This is true pretty much everywhere. Life. Publishing. Horse training. Everyone’s afraid of something. It’s how she deals with it that matters.
A few years back, for quite some time, I had a horse trainer who seemed to be good at what she did. She talked a lot about “Mistakes are how you learn,” and “We always think of the horse first,” and “This is what’s correct–keep practicing till you get it right.”
It took a long while to realize that what I was really being taught was fear. Her fear. She was afraid, and she held back her students, keeping them on safe little circles, at safe little gaits (walk and trot; canter seldom and eventually never), riding safe little exercises. Over and over and over.
She wasn’t always an acute case. It came on over the years, with the horizons getting narrower and the lessons getting more basic, especially once she acquired a teacher of her own, whose specialty was making students terrified to do a thing without her approval. Because they might get it Wrong.
I woke up one day to find myself sitting at ringside, while teacher’s teacher taught the lesson, and teacher rode my horse. I wasn’t riding at all. I wasn’t good enough. I was terrified of making a mistake.
That was fear used as a weapon and a training technique. Fear that kept the student bound to the teacher, because as long as the student was afraid to do anything on her own, the teacher never had to fear that the student would outgrow her.
This teacher has a blog now, to share with students. First entry: “Fear and Anxiety.” Second entry: definitions of fear.
The goal, I think, is to speak to students who come to horse and riding with fear, and to teach them what fear is, and somehow, that way, to help them resolve their fear. But it’s coming at it from the wrong end. Setting up a wall of negativity–and assuming that of course every rider must be afraid.
Old horsemen used to say, “Never let the horse smell your fear.” No matter what the actual emotions, the rider or trainer should always project calm. Horses being prey animals, wired for flight, inclined by nature and instinct to run first and think later, need human partners with calm minds and the ability to think ahead.
Fear destroys that ability. It also destroys trust. If you’re afraid, you can’t rely on anything, least of all yourself. Everything is a threat. All you can do is react–or curl up and hope to disappear.
Make no mistake about it. Horses are big. They’re powerful. They don’t think at all like humans. It’s eminently sensible to respect those things. But it’s dangerous to be afraid of them.
It’s also rather sad. When a trainer so bound in fear that that’s the first thing she wants to teach–that’s not where a trainer needs to come from. A trainer is a teacher. A teacher has knowledge to impart; wisdom to share. And with horses, there’s a partnership as well, an alliance between species.
An alliance requires trust. Fear kills it. Fear also kills the joy that comes with a strong working partnership–for the horse as well as the rider.
When I woke up that day at ringside, I made up my mind to stop being afraid. I turned it all around. Fear to respect. Fear of mistakes back to mistakes as learning experiences. Caution where indicated–when riding green horses or horses with hormones or horses who have issues (especially issues created by a surfeit of fear–but never so much that I stopped being able to do anything at all.
That’s been a good lesson in other areas of life, too. Writing. Navigating this brave (not, take note, fearful) new publishing world. I can ride my horses with about the same attitude as I try to write my books. Caution, prudence, a decent amount of sense–but no fear.