In the wild, horses use all of their senses to stay alive. The number one question on their minds is, "Am I safe?" It's a fair question for an animal who is on a predator's lunch menu. Horses prefer open spaces where they can see predators coming. They also have one of the fastest reaction times of any land animal. Everything in them is wired for survival.
How have humans managed to tame an animal that is primed to flee from danger or even the hint of danger? Unlike many prey animals, the horse has the ability to be desensitized to new experiences. It's what makes it possible to tame and ride them.
With each step in training, a horse is exposed to or experiences something uncomfortable, or even scary. At first, his eyes will be wide, head held high and nostrils flaring. He may become vocal, back away or even lash out in perceived self-defense. What if the trainer were to stop at the first sign of discomfort? The horse would learn he was justified in his fears. A good trainer will pause, and then repeat the same action. With each encounter, the horse begins to realize that what he saw as a threat is actually harmless. This is repeated over and over again with each new introduction and the horse learns to move past his discomfort and accept a new reality. That scary tarp? It's safe to walk on. The rope that looks like a snake? It won't bite. The narrow door? It won't eat him.
Each new experience and each new discomfort give him new information about his world he didn't have before. In the hands of a human who does right by him, we see amazing partnerships. The horse then develops skills he didn't have before like roping, or jumping or cattle driving. An untouched horse would never be able to gain these skills on his own. Instead, he had to be taught and the first thing he had to learn was move past his fears and discomfort.
Unlike horses, humans can choose to embrace discomfort and growth. We can also choose to avoid it. We have a flight reaction in our brains which will often jump to worst case scenarios. Usually, our worst fears are not realized.
There's a saying in the fitness world that in order to reach your goals, you must become comfortable with being uncomfortable. That is not an easy concept to embrace, but it is a necessary one. It also applies with other areas in our lives too. Relationships take effort. Parenting has a big learning curve. Strengthening skills to advance in a career requires learning new information. We can see in a thousand ways, big and small, where being uncomfortable ultimately can benefit us in the end.
Now, we also must use discernment. After all, a horse knows the difference between a whip being used as a guiding tool or as a means of unjust punishment. The horse requires things to be fair in order to function properly. If the trainer asks him to do something new and deals with the horse fairly, the horse can accept the new experience. However, if the trainer is abusive, he may break the horse's will, but he won't gain his trust. Which horse do you think will live a better quality of life?
How about you? Are you letting your fears stop you from moving forward? Have you been fair with yourself or have you been abusive? We all have negative thoughts, but how much power we give them translates into the actions we will or will not take. What if we acknowledged our fears, set a goal of where we want to be on the other side of those fears and embraced being uncomfortable in the process to get there? Would your body release some anxiety you carry? Would your mind stop spinning in endless "what if" circles? Could you be a more balanced and centered person on the other side of those fears?
For the horse, the end goal is to be at peace with the requests the trainer makes of him. The horse in the wild is fine without the added skills from the trainer. However, if he is to be a good prospect for a rider, he must embrace being uncomfortable to gain the skills for a successful partnership.
Now, it's our turn. What amount of uncomfortable are we willing to embrace to become a better version of ourselves? Not just for ourselves, but the people around us and the ones we love most? It's our choice, because most of the time, moving forward and embracing growth also means embracing discomfort. Happy trails my friends. I'll be right there with you.