Riding a horse, away from the safety net


By Sue Ellen Haning

Good day to all you nut candidates out there.

I hope you have become intimate with your comfort zones, and know just how little or how much it takes to move you outside that safety net.

Your personal CZ is a powerful entity unto itself. It actually has its own address deep within your bowels, 2013 Chittlin Circle.

This week, we will tackle that most damnable of all control freaks — fear — and in this fourth installment we will take a step closer to the goal of feeling calm outside our comfort zones.

If (and “if” is a big word) we can master our comfort zones, freedom is ours — complete and unadulterated freedom. This is guaranteed and encompasses all forms and faces of freedom, plus it spans all political, religious, ethnic and socioeconomic boundaries.

What’s to lose?

Four years ago, I bought my first horse. Knowing little about horses but appreciating their majestic beauty, I decided to treat myself to a big gift for my 60th birthday. Long story short: I bought my horse at a wine-tasting party. When you don’t know anything about horses, what difference does it make how many glasses of wine you’ve had or how many horses you look at? The bottom line is you don’t know what you don’t know. Amid wine party chatter, I heard a lady talking about selling her daughter’s horse since the 16-year-old had discovered boys and was no longer interested in spending her after-school hours at the barn.

I strolled across the room, introduced myself and asked, “Do you have a horse for sale?”

The next day, I met the owner at the stables and bought the horse, a then 9-year-old gelding. This thoughtful woman attempted to enlighten me. She told me he was off-the-track, and her daughter had competed in hunter/jumper with him. None of this meant diddlysquat to me; I just knew I was smitten with this beautiful, 16.3-hand, solid red guy. What can “off-the-track” mean, other than he can run, right?

As I am still learning four years later, much is wrapped around the term “off-the-track” and, yes, he can run, as I discovered … the hard way.

Did I hear you say, “You’re a nut.”

“Thank you, and you can be one, too!”

Soon after purchasing my horse and not immediately riding him, I fell prey to a few pointed, albeit well-meant comments.

“Why did you get a horse if you’re not going to ride?”

“Why are you afraid?”

“Get on and tell him who’s boss.”

It is possible that had I heeded these remarks and jumped in the saddle, I would not be here today to share with you. I needed time and guidance. For a very long time, I enjoyed grooming my horse, taking him for walks and hanging out with him, but I really wanted to ride. When the day came to ride the big guy, fear enveloped me, wrapping around me a layer at a time like the thousand or so yards of fine linen used to enfold mummies. I had arrived at the age where I don’t bounce anymore.

What was I thinking at that wine party, anyway?

By approaching the goal in little steps, and honoring myself, I tossed those fears in the can, and we now ride everywhere — well, everywhere,  except on the race track.

At first, I got nervous just thinking about getting on, but I allowed myself the uncomfortable feelings. Then, I would saddle the horse and fright appeared again, so I would stand beside the saddled horse, my heart pounding. Each time, I would go a little further in the process. If the discomfort did not subside, I stepped back into my comfort zone, heaved a sigh, took the saddle off and tried again another day. Each time, I stayed with the discomfort a little longer. Each day, I got closer to the goal of getting on. I can’t say how many attempts it took me to finally mount, but I can say that, when I did, it was with confidence, and that makes a huge difference to a horse.

Many have given up on their dreams, not willing to face the resistance that inevitably comes from fear. Are you scared of a desire within you to move on an idea? Please consider the list of 10 things that take you outside your comfort zone as your dream list, since they are things you would like to accomplish. Feel free to change that list as you become more and more active in the process. Writing this column has taken my thoughts back to a time when just about anything new created a sense of unrest in my gut. Simple things like thinking about having to take the trash out after dark, going somewhere new, driving outside the city alone and a host of other activities aroused a sour feel in my stomach.

Can’t imagine life without your comfort zone? Don’t really want to lose it? I understand, for there is no better hiding place. Rest assured your comfort zone will always be with you. Remember the address? Our goal here is to simply broaden your tiny CZ by, say,  a bazillion, or some nutty number.

You’ve narrowed your list of 10 to your favorite three. This time, take the list of three and choose one; — the one that fascinates you most, or the one that scares you to death, or the one you think easiest to accomplish.

It doesn’t matter. Need a push? “I double- dog dare you!”

No, not really. We are not jumping off cliffs. We are testing, experiencing and conquering challenges, staying a minute and coming right back to comfort. It doesn’t matter what the task is, one step out at a time is the way to crush your fears — well, at least bring them humbly to their knees and experience a changing of the guard from your comfort zone as master to you as master.

Take one step toward your goal. Feel the uncomfortable feelings long enough that you notice a change. The wrench in your gut will subside, and when you can feel a difference, retreat back into your comfort zone. If it takes more than one attempt, it is OK. Pat yourself on the back with each step, and notice how that slave driver fear changes, even slightly. We’ll crack that nut!

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”  — Saint Francis of Assisi, Italian Catholic friar who founded the men’s Franciscan Order.