Friday, January 30, 2009

Steps 1 and 2 (of the Ten Step "I am scared of horse" Recovery Program)

(Rocky and I)

So..... what if I told you that I havent exactly... just quite yet....defined all ten steps in my ten step "I am Scared of Horses Recovery Program".... ?

Would that be a problem?

I hope not! Because you see.... I just don't have all the answers just yet!

Dr. Wayne Dryer and Deepak Chopra do!

But little ol' me... I'm still a work in progress.

Besides that... My ten steps might be different than yours...

It is a personal journey that must be determined by the individual. Last night I was reflecting on my program and I now feel the need to discuss each step at length. (are you surprised?)

So today, Step 1 and 2... the rest to follow in the coming week.

Here we go....

Step 1- Admit that I am scared of horses.

For cowgirls (at heart) this step is probably the hardest one of all. We have spent our life lusting after horses, dreaming of them, drawing them, wallpapering our bedrooms in their imagine, and riding imaginary ones through the fresh clipped lawn of our suburban backyards..... Horses encompass our spirit, they define us and captivate our minds. An so.... To fear horses seems a desecration of our love for them!.... Acknowledging that fear, accepting that it is well founded, and admitting that horses are dangerous- sacrilege.

(Me on Bolt at age 12)

One of my favorite poems speaks to that romantic notion we hold true of horses....

The Horse

His is a power enhanced by pride,

a courage heightened by challenge.

His is a swiftness intensified by strength,

a majesty magnified by grace.

His is a timeless beauty touched with gentleness,

a spirit that calls our hearts to dream.

- Anonymous

(Me at sixteen (on right) riding "the great and all knowing Jub Jub" (Jetta).)

It was my goal to accept and acknowledge step one (that fear), but to never, ever let it mar the long held love, respect and passion I have towards horses...or to let it inhibit my ability to suck every last ounce of joy and delight I can from their company!

That fear is our greatest ally in protecting our love of them! Because fear inspires caution-caution preserves us from injury- and injury is what most often destroys our confidence and inhibits our relationships.

Fear is our ally....but only in the right dosage!

We can only use this fear to our advantage if we can keep it to a healthy level. Like so many things in life, sometimes we have to learn the hard way. Most of us horsemen started out with too little fear and were injured as a result... now that injury provoked the natural fear we should have had to start with...only too much of it!...
And so Step One is about establishing some middle ground; enough fear to keep us cautious, but not so much that it disables our ability to lead.

This is where the problem came in for me. I finally got rid of Loachan/Cheekeye, the "evil-doer", but I had kept him too long and was left with so much fear that handing any horse had become a problem. Even when I tried to fake bravado and leadership, the horse I was handling would sense my unease and inevitably reacted to it by pushing on me a little or becoming nervous themselves. ... their reaction would evoke an even stronger fear response in myself (I'd hunch my shoulders, cower, tremble, etc.) ....which of course would lead to a stronger reaction from the horse.... and so it would go in turn, until I would loose control completely and rush to hand off the horse to someone else or put them away... which would only served to re enforce my fears and anxiety... and the behavior of the horse.....and so the vicious circle would go.

(Rocky and I in the bush)

Hence the "I am scared of horses recovery program" !

As so many people pointed out, the next step is most often to find a horse that will not react to your nervous energy and one who has abandoned the Rule Book of Horses (could care less about being a leader). This allows the fearful to preserve ourselves from injury while gaining (or re-gaining) our confidence and learning (or re-learning) to establish ourselves as leaders.

For me that meant adopting Step Two....

Step Two- I will not handle horses that are insane.

Did you know that in some Equine Assisted Therapy Programs (a post for another day) they introduce you to a bunch of different horses, ranging in age, size and temperament and have you choose the one that you feel most drawn too as a diagnostic tool!! They (the "shrinks") feel that woman are drawn towards the horse in the same way that we are drawn towards our personal issues or how we deal with life challenges (or something like that.) So, for example, a beaten and abused woman may be drawn to the wild and dangerous looking stallion (as a reflection of what she chose in life) or alternatively, if she is ready to move on and looking to heal, she may pick the calm, comforting and docile senior. I am sure I am doing a horrible job of explaining this, I hope you can grasp the gist of it as this important part of step two... which is to learn.....

(Doe eyed Miss Kitty)

What type of horse are you most drawn towards?

The wild and temperamental?

The soft and doe eyed?

The Steady Eddie?

The drama queen or king?

The flighty and fearful?

