The “Fear Gap”

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I don’t know if this has happened to you, but I almost had to call the Fire Department to get my cat out of a tree.

I’m not even sure if they do that anymore.

Here’s how it happened:

Now that spring has sprung in Maryland, I decided to let Tiger, the rescued barn cat, out of the house so she can get some time in nature. Since she used to be a wild cat and was born and lived outside for the first 3 years of her life, I thought she might miss being outside.

Plus, since we don’t have freezing temperatures anymore, I figured this would be a good time to let her out just in case she decided she would rather stay outside full time.

Well, she ran outside, hung out on the porch with my other two cats and slowly but surely started to venture further around the yard. She would run back inside when something frightened her, which made me more comfortable that she wouldn’t run off.

It’s been a week that she’s been going in and out during the day and then closed up in the house at night. She seems very happy with this and she seems to enjoy going outside for a bit and then being curled up in bed with me at night, safe and sound.

Today, she decided to explore further and pop the 8-foot wooden fence in the backyard. She just climbed straight up using her claws. But then, she realized very quickly that there were two dogs in that yard. I saw this happen from the kitchen window.

And as fast as I ran out to save her, she had already scurried up a huge tree to safety. She was about 20 feet up. I thought, “wow, she’s done this before”. I was happy that she was safe from the dogs below.

I hung outside and waited until the dogs were gone and then tried to call her and coax her down out of the tree. Nope! She wasn’t budging.

I talked to a friend of mine who said that I should just let her calm down and when she is ready to come down, she will. “She got up there on her own, she can get down on her own.”, he said.

She wasn’t crying and she didn’t seem distressed, so I left her up there and just watched her while I sat on the porch. It was really hard for me to do it “my friend’s way” because I really wanted her to be back inside with me, safe.

Well, she sat up there in a ‘Y’ section of the tree for three hours. My patience finally wore out.

I had to go to the neighbor’s house, go into the next-door neighbor’s backyard, and use their ladder to climb up to her. Once she saw me trying to get to her, she started crying. She obviously wanted to get down and couldn’t figure out how on her own.

I could only get about 15 feet up and she was 20 feet up. I was trying to coax her down just to come down and bridge that in between gap so I could get her out of the tree. The more I tried, the more I got worried. Then I thought, “do fireman still come out to get cats out of trees?”.

I realized that as I got worried so did Tiger. I had to stay relaxed. So, I did a few breathing techniques to calm me down and help her feel re-assured that I was safe to come to and would protect her.

As soon as I did that, she started to come down part of the tree as carefully as possible. She was obviously really scared as it was a long section of a thinner section of the tree that was straight up. She tried to come down backwards and then stopped and turned around to come down headfirst.

I was afraid she would fall so I got ready to catch her if I needed. Sure enough, she started sliding and she tried to hold on with her claws. But she did keep coming to me and was trying her best to bridge that gap between us. Just as she lost her balance a bit, she slipped, and I caught her.

She then clung to my shirt and shoulder as I clutched her and crawled down off the ladder myself. I was so relieved that she trusted me enough to risk climbing down that section of tree even though she was so afraid to. I think she knew she couldn’t do it by herself and that I needed her to take that leap of faith so I could help her.

This whole incident then made me think, “this must be what some of my students feel when they are taking that leap of faith themselves, into the unknown, to ask for my help resolving a problem with their horse that they think is almost impossible to solve.”

I call it the ‘fear gap’. That moment of going from what is known to what is unknown in order to find a solution.

So many of my students have told me:

“My horse is aggressive, defensive, and dangerous. I’ve tried everything I know and I’m at a loss as what to do next. Maybe this problem isn’t fixable, and I need to live with it or get rid of my horse.”

They usually have been working at fixing these issues on their own for years without resolution. Sometimes the problem gets a little bit better and sometimes it actually gets worse.

I hate to hear these stories because I know in their hearts how devastating this can be. They can see the true, loving, kind nature in their horse’s eyes, but they just can’t bring this out in them. The stories are so heart-breaking they make me cry. I can see how much they love their horse, and I can see how desperately their horse wants that love.

But there is a ‘fear gap’ that isn’t allowing the two to connect.

Let me tell you, without fail, that there is a solution that takes months, not years, to resolve these issues. I’ve used it myself and my students all use it, and it has worked for every single one of them.

Sometimes that ‘fear gap’ is being created because the owner is afraid the horse will hurt them, and this is a real possibility. Sometimes that ‘fear gap’ is being created because the horse is afraid that he or she will be hurt again by another human and the horse won’t allow that bridge to be created.

Either way, one or both are afraid of leaning into the unknown. The fear of how to bridge that gap and taking that leap of faith from the ‘known’ way of training to an ‘unknown’ or ‘new’ way of training can stop progress. That fear starts “what if’s” scenarios which start to play out in their heads. Just like it did for me when I was trying to get Tiger out of the tree.

