I've always believed that if we want to overcome our fears, it's sometimes helpful to confront them head-on, to test our limits and push the envelope a bit.
If I had to list my three biggest fears in life, they would be, in order from most anxiety-provoking to least: public speaking, skydiving, horseback riding. I decided last week that it was time to tackle fear number 3, horseback riding.
This decision occurred on vacation in California when, after a wine tasting in Sonoma, Marge and I were lured into signing up for what looked like a beautiful horseback ride through a vineyard. As I mentioned the other day, our trip did not turn out exactly as planned, and this little adventure was no exception.
I will freely admit that I'm terrified of horses. They are beautiful animals from a distance, but up close, I find them scary and unpredictable. Think Christopher Reeve. I really don't want to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair, so it was with trepidation that I even agreed to this ride.
Things started to go awry from the beginning. When we arrived at the vineyard, we found out that the guide we had been expecting was unable to take us. Instead, we got Javier, who while amiable didn't seem to understand that I was a novice rider who wanted to go as slowly as possible. No, it seemed that Javier, confident atop his racing-retired thoroughbred, wanted to show me what my horse could do.
I'm embarrassed to say that at one point, I think I was actually screaming. That was at about the time that my horse, Finbar, was running straight toward Marge's horse, Gabriel, and there wasn't a lot of space left between me and a barbed-wire fence ahead.
Maybe the terror was playing tricks on my mind, but I swear that Javier was laughing as I screamed. Or maybe I wasn't imagining it at all. Maybe he found it amusing that someone as clueless as I would go in such short order from a wine tasting to signing a liability waiver and into the saddle.
And to think I had expected it to be a growth experience in which I would overcome my fear of horses.
Instead, the whole scene brought to mind one of those steadfast childhood memories: I was about 7 years old, standing at the edge of a low diving board in a YMCA swimming class, crying my eyes out. The instructor was badgering me to jump — you know, in one of those you're-going-to-sink-or-learn-how-to-swim moments — but I wasn't having any of it. I was frozen with fear, and have since regarded any body of water other than a hot tub with suspicion.
Sadly enough, I think it will be a long time, if ever, before I get on a horse again. As some consolation, I got the distinct impression that Finbar was just as eager to part ways with me at the end of the ride. I can't say I blame him. Why would anyone want to tote a screaming fool around on his back when the sun was high and the temperature was flirting with 100?
Even though the experience wasn't what I had hoped it would be, I learned something from it. I still believe that pushing our limits can be a healthy thing, but now realize that if we stray too far from our comfort zones, the desire to test ourselves can be counterproductive.
When it comes to conquering fears, it can be a long way from Point A to Point B, and a slow trot might ultimately be faster than a gallop.