The indifferent, unaffectionate and reserved?

The ham?

Why do you think you are drawn to that type?

My point is that in the past I had (have) "broken wing syndrome". I am a very sensitive person and am highly emotional (Mom and Fel stop laughing!) and tend to have a fair amount of "feel" towards the emotional issues of others. As such, I am constantly drawn towards the emotionally needy horses. The broken hearted and abused. Unfortunately, with horses, the broken ones tend to be the ones with the most behavioral issues.

So step two is recognizing what type of horses you feel drawn towards and discerning whether or not it is the best match for you.

Now for you this might mean that you have to take a good hard look at your beloved Fluffy and decide if he is going to be able to carry you through this hump or not. Be brave. This is important. At this point the wrong horse could ruin your chances for recovery...!

If it is, great! You are ready to move on to step three.

If it isn't, you need to 1) take a whole whack of reality pills, 2) down a few swigs of "you gotta do whatchya gotta do", and 3) get ready to swallow a big ol' peace of humble pie......

'Cuase its time to recognize that 1) the horses you love is is now too much for you to handle! ....2) It is time to sell your beloved Fluffy! (or have someone else take over his care for a while)..... and 3) You need to take your (once iron nerved- Balls-to-the Walls-"I can ride anything") butt out to buy that kid broke, Steady Eddie, been-there-done-that, dead head.... (and not the type that takes quarters either!)

It is a humbling experience. Let me tell you! I didn't nail step two the first time around. In Devember 06 I bought Ellie. She was well broke, sweet, quiet and had great manners but she was young (four year old), cutting bred (hot and smart), and needed constant riding.


Obviously I hadn't eaten quite enough humble pie! I thought I could handle her (this was post-Loachan remember). Unfortunately a bunch of factors like: My being away a lot with my grandpa's illness/death/and estate clean up; An abscess that kept her off for a few months; The barn owners feeding her straight Alfalfa and rolled oats (and her loosing her brain on the sugar high that followed), My own fear issues; Her bad behavior resulting from my fear issues; Receiving an unsolicited offer "to good to refuse"- all combined to make me feel that the best decision was to accept the offer and move on to a Steady Eddie....

And that was about the time that I put out an ad that read, "Looking for a Steady Eddy or Eddette" (Seriously! I did! And yes I am a total geek!).

What I found was this picture and an ad that read....

"dead broke, 17 year old ex-ranch gelding, therapy horse, anyone can ride, BTDT, good ol' boy, 100% sound, no vices ....etc."

At the end of September 07 I went to see that horse... and found....



  1. I am enjoying reading your steps! Especially 'cause I've been there. I found my "steady Eddette" and rode her for 2 years. She gave me the confidence to get back on my own mare and make things work. Well, more REALIZE that I DID have what it takes to make it work and get over our issues. I am looking forward to Step 3! And as always, more on Shaunti.

  2. Okay this is so totally off the subject - but is that boy in the back ground of the picture of you on the grey checking you two out or what? Looks like he's so focused on you guys that he might trip in the next step or two he takes.

    Sigh....I feel for you - I really do. Although I can' quite know where you are coming from I can still feel for you.

    When I pick out a horse "me" not "trainer" or "mom" or "mom's horsey friend" I pick out a good 100% of the time. So i know I am drawn to the right type of horse.

    But for some reason I don't trust myself or I refer to others and get horses like the paint mare - or my rotten gelding. My trainer is currently shooting 1 and 1. He found Stretch so gets a good score - but he also recommended me buying the rotten gelding so he gets a minus score too.

    For my next horse - whenever that may be - I will be picking it out, whoever nerve racking that may be. I will get Trainer's approval before purchasing - but I will be doing the hunting.

  3. OH BTW - over on Melanie's post.... I am sorry to inform you that I called the Blue horse on the right first - my post just didn't go through! So I had to redo it LOL :) nee ner nee ner

  4. Stephanie- LOL- I JUST Notived that guy in the background when I went to post that picture. When you consider his perspective, I'd say he was getting an eye full!! LOL

    Dont you hate that? When you pick out a horse you really like but other people dont like them so you walk away. I think that even after all of this, I do trust my instinct. I just have to resist the desire to buy the ones I know are broken! It is nerve wracking though. That is why I bought Abby site unseen. I couldnt handle the heat!! So I got out of the kitchen! I lucked out on her.

    OH BTW!!! That blue is mine, darlin'!! Uh-huh! Finders keepers loosers weepers! LOL

    Natarojo- I am so happy to hear that it worked out well for you. Sounds like you kept your head together and thought your way through it. Good for you!! Glad you like the posts.

