Let’s Talk About Fear

Hannah-Fear-photo_000Everyone experiences fear though many are ashamed to admit to it, may even deny that they feel fear.  Being around or on top of horses often triggers fear.  They are big animals, easily frightened and if they run into you or you fall off of them you can be badly hurt. Fear is your brain’s way of trying to keep you safe.  “Don’t do something that might hurt you.”

That said, it is dangerous to be frightened around horses. Horses are prey animals whose primary instinct, when frightened, is to flee.  When we get frightened around or on a horse, our very fear makes the horse more likely to become frightened and more dangerous.

So, what do you do if you love horses but are afraid of them? I suggest that you face your fears directly, but don’t force yourself to do that which frightens you.  Think about what is actually triggering your fear. Is it a particular horse, doing a particular activity with the horse, being in a particular place with the horse? Test out your theory by getting close to each of those elements and see what your fear tells you. Then you are going to address each trigger separately.

Get as close as you can to your trigger without panic and simply stay there focusing on breathing. That is it. Stay there until the thought of being there is no longer frightening. In fact, long enough that just being there seems boring. Note how close you came and then turn around and walk away. That is it.  Go do something else for a bit and return.  You will generally note that you can get closer each successive time you approach the object of fear.

Go slowly. At no time do you force yourself forward. Doing so will trigger stronger fear as your brain ups the panic to keep you safe. No, you need to respect your fear, listen to it, stop before you cross the line into panic and then stay there long enough that your brain realizes that you are not, in fact, in danger.  Your fear, over time and exposure, will lessen.

How do I know that this works? This is the technique I use with my horses when they become frightened.  By not forcing them, they don’t feel the need to defend themselves against me. By staying there facing their fears at a distance they find tolerable, they discover that the object is not, in fact, dangerous.

Say you took a bad fall off of your horse. You do not want to get back on your horse until you can offer your horse calm relaxation. To do that you may well need to practice getting on another, safer horse, having someone there on the ground to help you if you get in trouble. Once you can offer that horse a calm relaxed presence, you may be ready to start over again in the same way with your own horse.

This is how I addressed my own fear after taking some bad wrecks that resulted in broken ribs and trips to the hospital.  Step by step, you move your threshold of fear back until it evaporates.

Getting something done is not the goal.  Getting yourself confident to do something is everything.  That is true for for horses and it is true for humans.

Posted in Blog.