Updated: Aug 18, 2020
The first step in starting a new adventure and stepping out of your comfort zone is learning to self-manage how to overcome fear.
When dreaming of going on an outdoor adventure and enjoying working with a horse, one of the first things that stops us from enjoying these experiences is the fear of riding a horse. We often feel that we do not have “control” of the activity, since it is unknown. The fear may arise from feeling out of control, instead of holding your own destiny.
In order to enjoy this outdoor activity and riding a horse, we should try to create a space for coexistence of both species, where we can feel the joy of assisting others leading to our own personal growth and sense of wellbeing.
Personally, thanks to my journey and experience in equine sports, therapies, and activities I have found that overcoming fear is a very difficult challenge. How to assist humans with their process of “dealing with fear”, becomes a very difficult issue and many times this issue isn't taken into account through the process of working with horses.
If we approach a horse adventure recognizing that fear may be present and instead of overcoming fear, turn it into a development process, we could open these opportunities to more individuals. We can develop human-equine interactions as a resource for facilitating more empathic and respectful relationships.
Recently in a family meeting, I started to develop the idea of “The first step to overcoming fear” when one of the members suggested organizing a horse trip as an outdoor leisure activity for a group, to enjoy the feeling and experience of nature, friends and active sport. One of the main concerns of the group was the general impression that individuals may feel fearful of riding a horse, many who had no prior experience.
After this experience, I wanted to write about this issue and give my personal impression of the importance of developing a shared space of coexistence with horses. In proposing a creative solution for this issue, I hope that humans are able to enjoy time with horses and nature without fear.
¿What if we offer human-equine interactions that contribute to the management of feelings of fear?
Based on my personal experience teaching horseback riding programs, many at the introductory level for more than a decade, it can be a challenge to overcome this fear barrier. In doing so we may open the activity so it can be more inclusive within society.
In developing this idea, there were plenty of articles, courses, talks, experiences, and great thinkers in the equine industry that have given me the knowledge and opportunity to share my thoughts about this issue. Below you will find my proposal for facilitating a fearless human-equine interaction.
I was not initially very confident on how to start writing this proposal, and struggled with how to put my feelings and ideas into words that would encourage individuals to overcome their fears and enter into more secure adventures, but I needed to start somewhere, and usually the beginning is a good place to start.
Do you remember when you learned how to walk, ride a bike or skate and the words from your elders were, “Relax, if you feel as if you are going to fell down, remember to put your hands first to the ground”.
When we approach our first experience in horseback riding, we need to deconstruct this learning while entering a new framework into our brain. While working through the fear of a horse, the correct response is not “put your hands down”. We must reframe the thought into,
“It is OK to be afraid, I can always go back or step away from the horse”.
Developing a new framework is a very difficult task due to our emotional background. Our reactions do not often fall under a rational equation, instead it is a survival reaction to avoid and protect us from pain and suffering.
This process makes it very difficult to overcome feelings of fear when starting new challenges and developing the self-management process to overcome it, even more so when riding a horse. When the new situation of riding is introduced, we face additional challenges of balance and a new way of moving in the world.
Why then are we afraid of a species which is not only a mammal but an herbivore? After all, it is not trying to eat us. Their main goal of life is to avoid predators and save their own life; to feel safe and secure in dangerous environments. In understanding this, perhaps we can start to reduce our fear.
First, we should be aware of what activity we are going to start, know about its background and what should we expect when starting the activity.
I believe that to overcome this fear we must create this space where coexistence, empathy and understanding are the basics of starting a relationship.
Below are ideas based on my experience and knowledge to develop a new dimension and framework for human-equine interactions.
First, we should educate individuals interested in working with equines on the environment and new scenery that they will be exposed to and experience. Giving them the background and education, so they can understand what they will experience before meeting the horses is helpful in creating a safe space. From there, a four-step process will be followed to achieve confidence while sharing the space with equines.
The 5 Step Process
Knowing the space (Equines, Friends, and the space)
Guiding equines (Creating spaces and boundaries)
Introduction to bareback riding (Body awareness on equines)
Relax - Breathe - Enjoy (RBE: Giving thanks for being)
Comfort and relaxation can begin
Through these five steps we have seen that individuals who were afraid, or at the beginning of the experience felt fear, can begin to enjoy the activity by letting them share the space naturally with equines.
By introducing these challenges and coexisting with equines we can create time for individuals to build a secure bond with the equines where they feel comfortable. After this time, humans and equines will be much more relaxed, confident in the new space, and a new moment for sharing and learning will lead to development and progress.