Shhh … It's a Secret!

“Why aren’t we allowed to talk about our fear?” the women in our recent Women, Horses and Fear workshop asked. As the women shared their stories of fear, several common themes emerged – the physical symptoms of not being able to breathe, having “jelly legs”, and freezing up. But the most startling commonality was the feeling of being alone in their fear. Each woman was surprised to find that they were “not the only one” going through this experience. One woman (I’ll call her Mary), who does not currently have her own horse, is often offered horses to ride from friends and acquaintances. If she declines to ride a particular horse because she is not comfortable riding that horse, people have whispered that she is “afraid of horses”. “I’m not afraid of all horses,” Mary asserts, “I just want to trust the horse I am riding”.

My philosophy is that fear is not talked about because of the macho tradition of horse training and riding. Traditional training techniques require that the human is in control all the time and as much force as is necessary is used to ensure that control. When I was learning to ride, I was often reminded to not show any signs of fear around a horse as the horse would sense my fear and then be able to dominate me. I was also taught to never let the horse “win”. This means, of course, that there is a winner and loser every time a person is with the horse. It becomes a very competitive relationship rather than a cooperative one. So, I used to hide any fear behind anger. It was okay to be angry with my horse. It wasn’t okay to be afraid. Not the best way to establish a healthy relationship.

So, in the horse world we don’t feel comfortable talking about our fear. Instead we find ways to avoid riding – the weather’s too windy or too nice – we procrastinate, we just don’t have the time. And the more we avoid it, the more fear gains a strangle hold on us. Every woman in our workshop had a dream about the way their lives with horses would be. They had a passion about horses and, at one time, horses brought joy into their lives. As the fear grew, their passion and joy were taken away and were replaced by guilt, embarrassment and shame.

To live with any sense of safety and security, we allow ourselves to believe that we are in control. Then something happens to shatter that illusion. The dormant seeds of fear that rest within our psyche take root. With our thoughts, feelings and actions, we feed those seedlings and the vine that is fear takes a stronger hold. Unless a vine is cut back, it eventually covers and demolishes whatever it is growing over.

The big question in the workshop was, “How do I get over this fear? ” We get over our fear in the same way we get control of the over grown vine – by cutting it back. There are several steps to ‘pruning’ your fear:

1) Analyze & understand the origins of your fear

2) Look at the emotion objectively so you can intellectualize it

3) Develop a plan to counteract it

4) Implement that plan

6) Enlist a support system

Safety and security do not exist. The potential to be hurt physically and/or emotionally is always present. But, most of us do not focus every minute of conscious thinking on all of the possible dangers that exist or we would not be able to function. Fear serves to keep us safe from harm not take the joy out of our lives. If you are fearful around horses, you are not alone. You can get your fear under control is you are willing to make the choice and do the work.

Anne Gage –
The Confidence Coach
Helping horses & humans be better … together.


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