In working with my current ‘project’ horse, one of my primary goals is helping him overcome fear.
Horses are prey animals. They’re designed to be alert for danger and run away. That’s how they survive.
So, when a horse spooks at a puddle, bolts from a plastic bag, or balks at a creek crossing, he’s not just being cantankerous and troublesome. From the horse’s perspective it is a life and death situation in which he is doing what he must to survive.
Picture yourself riding horseback along a forest path. Everything is going fine. You’re riding with loose swinging reins and the horse is stepping out with a long walking stride. The sun is shining. There’s a light breeze whispering the leaves. You’re smiling, relaxed, enjoying nature’s serenity.
Then a deer jumps out! Your horse starts to bolt and you grab the reins. He bucks you off and runs 30 yards down the trail before stopping.
From your perspective everything was going fine until your horse decided to act like an idiot over a harmless deer. From the horse’s perspective, he was running to save his life…you tried to stop him…so he did what he had to do to flee the mortal danger.
This is what we face when we decide to mount and ride. The horse’s perspective is very different from ours. So, how do we get the horse to a point where he’s not running off every time the wind blows?
We help him overcome his fears.
We do it for our own sake, because this partnership can’t work if he’s always looking for a reason to run off. But we also do it for the horse’s sake…to help him become a better horse…to help him become a braver horse who isn’t afraid of his own shadow…to help him become a horse a rider can trust.
We want to help the horse become the best horse he can be.
So, how do we do that?
I actually began helping Knockout overcome his fears the first time I interacted with him. By simply greeting him in a friendly manner, I helped him overcome his fear of me. Then I began teaching him to respect me and pay attention. I began developing a means of communicating with him and started getting very particular about how he responds to my cues.
As Knockout learns to respect and trust me…as he learns to pay attention to me…as he learns to respond quickly to a soft cue…his confidence grows and he becomes less afraid.
The key to helping a horse overcome his fear is to gain his trust and hold his attention. If my horse trusts me, pays attention to me, and knows how to respond to my cues, he will be less afraid.
However, it can be very difficult to keep his attention when he faces new surroundings or encounters something he hasn’t seen before.
So I expose him to more stimuli. I take him places he hasn’t been before. I introduce him to objects he hasn’t seen before. I ask him to do new things he hasn’t done before.
I keep pushing him outside his comfort zone.
I don’t push him to make him bothered or afraid. Quite the opposite! I do it to help him overcome his fear…to help him learn to be brave. It’s a big world out there and he needs to learn to deal with it…to be confident and responsive in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
I’m not setting him up for failure. I’m setting him up for success. I’m not creating new environments just to bother him. I’m gradually exposing him to existing environments he hasn’t seen before…environments beyond the little pasture he lives in.
And slowly, over time, with consistency and patience, Knockout is learning to have faith in me. We are progressing toward a point where it won’t matter that he is in a new and unfamiliar situation so long as I am present….he doesn’t know the unfamiliar surroundings, but he knows me…and that is enough…because he trusts me.
I want Knockout to learn, in unfamiliar situations, rather than being nervous and unsure what to do, to simply look to me for direction…to pay attention to me…to focus on what I’m telling him…and to trust me to guide him safely.
Does it sometimes seem like God is continually pushing you outside your comfort zone? Does it feel like you’re facing one catastrophe after another? Do you ever wonder why? Why, God, what did I do to deserve this?
I know I’ve sometimes felt this way…sometimes asked these questions…
I’m learning God doesn’t allow catastrophe and discomfort into my life to punish me or make me afraid.
He does it to help me learn to be brave. He does it to help me become a better person. He wants me to be the best person I can be…to fulfill the destiny He preordained for me before the foundation of the world…to be conformed to the image of Christ. He wants me to become who He created me to be…the image of God.
God is not setting me up for failure. He’s setting me up for success. God is not creating toxic environments just to bother me. He’s gradually exposing me to existing environments I haven’t experienced before.
Do you realize how many times the Bible tells us to fear not…to not be afraid…to be strong and courageous…to not be discouraged or dismayed? Over and over and over. These are some of the most repeated phrases throughout scripture.
God is very interested in helping us overcome our fear. Why? Because it’s a big world out there and we need to be able to handle it…to hear His voice and respond no matter what the circumstances.
How do we do that? Pretty similar to how a horse does it.
We spend time with the Master. We learn to communicate with Him. We learn to listen and respond to His cues. We learn to trust Him. We learn to pay attention to Him…to keep our focus on Him even when we’re scared.
And slowly, over time, with consistency and patience, we learn that His presence is enough. No matter what the circumstances, we don’t have to be afraid, so long as He is with us…because we’ve learned to trust Him.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.
For I am the Lord your God…” (Isaiah 43:1-3)
God wants me to learn, in unfamiliar situations, rather than being nervous and unsure what to do, to simply look to Him for direction…to pay attention to Him…to focus on what He’s telling me…and to trust Him to guide me safely.
And He wants the same for you!