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Saturday, October 8, 2016

Overcoming fear (Warning: Language) Horse, Episode 3


Simple definition of fear according to Webster’s:

1.   to be afraid of (something or someone)

2.   to expect or worry about (something bad or unpleasant)

3.   to be afraid and worried


Acronyms for fear from internet (some are recovery slang):

1.  False Expectations Appearing Real

2.  Face Everything And Rise

3.  Finding Everything A Roadblock


My definition of fear (also recovery slang): Fuck Everything And Run.


This was my first thought last evening, about 5 minutes after I got on Chi in the arena. Let me explain.


I decided that given the weather here on the southern Oregon coast and the fact that I hadn’t gotten his feet done yet, I needed to haul my little guy into our fairgrounds and board him there a couple of weeks.  That way I’d get to spend some time riding him in the covered arena, the shoer could do his feet (and not be in the weather) and he’d get some more exposure to new things.  A friend offered to tow him in on my lunch break, so he loaded up (quite easily) and hitched a ride to the barn.  She has experience trimming, so she offered to trim his hooves.  I warned her I had no idea how he’d do, as he was fine when I cleaned his feet, but trimming might be a whole different attitude.  He did awesome. A few times he actually laid his head down on her back.  He was calm and collected standing in the new environment.  She put him in his pen in the covered arena and I went back to work. 

There was an “adult ride” planned for the evening, so I borrowed my friend’s saddle and led him into the arena.  About 10 steps in, he decided that he liked the shavings and tried to roll (while the saddle was on him).  Luckily I reacted quickly and got him up before he was successful.  He was curious about the arena but the darker corners made him nervous (to be expected).  I used the mounting block to get up (better for his back and easier for me) and bragged to a couple of other people about how well he stands until I get my feet into the stirrups and ask him to move out.  He didn’t want to leave the other horses at first but with a bit of convincing we walked off.  He then proceeded to paw the arena floor and lie down, with me in the saddle.  I pulled his head up and hollered and he stood right up and I stayed in the saddle.  I told him he could roll when we were done riding (yes, I talk to my animals.  My dogs can confirm that if you ask them). 

So here’s where the fear enters in.  He started being silly… not necessarily bad, just things like not wanting to go the direction I asked him to, throwing his head around, being spooky.  All totally normal things for a horse who hasn’t been ridden a lot over the last few months.  But to someone like me, who is not a confident person in the saddle (I’m great on the ground with horses, no fear at all, no matter the size), it started a knot forming in my stomach that went up into my throat.  And Chi felt it.  He could feel my tension and it fed him, like a killer whale eating a seal, a pack of wolves taking down a deer or actually, very similar to me and a box or Oreos. See, the thing is that horses feel your emotions.  Actually, all animals can feel human emotions.  Horses can sense it in the way you sit, the way you hold the reins, the quiver in your voice.  They know when you are feeling confident and in control or when you are starting to panic and they react accordingly.  If you feel calm, they mind you. If you are nervous, they do whatever they can to make you more nervous. 

The first time I rode Chi it was in a small round-pen on the property where he’d been since April of this year (2016, so basically 5 months). He was very calm and mellow and I felt great.  But here we were in the arena, with other horses, dark corners, chickens pecking around and pigeons flying unexpectedly in front of him. I knew in my head he was not being a bad boy.  He was simply reacting to new things.  I’d been told by the Animal Rescue who got him from the auction that he was a trail horse. That means that there is a possibility he’s never been in a covered arena.  But my head wasn’t listening, my stomach was feeling and my nerves were quivering.  The more I kept overreacting, the more he kept reacting. One of the 4-H leaders reminded me to lower my hands and say “woah”. The lady who had hauled him in for me asked me if I wanted her to get on him and I said yes. I’m assuming it was obvious to them that I was not handling the situation well. So we traded horses and she worked out some kinks on him. 

While I watched her ride him and sat on her mare, the voice that's always in the back of my mind started talking.  "You know you're not gonna be able to handle him", "You may know a lot about horses but you can't ride worth shit", "You might as take him back to the folks you got him from because your going to fail".  That voice has been there for as long as I can remember.  It's the voice from my childhood that told me I wasn't good enough.  Sometimes the voice tells me things that sound smart, like "Keep your mouth shut and no one will know that you are upset" or "Don't trust anyone". Sometimes the voice is just plain mean, telling me I'm dumb or that I don't deserve to be happy.  The thing is, I usually listen to the voice and don't argue or try to explain anything. It's always been safer, easier and that's just who I am.  

But that's not who I want to be anymore.  I'm going to be 53 years old in a couple of weeks.  My children have grown up and moved out.  There's a whole 'nother story there that I'll tell you later.  But for now, I want to be successful in things I like to do, things I've tried before, enjoyed but let slip through my fingers because of responsibilities, fear of failure, etc.  So I told the voice to be quiet for a bit and let me handle things. I got back on and I could feel that he was more relaxed.  I was able to let my nerves settle and enjoy just riding around the arena in circles.  After a bit longer, my legs started reminding me I hadn't ridden in a while and that if I wanted to be able to walk the next day, it was time to get out of the saddle.

I turned Chi loose in the arena to to roll and of course, he wouldn't roll.  He did hang out with the other horses.  I found out he is definitely not the "guy in charge".  He was content to follow the mares and let one of them pick on him pretty hard.  Poor guy.  Hmmmm, maybe we are meant to be together, we've got similar personalities.  


So Chi and I will continue down this road together.  I'll keep telling the voice to be quiet for a bit.  I'll do some studying on equines, watch some youtube videos on working with rescue horses and I'll learn along the way.  And fear, while it has it's place in life and is important for safety, can take a back seat.  Caution is better at this point.

I'll keep you posted... 

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