I am a big scaredy pants, I used to pretend I wasn’t, but I am, I scare easily and this used to be no different around horses. I’ve always loved horses but have been pretty scared around them at times. In the past I often felt like I had to push through fear to do something I also really enjoyed. So as much as I loved being around horses, it did feel like a struggle at times and of course that makes you wonder if it is worth it. I now no longer have that fear, I confidently step into a field of horses, I will get into the round pen with a more challenging horse and I will get on the horses that have a history of bolting and this no longer scares me. As being scared can be common for horse people, getting back on after a fall, meeting a more challenging horse etc. and this is no different with the people we teach people often ask me what I did to get over that fear, and the answer really is as simple as knowledge and mindfulness.
Mindfulness, how does that help? Practicing controlling your crazy thoughts are a big big help! When I started to meditate, I didn’t think this would do much. Like with so many things that are now part of my life and have helped me so much I started doing it with really low expectations and was so surprised with the results. Training my brain has given me amazing results. I can control my breathing and therefore my heart-rate, I can distract my mind from the fear while accepting it's there and get myself to focus on the moment.
Something I hear people say often and something I used to tell myself all the time is: horses notice it instantly if you are scared. No, this is not true! I think horses are amazing and capable of very many amazing things, they do not however have the capability of reading your mind. What they can do, and where this myth originates, is be extremely aware of small changes. Small changes in you and small changes in their environment. Horses can be extremely alert and hypersensitive; they need to be as that is their survival mechanism. So, they don’t read your mind and see your fear, they see you tense up, they notice your breathing going faster, they see the hesitation in your steps. And while riding them they feel your muscles tense up, they feel your staring eyes at that object you think might spook them. They notice all these small things. The good news is all these small things are things you can control. You can train yourself to calm your breathing down, you can practice not tensing up your muscles, you can create awareness of your staring eyes. As they cannot read your mind, but only respond to things you can have control over they do not have to notice your fear. And this has made a huge change in my approach, I can train myself for horses to not feel my fear. Because the thought spiral of horses know I’m scared which will make them overreact would only get me more scared. It was a big breakthrough once I realized I have control over this.
I am not saying this is easy, but with hard work and practice it is possible.
Also consider this; when you try and block something from being on your mind it often just becomes more present. And as horses are no mind readers it is okay to be scared, to feel fear sometimes. Instead of working really hard on pushing the fear away, work on accepting that it’s there, and be okay with it. Work on controlling your responses to the fear, that is what will make the difference, not the trying to block the fear from your mind.
What also made a big difference for me is learning more about horses, not only through years of lessons in reading body language but also by observing them, watching them interact with each other, watching them respond to different things when they are out on the field. I feel confident that I can read the horse and, in most cases, make a pretty good guess of what they will do or how they will respond.
I overheard someone say to my sister the other day that she was so brave for getting on the more difficult horses, the horse that have issues. She answered that she isn’t a brave person necessarily but just has trust in her skills and knowledge. She has trust that by the time she gets on the horse she is prepared for what they will do, she knows them well enough to make an pretty accurate estimate of how they will respond and she trusts in her own ability to stay calm no matter what happens, she knows she can control her breathing and she knows that she can keep her mind calm enough to control her actions when something does happen. So, she doesn’t consider herself a brave person at all even though others look at her as a brave.
Something that I’d also like to mention is this; your braveness or courage can never be determined as a comparison to others. It takes courage to work on yourself and push yourself, it takes courage to take a step forward, and whatever that step is, is very different for everyone.
I once read that fear is anxiety and uncertainty combined. Working on mindfulness, breathing techniques and meditation will address the anxiety, while gaining more knowledge will take away some of the uncertainty. So, start becoming braver by showing your courage to take the next step.