"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'
Donna's hooves hit the earth with a gentle clip clop, reassuring in its predictable rhythm. The sun warmly beat down on us as we rode through the hills. Her ears were pricked up and we were both eager for the ride. This was only the third or fourth time we’d been on a trail ride in the months we’d been together; taking things slow was key with Donna.
All was good in the world - for exactly five seconds before a wild goat blindsided us.
The kid shot out from the bushes with a startled bleat. Its eyes bulged in its head as it was pursued by Dad's unruly - and apparently at that second, deaf - young Kelpie, Indy.
Every muscle in Donna’s body went taut beneath me as she stopped dead in her tracks. I barely managed to stay in the saddle. Reacting quickly, I tried to verbally reassure her while patting her neck, as I simultaneously growled at Indy who was chasing the kid a merry dance, oblivious to the chaos he was creating.
Donna snorted and danced nervously on the spot, but one ear cocked back, listening to my words. It seemed things might be okay...
However, the kid spotted an escape route and dashed toward it. Unfortunately, it was under Donna's belly.
I only had time to think 'Oh no,” and notice in a blur that:
I jumped up and called helplessly after her as she disappeared over the ridge, heading for home in a blind flight instinct stampede. I dusted myself off and hurried after her, hoping she wouldn't hurt herself.
Thirty minutes later I arrived home to find her soaked in sweat, hiding behind my sister's 'wonder pony,' Asha. Her reins had caught around the inside of her front leg, she was a little shaken up, and looked almost ashamed that she had left me behind. To my relief, she was otherwise fine. I dug out a carrot from my pocket and offered it to her. She approached cautiously and I stroked her velvet nose soothingly as she crunched. She signed heavily, nuzzling in my hands. “Its okay, Donna girl.”
Donna was a skeptic, highly sensitive and reactive to the slightest thing. She always tried her hardest to please, but her strong flight instinct and fear often won out, making her a danger to herself and others in her mad dash to escape whatever startled or scared her.
Having no confidence in herself, running away was the only way she could deal with frightening situations. And to her, everything was potentially frightening.
During rides, she relied on the rein contact as almost a mental support to keep her on track. I literally couldn't let go of the reins without sending her into a panic of, “What do you want me to do? I don't know what you want me to do!”
We needed to rebuild her foundation of self-confidence and trust. This involved much pleading, reassuring, rewarding, and just about every holistic and horsemanship trick in my toolbox. With time and hard work, we began to replace her self-doubt with self-confidence.
Flash forward seven years and you won't believe the difference! I can let go of the reins completely and her world doesn't come to a grinding stop. Instead, she'll just turn to me as if to say, “What are you up to?”
Sometimes we all need a person in our lives to tell us it’s okay, to give us the push we need to step out of our comfort zone and grow. And to shine a light on the monsters, our fears, so we can see them for what they really are and be less afraid.
Then one day, like Donna, we find we can let go of the reins and trust ourselves.
Siobhan is a Visual Artist Connecting Animal Lovers with Customized & Magical Animal Portraits, and an optimistic realist with a day job.