And it wasn’t until I stopped that train of thought, calmed myself down, and leaned into the fear that Tiger felt safe, and she risked it to try to climb down to me. She only had to bridge that 5-foot gap as I had already gone the 15-foot to get her. When she trusted me to help, she then felt safer and could get out of the tree. But she had to lean into the fear herself to come to me.

Here’s another example of that ‘fear gap’

There is a big beautiful Belgian Draft horse in the pasture next to Apollo at our new boarding facility, Ray. He is a sweetheart and comes to the gate to talk to us when I take Apollo out for walks. Ray will even walk along the fence line with us as we go past his pasture.

Ray’s owner is a very nice woman who is in the military. However, she can only come see him once every few months or so, when she’s home from deployment. I met her in December, right after I moved Apollo into the new facility. But how I met her was interesting.

I was in the pasture with Apollo and all of a sudden, I hear the thundering hooves running down the driveway between the pastures. I look up and it’s Ray. Saddle and bridle on but no rider. Oops.

I run out and get Ray and started back in the direction of where he came from to see if his rider was ok. She had been bucked off, but she was fine and thanked me for bringing him back. She jumped back on and went about whatever lesson she was working on.

I had just gotten back to my pasture and I hear thundering hooves again and here comes Ray running back down the driveway right to me, without his rider. So, I took him back and gave him back to her and asked if she was ok and if she needed any help. “No thank you, I’ve got this”, was her response.

Ok, I can only ask.

And YES, it happened one more time about 5 minutes later. That’s when I had to change my response.

I just held Ray where I was, which was outside his pasture, and waited for his owner to come to us. Then I told her it was probably best for her to put him away for the day and try again another day for her own safety. Ray obviously didn’t want to be ridden and I didn’t want to see her thrown off a fourth time!

His owner is about 5’5” and Ray is about 17.2 hands. So, her fall is a doozy! I’m shocked she didn’t get hurt. She is definitely very agile and knows how to fall properly. Good military training, I guess.

Anyway, she agreed that that course of action was probably the safest for them both and she put him up for the day. I didn’t see her again that weekend. But one of the neighboring horse’s owners told me that Ray acts up all the time because he hates the routine and that throwing her off and running away has been Ray’s normal behavior since he’s been at the farm.

The owner comes out infrequently, tacks up, gets on to “work” in the arena and every time he throws her off and runs back to his pasture. This is what the other horse owner told me. I have only seen this once.

But the idea that they need to work on their connection makes sense because Ray is so personable with me and Apollo and loves the company and companionship we share when we just hang out together.

Well, Ray’s owner came out again this past weekend and I saw her just sitting on top of Ray, stopped halfway up the driveway doing nothing. I thought, “hey great, they are just hanging out together and she’s letting him eat grass.” But that was not the case.

When I got up to her and started to walk by her, Ray started to walk with me. I stopped and Ray stopped. Then his owner told me that she was “stuck” there because Ray wouldn’t move, and this is usually where he gets spooked, and she gets bucked off. She said she was just waiting there until he wasn’t scared.

That’s not how it works. It takes a little bit more than just waiting until the horse isn’t afraid of the situation you’ve forced him into. But at least she wasn’t trying to force Ray to continue forward, as she found that just caused her to be thrown off.

We briefly talked about what Ray might be afraid of and how to help him through that and I was able to get Ray to walk with me past that section without acting out. His owner was pleased and thanked me.

I told her that I could fix this issue for her permanently, if she wanted the help, as I was a trainer and I could work with him while she was on deployment. She kindly said, “no thank you, I’ve got this.” However, I heard from another person that when she had come back by that section, she got thrown off again and Ray ran back to his pasture.

I think she is in that ‘fear gap’ where she is doing everything that she knows how to do to fix the problem with Ray bucking her off, but she just can’t see another way out. Even when one is being given to her, free of charge. It’s that fear of the ‘unknown’ factor.

It reminds me of an Einstein quote,

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”.

If your horse is aggressive, defensive, and dangerous and you’re not sure where to turn or what to try next…let me help you and let me help your horse get through it.

Your horse is just waiting to be his natural, loving self again and to be able to trust and be confident with his human partner. And I know you can see that in your horse, or you wouldn’t still be trying to fix the problem.

Meet me part way and bridge that ‘fear gap’ to allow me to help you. I promise you’ll get great results and you and your horse will live “happily ever after” like in a Disney film.

Do you know someone else that may benefit from this? Please pass this along. My soul’s purpose is to help any and all horses that are in this situation and help them find their true loving self again. For horses and humans to be the best partners and friends they can be to each other.

Do you have a ‘fear gap’ story? How did you bridge that gap and how did it work out for you? I’d love to hear your comments below.

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