Thursday, December 31, 2020

Overcoming the Fear of Being Afraid: Why Getting Back In The Saddle Is So Important

Riders fall off. Riders who wish to remain emotionally healthy get back on. Kids who fall, without strong emotional support and guidance, often make life altering decisions to surrender to fear and never get back in the saddle. For many it is the beginning of a life of anxiety, avoidance behavior, and risk aversion.

Adults need to work hard to help kids understand their feelings. It is not at all unusual to have a child loose control of a trotting, or even cantering, horse and then gently fall off when the horse stops. The child does not want to get back on because  (they think) that they are afraid of falling off. This is true even when the fall itself was a complete non-event that did not cause the slightest injury.

On the other hand, the feeling of being on the horse without having the horse under control  for the seconds prior to the fall is terrifying. Often it is not the fall that is the problem, it is the terror that comes before the fall. No one, child or adult, would look forward to experiencing such a loss of control and its associated feelings of terror. 

Adults can help the child by leading the child to an understanding of exactly what it is that the child fears. There are two important concepts, often quite difficult for a child to accept, that can lead to break throughs in combatting riding anxiety.

Help the child verbalize and relive the event. Let the child talk about how scary it was. Talk to the child about how horrible it feels to be that afraid. Let the child talk about how scary it was to want the horse to stop while having those wishes completely ignored. 

Then move on to the hard part. Talk to the child about how they could have gained control of the horse. Make sure that the child understands and can fully apply the one reined stop. Have them sit in a chair with reins in hand and practice, over and over, what we can do to bring a horse back into control.  Help them learn that they are not helpless when riding. 

Then move on to the part that is even harder. Explain that the fear is natural and that it is ok to be afraid, but help them understand the difference between being scared and being injured. Help them understand that as horrible as it feels to be afraid, fear, in and of itself, will not cause injury or short term pain.

Help them understand that being afraid of fear is a problem that can be over come.

And most of all let them know that you understand how hard it is to get back on and that you admire the maturity and judgement that they are showing when they confront their fears. Every time one confronts a fear and faces it down one has achieved a victory that creates positive emotional capital. Those victories matter as one faces life's future challenges. 

Few things are sadder to see in young people than full blown anxiety disorder. There are few things that horses can do that are more important than presenting challenges and giving opportunities for success to young people. 

A kid who has his pocket filled with specific incidences of times when he successfully over came fear will one day grow up and will likely face dark nights of the soul. At such time a person is forced to conduct  brutal self analysis. As the crisis looms before that adult they must ask at their very deepest level, "Who am I?'

A child who has been guided to take on challenges can often answer that question with the deepest of sincerity.

"Who am I?"

" I am the person who does not give up. I am the person who works hard. I am the person who endures. I am the person who struggles. I have proven that I am the person who does not back down."

There are few times in a kid's life that they are more in need of calm, patient, loving direction than when they confront terror after having fallen. Providing that guidance is not easy. But it is necessary. 

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