I’ve experienced many types of fear in my life. Some downright debilitating. The type of fear I experienced when I was kidnapped was some of the deepest, darkest fear I think I have ever had. So much so that I never let myself think I would be killed, even though I could have easily been.
That type of fear takes years to process and see it for what it is. Still, I wonder if it was actually a factor in me surviving my captivity? In my ten + years of freedom, I have gained a lot of knowledge and the polyvagal theory has given me a better understanding of something that I was instinctually doing to survive. Through evolution, we all have the ability to calm our nervous systems, and to calm others as well. Although I will never know for sure, I believe I was somehow able, at times, to calm my captors and, in doing so, ensure my survival. How or why did I know how to do this? Well, I am still learning, and I hope you will continue the journey with me as we write these blogs.
Fear has been my constant companion for all my life. I know I’m not alone. We all have them. I haven’t always liked mine, and only recently have I come to actually appreciate my fear. Usually with past fears, I have learned if I make myself do the thing I’m afraid of either, I find it wasn’t so bad. Like eating something you don’t like first on your plate, so all you have left are the yummy things, or I find it is scary to me and I pack it away for another day. I revisit the fear in my mind repeatedly and the next time I face that fear, I find it not as bad as I remember.
I still do this with many things in life. Recently, I have been experiencing fear of riding my horse. I love horses and am really amazed at all they give us tiny humans. They are capable of such strength, yet let us lead them with the smallest of ropes. I have taken riding lessons for years now and, as many of you know, have a horse named Cowboy I adore. As we have gotten to know each other over the years, a trust has built, and our relationship seems solid. I am not fearful of riding him. I am fearful of what horses can do and sometimes that gets in my brain, and I have to work hard to dismiss it. With Cowboy, it has been pretty easy. He is pretty solid and if he spooks, it’s usually not a big deal. I can easily reassure him and me too that we are fine.
On the other hand, I have a new horse that is pretty young. Rebecca, Margie and I gentled him and now, a couple of years later, he is amazing, and I love his personality. I have built a relationship with him and ridden him consistently for the past year. The thing is, I’ve fallen off him a few times, and at my age (42) it hurts! So, I think you can see where I’m going with this. Yes, I’m fearful of riding him and falling again. I don’t want to be afraid, and I love him very much. It’s now a conscious decision I’m making. He’s not a horse that bucks and tries to get you off, but he is a reactive horse and very sensitive. He has a lot to say about everything and sometimes I read the novel he’s telling. My trainer only reads the cliff notes, answers his questions before he asks, and doesn’t make a big deal when he looks at something or spooks, and the same goes for everybody else that rides him, too! What is wrong with me? I know the answer…it’s fear. Fear of falling off, fear of not being the right person for him, fear I’m not good enough, fear I’m not what he needs. Do I know these thoughts are not productive? Well, yes, I do…but they come, and they go, anyway. I know all the right things I should say, but it took a while to get back to where I was with him. I lost my trust in him. He also lost trust in me. It’s a two-way street with all relationships, human or non-human.
What does it take to get past fear? Well, for me, in this case, it took starting from the beginning. Going back to just being led around by my trainer and getting him out more during the week, just doing groundwork and just letting him graze while I brushed him. It took me seeing other people I trust riding him and him not speeding up or turning in a circle. All things he didn’t do but a narrative I had going around in my head. When I got back on again, I just walked around the arena and breathed in and out. Slowly I worked up to trotting. Oh, did I mention my fear wasn’t just for this horse? Suddenly, I couldn’t ride any horse without getting scared. Yes, that’s right. I’ve been riding for over 8 years now and just like that, all I have learned was gone. Zippo. Nothing felt safe. What the heck happened to me being able to ride other horses? Why was I so afraid?
It’s been about 5 months now and I can proudly say I’m back! I’m riding Marshall like I used to. I have built our trust back up with the help of my trainer Margie, helping me through this process without pushing for more than I can give. And Rebecca letting me follow her around on my horse and reminding me to stay in the moment. Can I say what the one thing was that made me stop being afraid? No, I can’t. It was a combo of things: visualizing what I wanted—a relationship with this horse, remembering that I could actually ride, and knowing that I didn’t have to ride, but remembering it as something I have always loved. And it was watching and listening to my patient trainer with my horse and seeing what an amazing boy he is.
So, fear, my old friend, I’m sure you will always follow me, keeping me safe in your own way. I am grateful to you, but can you let up sometime? I think I will be ok without you for a while.