It was clear that Whisper was an arena horse. A term often used to describe a horse who’s comfortable and relaxed riding in an arena, and everything but that when out on a open trail. Generally, it’s no fault of their own. It’s simply where they’ve been ridden and what they're accustomed too.
Whisper and I had been trai riding a few times with friends, and while easily startled and wary of new things, she would follow the lead of the other horses in the group and continue on. Our first solo ride didn’t go as well. We’d barely walked into the desert before I realized we had some work to do before trail riding safely on our own.
I began hand walking her around the neighborhood. We made progress and she’d become more confident and familiar with many of the “strange” things we’d encounter, but there was one obstacle she just couldn’t get comfortable with. A brown adobe brick fence, about 3 or so feet high, that curved back and forth like a snake rather than a straight like other fences.
A few days ago, we worked with the fence. She made it known this was NOT her idea of fun and could clearly see no reason to make peace with it. Back and forth we worked, walking up close to the fence, and then away from it, a couple of times close enough for her to put her nose on it. There were times she wanted to panic and run, but each time she found the courage to stay and trust.
This went on for a while. Her fear had not completely gone away but had come down a couple of notches. It was time to call it good for the day and end on a positive note. We then walked to one of her favorite patches of grass down the road a bit further. The fence was soon forgotten as she grazed on belly high grass.
Then there was the matter of the return walk home by the fence. Within our first couple of steps in front of the property with the fence I could see wrinkles of wariness above her eyes. I kept calmly breathing and lead her on. Her paced quickened, and her eyes grew wide. I talked softly to her and made certain my hand on the lead rope was relaxed. And then a jogger suddenly appeared behind us on the other side of the road.
Whisper lunged forward, hit the end of the lead rope and spun around to face me.Nostrils flared, ears alert, eyes wide as saucers, and her feet dancing on the earth, one could feel the electric energy in the air. It took a minute to calm her and turn her towards home once again.
Now she was seeing everything as a potential hazard. The puddle of water she’d walked through before was now danger. The leaves blowing in the breeze were unwelcomed movement. Max, who had been with us the entire way now annoyed her and she kept swinging her head to take nips at him. She found it hard to relax the rest of our walk home.
Afterwards, reflecting on what had happened, I had some beautiful moments of insight. There are many nuggets of wisdom tucked within this experience with Whisper and want to share just a few.
When we want to find things to “spook” us – we will. At a certain point Whisper saw everything as a possible threat and so it was. What we choose to see is our own reality. Max and I both saw the same things she did, but neither of us had the same experience, or reaction, that she did.
There are times in our lives when we become “arena horses”. Comfortable in our comfort zones where there is very little variance and things are predictable. We don’t learn, grow or have new experiences in this place. We never see new horizons or feel the freedom of living beyond previously self-defined limitations.
When we face our fears, look straight into the eyes of uncertainty, and walk toward them we take their power away and regain ours. It takes courage, it takes faith, and it’s the path to greater freedom.
We now have a few days of 2020 under our belts. As you look within and decide what dreams you’ll bring to life this year, I encourage you to do so with these three nuggets in mind:
What you choose to see and believe creates your own reality,
If your dream lays outside the arena, open the gate and ride out, and
Your biggest dreams, and the freedom they represent, require you to face your biggest fears and walk through them.