    Btw- I cleaned up my post a little..sorry you caught it so early!

  5. After reading your two posts on this, I'm sure you're on the right track to the perfect horse to help you get your confidence back. I think everyone should have a Steady Eddy or Edette, you're not a geek, you're just a sane thinking horsewoman. Can't wait to read more and see how you are managing with your Shaunti.

  6. Hello my name is Andrea and I am scared of Horses, well, riding them. I had three kids and it knocked the balls right off this cowgirl! I know how to ride, I love to ride, but I am scared to ride. I hate it.

    I have a four year old that needs finished being broke, and I am saving to send him to a trainer, he just has me scared. I can't wait for my old faithful mare to have her baby and I can ride her again. Get my guts back where they belong.

    Great post.

    Oh, and I look for the dead head horse. I like the lazy laid back one. Soft eye, mellow look. That is why I love WP horses!! Laid back and slow. That is my pace!!

    So, when I look to buy a horse, I stay away from the bug eyed, high headed crazies!! I can spot one from a mile away.

  7. Am so enjoying your steps...can hardly wait for the next post....
    When I was 16 mom and I went out horseback riding . I did'nt know she could ride and was astonished when she said lets go rent some horses and go for a trail ride ( in those days you had no guide ...just you and your horse) We got our horses and away we went...still astonished at my mom and amazed that over 50 (lol) she could even get on a horse let a lone ride...well to make a long story short we got to the rode to cross and her horse started side stepping....and prancing ...and as she monovered him accross the rode he stood up on his hind legs like Trigger and and walked the rest on two legs...I was Asonished again to see the least...when we got to the other side ...I was shaking...and she looked casually at me and said..."mmm I still got it"....thanks for awakening that memory...enjoying your posts...
    Big Guys Mom....

  8. I am very glad I found your blog I am enjoying it very much! The steps are great. All through highschool I worked on horse farms and as soon as I was old enough I moved out west to work at bigger places. I always started two year olds for years I rode horses for a living still do. My husband and I work on a large cattle ranch so horses are our livlyhood. I have been severly injured so many times, broken arm , leg concussions etc. Up until I had children I was fearless as you could say. When my kids came along I started thinking about the what if's. You know what if this mare falls down on me my kids won't have a mom etc. A ranch manager told me years back when I was working a place in colorado. He was horseman for sure. He had just broken his ankle on a new colt he had bought. I asked him something about it and he told me this " If you start thinking about the what if's when you are riding then you will never beable to truly ride that horse. You have to regain your confidence for your horse to have confidence in you" Up until five years ago I use to ride any horse put infront of I just jump on and go. Now though I do still start some two year olds I am much pickier and if it's aproblem horse my husband get's it. And now though I hate to give him the satisfaction he always puts the first rides on them I use to keep up with the boys but the what if's have gotten me too. Megan

  9. I can completely see using what type of horse a woman selects as a statement of where she is when it comes to human relationships. I've known for a long time that my predisposition to pick "difficult" men to have relationships with is directly related to my same desire to pick "difficult" horses...I like to "fix" things. Of course, a person could say that I learned to pick difficult horses because my father was a difficult man to have a relationship with...LOL...irregardless, it is all intertwined. Kinda like while I was married to a really nice, safe and sane man and only rode horses with no was the most boring time of my life. I don't mean that in a "mean" way, I was just so unchallenged.
    These days, I like intelligent, opinionated horses, that have small fixable issues or need constant guidance, I find them challenging and rewarding, just like the relationship I have with My Honey. And him with me. I am sure he would say that I can be difficult and also need a firm hand to keep me in line-LOL.

  10. This is great Chelsi, and I totally agree that women are attracted to the same pesonalties in horses and people (especially!!)

    Me??? I like a horse that is trustworthy and loyal, with the tendency to still think on their own...would you call that stubborn??? LOL!!!

    I also like them to be well trained. After having kidlets, I have found that I like to just ride. I don't have time to train and discipline a young one. I want to be able to just get on and go, and I want my horse to be responsive and know what I am asking of it. Thankfully, I have found that in Bo. :)

    Again, having never been fearful of horses on the ground, doesn't mean that I am not fearful of being on their backs...and I do not hesitate to admit that.
    Hmmmm...maybe I will do a post about that email.....

  11. PS-I had to laugh when I read Stephanies comment about picking out good horses 100% of the time, because I feel the same way too!!!

