past lives? Or present day experiences? Fear and Anger are two sides of the same coin; it’s always the most fearful dog that bites you. Horses are the same, some will run out of fear but some will attack, as they have turned it into aggression. People are no different. The ones, who appear to be big and tough, rarely are – it’s all on the outside, but there is no core strength within, and they are scared to death of who will find that out. Their horses always know, and call them on it regularly. So what are you afraid of? Becoming curious enough to answer that question leads us down another pathway to self – awareness. Are you afraid to fail or succeed? Are you afraid of what others will think of you? Are you afraid of getting hurt? Are you afraid of losing control? All of these questions beg for answers from within and the have nothing to do with riding. The best way to eliminate fear is to have a good look at it. What is really the root cause? Fearful riders are usually the ones lacking the skills to cope, both in life and with their horse. If you become competent with your riding skills, your fear gets less, as now you feel you have the tools to cope with whatever the horse throws at you. Horses will always spook, it’s their nature to flee danger, but the answer comes in how you cope with what they do, your reaction to what the horse does is what dictates the outcome, and of course here we get into good horsemanship practices. Things like not taking a horse you haven’t ridden in weeks out on the trail and expecting them to behave. Common sense, which seems these days to be uncommon sense. Where did it go?? There are so many accidents that happen that are totally avoidable, if common sense was used. Sometimes it’s just lack of knowledge. People go and get a horse from a Rescue society for their kids to ride, thinking it’s cheap and they are saving the animal. But in reality, they don’t know the history of that horse, what has been done to it, any injuries it’s had, and then all of that comes to the surface in the hands of inexperienced people, and they get hurt, and then they blame the horse, when in fact they needed to take the advice of a trusted professional instead, and it would have saved all that heartache. Fear creates aggression in a lot of riders, or a need for absolute control. This is where, in some people, fear surfaces as constant excuses as to why they cannot ride. “oh I don’t have time, my horse has issues, he’s scared of everything, he’s always hurting himself, I need to lose weight, well he’s not capable of doing what I wanted, I need a different horse, we have had such rotten weather” and on and on. But they always find the time to go shopping. Sound familiar? The excuses never end, and fear is at the root of it all. Fear also surfaces as the control freak, who buys endless devices to control the horse. They figure if they have them tied in a knot with draw reins, martingales, chambons, Pessoa lunging rigs, tie downs etc. the horse will be easier to control. Usually the horse is more out of control, because they cannot move freely and they hurt as a result. The horse gets stiff as a result of restriction, their muscles cramp and then they launch the rider into the middle of next Tuesday. Of course now the horse gets blamed for bad behavior, and gets shipped off to some cowboy for “training”. Well depending on the “cowboy” they will get a good experience or a bad one. Some of the old fashioned “cowboy” training that nobody wants to talk about involves beating the horse with a whip before each ride, out the back of the barn where nobody can see. Another trick is to dehydrate the horse – it makes them quiet and submissive, they also take away food, so between starvation and dehydration, the animal is very quiet, then add to that 8 hours of riding carrying a heavy guy wearing a 50 lb. Western saddle. I think I would be submissive too – and then they get “broke” and sent back to their owner. Well they will be quiet for a while, but when they are fed and feeling good, all the bad habits return, along with a healthy dose of anger and resentment. Now you have created a monster. I speak from experience here, as these are the types of horses I have had come to me for training and rehab, nobody knows what to do with them now, as they are unmanageable and dangerous. There are many stories I could tell about the horses I have turned around, but I will leave that for another book, we could be here a while! Fear also creates a complainer – the rider who always blames the horse for everything. “He won’t listen to me, he tries to buck me off, he refuses the jumps, he runs away, his trot is too bouncy, his canter is too fast” – again another never ending list. Well if you try your guts out and someone does nothing but criticise you and make you feel down all the time, are you going to want to continue to try after all of that? No. If there is a constant list of demands with no reward, how do you suppose they feel? Totally disheartened and they give up. This kind of rider has not taken responsibility for their lack of skill, the fact that they do feel afraid, so they blame the horse. This person is afraid of what others might think, and also of failing. The most successful people in the world know that failure is a process to success. You learn from your mistakes, and you rework things and move on. The success is not