by Joel Wilkinson

How to overcome fear.
Now here is the key idea.  Researchers have demonstrated that we have a window of approximately .25 seconds to interrupt the conditioned process between a stimulus and our response and catch our thinking, or catch our fear, and make a better choice. This is accomplished within the neocortex and is referred to as the “growth point”. For example, imagine that you have been working with your horse on trailer loading and things have been going well. Then, perhaps you are running late to get to an appointment and you need to quickly load your horse into the trailer. All of a sudden, your horse simply does not want to go into the trailer. In this case, the stimulus is the horse deciding not to go into the trailer and because of this, you may get frustrated and get angry with your horse. You may think that your horse is trying to be difficult. However, I invite you to consider that your interpretation of the horse’s reaction is simply that – your interpretation.

As human beings we think we see the world as it is, but we don’t. We see the world as we are. We see the world through our own personal filter, which is made up of our beliefs and our assumptions about how the world works. In other words, we don’t see reality. In fact, many of the beliefs and assumptions which define how we see and how we interpret the world live in the realm of our subconscious, away from our conscious awareness. These beliefs, assumptions and fears that we don’t even know we have play out and limit us in our lives. So, behind this anger and frustration you may feel towards your horse is actually a fear of not being respected, or a fear of not being good enough, or perhaps a fear of being judged by people. And, behind this may be a fear of rejection. Let’s say your usual pattern would be to get angry and bully or force the horse to get in the trailer. Well, using the growth point concept, you actually have a .25 second window to catch your thinking, catch your fear and make a better choice.  The only way to be able to do this is to do the inner work to develop better awareness of the fears you hold and how these limit you in your life. Doing this work will enable you to say to yourself, “This is one of my fears and this is one of the ways it plays out in my life.” This process allows you to interpret the situation more objectively. You can say to yourself, “Wait a minute, what am I doing to put this horse into fear? Maybe it’s my demeanor because I am rushing and I am feeling stressed that my horse is sensing. Perhaps because of this, I am making them feel fearful and anxious about getting into the trailer.  I need to just calm down, center myself and show my horse that I am a confident leader who can be trusted.”  When you start catching your fears in this way in everything you do, whether it be at work, in your relationships and with your horses, you will be able to make much better choices which will enable you to see better results in everything you do, and also enable you to be a better leader and teacher for your horse.   


Practical strategies for overcoming fear.
The following are a few tools and strategies for overcoming fears that limit us in our lives, in our relationships, in our careers, and in our ability to be our best working with our horses:

·        Build awareness around your fears. Take the time to write, journal, talk about, and get to know your fears and limiting beliefs. Ask yourself, “What fears are limiting me? How do they play out in my life? How are these fears playing out in my relationships or in the way I work with my horses?”

·        Make a list of list your excuses. Beneath every excuse is fear. What fears underlie the excuses you make?

·        Write about what makes you angry or frustrated. Usually beneath anger is also fear – perhaps the fear of taking risks, the fear of being judged, or the fear of not being good enough.

·        Feel and validate your fears. When a fear comes up, don’t try to push it away, simply sit with it and understand what it feels like. Where does it occur in your body, and how does it feel? Once you can identify your fears when they come up in various situations, you can then make changes to move past these fears.

·        Have conversations about your fears with trusted advisors and friends – this brings them out of the shadows and into the light so they can no longer have a hold over you. The process of writing and talking itself creates clarity. When we simply think about things, they roll around in our head, and we think we have clarity, but we really don’t. When you write something down or you need to articulate it so that another person understands you, this process creates clarity, and clarity leads to better awareness, which will lead to better choices and better results.

·        Take actions to overcome your fears – when you develop awareness of our fears, you identify the feelings associated with your fears, you then must take actions to do the very things that you fear. Take small actions that build confidence and do this on a regular basis. Rather than trying to make huge leaps, focus on small incremental improvements. If you can improve 1% per day, in 30 days you will have improved 30%, in 60 days 60% and so on.


        Identify the negative thoughts or self-talk you think when your fears come up. When you feel a fear, what thoughts do you think? As I mentioned earlier, humans think ~ 60,000 thoughts per Alberta Horse Industryday and ~80% of these thoughts are negative. Identify negative self-talk to increase your awareness. Every thought you think is powerful. Write these thoughts down, then come up with positive thoughts or affirmations you can tell yourself to replace these negative thoughts. When you reframe and change your thoughts you will then be in control of your emotions, which in turn affect your thoughts, and the resulting actions you take. Practice reciting your positive, affirming thoughts when you are experiencing positive, successful experiences. The key is to create an association between the positive thoughts and the positive experiences so that the thoughts themselves can elicit the positive emotions you have experienced.

·        Practice imagery and visualization. Human beings have the unique capacity to visualize, or create a vision of our future. In fact, when I work with athletes I do a great deal of work around visualizing in detail what success looks and feels like. Our ability to visualize our future is the first step to creating what we want to achieve. If we can see in our minds what we wish to create, then we can recreate this vision in the outer world - in our lives. Visualize situations in which you experience fear and anxiety, and then visualize yourself thinking positive, affirming thoughts, being in control, taking positive actions and having positive, successful experiences. Feel the emotions you experience when you move through the anxiety producing experiences confidently and competently. Practice reciting your positive, affirming thoughts when you visualize success.

·        Create and practice a Personal Success Plan (PSP). Create a plan which you can implement in situations where you are thrown off your game. If things are falling apart when you are working with your horse, are you able to pull it back together? How do you do this? Creating a plan and being prepared to act when things go awry is the best way to maintain control over your fears. For example, your success plan may be to:

o       Ensure before you start that you are prepared with a success plan and with the tools you need to ensure safety. Your PSP may include critical actions required to enable you to feel in control of external factors which stimulate your fear. For example, if you are riding and things seem to be moving out of control, then having the ability to quickly and decisively use lateral flexion to control the situation may be a key component of your success plan.  No matter what the situation is, the key is to have the tools ready to set yourself up for success. 

o       Take full responsibility – realize you are in control of your fears

o       Then, when a fear arises, feel the fear – identify the fear

o       Take deep breaths

o       Identify negative self-talk. Reframe and insert positive, affirming thoughts

o       Regroup and then take the prepared actions which are effectively directed towards achieving success


Most importantly we should look at our fears as opportunities -- they point to the things we need in our life for success. Remember, overcoming our fears will not happen overnight. Becoming better, more effective human beings and developing a true sense of personal leadership is a process that takes continual practice and attention, in much the same way that good horsemanship is an ongoing journey of personal growth. What is particularly exciting about embarking on this journey is that by focusing on our own personal leadership through addressing and managing our fears, we enable ourselves to reach for our highest potential as human beings and, in doing so, become better leaders for our horses.