    Most of my fear issues have to do with what has happened to other people while riding, and not what has actually happened to me.
    That's why I want a trustworthy horse...too much can go wrong, even on a good one. :)

  12. Unlike all of you reading this (or so it seems), I didn't grow up around horses, riding horses or even thinking about horses. I always loved them in general terms but they were so out of the realm of my reality that I never even let myself think about riding one, never mind owning one. When I started riding from scratch at 40+ I was lucky enough to find a kind and positive teacher who started me out on some wonderful lesson horses. I guess what I am trying to say is that I didn't bring any bad habits or pre-conceived notions to the table and I have a healthy respect for the danger involved. I am still a wide-eyed newbie, but one with a hot thoroughbred (and the same great trainer) to teach me and her how to become a good team. I didn't choose her, her circumstances chose me. It will be interesting to see what kind of horse I pick when I have the ability to choose for myself.

  13. You have evaluated yourself very wisely and have made some tough, but good choices. Shaunti was a good choice. That is the kind of horse that puts the fun into riding. Love the photos.

  14. I've just read these posts about this and I totally understand. Totally! I've had a couple of these type horses and my fare share of injury and it sucks the confidence right out of you. I too am still working on it!

  15. You are doing a very wise thing. And that 17 yr. old ex-ranch gelding is mighty handsome! Hope we see some photos of you on his back. Good luck!

  16. how fortituous that i saw this.. unlike you i'm a fairly new rider (3 years and now 3 horses.. a tb mare, a quarter horse... and an arabian).. so i envy your "fearless as a kid " history since i dont have that to uh fall back on....

    The arabian has given me cause for fear since he's the quickest mover.. but as i always say fear, is your friend and i keep working thru it.. somedays it's harder than others..

    what do you'all do on days where it's feeling more like "ugh"? I so love my horses.

    happy trails

  17. Hmmmmm, as before you have given me much to ponder over, my friend.

    Even though I know this is your 10 step program, I feel like you are also speaking to me, or at least this can pertain to me...and that I at least need to think about it.

    I'm enjoying reading about your past horse horse experiences and seeing the photos. You were/are such a beautiful/cute gal. Such a lovely smile, too. :)

    As for me I lean toward "The indifferent, unaffectionate and reserved" horse because that is typically how I am personally. As a child of divorce, a deceased Mother, and raised as a latch key kid by a working stepmom and Dad I learned quickly to take care of myself and not to reply on others for my happiness. I wasn't a spoiled, loved and doted-on child, so I unfortunately tend to not be that way with my own children, though I do work on giving more affection and love as often as I can. It feels so odd, though.

    My mare is also indifferent, unaffectionate and reserved, though she permits me to love on her and she does seem to quietly appreciate my company.
    I don't appreciate needy, pushy, in-your-face horses, though I wouldn't mind a horse that was a little more affectionate and a little less independant.

    It's interesting to delve into the personalities of our horses and how this relates to our own personalities.

    I wonder if this means that when I can finally ride again, if I should look for a horse dependant on me as a leader?
    Especially since I have a feeling I'll need to work through confidance issues and don't need to be worried about being one step ahead of my independant mare....

    hmmmm, much to think about. Thanks.

    Looking forward to reading about Shaunti now.


  18. Thank you so much for your posts on fear. I'm still somewhere between Steps 1 and 2 myself. I rescued my beautiful OTTB gelding. He had been seized at least twice in his life for starvation, and endured who knows what else. I spent the first year with him just putting weight on him.And when the time finally came to work with him, well let's just say he scared the bejeezus out of me. I hadn't felt that kind of fear around horses since I was very young. As an adult, I just desperately wanted to find "my" horse, fix him, and enjoy him. It's been about 4 years now, and he still scares me on a lot of days. I'm learning with the help of a couple of wonderful trainers who are sensitive to my fears, but also provide the leadership that Charlie so desperately needs. Some days, just getting him out of his stall, brushing him, putting a saddle on, and then taking it off and putting him away is a success. Others, I really enjoy getting on him and riding, and I wonder why the stars can't align like that every day. I'm still a work in progress! In the meantime, a fantastic little mare named Ginger was given to me to be my "for fun" horse, who I could hop on and love and not have so much baggage with. One day, Charlie and I will get there, but with Ginger in my court, I'm not in as much of a hurry anymore. Thanks again for your inspiring posts! They let me know I'm not alone in the fear I feel. I just started up a blog of my own, and would love it if you could check it out!