Joanne Lee Wong
OVERCOMING FEAR WITH THE LORD’S PRAYER
Updated: Jul 4, 2020
Being in hospital is really no fun. Especially when you have four broken ribs and can’t do much on your own without being wracked with sharp pains all the way down your right flank.
I’ve been in here since Tuesday - a day after I fell off a horse. It was my fifth riding lesson and I was learning to canter on the gentlest, sweetest mare whom kids learn to canter on all the time. But I must have given her too strong a signal and she went straight from a trot into a full gallop. I wasn’t prepared for that, my weight and hand positions were all wrong, and I fell when she took off.
It was precisely what I’d been afraid of when I started lessons three weeks ago.
You see, I adore horses and we had gone on a couple of trail rides in December when we were holidaying in New Zealand. The first ride had been simply wonderful. Riding Jack - a former racehorse and an actor in the Lord of the Rings franchise as well as the upcoming live action Mulan - was just amazing.
Riding with my husband on
two superbly-trained former
racehorses, Jack & Tommy,
in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
(Source: Joanne Lee Wong)
I had such a magical time that I insisted on squeezing in one more trek before flying home. This time I did it without my husband as he had to rest after driving for hours that day. It turned out to be a nightmare series of unfortunate events. Pun intended.
This second trek outfit wasn’t conducted by a stable of trained horses, it was a farm with, well, farm horses. The first horse they put me on was nicknamed Mr Grumpy. You can imagine my consternation when he started acting up and challenging the main guide’s horse. An hour into the ride, they made me swap horses with the second guide because they were afraid of what Mr Grumpy might get up to. This was where it all started to go downhill.
All seemed well with the second horse until a pick-up truck pulled up and a huge Maori guy emerged to talk to the main guide (who was also the farm owner). What happened next transpired so quickly, I only pieced it together afterwards when we three customers compared notes. The farm dog had taken off chasing after a rogue sheep; the Maori guy yelled after the dog with his deep, booming voice directly into the circle of horses; and all five horses spooked and dispersed.
Now, during the briefing before the trek started, the main guide had pointed out that the saddle horns on our Western saddles, shaped like handbrakes, were there for us to hang on to if something untoward happened and we lost our balance. So, when the horses spooked, I immediately reached for the saddle horn... except it wasn’t there. Like the rest of the customers’ steeds, Mr Grumpy had a Western saddle with a saddle horn. But the second guide’s horse I was now on had an English saddle with nothing to hang on to.
While the two guides got their horses under control easily, the other two customers hung on to their saddle horns and managed to eventually stop their horses and dismount. I, however, immediately started to slide off my spooked horse which had started galloping away. When I pulled on the reins to get him to stop, he refused to obey. I only later learned that the farm did not use bits in the horses’ mouths which made them harder to control with the reins.
As I started to slip off the panicked, escaping horse, I did the only thing I could think to do in order not to fall: I flung myself forward and clung on to his neck. Unfortunately, I also did something you should never do if you want your horse to stay put. In a bid to remain on the horse, I used my legs to grip his body - a universal equine signal to GO that this novice did not know about. And so my horse took flight and ran. He really ran.
I don’t know how long he galloped at full speed for because I was pressed flat against his back and hanging on to his neck for dear life. Then the thought crossed my mind that this was a 1,500 acre farm and I could get very, very lost if I did not stop the runaway horse. So despite the wind screaming in my ears, I slowly sat up and tried my best to pull the reins as we had been taught to slow him down. It did not work with my freaked-out steed in the absence of mouth bit, however, and I knew I was going to fall.
At that moment, another thing the guide had said during the briefing came to mind. She said do not ram your foot into the stirrup because if you fall while your leg is stuck, you could end up flopping on the side of the galloping horse or, worse, end up getting dragged. Knowing that could well be my fate as I was undeniably falling, I consciously released my feet from the stirrups and managed to land strategically on my (very padded) rump.
Next thing I knew, I was waking up with faces looming over me and someone was telling me not to move while he checked that my neck was not broken. Apparently, after falling at high speed off the right side of the horse, I ricocheted to my left and passed out after hitting my helmeted head on the ground. Only by God’s grace, this guy, one of the other customers, was a medical doctor and he had run all the way to my fallen body to make sure I had not broken anything. Bless him.
To cut a long story short, I was miraculously fine with just a bruised tailbone and a bit of whiplash - both of which went away in a week. The injury I did not expect to sustain was internal and it took longer to banish: I had developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Now, I know when you think PTSD, you probably think military veterans who get flashbacks when they hear fireworks or rape victims who cannot bear to be touched. Obviously I had not experienced anything of the sort, but I was stalked for four years by a schizophrenic lesbian who thought she was my husband, and I knew something of overwhelming fear, panic attacks and anxiety episodes triggered sometimes by the smallest of things.
Nevertheless, despite the trauma of falling off a runaway horse, I was still really excited when I started formal horseriding lessons three weeks ago. My amazing husband, knowing that I would continue to want to go on horse treks when we vacationed, was finally convinced I needed to learn horse control so no runaway horse situation ever happened again.
The first lesson went well enough and I was absolutely thrilled to finally have formal training lessons - something I always wanted since I was a child but couldn’t because ballet (my chosen passion) was an incompatible discipline.
By the second lesson, however, when my instructor started me on rising trots, the simple motion of standing and sitting while the horse’s two-step gait bounced me around immediately triggered a PTSD-like anxiety attack. While I continued stubbornly to push through the 45-minute lesson and even managed to achieve some baby steps, I was still a puddle of Jell-O by the end. My legs could barely support me when I dismounted, my heart raced terribly, and my hands shook so badly that I could not drive for the next half an hour.
I was dumbfounded. Trotting is not difficult. Kids learn to trot easily. I’ve done them before - okay, maybe not technically correctly - so why did I overreact? I took to a Facebook horse group and asked them what to do when fear got overwhelming and anxiety took over.
The suggestions I received to overcome any PTSD trigger were mundane yet priceless. I was asked to sing while I rode; I was encouraged to meditate before the lesson to calm down; I was urged to leave all other stresses at the stable door and focus only on the lesson; I was told to consciously remember the runaway horse incident and tell myself I could conquer any fear; and I was also advised to remember an exceptionally great horse ride to give myself courage.
What great ideas! I tried them at my next lesson and I immediately got my rising trots - to my instructor’s surprise. No fear. No anxiety attack. No shaking hands. It felt amazing and I ended the lesson on a high - completely different to the previous anxiety-ridden session. Somehow I had learned to control the PTSD. I could do this. I was going to become an equestrian after all.
Then two lessons later as described above, I fell trying to canter, fractured four ribs and here I am laid up in hospital with strict orders not to ride for at least a month. O, the frustration!
Over the last few days, I’ve been worrying that the PTSD would return when I next attempt to canter. So I’ve been trying to go through all the suggestions I had been given by the Facebook riders that helped me previously.
The more I recited them to myself, the more something about them seemed awfully familiar. After juggling all those suggestions about in my head while stuck in the hospital bed, it suddenly clicked. I knew why they seemed so known to me, and, more importantly, I knew why they had worked.
Together, they formed The Lord’s Prayer.
What? I hear you laugh. