I want to invent a bumper sticker slogan. Something short and snappy like Just Do It, No Fear, or the ever enduring Shit Happens. I am a fan of concise declarations of truth. Once I saw a bumper sticker that said Fear God. For many people, that thought goes over like a lead balloon. More emotionally comfortable is something like God Happens (Hey, I like that).
The Bible, as it turns out, is a fan of four letter words. Love and Fear turn up everywhere. Besides, God is love (politically correct), The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (politically incorrect) is firmly declared in scripture. What’s up with that?
When I think of my relationship with God it doesn’t resemble the “fear” some might have in mind. Fear, say, of dark alleys in big cities, or bungy jumping, or giving birth without pain killer. That’s real fear. I come to God without fear when I’m troubled, confused, sad, happy, or whining (His favorite, I’m sure). I sense His reciprocating grace, love, acceptance and even sense of humor. I fear God in the sense that I am afraid of being without Him and experience awesome humility when I consider my abilities and thoughts next to the Creator of the Universe. This considering of fear, respect, and love and how it all interacts has been on my mind as I work with my newest horse project, a very cute 3 year old colt named Tucker.
Tucker belongs to a friend of mine. I needed a little cash and Tucker needed to discover his usefulness to the human race so we did an exchange. Every time I work with a young horse I consider my own mortality and shocking lack of short term memory. Sorta like deciding to have a second child. How quickly I forgot the pain and exhaustion of child birth and signed up for it a second time! Starting a young horse isn’t exactly the same but it is also full of risk, uncertainty, and potential. Being part of the end result—a trusting and trained horse—is also incredibly satisfying.
Horses seem to pass through two stages before they arrive at the partnership/friend stage: the stage where there is a foundation of training and relationship and, ultimately, reward for both horse and handler. The most danger to both parties lies in navigating the first necessary stages--fear and testing.
Tucker arrived on my property in the obvious first stage of fear. He has had fair treatment his entire life, just not a lot of it. He reacts quickly to the smallest stimuli and is wary and jumpy. This fear isn’t all bad in the sense that it motivates him to respect a safe physical boundary between us. Because he is a stud colt, I appreciated his initial fear of me even more. The last thing I need is a youngster, jumped up on hormones, to shadow me like a bad rash: Fear of the trainer is the beginning of wisdom, young stallion. That said, I don’t want Tucker to remain in fear, but come eventually to see me as a trusted friend and leader.
My first time handling Tucker involved lots of reassurance: I petted and scratched him a lot, spoke softly, and assured him I liked him and thought he was a clever boy. Then I began desensitizing him by throwing ropes around his body and legs. Quickly Tucker decided I was okay, even pleasant, in his world. The first day I left him halterless in the field I was surprised and pleased when he trotted up to me willingly when it was time to be captured. We had the first whispers of friendship. Or so it might seem.Tucker is my sixth horse to start from scratch so I knew better then to trust our budding relationship too quickly.
A few mornings after I entered Tucker’s pen to let him out for the day. I opened the door to find him happy and eager to see me. Not to mention close. I spoke to him and backed him away, out of my personal space. Tucker complied but I noted the look in his eye. It said something like this, I'm not afraid anymore; maybe I don't need to listen to you at all. I have seen this look before. When I tried to halter him, Tucker was antsy and resistant. He did a subtle dance of body language and positioning, testing dominance and refusing to allow me to approach his sides. Not okay. So I made him uncomfortable, pushing him into movement around the pen this way and that. Tucker’s underlying attitude immediately erupted. He bucked and kicked out, aiming blatantly in my direction. I ignored the temper tantrum and reminded him of the invisible bumper sticker on his round pen panels: Shit happens to horses. When he stood respectfully I haltered him without further incidence. Tucker and I will have many more of these “conversations” as he figures out the difference between fear and healthy respect. For a horse there is no relationship without leadership based on respect. This grows into a beautiful friendship, not oppressive domination.
Love and fear are both four letter words with positive and negative attributes. Love, with no truth or boundaries, can be dangerous and manipulative. Fear that isolates and dominates will paralyze an individual. I know of many horse owners who ended up in the hospital because they “loved” their horses inappropriately. Conversely, fear—when it matures into respect—protects both horse and rider. The most dangerous (and future-less) horses are those with No Fear.