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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The right tool

Over the years I've posted a few times on fear.

A recent conversation described some young children and their relationship to the horse and riding - in a nut shell, they love ridingbut are dealing with fear- of cantering, of going fast, of doing anything too "scary".

I want to scream at those kids and their parents - "THAT WAS ME!". To their parents: Don't push, let their love and ability to ride develop. The kids will push themselves when it's time. To the kids: It gets better. It may take you 10 years to feel comfortable cantering or going fast, and you may never want to run a barrel pattern (to date, that idea still makes me sick)- but you will find something that you love in the horse world that allows you to manage your fear and you WILL DO IT. Ten years from now, adults and people you respect will look at what you do and will compliment you on your accomplishments, not realizing that the only difference between the walk/trot kid and the ride-at-gaits-on-scary-trails adult is the tools learned to manage fear and to keep control.

I loved riding as a kid. Absolutely adored it. There was nothing else I wanted to do more. But I didn't want to ride fast. Every where around me, kids my age were doing gymkanas and speed games, and I just wanted to walk around, or do some very controlled lessons. I knew I could ride well eventually. I never looked at someone and said "I could never do that". Instead, as I watched I could FEEL myself on that horse, doing that. But when I actually got on the horse, there was a stark difference between that feel and the reality of my ability.

Gradually the gap closed. Gradually I learned tools and techniques and tricks from all sorts of people throughout my life, and I stretched and did more and more. Eventually I got to where I am today - my fear does not cripple or hold me back. I have enough tools in the tool chest to experience most of my dreams on horse back.

I think the root cause of fear can be of several causes, and perhaps which cause you as an individual person are dealing with matters when it comes to dealing with fear. For me, fear has always been an issue of control. I actually enjoy the feeling of adrenaline. It gives me focus and makes me feel alive. However, I will not deliberately place myself in situations where I have no control. This is probably why I was able to gradually do what I wanted on horse back - and my favorites are those that produce adrenaline - because more tools gave me more control. Galloping bareback through the field is absolutely fabulous and I will probably have a smile plastered across my face, however, when I do a half halt and the horse doesn't respond, we immediately stop (although nowadays, I have other tools to regain control besides stopping, so I wouldn't necessarily stop, but you get my point). I have a loss of control.

Other people in my family are made absolutely sick by that same adrenaline feeling. It is NOT pleasant and they avoid putting themselves in a situation that will produce high levels of adrenaline. I'm not sure if the same strategies (being as educated as possible and gaining as high a skill level in the chosen activity as possible) would work for a person managing fear that is based on a dislike of the adrenaline response. My guess is that an aspiring equestrian dealing with adrenaline issues will probably chose mounts and disciplines that limit that amount of adrenaline and will make an effort to identify specific situations that cause adreneline reactions, and then avoid or minimize those situations as much as possible.

I enjoy endurance because it's exciting and an adventure and there's adrenaline associated. I enjoy dressage because of the control and the tools it gives me for endurance. People often use eventing as the epiphany of riding and conquering fear (in the english riding world). Would I have ever made a good eventer? It's hard to say. I'm an adrenaline junkie, but I'm not sure it's possible to have the amount of control on a cross country course that I need to function. As it is, this scared kid has found enough adrenaline and fulfillment in endurance and 100's that it's hard for me to seriously consider whether I would have enjoyed eventing.

As I get older I find my horse activity choices less dictated by fear and more dictated by my vision of the future. It's important for me to do endurance as long as possible - into retirement and my 80's. Thus, I'm trying to chose activities that offer me the best chance of that. I will admit that there is some fear issues while jumping - I have yet to learn enough tools to allow me to feel in control and to manage a horse that isn't an "auto point and jump" - but that's not what keeps me from pursuing jumping right now. It's the knowledge that falls while jumping tend to be a bit more serious and the reward of learning that new skill doesn't outweigh the risk of injuring something that cannot be completely healed and might be an issue later on in endurance.

Of course my "chose my risk based on functionality in endurance" could be some internal justification based on fear (and control) and this is my way of not having to admit to that.....but I think even if that's the case I'm comfortable with it. I'm happy where I am. I am managing my fear and control issues well enough to do the sport I love and enjoy it while I'm doing it. For this scaredy-cat, it's hard to think I could ask for more.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I can especially relate to the part about the tools that give you control. My retired eventer was (and is) a complete nutcase in certain situations. However, he never scared me because I knew what would set him off and I knew how to control him, and he never bucked or reared (two things that I find quite scary). Most importantly, in the situations where *I* was the most fearful (i.e. over scary jumps) *he* was the most bold - somehow it all worked out!


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