Fear vs Courage
It’s a challenge walking that tightrope between pushing the envelop to get out of your comfort zone but not becoming reckless. Anytime you sit upon a 1000 lb. animal you take on the risk of injury. To dwell on the injury part can bring about tension, fear and hesitation but to block it out can mean veering toward risky behavior and carelessness.
I have never been a daredevil on horseback but am finding a sense of empowerment as I take calculated risks on my horse. I have a young horse that I am transitioning from track to trail. I end up most often riding alone so we have had to work thru all the new sights and experiences we encounter on the trail. My mare has a great temperament but she can be a little hot sometimes too. So the question is how do I keep moving forward in spite of the risks?
Horses teach a person real quick how to think ahead and be alert to potential problems. But the other side of the coin is horses also pick up very fast if a person is afraid, feels insecure or is timid. So it doesn’t work to try to fake your way thru it. They know!
I was riding the other day along the road past my neighbors house to get to my normal trail riding spot. Remmy was uncharacteristically unfocused and jittery. She had caught sight of the neighbor’s laundry hanging out to dry which included some large white sheets billowing in the breeze way in their backyard. She continued to want to stop and stare. You can know a horse is entering into their reactive bran when they stare and not blink. They are thinking ‘is this thing going to eat me?’ I am thinking, ‘You better not spook away from this because a large ditch and road is on the other side!” I let her stare for a moment and then urged her on. It becomes part of the relationship building when you learn when to ‘urge’ and when to just allow them time to think. Each horse is different and each horse brings to each ride their own natural fluctuations, moods and opinions! Yes, horses have opinions. Remmy, being Remmy did NOT bolt onto on coming traffic trying to get away from clean laundry. Thankfully.
As part of my experiences with riding Remmy, I am trying to tell the difference between moving forward out of fear and moving forward courageously. You would think it would be easy but it is not always so clear cut. Both come from a feeling of movement but fear is moving away from something while courage is moving TOWARD something. As a childhood trauma survivor I have spent a huge part of my life moving AWAY from something out of fear. As a middle aged adult I want to be proactive and move TOWARD something.
Horses have the natural ability to sense our emotions and body reactions, under saddle and on the ground. For many years now I have learned how to relax and control my breathing and body on horse back to help calm and reassure my horse for times like above that I have to confidently reassure her that she won’t be eaten! I also have experienced the good, calm feelings that come as a result of spending time with the horses- even if it is just cleaning out stalls. I learned at a Natural Lifemanship Clinic a couple months ago about somatics and horses. It was fascinating. They, in my opinion, are putting all the right pieces together to help trauma survivors heal – in body, mind and spirit.
During this time I also was receiving Somatic Experiencing sessions with Elizabeth Whirlabout . These sessions were to help release tension and stop the physiological trauma response I was experiencing due to a recent, traumatic loss. My body was stuck in essence in a flight, fight or freeze mode and I needed unstuck. During my very first session with Elizabeth I was able, for the first time in my life, connect with the feeling I learned on horseback to calm my horse, in a setting other than with the horses. Elizabeth is an excellent practitioner as well as a kind and wonderful person. This may not sound like much to some of you but believe me it was a huge jump forward for me and gave me a tool I had not had access to before. As a trauma survivor my body would keep me on high alert for danger and then set me up for anxiety, depression, racing thoughts and a whole variety of not so pleasant or productive ways of being or thinking. In this state it is really only possible to move out of fear. Your whole motivation is about how to get safe, release ‘pressure’, get relief because in your gut it is all just about survival. Long range plans or goals are not in the forefront when your body is reacting to trauma. To move forward with courage takes being able to feel empowered and a sense of safety (or at least trust that safety is POSSIBLE). I am very grateful to Elizabeth for her help in this process.
I urge you, whether you are a mental health professional, a trauma survivor, a horse person or someone curious about how and why horses are used in a therapeutic setting to look into the links above and explore. Equine-assisted therapy and learning is growing by leaps and bounds as we learn more about the biological response to trauma and horses natural abilities.
By the way, I LOVE comments! If a horse has helped you in some way feel free to share.