“You gonna try and ride Frisco again?” asked Tom. He was the contact person for the ranch and we had just finished mucking horse stalls for the morning.
“Hmm, at least the wind’s not blowing this morning,” I answered without really answering him. Instantly, last week’s fear returned.
“Didn’t you say the first time you rode him you were terrified?” Projecting my fear into the story Tom had shared with me last week, I glanced at him sideways as we walked together toward Frisco’s stall.
“Yeah, I rode him, but like I said, I was scared. That was months ago. What did Carlos say?
“I asked him. He told me I rode well enough to ride him,” I said in a voice that wouldn’t convince anyone of the truth of Carlos’ statement. I’d been riding the horses at the ranch once a week for several months but fear erased any confidence I had in my riding ability.
Frisco was a four-year-old Mustang gelding normally ridden by the ranch manager. Carlos had assured me of his confidence in my ability to ride the red and white paint with the unusual eye. I called it a ‘diablo’ eye—one white eye that added to my sense that the horse was loco.
“Maybe the wind is making him too crazy.” Last week Tom had given me the excuse I needed not to ride Frisco.
This week I hadn’t even considered riding him because last week he had bested me. When I’d entered his stall he’d thrown his head away from the halter, spun around and around in the small stall, presented his backside to my front side, and avoided contact between us in no uncertain terms.
The wind had blown bits of alfalfa around our feet and, in jest, whisked Frisco’s caramel tail into the air with static energy. The wind added to Frisco’s spookiness and, in turn, stirred up my fear. No thank you! I would keep my wits about me and for obvious reasons of safety, ride a different horse. I wasn’t going to ride that crazy animal! Whether the threat of danger was real or imagined, my fear stopped me.
No one escapes fear, no one. Because its’ a biological imperative—at least it was millions of years ago—it’s in our emotional DNA. But what we don’t often grasp is that we can choose when to encounter fear even at those times it comes at us like a raging rhino.
My encounter with fear last week reminded me that fear is one of the four enemies of a man of knowledge. When I viewed it from that perspective I was certain that I no longer wanted fear to gain the upper hand. We either ride our fears or they ride us is common knowledge to the man of knowledge.
Quickly, because this post is neither about those four enemies in general—which by the way are fear, clarity, power, and old age—nor about a man of knowledge in particular—even though I want you to know what a man of knowledge is. He figures into the story later on.
A man of knowledge is anyone, man or woman, who is aware that they are a perceiving being and they use that perception as a means to maneuver through life with grace, purpose, and an ease that evidences little fear. A ‘perceiving being’ is a broad category because in reality it includes every single one of us. The catch is that even though many human beings know, that is they are aware that they have the ability to perceive, they ignore their innate abilities as perceiving beings.
Perceiving is to take in with the senses and to grasp a situation with unerring accuracy. We “take in” with all of our senses even though it’s most common to take in with our eyes and ears. Perceiving in the manner I’m suggesting is to take in with our heart, our head, and our body—in other words, all of who we are, not just those senses that have come to bear the bulk of perception’s capabilities.
Let’s turn the experience around and look at perception as though we’re on the outside of it, as though we’re the recipients of another beings’ perception.
Did you know that horses perceive? They have the ability to ‘read’ their rider as though an emotional conduit occurs between horse and rider that announces how the rider feels. Many animals do this but this post is about Frisco so I’m honing in on the equine’s capacity to perceive.
A horse can sense the confidence, or lack thereof, of the rider on their back and those in close proximity to them. They can perceive whether or not the rider feels fear, confidence, anger even sadness. They will respond like a mirror and reflect back to the rider exactly what their feeling state is.
Let’s put two and two together: the first time I was in Frisco’s stall with a halter in my hand, I had a great deal of fear. Frisco could sense my fear even when I didn’t know it. I hadn’t allowed my perceptions to pin the fear as my own. Frisco’s spinning, head throwing, kicking, and refusal to allow me close to him was a spitting image of my internal fear: this horse was too crazy! He was unmanageable.
“Let the more experienced person ride him!” I had concluded. I could ill afford to get hurt trying to prove my riding ability to myself or to anyone else. As I had looked at his spooky eye I had whispered to him as though sentencing him to the Netherworld, “Diablo!” That white eye was an omen for me to stay away.
Last week, I had yet to connect that his actions in the stall related to the fear within me. To separate our selves from our own fear is a common human reaction. Fear paralyzes and highlights our feelings of inadequacy. It blinds us. We have little power to make alternative choices when fear is present.
Separating from our fear helps us to name it but we need to take action to deal with it as a next step. That way we can replace fear and experience the event with desirable feelings and emotions. By midweek it came to me: Frisco was reacting to my fear! Frisco in all his craziness wasn’t the reason I didn’t ride him. It was my own fear that had kept me from even attempting to.
That moment of perception was profound. Why is it that we don’t recognize our own fear? Why do we let fear make our choices for us? Yes, I know: fear has been known to save lives when faced with a fight or flight situation but the majority of the time we’re not faced with ultimate do or die scenarios. More often we’re faced with everyday occurrences that fear governs because we’ve given away our power to make those decisions. Fear is a feeling that works hard at self-directing our lives.
Do I speak with my boss about a raise or that change in position I desire? Do I speak with my spouse about what happened last week that was hurtful? Do I allow negative thoughts to run my mind like a hamster on a wheel? Do I say anything to a friend who spoke poorly of me? These situations don’t need to be dictated by fear; they can be directed by our perceptions instead. Sometimes our perceptions tell us ‘now is the time’ and at other times our perceptions guide us differently, ‘not now; later and here is why’.
This was the week to face my fear. Nervously I fingered the halter as I approached Frisco’s stall. I called out his given name—rather than my dismissive name from the week before—and unlatched the gate. I eyed him and he eyed me. I moved quickly before the memory of last week played havoc with the challenge of facing my fear this week.
I rubbed Frisco’s neck as I lifted the halter to his nose. My voice soothed those fearful memories, “Here we go, Frisco. Let’s slip this halter on…” My actions matched my words. His head rose above the level of my arms to prevent me from grasping the far side of the halter and his white eye studied me.
“Come on, we can do this.” I was speaking for both of us as I reached for the halter and slipped it into a knot over his left ear. With a firm grip of the lead rope under his nose and above his chin, I motioned for him to step outside of his stall. Any remaining fear from the previous week released like air escaping from a balloon—oowwoosh! We walked side by side through the barn and outside where the other riders were grooming their horses. There was no wind and my fear was gone.
A man of knowledge— in this case, a woman of knowledge—acknowledges when fear has her in its grip. But she doesn’t stop at knowing about her fear. She acts on that perception in order to align her world beyond the fear. She walks into the fear and by walking into it changes her relationship to fear itself.
The trail ride on the desert opened up a new relationship between Frisco and me. The sky was cerulean blue and vast above us with nary a cloud. Fall permeated the air with warmth rather than the summer blast of heat common to the area. Lizards scurried towards mesquite as Frisco’s hooves churned the sand. I asked Frisco to walk, trot, and then on to a gallop. At every pace he was responsive. He was curious about his surroundings, his ears perked forward as we moved over the desert expanse.
Fear was released and Frisco and I began a new bond between horse and rider. Our perceptions matched one another and there was peace, curiosity, and pleasure between us.