Fear Leads To Reckless Behaviour

[3-Minute Read] If you train your mind to focus on fear, then your behaviour will be irrational and reckless, even though to you, it may seem right or the only option.

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Focusing On Fear Leads To Reckless Behaviour

Like humans, a horse educated using fear will be prone to dangerous outbreaks.

PHOTO: Cambiegi cooling off after our ride.

Seano and I are holidaying on the coast with four horses and our dog Lucy. We loaded Snippet, Starfire, Pegasus (Peggy) and Cambiegi (Cam) onto the horse truck and drove east for four hours. Sydney-siders have flooded the north coast of NSW for their holidays. We’re tucked a short way inland and able to hide from the madding crowd.

Yesterday we did a 30 km ride through the forest, starting at one family home and riding to the other. Seano rode Cam, and I rode Peggy; we led the other two horses. We have ridden the horses most days during our holiday. We’re using it as a warm-up to a seven-day riding adventure in the Snowy Mountains in late February.

The route we used yesterday is well-known to me; I’ve crossed it running and on my mountain bike many times. It never gets boring. The steepness, clay soils and diversity of vegetation ensure the challenge is always fresh.

While the route is familiar to me, the horses are far from their ‘normal’. The climate is cool and dry at home, and the horses live in a hilly paddock with sparse tree coverage. Whereas within this coastal environment, jungle, mosquitos, bugs, big rivers and strange birds bombard their senses at every turn.

Horses are flight animals, so their first defence mechanism is to run away when faced with a threat. Anything they don’t understand is a threat. You can imagine what it must feel like for the horses when they step off the truck into a coastal environment. They don’t have Siri to ask; ‘What the heck is that animal running up that tree?’ or ‘Why is that water moving?’. Yet, our horses have managed to work their way through every threat they have faced.

Yesterday we confronted a rattily wooden bridge about 20km into the ride. Two logs straddled a small creek and a patchwork of loose planks laid across the logs. Gaps, and the threat of planks moving, made the bridge a hazardous crossing for the horses. We found a better crossing option a few metres upstream. It was still a tough one for the horses.

Sean and Cam approached the crossing first. Cam sniffed and snorted the gnarly roots and mud beneath his feet, gathering data on what lay below him. He grunted and stepped backward, his way of saying, ‘that’s not safe’. Sean urged him forward and gave him more time to investigate the site. Cam trusted Sean’s judgement that it was ok to go ahead, then carefully selected his footing. He crossed without incident and waited for the other horses to do the same.  

It would look like a simple scene to the casual onlooker. But it’s a lifetime of horse and rider education that enabled that elegant simplicity. A lesser-trained horse would refuse and fight with its rider. It would ‘fly’ from the scene by pushing backward or leaping fast and hard at the crossing.

Such coarse responses are high risk and dangerous for the rider and horse. Instead, our horses methodically worked through the dangers and solved the problem.

Our horses can respond that way because of the education ethos we use. Sean and I are both dedicated to the philosophy of natural horsemanship. It is a training method that educates a horse to access its higher intelligence. As a result, the horse has greater flexibility in its behaviour. It is a better thinker.

The natural horsemanship methods are a sharp contrast to the traditions of ‘breaking’ a horse. ‘Breaking’ compels the horse to submit to the will of the human. It assumes that humans have superior intelligence in all aspects and the horse is a dumb animal. ‘Breaking’ punishes poor behaviours and pressures the animal into subservience. 

Traditional ‘breaking’ methods result in a poorer horse.  That’s because a horse educated using fear becomes an expert at learning fear.  While they can do most tasks, they are prone to dangerous outbreaks. Reckless behaviours such as bolting, kicking, and fighting with their rider become entrenched.

A horse’s primal flight instinct is triggered whenever fear is present in a horse’s mind. The more fear, the more the horse gets locked into its flight response. Some horses reach a point where the only response they have is flight-based. A horse educated with fear will never be capable of sniffing the tree roots and mud and picking its way across.

Humans are the same. If you train your mind to focus on fear, then your behaviour will be irrational and reckless, even though to you, it may seem right or the only option.

Discover more about your bold mind every Monday

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