I am a consummate saleswoman, it’s what I do. I expect it’s another genetic trait I’ve inherited, like curly hair and cancer. I could make a healthy living selling assisted dying packages (payment up front of course) on a commission-only basis, and believe my spiel sufficiently to buy a package for myself. I might even stockpile. I’ve managed to sell myself to myself all these years in a convincing game of smoke and mirrors, so could I also sell myself a life without fear? It was a challenge I could not resist.
Like all horses, Bruce has a strict moral code that does not trust sales pitches. My friend Tessa calls her horse the Truth Serum Horse, which is a perfect title. Bruce shut the door in my face each time I presented myself with a re-invented mask and new set of false dialogue; he knew it was still the same me. Eventually he stopped bothering to answer the door, and pinned a notice on the front window that read ‘come back when you tell the truth’. That horse speaks his mind, he is no schmoozer. In the end, the only resource left was to strike a deal and agree we would both tell the truth. Bruce is a stoic horse and he’d chosen to shut down rather than dump the burden he carried, so it wasn’t easy for him either.
My side of the bargain was that if I didn’t understand something I’d say so, stop pretending, and allow us to work together. I promised I would become my authentic self so that what he saw was what he got, although I had no idea who or what that was. He made no such promises because horses aren’t that needy, but basically we were both going to cut the crap, and I would always listen if he wanted to say something. Living with a horse is like living with a four-legged lie detector, and Bruce was definitely going to tell me if fearlessness became another pretence.
When I started my blog, I posted about how changing narrative helped me cope, so the first step for me was to change fear’s name, and see if that diluted the connotations it evoked. I renamed fear Early Warning System; a positive name for something facilitating a safer life and not an inhibited one.
One of the comments on my previous post about feeling fear, was from Susan who asked “Did you know your fear is afraid as well? Your fear is afraid to stop trying to protect you”. These words really struck a chord with me, because I was a born people-pleaser; my job was to make things better. By fighting it, I’d inadvertently upset my fear and made things worse! Now the dynamic had changed I could be the prime motivator, making amends by helping my fear protect me, because as we all know, it is easier to help someone else, than to help yourself.
Ten years ago when I first had Bruce, I found myself adrift in a minefield of fear and broken dreams. I’d expected my rescue horse to relax and rejoice in his liberation, but misplaced adoration was no substitute for structure. As he took the necessary steps to safeguard himself at all costs, he grew more anxious and bullish and I grew more scared. We were both in a situation we couldn’t handle, and in a misguided struggle to regain the upper hand, I thought false bravado would give me power. I didn’t, but it began the journey towards giving me something much better. Understanding.
Confidence Coach Cathy Sirett had a blog which I began reading, and she wrote about a scale exercise for enabling change. If grade number one is the best, and grade number five is the worst, find what you can do to move one-step back and lower the grade. It was the first time I considered my thoughts unemotionally, and probably the first time I took a breath; it gave me something constructive to do (direction not correction!) This method has worked in many aspects of my life, and I had a brainwave, tried something different and did the scale from my fear’s perspective. Boy, did that hit the spot! My fear didn’t get more anxious as I got more confident, because it WANTED me confident. It wanted to take a backseat and only went into overdrive when it felt unheeded. My Early Warning System simply wanted to protect me, and then it wanted to sit with its feet up and enjoy doing nothing.
As all good horses are wont to do, Bruce led me towards different teaching methods and better insight. How horses do this is one of the great unsolved mysteries of all time. After a life-changing introduction to Kirsty and her Mark Rashid teachings, he deposited me at Anna’s Relaxed & Forward barn in a cloud of dust. My debt to this horse is infinite, not only did he facilitate my momentous personality overhaul; he also gave me two of the deepest and dearest friendships imaginable.
In a transatlantic Messenger chit-chat with another R&F barn member, Kimberley asked me if I thought at our age, fear was the trade-off for wisdom. De-cluttering books always tell us to discard something old when you bring in something new, but I don’t think fearlessness needs to shuffle aside to make room for wisdom. Maybe wisdom arrives so slowly because we’ve been looking for it in the wrong places? Fear is just a feeling, the same as happiness and sorrow, its part of us and I think we need to celebrate that fact. Selling myself a life without fear isn’t the answer, but I would like to live alongside what I now understand is an ally. I am not pretending (to you or myself) that I’ve suddenly become brave or confident. I’m not telling my horse I can do this, because he knows what I can and I can’t do before that information reaches my own brain.
There are no set plans how to deal with fear; it’s a suck-it-and-see situation because what works one day may not work the next. Everything in life changes; right now this is how fear presents itself, this is where I am, and it feels exactly the right place. Mindfulness teaches us not to hang on to feelings good or bad. All we have to do is acknowledge them and let them pass. Something so simple should be easy but we all know it is not. I think working on letting fear go, and not trying to quell it with dominance is the way forward, however difficult that might be. This morning I talked it over with my horse. He was busy doing the important stuff of eating spring grass and scratching his nose, and didn’t say much while I spoke. As I finished my explanation, he lifted his head, flicked his tail and studied me for a good few seconds, with ears pricked forward. Then he went back to eating. I consider that a yes, because this time, the door stayed open.