The horse world is an amazing place full of thousands of different ideas and philosophies and horses & people of all genders, ages and stages! But with the endless choices in horse sports and pursuits, there is one common dirty word that is often shamefully shoved under the rug; the "F" word in riding .. fear. And to clarify, for the purposes of this article, I will use the word fear to encompass everything from clear heart-pounding fear symptoms, mild anxiety, hesitation, persistent dream shattering un-confidence and everything in between.
I would wager that every person who rides horses, has experienced the discomfort of fear at some point in their life. Fear can be defined as a normal human response where the person is threatened by a perceived threat. It is important to understand that "perceived" threat simply means anytime your brain is triggered to believe that your bodily safety is compromised. The interesting part is that there are so many situations that can trigger your brain to perceive danger! Some of them are rarely spoken about and often not acknowledged - let's dive into some of the most common:
1. Falling/Accident with a Horse
Of course the most common root cause of fear in riders is being harmed by a horse. Whether that be actually falling from a horse or being harmed while handling the horse. Many riders find after a single accident, their brain becomes very skilled at creating further scenarios of how future injuries could potentially happen .. even if the risk is small!
2. Natural Aging
There are several common factors to human bodies as they age. First, it is a proven fact that the body's ability to heal and recover from injury declines over time. Second, beginning as early as our 30's, our natural balance begins to decrease with each passing year due to physical changes such as muscle loss or vision changes. Instinctively, as we age, our brain becomes keenly focused on protecting the body from harm.
3. Trauma in the form of Injury, Illness or Surgery
The commonality between injury, illness or surgery to any part of the body is .. weakness. Anytime our physical well being is compromised, the brain understands that the body is exhibiting a weakness and again that human instinct to protect the body takes over!
For both men & women, when a child is born, their bodies change drastically. When people become parents, their protective instincts towards the child instantly kick in! But in addition to protecting the child itself from harm, the parents brain has a strong instinct to protect the body, in order to be able to care for the child dependant on us for survival. This can result in a natural decrease in desire to pursue activities which are perceived by the brain to have a higher "risk" for injury!
It is to be expected that throughout our lives as riders, at some point we will experience some degree of fear while handling or riding our horses. But traditionally, riders who are fearful feel deep levels of shame and are hesitant to voice the challenges they face .. for fear of ridicule or by being encouraged into "tough love" situations of pushing through their fears.
In the next part of this topic, I will cover some amazing things you can do to recover from fear!! A little hint? The Simulator can help ....
Shannon & Marmite