Anthony Middleton from Man Vs. Clock
WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
Currently Newcastle, England. Soon…the world.
To go horse riding for the first time in my life – I’ve spent my entire life being petrified of them.
I don’t like using fear as an excuse and I’ve decided to commit my life to doing stuff that scares me, so I gave myself 36 days to get on a horse in order to face my fear. To ride a horse for at least an hour – and preferably not die.
I was seven years old when my uncle and I were taking his dog for a walk to some fields, when suddenly, the dog bolted ahead and started tormenting (in a playful dog kind of way) this big brown horse. It all happened so fast – horses being non-predatorial animals are very defensive when they feel threatened. WHACK. The horse kicked my uncles dog in the face, resulting in blood pouring out of its eye. My uncle turned instant have-a-go-hero and tried to save the dog from any more danger. WHACK. The horse kicked my uncle and his tibia (the bone on the front part of your lower leg) tore through his skin with the impact.
What did I do?
Well I was seven, there’s not much I could do but cry and try not to wet myself! This was before the time when everybody had mobile phones and the other adult (my uncle’s dad) had just recently suffered a stroke. So in the nicest possible way, he was not a good source of help with the traumatic event.
To cut a long story short, I ran until I finally found help roughly three miles away and the dog ended up getting put to sleep because of the pain it was in. I think my uncle was more bothered about that than his leg – which was pretty mangled.
The fact that this was my first experience of a dog death, with me being a huge dog lover made the event even more painful. I avoid close proximity to horses at all costs, always have since that day.
I’m freaking out. I’m scared. I’m nervous. And like any other fear, I’m exaggerating it in my mind and I’m half-expecting the horse to hate me and want to mess me up.
On top of that, I work in the spinal injuries industry so I am more than aware of what a few seconds concentration lapse, an accident or just plain bad luck can do to a person. I know this is quite a morbid and not very inspirational way of looking at it, but right now and until I get any better at this fear-busting thing – please accept my apologies as I FREAK OUT!
My cousin Caroline and I made our way to the equestrian centre for one hour of horse riding. Both of us have never been on a horse before and we were genuinely absolutely petrified of horses, spending most of our lives accepting that this was the way it was always going to be.
Nay! (Yes, crap horse joke)
The instructor engaged in small talk after I told her my concerns. Gung-ho in her method of getting us on the horses, she introduced us to our horses. My horse’s name was ‘Bracken’ – a beautiful white horse with dark brown markings.
Before I even had time to think or second guess it, I was handed the reins straight away, given complete control of this huge animal – one that I’ve been scared of since an early age. And as we followed the instructor, she narrated how to walk correctly with the horses and said “make sure they don’t walk too close together.”
“Easier said than done,” I thought to myself and started to panic as Bracken seemed to want to go as close to his mate as possible.
Immediately I recognised the inner gremlin talking, he comes in many forms; doubt, fear, anxiety….the list goes on. He’s the one who always shows up in our mind when we least need him. He holds us back in life and keeps us pinned down…because that’s how he rolls – if you let him.
Instantaneously, I told him to bugger off.
I began to think about the excellent suggestions I received prior to being here…like the best way to make friends with a horse is with a brush. Although I didn’t take a brush, I purposely wore fingerless gloves with a very rough material and when I stroked the horse with these – it seemed to calm Bracken massively! This slight victory improved my confidence tenfold and seemed to forge an immediate bond with Bracken and I.
But as we entered the building where we were going to be riding, my fear levels suddenly returned. It was time to hop on the horse.
I had no problem at all, considering I have rather long legs and I was on in seconds. So there I was, on top of the creature I feared for so many years, concentrating on my breathing, trying not to wobble or freak out. I wasn’t happy about my fear returning yet again, and so I thought back to advice I received: Horses can feel your fear, so try to stay calm.
This kind of thinking was going to be paramount in my success and I could relate as I am a dog man. Not as in I am half dog/half man, I mean I am a man who loves and understands dogs and this philosophy is exactly the same.
Bracken seemed well-behaved…until the instructor left the scene to help Caroline!! He kept lifting his leg up and dramatically flicking his head back and forth.
Trust me to get the rebel horse!!
But you know what? I didn’t care. In my mind, Bracken was a friend of mine and I was just taking this as a bit of blokey banter.
To help ease my fears, I received this advice: “I wonder what would happen if you focused on the wonder of the moment and the beauty of the animal over the fear or discomfort?”
Well before you knew it, we were trotting and standing up on the horse – going up a few gears in speed. I don’t remember the exact moment when the fear left my body – but it had gone and I was having FUN!
Kind of ironic, huh?
Something that I put on the pedestal of fear all of my life, turned out to bring me an insane amount of entertainment! There’s something that feels quite primal about being on a horse; up on top of a muscular, powerful animal that will do what you tell it to do. And it DID do exactly what I told it to do! Pulling the reins, stops the horse and a slight kick gets the horse moving and you pull the reins left or right when you want to change direction. Not much different from driving a car really.
Lauren asked us if we were “okay” with taking the horses outside. Was I okay? Was I OKAY with that? Oh I was SO much better than okay with this – over-confidence struck and I was all for galloping through the Atacama Desert, chasing cowboys down for their gold and stealing their women!!!
But yeah, I kind of just went for the whole “going outside” thing instead.
After about ten minutes of riding horseback through gorgeous greenery, our horse riding lesson had finished. I was absolutely GUTTED to be getting off Bracken, but of course – chuffed to have completed the challenge and beat the clock after putting a time limit on my fear. Of course we had to stop for photographic evidence and a pose with our new friends.
WHAT DID YOU GET OUT OF THE ADVENTURE?
I learned that fear is romanticised in our head and most things we are scared of – don’t actually happen! This has got me absolutely OBSESSED with stepping out of my comfort-zone and I’m looking forward to unveiling and undertaking new challenges already.
WHAT WAS THE MOST INTERESTING THING YOU EXPERIENCED?
The most interesting thing is the fact that once my initial fear left – I REALLY enjoyed horse riding! Ironically, the thing that had scared me for all of my life, actually brought me immense joy and entertainment.
Funniest – When the horse stopped mid-poo on the road and drivers were giving me daggers.
Non-funny – when I was shaking with fear already and the signs said “warning – these horses may bite!”
LIFE ALTERING MOMENT:
It got me HOOKED on how many things I can do to challenge myself. I now step out of my comfort-zone on a regular basis.
HOW DO YOU FEEL NOW?
It feels liberating to take responsibility for making my life being a better one.
It feels exciting to commit to looking fear in the face.
It feels empowering to plan new comfort zone challenges – while others stay paralyzed within the confinement of theirs.
YOUR SOURCE OF INSPIRATION:
Pretty much anybody who marches out of line and takes a true stand for what they believe in. People who say “I am what I am” and make no apologies. (As long as they don’t hurt others in the process).
I want to break free from the chains of a boss and live life on my own terms, while travelling the world 🙂
© Monthly Adventure, Patricia Taylor, June 2011
© Man Vs Clock, Anthony Middleton, May 2011 (Fear of Horses Challenge: Complete)