Something happened to Gideon recently. I don’t know what exactly. It seemed to start with all the rain we’ve had recently, so perhaps it’s simply having to cross a flooded area to get back to the barn, but all of a sudden, his fear has returned.
When Gideon came to us four years ago, he had been horribly mistreated and was terrified of literally everything. I remember the day my friend Jennifer helped me get him home – I led him into his stall and offered him a carrot. He threw his head up, snorted, and stumbled as far back into the corner as he could. I just stood there quietly holding out the carrot to him. After some time, he reached his head toward me, stretching his neck as far as he could til his lips could just snatch the carrot out of my hand. I could see in his eyes that he wanted to believe that I was good, that he was in a safe place, and that things were going to be okay, but the fear overrode everything.
Over the next six months, I slowly built trust with him, staying in the tension with him when he’d flip out because I twirled the rope too close or when he’d go into a panic because I touched his ears or got near his back legs. And then, one day something finally switched with him. I remember the day clearly. He was the first of the horses to the gate to greet me. I opened the gate and let him into the barnyard and he followed me like a puppy dog as I walked all around, zig-zagging just to see if he’d follow. And we built from there, making great strides in his confidence and skill. As we got to know him apart from his fear, we could see that his fun, goofy personality made him an excellent horse for kids.
But then a few weeks ago, he wouldn’t come into the barn and I had to go out to the field to get him. Then later, he went into a panic when I raised my hand up quickly to swat a bug out of my face. And then I moved the lunge whip when he was in the barn yard and he bolted. All of a sudden, he was reacting with fear to everything again. I couldn’t get him to freely come to me – he wasn’t running from me, but he was no longer coming to me of his own will, and was even looking at me with uncertainty again. I kept thinking he’d snap back out of it, but if anything, it was getting worse.
Yesterday, I took him to the round pen for some one on one time. I started at square one with him and every time we’d make progress without a fear response, I’d stop, rub him and say, “I love you Gideon. You’re safe here. You’re a good boy, so smart and clever.” Over and over again, “I love you Gideon. You’re safe here. You’re a good boy, so smart and clever.” We kept moving and moving, and finally after more than an hour, something visibly shifted and he relaxed and dropped his head, and when I dropped pressure, he turned and came easily to me, resting his nose in my hand, looking for a rub.
I don’t know if we’ll have to revisit this again, or if he’s finally shaken off whatever had him spooked. I just know that right now, I also find myself moving in and out of a fear response with all that is going on in our world: Worrying for the people currently infected and dealing with the Coronavirus. Scared for the people working on the front lines to help them. Nervous about our economy and sad for those who are losing their jobs and businesses. Tormented by the fearmongering propaganda that changes based on the agenda of the media source it comes from. Wondering if our business will survive and if we’ll have the money to do the things we had been dreaming of doing with our family when this is over. Concerned that government is overreaching its healthy limits. Anxious that there might be something deeper and darker beneath all of this. Sad for people who are railing against those who see things in this situation differently than they do. Scared that someone I love might end up with a severe bout of Covid-19. It’s a lot.
When I came in from working with Gideon and had all of this running through my mind, I silently prayed and told God, “I just feel like I need someone to run me around the round pen a few times, then rub my back and tell me, ‘I love you Melanie. You’re safe here. You’re a good girl. So smart and clever.”
If you’re feeling the same way, I unfortunately don’t have the authority to guarantee that you’ll be safe where you are. But I do love you. You are a good person. And yes, you’re so smart and clever.
And despite the feelings of fear that come and go, I have great hope that as we move through this time, that we’ll be good people who deal gently with those dealing with fear around us, that we’ll band our ‘smart and cleverness’ together, and that we’ll have the courage to create an even better world and way of being on the other side of this.