by Laura Crum
I got a good lesson in overcoming fear the other day. From one of my best teachers—my son. It taught me something that I kind of already knew, but watching my son go through it really made it clear to me. I thought maybe others would get some insights from this experience, so here’s my story.
Those of you who read this blog may remember that my son’s bombproof older gelding, Henry, had a minor meltdown last summer. Here is the link to that story.
Ever since that day, my son has been afraid to gather the lower field—the scene of Henry’s meltdown. When we gathered the cattle my kid would decline to go down the steep hill where Henry slipped and just wanted to gather the upper field.
I gave some thought to this. I know a lot of people would have made the child go right down to the lower field the very next gather. You know, get right back on the horse that bucked you off…etc. But that didn’t feel right to me. I was perfectly aware that Henry was very unlikely to have another meltdown, and once we had gathered the lower field successfully my son’s fear would probably disappear. But I also thought it was important to let him make his own choices.
So for a couple of months we just gathered the upper field and let the others gather the lower field. I didn’t put any pressure on my kid—just let him make his own decision. And he consistently said, “I don’t want to go down to the lower field.”
So, OK. I felt that I might be a little sad if we got to the end of the roping season and my son had never overcome his fear of going down there, but I also thought it was not a big deal in the overall picture. My kid is riding several days a week and enjoying himself. That’s enough for me. I’m not going to pick it apart.
And then last week we were a little short handed. The cattle have been difficult to gather lately. We started out that morning, and of his own accord my son said, “We’d better help them gather the lower field.”
I said, “OK,” and I let my kid choose the way down the steep hill—and I noticed he chose a different route from the one where Henry had slipped back in August. But I didn’t say anything about it.
We got down the steep section and we had a bit of work to get the cattle out of the lower field and through the gate. I noticed that my kid kept reassuring his horse, “Easy, Henry, just take it easy.”
Henry was doing just fine, as he usually does.
Once we got the cattle though the gate the herd made a break in the wrong direction and for five or ten minutes we were all charging about at the high lope up and down the hills and through the trees to get them turned. I hung back a little, so my son wouldn’t feel out of control and carried along by the crowd, but he charged about with the others, a big grin on his face. Clearly he had forgotten about being afraid. And that made me smile.
We got the cattle in with no real problems—my kid was a big help. He knows exactly where to be—I no longer have to tell him when to move up or when to back off. He’s learned to read cattle and the herd dynamic really well. And he has clearly overcome his fear of gathering the lower field—without me doing/saying a thing. And that taught me something.
I think all of us who ride horses have to deal with overcoming fear at some point or other. For me, as for many others, this wasn’t as much of an issue when I was in my twenties and thirties. But I took a break from riding in my early forties to have my baby and raise him, and by the time I returned to regular riding, when I was about fifty, I wasn’t nearly so brave—or so skillful. It’s a common phenomena, and much is written about it on various horse blogs.
Most of us who love horses strive to overcome our fear enough that we can keep riding and doing the things we want to do. At the same time, a lot of us can acknowledge to ourselves that we very sincerely do NOT want to get hurt. And I think everyone in the horse world knows of folks who have been hurt very badly due to a riding accident. Sometimes these accidents seem very preventable, sometimes they are something no one could have prevented. My husband says horses are like motorcycles; it’s not a matter of whether you’ll get hurt, but when, and how badly. Gee, thanks.
I haven’t been badly hurt in my life with horses—ever (knock on wood). I’ve been dumped, yes, but the worst that came of it was I had the breath knocked out of me. So my own fears are not based on any sort of personal trauma, but rather the very realistic knowledge of what CAN happen. Cause I’ve sure seen a few wrecks in my time. Nonetheless, my fear has stayed in the rational camp, and I have made logical choices to reduce my risk (I bought myself a gentle, solid trail horse and I don’t compete at high risk/high speed events any more). And, in general, I don’t feel much fear/anxiety when I ride. I’m not afraid my horse will dump me…I do worry a little about meeting the unexpected dangerous situation out on the trail, or a horse falling. And I’ve learned to deal with this anxiety not by forcing myself to do what I feel uncomfortable doing, but rather by allowing myself to be OK with NOT doing what I don’t want to do right now and waiting until I do want to do it.
This approach has helped me a lot. I have actually ridden down my driveway and stopped at my front gate and allowed myself to feel that I was a little too anxious for a solo trail ride that afternoon. Maybe it was windy, or I could hear a chain saw or dirt bikes up on the ridge—or I just felt anxious that day and not up to crossing the busy road which I must cross to get to the trails. And I gave myself permission not to go trail riding—since I didn’t really want to—and just to ride in the riding ring instead. And I found this worked for me.
Soon enough the day would come when I had a whole hearted desire to get out on the trails…what little anxiety was there was much less than the urge to go. And on that day I went trail riding with a happy, uncluttered mind. So this is the approach I used with my son. I think I can say that it worked really well for him, too. When he was ready to go back down to the lower field, he did—and it was a totally positive experience.
So there’s my little insight for today. Sometimes forcing ourselves through fear is not the best path. At the very least, it’s not the only path. Sometimes making space to feel what we do or don’t truly WANT to do and allowing ourselves to honor this feeling, can lead to choosing our risks with a free and uncluttered mind. I honestly think we make better choices this way.
PS—I just found out that my publisher has reduced the price of my most recent novel, “Barnstorming,” for two weeks only. From now through November 15th the book will be $2.99 as a Kindle edition. After Nov 15th it will return to its former, rather pricey amount (I think 9.99). So now is the time to pick up the Kindle edition of “Barnstorming”, if you are interested in reading this story. It is the last book in the twelve book Gail McCarthy series, so if you want to read the whole series on Kindle, grab Barnstorming now, because I don’t know if the publisher will ever reduce the price again. Coincidentally, this book is about overcoming fear, as well. Here is the link to buy this book.
For those who are curious, Barnstorming centers on a trail rider’s worst nightmare—someone is targeting solo equestrians in the hills near veterinarian Gail McCarthy’s home, and Gail must find the killer before she becomes the next victim. Lots of trail riding adventures in this book.
Also, the series as a whole covers twenty years in the life of one woman-- horse vet Gail McCarthy. In the first book she is thirty-one years old and just beginning her career—the series ends when she is fifty—and there are many twists and turns over the course of the dozen books. If you enjoy horses and mysteries, there are lots of hours of reading fun here.
Cutter and Hoofprints, the first and second books in the series, are currently on special for 99 cents as Kindle editions, so you can give them a try with very little downside. And again, if you do want to read the whole series on Kindle, now is the time to pick up Barnstorming for a reasonable price.