The first two blogs on fear came effortlessly, but this one did not, hence the delay in writing it. I've been thinking about my experiences with fear and how to "wrap" up my thoughts on this complex emotion.
I've concluded that there isn't a way to "wrap" this topic in a neat package. The feeling of fear will rise and ebb based on things I experience and my thoughts about those happenings. It's up to me to acknowledge the emotion, allow it space, and recognize when I'm contributing to a negative mindset.
Working with Rudy has forced me to acknowledge this fear and its powerful messages about how I think about myself and the world. It's been seven years since the trip with my friend and the subsequent "fear" fallout.
It's been five years since I did my best imitation of Wonder Woman and flew over Rudy's head when he spooked over a tractor hitting a rock. Since then, we've had many ups and downs.
A few years past, I had the unpleasant reality that I was primarily to blame for the problems I experienced with Rudy. I lacked confidence. Instead of staying with him to help him through scary experiences, I shied away. As I shied, he often spooked. It was a cycle of action and reaction that needed to break, and it had to start with me.
We often find ourselves in similar reactive cycles with people in our lives. Something a simple as our partner coming home grumpy often leads us to assume a bad mood in response. Meanwhile, before they arrived home, we were happy. In an instant, we allowed our mental state to be negatively altered by another. Why?
I've observed this phenomenon in myself many times over. In my younger life, I was very susceptible to mirroring the moods of those around me. Even as I observed this happening, I felt powerless to prevent their emotional state from consuming me.
I've been lucky to have someone in my life who routinely tests my ability to hold myself in a positive, or at minimum, neutral mindset despite them frequently falling into bouts of negativity. I'm not always successful in achieving this, but I am conscious of the dynamic. I now guard my mental state to protect it from unnecessary dives.
At the beginning of this year, Rudy and I were experiencing another rough patch. Aside from the physical issues I was working to resolve with him, he also was mentally tight. He was edgy, spooky, and had started nipping me repeatedly, a new and undesirable behavior.
Once again, things had unraveled for us. In retrospect, we had gone through several cycles, unraveling and rebuilding. Each time we emerged stronger. It's hard to see the eventual positive outcome when we're in the middle of these periods.
A friend sent me a link for The Trust Technique (The Trust Technique (trust-technique.com). I checked out the site, and I reached out to one of their practitioners in a hail mary of sorts.
What comes next are notes I captured from our conversation.
He had a huge emotional burden. He needs to come out of work; he can't handle it. I need to be there for him. I need to be the calm and confident one no matter his mental state.
She instructed me to spend time with him and observe where he was on a scale of 1-10. One is asleep, and ten might be running around, snorting, tail flagged on full alert. My homework was to remain steady no matter what he did. For example, he might spook and then stand at full attention, staring into the distance.
Meanwhile, I think, "What a beautiful day. I'm so happy to be at the barn." As soon as he lowers his head, I reassure him with a "good boy," but I do not touch him. I can reassure him in a more significant way if he drops his head and blows out. She said he needs to learn how to calm himself down.
Armed with the homework, I began observing Rudy's mental state. Something about doing this allowed me space to not get caught up in his energy/worry. And remarkably, or perhaps not, me not reacting to him had a positive effect almost immediately. Within a week or two, I noticed he wasn't going up to the higher end of the scale, and he was coming back down more quickly.
Weeks passed, and I continued the practice of pretending it was "every other Tuesday" any time Rudy got worked up. I know this shift helped us end the reactive cycle and come back to balance. It also made me realize how important it was for me to lead, and that fear had exacerbated my confidence issues.
I didn't take Rudy out of work as the practitioner suggested. He seems to do better with the consistency of training sessions. I stopped riding him, realizing I was emotionally charged and needed a break. I spent a few months being calm, reconnecting with him, and establishing myself as a leader, again.
It didn't take long for him to stop nipping me. It took longer for his true personality to shine again. For him to be the goofy, charismatic horse I know and love.
I'm happy to report he's back to his usual fantastic self. I'm also pleased I recognized I needed to step back and do the homework to help both of us through this challenging period.
It won't be the last tough time with Rudy. There will be more times when I'm afraid, but I plan to sit with the feeling and determine whether the emotion deserves action or whether it's a conditioned response from my past. If it's a habitual response, I will thank my brain for doing its best to keep me safe and tell myself, "I've got this!"
Written October 14, 2021