Fear: The second lesson

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

My twentieth summer I worked as a wrangler for a dude Ranch in Colorado. We put on a rodeo for our incoming guests arriving on Saturday. We tried out different horses and practiced roping calves. We set up and played horse games with the kids. But the main event for us wranglers was riding the bare-back broncs and bulls. So once a week we had our own little rodeo in which we all got a few opportunities to ride some buckers.

Every time I got into the chute to situate myself on a bucking horse I could feel my heart beating. I was afraid. I would picture myself catapulted through the air. I wondered if anyone else was afraid. So I took my own little poll amongst the wranglers. Everyone admitted they were afraid. Some of them offered that it was a good thing because the shot of adrenaline made us stronger.

One of the wranglers stood out from the others because he was clearly a better bare-back rider. By chance I talked to him last. When I put the question to him, “Are you afraid when you get on a bronc in the chute?” He didn’t answer right off, but got thoughtful. “No!”, he replied, “I don’t have time to be afraid. I’m too busy picturing myself riding the horse for the full eight seconds.” I believed him and it made sense. I was picturing myself flying through the air and sure enough my dreams were coming true. He was visualizing staying with the horse and it was clear to everyone; he was staying with his horse.

I took what he said to heart and I became a better rider. In my fear, I had a habit of hunching forward which was a set-up for falling. I began to work on leaning back more consistently. I lost of much of the fear, but I think it was because I rode these buckers so often that summer I kind of got used to it, if that is possible. I know my attitude changed toward mounting the wild trainees. I was respectful and careful, but not afraid of them.

While exposing wild horses to human ways, they and the rodeo horses were putting me through a similar process. I had a friend who lived on a lake in Iowa. He and I water-skied regularly and I got to be fairly proficient. I could slalom and zip back and forth pretty well. We skied together in May. When I got back from Colorado we skied again in September. Now here is a question. What does water-skiing have to do with riding bucking horses? After my turn on the skis, my friend said, “I see you’ve been skiing this summer. You’re a lot better”. I had not been on a lake all summer. I knew I was better, but it had not registered why, and then it hit me. I had been thrown from a bucking horse and bulls almost every Saturday. (I say ‘almost every Saturday’, because sometimes I actually rode them.) Water is softer than rocky, hard ground or fence posts. I was a better skier because I lost my fear. The horses I worked with were better and more reliable friends because they had lost their fear.

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3 Responses to Fear: The second lesson

  1. Marije says:

    This is interesting. The question i have: how can someone lose their fear once it’s there? Often you see that something happens to someone (like falling off a horse) and from then on he or she is afraid and nothing seems to help loose that fear again.

  2. jrlewis says:

    Thank you Marije, this question deserves a long discussion by experts in psychology.

    Here is a short answer by a wise old cowboy speaking with authority in gravelly voice to a scared but motivated kid. “What do ya do when you get throwed from a horse? You get right back on. Don’t let her think that she’s the boss”.

    A slightly longer answer by a part-time horse trainer with first-hand personal experience is that the person will learn to lose his fears, same as a horse, through repeated, careful exposure. Several rides on a gentle horse with no mishaps and the fears will disappear.

  3. Marije says:

    Yes, i think that might help. And maybe also understanding. The more we understand why the horse does certain things, the more we want to help and support the horse, and forget our own fears, don’t you think?

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