Sweating circles under my arms and shaking in my boots- that is literally my recent experience on my 20th anniversary trip. Fear was not what I was expecting in the mountains of Colorado on a dream vacation with my husband, but I found myself paralyzed by it as I sank into a saddle for the first time in too many years.
We were blessed by a generous donor, along with other pastors and their wives, to enjoy a free week away in the unbelievable beauty of a ranch surrounded by the aspen-sprinkled Rocky Mountains. The views were breathtaking, the food deliciously prepared by hands other than mine, the hot tub inviting under a canopy of stars, and we were simply stunned by it all.
In the months leading up to the trip, I had little happy snapshots in my mind of it all- the cabin, the mountains, the aspens, my handsome cowboy, and horseback rides together.
Yet, when the morning of our ride came, my stomach felt uneasy. My nerves pounded in my chest as I approached the corral. As much as I tried to dismiss my fear, it grew steadily. I reasoned with myself, tried to just breathe and keep moving. The wrangler matched me with a horse whose name was “Anyway.” Being the word nerd that I am, I thought cleverly to myself, “This is perfect. I am afraid, but I will ride Anyway.”
After watching the wrangler’s demonstration, it was time for me to mount up. I felt an added pressure, as I watched my cowboy husband do it all with ease and a smile, completely comfortable on his steed. I knew he would love to gallop out of the corral and across the Rockies as fast as his horse could carry him, and I knew he would love for me to be the cowgirl at his side.
I threw my leg up and over and tried to settle myself as my feet found the stirrups. Reins in hand as Wrangler Nick instructed, I felt panic begin to take over what little courage I had mustered up, and suddenly Anyway had become a beast that could possibly fling my body into a fence or throw me through the air as he galloped out of control. It was all in question and I was seriously contemplating dismounting at that point.
My pride was the only thing keeping me in the saddle. I considered myself an adventurous person, confidently embracing change, spontaneously trying new things, and overall fairly self-sufficient. Yet, in that saddle I was reduced to a sweaty puddle of nerves. I felt pathetic as I desperately looked to the wrangler for rescue. I took deep breaths, trying to remember the steps to guide this horse around the ring. The other riders did not look afraid as they asked their horses to stop, turn, and even back up.
What was wrong with me? Why was I such a chicken?
When the riding orientation was finally over, I left the corral with more adrenaline pumping through my body than I had experienced in a long time. I hated it that feeling. It was overwhelming and exhausting. I looked around at the beauty of the ranch and saw my handsome husband and felt stupid for letting a horse named Anyway scare me this way. What was worse, as we left the corral, everyone was signing up for an afternoon ride that would take them on trails around the ranch property. Beautiful scenery, fresh mountain air, aspen and elk.
I could not bring myself to sign up for a trail ride. I was done. My explanation to Trent came out as an apology because I felt like I was letting him down, dashing his dreams of a trail riding adventure with his bride. I felt for sure that I was a disappointment to him and a freak to the other couples that I assumed would wonder about my absence on the ride.
The afternoon ride happened without me as I miserably walked around the ranch feeling embarrassed, left out, and inadequate. Forty-five minutes of beating myself up, second guessing my decision, and other negative forms of self-talk.
The fear I wrestled with turned to regret and over the next few days I resolved myself to overcome it. I hate to lose, and I hate feeling like a loser. So, I signed up for the next available trail ride. It was a 3 1/2 hour ride to an abandoned mine. I sought comfort in the comments and encouragement of the other riders. I was assured that the horses knew what to do and I only had to stay in the saddle and focus on relaxing. Someone told me to just trust my horse.
After ten trips to the bathroom that morning and a request to be at the front of the line right behind the wrangler, I met my horse Tebo. Apparently, my hesitancy showed because the wrangler helping me into the saddle asked me if I wanted her to pray over me. Of course I accepted the offer.
My first ever trail ride began and I found myself trying to trust Tebo. The only other choice was to panic, and l reasoned with myself that an entire summer of riders had come and gone over these trails safely. I spoke to Tebo in low, soft tones expressing to him my need for safety that day. I complimented his lovely mane and strong back.
The trail was steeper and rockier than I expected, but I handled it without any heart palpitations or fainting spells. Tebo responded to my requests to stop and turn. My blood pressure only spiked twice; once when the horse behind me bit Tebo’s butt, and then once when the lead wrangler stopped traffic and asked me to lead the way back to the corral from there.
As we rode into the corral I took a deep breath, inhaling the Colorado air and the smell of courage. I won. I found victory on the trail and got off that horse changed. Would I do it again? Yes.
Sometimes the only way to get past our fears is to move right through them, because if we wait until we are not afraid, we may never move. I rode that horse afraid. I decided to do something even though I felt uncomfortable. Courage is doing something in the midst of fear.
The confidence we gain as we move past our fear becomes encouragement to take on other fears. I felt new strength forming in me, even as I rode that day. With each steep climb, and every stumble of my horse, I grew stronger and my fears subsided.
We all face fears and can easily become paralyzed by them. We avoid those fears, but in avoiding them we may be missing on opportunities to grow. The views that day as Tebo and I made our way up the mountain were amazing, but the view I had of myself after I finished that ride was priceless. I saw strength and courage in myself. For someone who has lived most of her life feeling like she wasn’t enough, I am so glad that I trusted that horse and pushed through my fear.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1