It starts pretty much the same way for most of us:

One day we see a horse. He’s beautiful and free, with an improbable balance of pride and humility. He seems comfortable with his perfection. Most people can just go on about their business as if nothing has happened.

Some of us are never the same. We might be 5 or 45, and something inside swells with love, while common sense shrinks proportionally. You can rest your hand on his strong neck and smell his mane. He might lean close and share his breath, in trade for an exhale of yours.  It is almost imperceptible- that feel of the hook, as it is set deeply and permanently.  Connection. It’s almost that simple.

Then it’s time to ride. One of my clients related her first ride this way: She had waited 50 years, longing and loving horses, knowing exactly how glorious it would feel to be carried by one. Finally, an acquaintance offered her a ride. And in the arena, with a mounting block, and someone holding the horse, she swung her leg over and eased into the saddle. In that perfect moment, she was blindsided with a paralyzing fear.

Some of us ride for months before we get frightened, and think twice. Or ride our whole lives, coming off now and then, but don’t give it a thought until we get hurt. Or we get older and eventually gravity just exerts a different sort of pull- if we are honest about mortality.

Sometimes a husband will confide in me, shaking his head like it is a strange and mystical secret, that his wife is afraid of her horse. Why does she do it? How crazy is that? (Because she can’t not do it, and it’s cheap talk from a spectator, when your feet are firmly in control of the earth.)

Riders are all somewhere on this continuum- a tightrope between love and fear. Which is perfect because horses have a fear/flight response, and are on the same tightrope themselves. It’s a great place to begin a partnership.

Acknowledging vulnerability can be a strength.

What if fear isn’t wrong? It shouldn’t have a bad reputation, fear might be another word for respect.  No reason to deny it- I think there is a lot of power in calling fear out! Broad daylight has a way of diminishing things that live in shadows.  Fear is the first ingredient in courage, so give fear a measured acknowledgement and keep breathing. Then make some room for accomplishment, too.

Fear can actually improve riding. I think a bit of self preservation and common sense makes for a good rider, and a measure of fear means that you are aware in the moment, and challenging your horse. A complacent horse might be the most dangerous horse of all.

Making friends with fear is a challenge, but it’s still much easier than quitting horses would ever be. So, we ask for forward from our horse, on the ground and in the saddle. We ask for forward of ourselves, to move through mental obstacles and doubt.

“The spiritual journey involves going beyond hope and fear, stepping into unknown territory, continually moving forward. The most important aspect of being on the spiritual path may be to just keep moving.” (Pema Chödrön, 1997)

Horses and humans are a mixed bag of beauty and fear, freedom and resistance. The perfect yin/yang path to confidence.

The secret is that our love always has to stay just one inch bigger than our fear.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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Comment by Jenn Chernoff on June 18, 2012 at 7:09am

Amazingly written post!! So well said!

Comment by E. Allan Buck on June 16, 2012 at 2:27pm

Fear nothing, respect all things.

Fear generates reaction, respect generates response.

Comment by Barbara F. on June 16, 2012 at 1:01pm

A super post - as usual!

Sometimes common sense is mistaken for fear: No, you're not being cowardly if you don't want to go hacking alone along the side of the road, just because other people at your barn might do so.

Sometimes, we get so used to our patterns in riding that we are afraid to try something new. In this case, I say "go for it!". Remember, courage only comes after fear! so it's ok to be scared while trying something new!

Sometimes (and this is hard) if we are afraid even to ride our horses, we have to ask ourselves if we are really a good match, and, perhaps, move on.

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