Even though I’ve mostly beat my horse demons to submission, I would like to explain why I never ever minimize anyone else’s fear regarding horses, or push them past where they feel comfortable. Because you see, I have a fear that will not go away:
I am afraid of dogs. Deathly afraid of dogs. Big dogs, little dogs, and mostly – barking dogs.
Do you know what doesn’t help when someone like me is dealing with a fear like this one? To minimize it by saying that it’s irraitonal, or that it will be OK. Because it’s NOT OK. I’m dealing with feelings that most people only have to deal with when facing down a Lion in the African Jungle. The fear is real, and it’s big, and it’s disabling. There are beautiful country roads that I won’t run down because of the risk of a loose dog coming off a property for me. Getting out of the truck at a family members house and going past their unsecured dogs to the door is a chore in self control.
I am 100% OK with exactly one dog – Toby, a dog I grew up with that lives at my parents house. Who is the sweetest, most perfect dog there ever was.
What’s sad is a LIKE dogs. I like having them around, I like them on trail rides, I like the companionship. It’s just my first, uncontrollable, reaction to any dog running towards me is pure fear.
There was no big, tramatic event in my child hood. I grew up with and around dogs. Before I started working for a vetrinary clinic in college, I never got bit, and during my work at the clinic, none of the bites broke skin.
Similarly to conquering my horse fears, I’ve analyzed it, I’ve mentally prepared for it, and I’ve tried to conquer it.
It some ways – it’s better. As a child I would scream and cry and get hysterical, no matter what size of dog. When going to relatives’ houses, I would sit in the truck and pretend to fiddle with stuff until they came out of the house to greet me. Now, I’m forthright on the phone when going to a house of unknown dog factors. “Do you have a dog” “Is he nice” “will be locked up” – so I can prepare myself.
I step out of the vehicle. I ignore the dog. I do not look at the dog. I do not acknowlege the dog is there. I cross my arms on my chest if I’m really nervous, but other wise I hold them at my sides. I take deep breathes and I clear my mind. I walk straight. It doesn’t take much to cause an adrenaline surge that has me bolting back to the comfort of my vehicle.
Sometimes, depending on how well I know the dog and breed, I’m overly friendly to the dog, talking to it in that high pitched baby voice and putting on a smile.
I lay some of the blame on the owners – a well behaved dog at its owners’ side makes me smile. A happy, bounding dog that is ignoring it’s owners shouts, as it approaches me is what sends me into hysterics.
I once thought that my fear of dogs was going to prevent me from becoming a vet. I worked for 2 years at a small animal facility, and although I wasn’t truly comfortable, I could be professional and get the job done. I’m going to be a commercial food vet so I won’t have to deal with strange dogs on a daily basis.
I have a young cousin who is acting the same way I did around dogs at her age. Many family members are saying the same things they did when I was young. “it’s irrational”, “it will be OK” “it’s because she isn’t around dogs enough”. I took a different approach.
We talked about how real the fear is.
We talked about different coping strategies – how to breathe, where to put our hands.
I acknowleged her fear as real, and acknowleged it was a big deal.
This same cousin is horse crazy, even though she isn’t around horses and her family doesn’t have a “horse connection” – just like me.
So that’s why when someone tells me that they are afraid of their horse, or they don’t want to trot or canter on the trail because they are mentally dealing with that fear, I never ever minimize that fear and we do whatever trail ride they are capable of – even if it’s a walk. Because fear can be a big deal and it’s REAL.