People who work a lot with horses talk a lot about fear and finding ways to work through things.
When I was nine, I thought nothing of leaping off the top of our swingset. Once I remember considering jumping off our one-story house (when I dangled my legs over the gutter, it didn’t look that much further to me than jumping off the swingset) but I wisely reconsidered.
In other words, I was not exactly a fearful child (or a wise one, either).
Then I had three kids in three years, and my days and nights were spent planted on terra firma. I remember the first time I went for a bike ride when the twins were about two years old–thanks to living out in the middle of nowhere where county roads are laced with puncture vine, it had been years since I’d even been on a bicycle. A couple of blocks into the ride I realized that odd swimmy feeling was fear–fear of being up too high off the ground.
On a BICYCLE.
I was so disgusted with myself I wanted to die–I am a tomboy to the core and have always prided myself on being a fairly brave person. What the heck had happened?
The last time I was on the roof, my husband and I were trying to get a tarp down over damaged shingles. It was windy and cold, we were having trouble with the tarp, and we were on the second story. By the time we were done, I was so choked up with fear that I was having a hard time moving my legs. When we got back in the house I couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel better–I wasn’t on the roof any more, I knew I didn’t have to go back ON the roof–but so much adrenaline had been dumped into my system I felt sick. I actually had to sit down for a while.
I felt like a little old lady.
Now, nothing bad has ever happened to me that involves heights, except for a few falls off a horse–and all of those happened to me after I started developing this fear of heights (and yes, it did take me a long time to get over the whole “up too high” thing while on a horse, too).
So why the heck would I start developing a fear of heights?
A few years ago we were taking our three (large) boys to see a movie about 30 miles away. The twins were learning how to drive, which meant I usually sat in the backseat crammed between the 6’2 son and the remaining 6’5 twin. Although we use a large car for family trips, it’s still uncomfortable thanks to the size of the boys. I asked if I could sit in front while my husband rode in back for a change.
Husband-Man made it two miles down the road before gasping out that we had to pull over so he could get out.
Even though I got to enjoy my smug not-as-easy-as-it-looks, huh? moment, it was really kind of disturbing to see my old-time tough husband hyperventilating after being a little squished in the backseat of a car with his own offspring. They’d even let him sit by the door rather than in the middle and he couldn’t do it.
HM had to have a brain MRI last week, and the only way they could get him in the machine was with a little pharmaceutical magic. Even after 10 mg. of Valium, he wasn’t sure he could handle it. He was embarrassed that he had to reschedule the exam after the first try because he couldn’t make it through unmedicated, and he tried really hard to overcome the fear because he was embarrassed about admitting he was claustrophobic.
He didn’t used to have this fear, either. He admitted he really doesn’t even like getting on elevators now.
So what’s happened? Is it age? Or is it just a lack of being exposed to things (heights, tight spaces). If any of you have any theories, let me know.
I just read Be With Your Horse by Tom Widdecombe. He discusses fear and how some horses seem particularly sensitive to the level of confidence in humans that handle them. He writes about sometimes the only way to deal with fear is to keep doing the things with a horse that you feel confident handling before working back up to the fear issue.
I do things all the time with my horses that other people wouldn’t do, but a lot of what I do is based on my knowledge of what my horses are like and being able to predict how they will behave in certain circumstances. I almost always know when the two younger ones are likely to have a bit of a dust-up over food or over me, but my intuition is based on signals that are easy for anyone to read (ear pinning, head position, tail swishing, body position). I know there are people who would never groom/flyspray/trim/worm a loose horse–and especially would never work with a loose horse that was in with other horses, but that’s just the way I’ve worked with mine. I’d be terrified of doing this kind of thing with strange horses.
Once you start really being able to read a horse, I think sometimes that can make things harder on the human end. Once when I was loading my very nervous Walker filly into a friend’s trailer (probably the fourth time she’d ever been loaded) I got so nervous myself that I actually forgot how to tie a knot in the lead rope. Her anxiety had shaken up my little head like an Etch-A-Sketch. (Few things compare to standing in a small metal box with a panicky, uncoordinated young horse.) I could “see” the situation so well from her eyes that I wasn’t able to keep my own anxiety under control.
It’s possible to work through even extreme fear, but it does come at a cost. I have a terrible time with public speaking–so much so that I very nearly came unglued when I had to start a new career as a college teacher last September. (And, as the science fiction writer Harry Harrison would say, “unglued” is a little like saying “I dropped the atom bomb and it went off.” Bit of an understatement.) It took nearly nine months of daily
torture practice for that to even start to go away.
And I’d become so used to the fear that when it started to go away that it felt strange to not be afraid. Weird, huh.
Nobody got to be a strong person sitting around eating bon-bons. I just wish real life didn’t have to be so real, sometimes.
Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive. ~Josephine Hart