As a riding instructor I notice lots of what I consider to be hidden ways of dealing with fear and one of those hidden ways is covering fear with anger. It looks like this, you notice your lesson person come into the arena, you can sense that something is wrong but you can’t quite put a finger on it. As they warm the horse up you see the horse do something that is a normal horse behavior but the handler/rider of the horse starts getting very angry and then starts over training to the point that you must step in and stop the behavior. Why? What just happened?
In talking with these riders/horse handlers what it always boils down to is the horse scared them and they didn’t have the knowledge to fix the behavior or they where scared that someone was going to judge them for their horses behavior. And on a few occasions it has been because they came to the lesson in a bad mood, but the truth is anger is almost always there because we are trying to cover up our feelings of fear.
On the emotional scale fear is one step below anger, so it does make sense to me to use anger to start to pull yourself up the scale into a better feeling emotion. I get that and I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I have also done it. Anger does feel better than fear because it causes you to take action while fear sometimes leaves you frozen. But when riding and training horses it is an emotion that doesn’t work for horses and here is why.
A horse is a fight, flight or freeze animal. The emotion of anger is going to bring out one of these emotions in the horse. Depending on the horses fallback response you will either make a horse that is afraid of you, wants to get angry and fight with you or you can on that odd occasion have a horse freeze up. Not one of those options are what a fearful person really wants. What a fearful person wants is a different story. A horse that doesn’t scare them, a horse that does what they want or makes them look good. Truthfully that’s what we all want. So why are some people so capable of getting what they want and others can’t get past the fear and anger?
What I’ve found coaching people is that you have to get people to change their story. The story they have about themselves or the horse is whats causing the fear and anger. If we can just be truthful with ourselves and others about that story… that story that we want so much to hold onto (because we have the illusion that it keeps us safe) we can and will rise above those lower vibrational emotions and learn to ride and train from a place of calmness, courage and bravery.
Real life with horses is having courage and calm stable emotions while problem solving and being brave as you train or ride. Don’t mistake being angry for bravery many of us do. The definition for bravery is : the quality that allows someone to do things that are dangerous or frightening: the quality or state of being brave. And the definition for angry is: filled with anger: having a strong feeling of being upset or annoyed: threatening or menacing. Which state do you think best sets up a learning/training session for you and your horse?
Just remember this the next time you go at a horse in anger. What are you really wanting? Bravery the quality that allows you to do things or angry the quality of being threatening, menacing, upset and annoyed. Having a great coach or instructor will allow you to be brave because they will give you the information you need to handle and train a horse in a positive way with positive emotions.
The next time you go for a lesson leave your fear story at the door and come with an open mind or at least a story that says “my coach will help me through this if I just tell them I don’t know how to do it”. Being brave is being open to learning and new possibilities/stories. Being brave is like the above photo, reaching out for that hand that can help you.