the end result, it’s the journey to get there that teaches you the most. So search for the lesson in all of life’s experiences – as my father used to say “no experience is ever wasted, even if the only lesson you learn is that you don’t want to do it again”. Fear also creates the over critical observer, this is the person who knows it all, and berates every horse and rider, finding fault in everyone – except themselves of course. They do not want others to find their own faults, so they come across as a “know it all” to take the attention off what they don’t want others to see – the fact that they really don’t know much, and are usually scared to death. Interesting. What really scares you? Sometimes it’s not what you think, but something much more subtle. Become curious about your fears, that is the best way to dismantle them. Funnily enough, some people are scared of success, and it makes them never really reach out of themselves to find their true potential. They stay within their comfort zone, because it’s familiar, even though it’s not really comfortable, we know it and understand it, and the fear of the unknown, that we cannot control, scares the hell out of us! Sometimes you just have to be willing to take the plunge! I had an interesting experience recently. A good friend whose horse had recently died, asked me to help her find another horse. Of course I agreed, and I thought immediately of another friend who had moved to the UK and who cannot afford to ship her wonderful mare over. She has been trying to find a good home for Tammy for a while now, even offered her to me but I cannot take on another horse right now. Tammy is the kind of mare I would love to own – big bold mare, hugely confident in herself and not afraid of much. She is a mare who will not be treated unfairly, so anybody who thinks they are going to boss this lady around can think again!! Kind of like me I guess. I love the way she is so loving but at the same time, has a huge sense of justice and she is not spooky at all. My friend’s horse was a spooky horse and a bit of a coward, and sometimes he would bolt for no reason, but of course he was just providing a mirror of his rider’s emotions, as he never ever did that with me. I thought that Tammy’s confidence would really help my friend move forward in her riding, but interestingly enough – she wouldn’t take the mare, and her reason was “it just doesn’t feel right”. Well what doesn’t feel right is that she is not ready to find her own confidence yet, she still is trapped in fear of success, and the mare would make her take a journey she is not ready to take, very interesting! Tammy has great movement – floating and suspended trot, lovely canter and she can jump too, so she is the kind of horse that will do anything for you, and she’s athletic enough to be able to handle the upper levels of dressage or decent sized fences with no problem. I would love to own this horse, but the board for 2 horses would kill me, so I have another friend who is interested in her. Maria is a more confident person, and ready to have a horse that she doesn’t have to worry about the soundness, as she has been through two horses recently that have had issues which were not disclosed by the sellers. Maria has spent a lot of money trying to get to the root of the problem, but has not had any success, so she is frustrated and all she wants is to ride, have fun and not have to worry about the horse all the time! I totally get that, and that is why I have the gelding now in my life that provides that for me. My journey is now at a place where I am no longer crippled by fear, so I now don’t need crippled horses in my life to help me heal. #fearofhorses. Energetically we are all a match to the horse we own, we have the same vibes if you want to call it that. For many years when my soul was broken, so were my horses, now I have stitched the pieces back together again, and my fears have taught me great lessons in strength and perseverance. Some people fear failure, others success, still others fear what others will say, or being hurt in love. But fear also paralyses you – you cannot seem to move forward in life, or with your riding, as you repeat the same mistakes over and over again, until you learn the lesson. For hidden in every situation is a lesson, we only have to discover what it is. I have learned that when I get really uncomfortable in life, there is a big change coming, and always for the better. But you have to go through the discomfort first of a learning curve, like having labour pains before you deliver the child, or getting bucked off before you learn to balance and the horse can no longer get you off. If you give up you have sentenced yourself to a life of boredom, depression and sameness. My first riding coach who was Irish told me this when I told her I was afraid of jumping: “throw your heart over the fence and jump after it”. I have never forgotten that, as if we are afraid of life’s challenges, we will stagnate. We will continue to be in the same rut we have dug for ourselves, lost in the pity party we hold in our heads, and we come up with countless excuses why our lives are such a mess, and why we are so unhappy. Happiness is a choice, and the rest is up to you. So become curious about your fears, what you learn about yourself may surprise you!! Namaste.
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