Risk Management and Confronting Fear
by Catherine Madera
Our cover article this month touches on a critical topic in the life of every horse person: fear. Cindi Plendl of Butler Hill Equestrian Center says that “fear is your killer” and I have to agree. The worst accidents I have seen and worst scenarios of horse abuse most often have a root of fear. Over control of horses until they are dull automatons is also a sad example of fear at work. Animals and people do not perform well when they are fearful. Instead, their worst selves will always be on display.
While fear is the real danger, the truth is that the equestrian regularly places themselves in potentially dangerous situations based simply on the nature of horses. Accidents can and do happen so the question becomes how do we manage risk and avoid fears that may want to creep in? This becomes more important the older you become. In this stage of my life I easily gravitate toward a comfort zone—horses and people I know and am comfortable with, things I already know how to do. This is not a great place from which to manage risk or confront fear.
Assuming I am not over horsed for my experience level (an important topic for another time), I have found that challenging my comfort zone is actually one of the most effective ways to build confidence and, therefore, manage the inherent risks of horseback riding. The more things I have experienced with horses, the more feel and timing I develop. This leads to safer handling of horses in all sorts of situations. Instead of dwelling on fear—including fear of what others may think of me—I focus on things I can improve and control. This includes things like my emotional responses, body position, seeking input and a willingness to fail so I can keep learning.
Catherine Madera served as editor of the Northwest Horse Source for five years. She has written for numerous regional and national publications and is a contributing writer for Guideposts Magazine and the author of four equine-related books. She has two grown children and lives with her husband and three horses in Northwest Washington.