Overcoming Fear

What scares you that doesn’t necessarily scare others?

For me, it’s been horses. Not to see them, be near them, or even pet them. It’s riding them. I’ve been opposed to doing so most of my life.

My fear of horses came from experience. I’d gone to a two week long overnight camp when I was 10 or 11, that offered extracurricular activities. I knew a few of the girls going to camp and they suggested we all sign up for horseback riding. So I did. When we went to ride horses for the first time the camp counselors asked me my experience level. I should have said “beginner”, but instead I said, “intermediate.” I paused, did I say that to impress my friends? They all did have riding experience and I didn’t want to be left behind. “Are you sure?” The counselor asked. I think she picked up on my uncertainty. “Yes,” I said, trying to put a brave face on. “Okay,” she replied, and so I was put in the intermediate group. It was clear fast that I didn’t know what I was doing. The instructors helped me, but I could easily tell these creatures needed to be handled a certain way — a way that an experienced rider would know — needless to say, I was scared.

Every day we would ride a different horse. Most of the horses were easygoing, and relatively easy to handle. I was grateful. Then one day I was told I’d be riding Lightning. He was a bit more to handle but the instructors told me I was ready. Well, I wasn’t. I got on the horse and it took off at full speed. I was holding on for dear life and had no sense for how to slow him down. After several minutes, and with the aid of others, the horse finally calmed down and I was able to safely get down, but not without feeling traumatized. I’d seen my life flash before my eyes. I was told by the counselors what happened wasn’t my fault, but I was done with horses. Done. Until this year.

We had scheduled to visit some of the National Parks (Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce). My husband wanted to set us up for some ‘experiences’ for the family while on the trip. One was going to the Antelope Slot Canyon and doing a tour. Another was doing horseback in Bryce Canyon. I had a decision to make — continue to be scared of riding horses for the rest of my life or face my fear. I thought it was time to address it, and an opportunity to show my kids that anyone can conquer a fear at any age.

We got to the stable the morning of our ride. I was given the tallest horse in the group. Gulp. They helped me on the horse. I was scared, but I saw my sons ahead of me on their horses. They seemed calm, I figured I should project calmness myself. 😊

The horses started down the canyon. I felt like a giant rocking back and forth so high in my saddle. Our wrangler was good — very straightforward, knowledgeable and encouraging. He helped build both my sons confidence in riding and mine. By the time we reached the bottom of the canyon my fear had subsided and we were all enjoying ourselves.

When we returned to the stable, we got off our horses. “What did you think?” I asked my boys. “I was scared at first, but after a while I really enjoyed it,” one son said. “Me too,” the other chimed in, “I’d definitely do that again.” I decided to come clean with my boys. I hadn’t said a word about my fear of riding as I didn’t want them to take on my fear. “I think I overcame my fear of riding horses today,” I said. “You were scared?” they asked. I told them the story of camp and shared how it was likely the difference in the immaturity of the camp counselors (who couldn’t have been more than 17-18 at the time) and our wrangler who was mature and wise regarding horses that made the difference. “Mom thought it’d be a good idea to show you you can overcome fears, and try things again, even if you haven’t done it for decades.” My boys just smiled. I smiled too. Any fear we had was behind us. It was a good day for us all.

How do you help your child work through fear?