Fear – life skills for riding II

It may seem like for a blog about horses, I write a lot about what is going on inside the person. The trouble is the horses are so perceptive they see all our Stuff, and quite often reflect it right back at us. That’s why horses are such great teachers. Just look at the rise of equine facilitated learning and even prisons teaming up with horse trainers to help rehabilitate offenders. It is becoming more widely accepted that horses are capable of great depths of emotion. They have a generosity of heart that allows space for some beautiful human healing and growth.

But life with a horse is rarely all peaches and roses. We’ve all had days when we have thought some rather unpleasant things about even our most beloved horses. Do they do it deliberately? Do they wind us up on purpose simply for the pleasure of seeing us crack under pressure? I believe not.

Something I learnt from a parenting book has proved just as inspirational for my equitation as for my child rearing:

“My horse isn’t giving me a hard time, my horse is having a hard time”

Just think about that for a minute…

My horse isn’t being a jerk simply to wind me up, but as a desperate communication of the level of upset/anger/fear he is feeling.  Hard not to feel compassion for your horse’s worst behavior if we could just stop taking it so personally.

But why do we take it so personally and allow it to make us angry or upset? In my opinion, FEAR.

Fear can take many forms

  • fear of failure
  • fear of being judged and found wanting
  • fear of rejection
  • fear sourced from previous bad experiences
  • fear to keep you safe if you’re are in a dangerous situation
  • fear to keep you safe if you’re in a situation your subconscious doesn’t trust you to handle
  • fear of not living up to the standards you hold your self to
  • fear stemming from erroneous things your internalised as a child

Please feel free to comment with more sources of fear below as this is by no means an exhaustive list.

The most insidious thing about fear is that unless you have spent a lot of time working on your emotional awareness, fear very seldom looks like sweaty palms, the shakes or an inability to eat before a competition. Fear can masquerade as defensiveness, judgement, anxiety, anger, evasiveness, aggression, avoidance, overwhelm, apathy…. the list is endless.

The next time you notice your reaction to your horse being less than serene, try to stop and step back for a second. Take a moment to observe how you are acting. If you don’t notice until after the event, be kind to your self but also reflect on what has happened. Think of what the best possible motive for why your horse is acting this way. And then treat yourself to the same courtesy and really question how your actions have served you to keep you safe.

The more often you can treat your horse and yourself with compassion, the more often you will find less fear and more kindness in your responses.

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