When things aren't going your way have you ever taken a look at how you tend to react?
I never put a whole lot of thought into my thinking and behavior patterns until I started working with animals and realized I couldn't ask for behaviors of an animal that I couldn't myself handle.
When an animal I was working with became fearful,
Was it because I was fearful?
Was I asking them to just push through it?
Was I truly getting to the route of the fear and breaking it down for them?
Did I validate their emotions?
Did I just try to act more confident myself and hope it would pass to them to?
Yeah... I've definitely done all of these at some point....
Fortunately, it has always been reflected back to me in the animals I worked with, and therefore I could become more aware of it. Early on in my horseback riding I was taught to never let the horse know you were afraid. I laugh at this now because trying to hide emotions from an animal is actually impossible, especially one that really knows you, or that you are sitting on top of!
When I would ignore my own fears and invalidate them, I would sometimes find that I unwillingly did this with animals I worked with, it would only cause more tension within me and in the animal I was training. I was fighting my fear rather than transforming it into something useful.
I had to learn to pause and reflect when I felt fear or uncertainty come up and really break apart what truly bothered me. Oftentimes our fears are illusions and visions that look at us from the future, and if we keep focusing on them they often come true. The very thing we don't want becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, a train we can't stop, and it all starts with a thought. We project ourselves into the future and create anxiety about a moment in time that only exists in our mind.
Reaching animals at a thought level has really helped me look into my own psychology and get to the root of some of the beliefs I hold and therefore change the way I react to problems, uncertainty, and fear. To figure out how I can stop that "bad" train of thought before it even starts.
If you have ever had a reactive dog, let's say they bit someone walking into your house-
You do some training and at some point are faced with this situation. Even though you are confident in your training, you will probably have some fear built up around the outcome of this situation. Your history says otherwise, and your future is uncertain. You try to push your mind to think positively, but the shaking in your hands and voice betrays you. The sweat beading on your forehead isn't because it's July. You can feel quite fearful and it can be really difficult to believe that your dog could act any differently. This is where I think it can be so helpful to reflect on ourselves and see if we can transmute this fear, to stop projecting into the false reality of the future, to stop looking to past history, and truly live in this new moment that holds so much promise. To accept how we feel, but to only choose thoughts that support what we are trying to accomplish, and to stand firmly in what we have learned and practiced and allow it to come forth.
If there is one thing I have learned, swallowing my fear and pretending it doesn't exist really isn't helpful. Have you ever tried to do that on a reactive spooky horse? Pretending you are not afraid your horse is a coiled spring ready to bolt, doesn't change that your horse is a coiled spring ready to bolt! It also makes me wonder why I would push a horse so far past their threshold that I would risk harming myself and the horse because they might bolt out of reactionary fear? Clearly riding an animal past threshold when they are clearly unable to think straight makes absolutely no sense. And yet, I am reminded that this what people expect, and have conditioned many riders to think- just cowgirl your way through it right?
That's what a good rider would do right?
The more I learn about animal training, the more backwards and egocentric I realize this logic is. The more we push ourselves past red flags, and dangerous thresholds the more our horses tell us they are also not ready for the situation we are putting them in. It has nothing to do with being a good rider- that's ego talking- and everything to do with returning to basics, and finding the root of the problem in the first place so that you can grow past this situation.
In these moments we need to slow down, let our ego go, and understand what our fear is trying to show us.
To me fear is an opportunity for growth, learning, and understanding- it's just letting me know there is something here causing me uncertainty.
It can also mean physical danger, but if I am in a situation where I am in physical danger then I am probably not making choices based in my personal safety, but most likely based in the survival and safety of my ego.
For me, gaining more understanding, knowledge, and experience at my own pace has always provided the best way for me to move through fear, and realize it's just a sign along the road and has nothing to do with who I am. The result of this growth is always more compassion for the animals I work with and the lengths they go to communicate with us. The lengths that I will go to truly understand them, communicate with them, and gain compassion for their experience.
So how do you react to fear, and how do you move past it for growth?
Do you have a mindful guardian that has taught you more about yourself ?