Your brain on fear – where the wild things are

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By Ange Finn

Nanette’s Note: Ange is one of these gals that resonates a generous and caring spirit. We’ve never actually met face-to-face (although imagine we will soon), but I’ve known her for years and call her friend. It was no surprise to hear she’s focusing business activities on helping others feel better. There’s been a lot of buzz about EFT lately, and if it weren’t for Ange, I’d have likely quickly dismissed it as fad. Given her strong spiritual roots and honest character, though, I felt compelled to give this a second and third look. You should too – there’s some interesting roots in Eastern philosophies and a good deal of basis for its effectiveness. By the way, if you’re wondering why Ange Finn’s name sounds familiar, she’s the hilarious humor contributor for Equine Journal.

 

 

Fear is just about the most-mentioned issue keeping people from enjoying their horses. We rack our brains trying to find ways to overcome these fears, and frequently we fail.

So why is fear so hard to conquer sometimes?

The answer lies in your brain. When something (say, your rearing horse) frightens you, there are two main pathways that the fright takes inside your brain, broadly speaking.

The fast track goes straight something called the amygdala. The amygdala’s job is to save your life. To do that, when it perceives a threat it initiates the fight-flight-or-freeze sequence. Thus, on your rearing horse, your amygdala will tell you to fight, or to flee, or to freeze in place and do literally nothing.

The second track is much slower and it goes to the front of your brain, your reasoning center. It’s there that you make some decisions based on knowledge or reason. On your rearing horse, that might be using skills to stay in the saddle; or choosing the safest way to part company; or finding a way to calm your horse.

In addition, there are many more communication pathways coming from the amygdala to the frontal lobe than going the other way. So your fear reaction is already set up to overpower your reasoning center.

When you know the anatomy, you can see why trying to reason with someone (or yourself) is pretty useless when they’re in the grip of fear.

Horse fears? You can fix this.

What’s the answer? Finding techniques that act on the fear center of the brain, before focusing on the reasoning center. Clear the fear embedded in the brain, and you’ll make more progress toward enjoying your horse again. I teach one such technique, called EFT, which is based on acupressure. I’d like to share how it helped one rider who was having serious fear issues on a new horse.

Terrified rider calms with surprising discoveries

Mary (a pseudonym for the purposes of this article to protect client confidentiality) had gotten the horse of her dreams, a seven year old Paint mare. But though the mare was gentle and calm, Mary was very afraid even while going at the walk and needed her instructor right by her side. She was even afraid just driving out to the training center. She described herself as feeling shaky and out of control.

When she came to me for help, I expected we’d find the answer in some trauma with horses from her past.

We did find an incident from when she was 14, and we used the acupressure technique to clear, in one session, the stored fear, anxiety, and self-blame from that memory. But a week later, Mary e-mailed me to say her fear was greater than ever on her next trip to the barn. Clearly, we hadn’t found what was triggering the fear center of her brain.

In our next session, Mary mentioned that she only had her mare one month before her elderly mother, who lived in a distant city, fell, went into the hospital, and eventually died. Mary felt guilty all the time during those days: when she spent time with her horse, she felt guilty for not being with her mom; when she was taking care of her mom, she felt bad that she wasn’t with her new horse.

This was a big event, and we went to work on it. I had her tune into her stored emotions, and tell some stories of when she had been under very intense emotional pressure, while applying the acupressure technique. At the end of our session she was feeling much calmer.

Then, suddenly, an important insight popped up. “You know, I just realized, I used to talk to Mom every weekend on my drive out to the barn,” she told me. “That’s why I’ve been feeling shaky and out of control during my drive.”

This seemingly unrelated insight proved to be the key to Mary’s situation. The fear she felt as she drove out to ride, and in the saddle, was masking grief for her mother. We devoted one more session to her unresolved grief and she was free of her fear of riding.

About two weeks later I received a joyful email from Mary. She had ridden her horse, and she was happy and confident. The drive out had been easy as well. She continues to make progress on her lovely mare.

Are you riding with fear?

The takeaway for riders is, find an effective way to reach into the fear center of the brain and neutralize the fear. In the process, you may get an insight as to the real cause of the fear, and release it even more quickly. Deep breathing, visualization, mindfulness training and acupressure are just a few techniques that can work. Find your favorite, and try it out.

Ange Finn is a rider and certified EFT practitioner.  Visit her website, www.RideWithoutFear.com, for more stories on how she’s helped riders fight fear. For more details on the process that resulted in Mary’s discovery and relief, visit http://www.eftfree.net/2011/06/11/eft-helps-relieve-horse-riding-anxiety/ .

 

 

Nanette Levin


Nanette Levin is a writer, author and equestrian specializing in young horse training and horses with issues. Look for Horse Sense & Cents titles on Amazon, Audible and other major online retailers.

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