“Fear not, for I am with you.” Perhaps best written: Fear Naught (nothing!) for I AM with you. Instead, replace Beware with Be Aware. It makes all the difference.
Fear was the overriding issue Apollo was dealing with when I bought him. His fear was so strong that I could feel it like a surge of electricity through the seat of my pants while riding him. His fear became my fear, and we either had to stop what we were doing right away or we became a train wreck. Train wrecks are never pretty, whether it is trains, people or horses “jumping off the rails.” Fear is an unreasoning emotion, it’s a “fight or fight” survival thing, and to get anywhere, whether working with horse or human, you must address the fear first.
I learned pretty quickly that you cannot force 1000 pounds of reactive equine past his fear. You cannot cajole or bribe. You cannot reason! And certainly telling him he’s a giant jerk and to “man up” is about as effective as pissing in the wind.
None of these tactics work with humans either…
What does work, and it takes lots of patience and time, is consistent, firm, kind and loving leadership. You do not punish a horse for his fear, you do not avoid it, nor do you dwell on it. You see it, you acknowledge it, you address it and you take it slowly. You show him through your attitudes and actions that there is no reason to fear, that there are better ways to deal with scary stuff than anger or flight. You use love. You build a bond of trust through clear communication.
You do not build walls or laws to keep “The Others” out. You do not build armies or bigger and better bombs…
All this is harder when you too are afraid… but what is courage but the ability to feel your fear and do what needs to be done, anyways? I am not a particularly brave person, oh no! I can be a huge big coward, content to stay within what I know and am comfortable with, “the comfort zone” …but I also have a sense of duty, of responsibility toward those who depend on me, and I “ain’t no quitter.” So when Apollo’s fear problem became my problem, I had a couple train wrecks with him and then sought help. Mind you, I had been around horses and ridden my entire life and figured I knew what I was doing, pretty much. Well, as it turned out, no, not really.
Being called, pushed, or clobbered out of your comfort zone is a call to action from the All That Is to rise to the occasion, to learn and grow, to become more truly who you really are: and yes, it is scary as all get out. But once you accept the challenge and do the work, you will never want to go back to the way you were before.
Help arrived in the form of Stasia Newell, a gal only a little younger than myself, who also had been around horses her whole life, but who knew a good bit more about them than I. We had met at a competitive trail riding clinic a couple years earlier, when I had taken a young friend and two of my horses there so she could learn more about the sport. (I, of course, knew pretty much everything already, right?!) My mare, a gorgeous chestnut Morgan I called Lady Jane, was incapable of standing still while Stasia was talking to us, and I finally had to get off and hold her if I were going to hear a thing Stasia was saying. (you’d think this alone would have been enough to alert me to the fact I wasn’t as savvy about horses as I might have been! But no…) I was suitably impressed both with what Stasia had to say and her way of saying it, and I lingered after the class to ask questions. I ended up asking her if she had heard of (a brand name) natural horsemanship, which I had been clubbed about the head with just the week before by someone I had just met: “It felt like some “born again” craziness!” I told her. Stasia laughed and replied: “Sure I know of it. I teach something similar.”
To say I felt like I had planted my hoof in my mouth would be an understatement. I had mine in my yap up to the hock.
Stasia then continued: “…and yes, some folks really come across like they need to convert you.” Which oddly made me feel better, and because of that, it was Stasia I called to help me with Apollo. ( you can too: find her at http://www.newellfarm.com/)
Like a good therapist, Stasia taught me how to “read” my horse better and techniques to communicate better. When I got frustrated with myself for being so slow to learn and making so bloody many mistakes, she reassured me. When I got angry and ready to quit and sell Apollo, she supported me. When I was so scared, yet sticking with it anyways, she assured me that “tincture of time” would take the fear away. And she was right.
Things improved little by little, year after year. After a few more train wrecks, we started having only minor crashes, then fender benders, then none. Apollo is still a very sensitive horse with more power than any horse has any business possessing, but he trusts me to take care of him and he trusts my judgement. Hence, when faced with a trail challenge, he’s asking me first: “Is this something we need to be afraid of? Should I take us out of here NOW?” And he believes me when I say, “no, kiddo, we’re good, we’re good.”
The difference is, fear has been replaced with awareness. Awareness of the right here, right now, and remaining alert and calm at all times. Awareness of my strengths and weaknesses and those of my horse, and willingness to learn whatever is necessary to take advantage of our strengths and to strengthen our weaknesses. True to Stasia’s promise, “tincture of time” has taken away the fear, but only because I came to trust myself, my horse and the I AM.
Fear is no more than a survival mechanism, one that takes over when you feel threatened, unsafe and unsupported. Fear causes all sorts of unpleasant excitement internally and externally: anger and terror internally, wars and mass hysteria externally. Don’t give in to the fear! But getting to this point is not a “sit back and relax” sort of thing. It takes effort! Take right action: Pay attention, get the facts, learn all you can about what you can and cannot do, then act responsibly with confidence and trust in the All That Is that you need not fear ANYTHING.
Blessings on the Work.