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A Technique To Use When You Feel Fear With Your Horse

'Maybe Today' is a technique that will help you when there is something that you want to do with your horse, that you know you are capable of, yet you feel fear. This technique will help you progress forward with better decision-making. You don't have to choose between avoiding or being scared.

Natilla's ears and flowers

When you work with horses, you are going to feel fear at some point. It’s normal..

Sometimes we feel fear when remembering something that happened in the past.

Sometimes we are worrying about something that might happen in the future.

Sometimes we feel fear because in this moment we actually ARE in an unsafe situation! In that case, fear is our friend and the smartest thing to do is to remove ourselves from that situation!

When you feel fear, get focused on what is actually happening in THIS MOMENT.

When you feel fear, the key is to get focused on what is actually happening in THIS MOMENT. If it’s unsafe, go ahead and do something to get safe… If you determine you are actually safe but your brain is remembering something from the past, then you want to keep your brain busy here in the present moment.

You can say: 'Thank you, brain, for reminding me of that scary moment from the past... But, I am HERE NOW.'  Return to doing things well inside your comfort zone. It's good to have a few deep breathing techniques up your sleeve. Try singing or narrating what you are doing (or do both at the same time). Picture riding around, and in a sing song voice, (or to the tune of your favorite song) say out loud: 'I'm going down the long side and now I'm doing a 10 meter circle and now I'm preparing to walk and.... ' You get the idea. It will keep you breathing and occupied in the present moment.

Sometimes we can feel fear around doing things that will progress us forward. We want to go out of our comfort zone and not just back off every time. We know we are capable of doing the thing that causes fear, but we might not ever feel quite ready

This might come up when there is a big scary jump you want to do. It could show up if you want to ride bridleless in a field for the first time, or when thinking of cantering your horse after recently falling off of him.

Telling yourself "Maybe Today I will ____" will task your brain with being able to make the decision: Is today the day?

Karen jumping

At the beginning of your time with your horse, tell yourself: Maybe Today I will take the bridle off, or jump the jump, or ask for the canter, or _______.

This simple technique works to calm you and bring you into the present moment.

When you tell yourself: 'Maybe Today… ' you will be tasking yourself to be able to decide: Is today the day?  Your brain will want to know how to decide, so it will be looking for the clues: How does my horse feel RIGHT NOW? How am I riding TODAY?

This simple phrase will cause you to pay attention on a whole other level, and on a subconscious level too. All you have to do is put it out there: Maybe Today I’ll do it.

Karen Rohlf Natilla Bridleless

Maybe NOT Today...

Saying 'Maybe Today'  takes the pressure off. Implied in Maybe Today is Maybe NOT Today!

Some people, when they feel fear, want to avoid it or ‘not even think about it’. This can lead to frustration or a feeling of failure. If a student doesn't even think about it there may be an occasion when their skills and training tell me they are totally ready, yet if I say: 'Hey, you're ready! Let's _____ ',  the mere mention of it can suddenly bring up all their anxiety because they haven’t practiced thinking about it!

If instructors don't notice or acknowledge their student's anxiety and just 'push them through it', the student's high level of anxiety may cause them to be unsafe. If that happens, the student will lose even more confidence in themselves and their teacher!

Some students may deal with their fear by just kind of 'closing their eyes and jumping in'…. That’s not always the wisest choice. When I was eventing I had a horse who was scared to jump ditches. A coach told me that "with enough speed, you can push a horse to jump a ditch once, but after that, he won't trust you."  It's the same with us. Courage is great, but in many cases, engaging it consciously and deliberately is wiser than just blasting through a fearful situation.

When you say Maybe Today, you allow yourself to entertain the idea and prepare yourself mentally.

You also will start to trust your decisions… You will trust that you ARE moving towards that big scary goal, even on days you don't actually do it… because you know that you considered it and monitored your readiness.

You will also become more clear on the missing pieces that are needed in order to feel ready to do it… because you have been considering it.

When I tell a student that Maybe Today we will _____ , most often they are the ones that end up telling ME they are ready. Most of the time it happens sooner than I expect. Because they were aware and they were looking for the moment, they were able to confidently know when they and their horse were truly ready.

Maybe Today will build trust in yourself and your own decision-making abilities.

When instructors help their students by employing this technique, it will build trust between them and their students. That trust is what will create calmness in a student, even when they are faced with wanting to do something scary. As a student, you will know that it's OK to wait, and that is different than avoiding. You will trust that you will take action when you are ready, without having to be braver than you are ready to be.

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Karen Rohlf, author and creator of the Dressage Naturally program, is an internationally recognized clinician who is changing the equestrian educational paradigm. She is well known for doing dressage with a priority of partnership, her student-empowering approach to teaching, her virtual courses, and her positive and balanced point of view. 

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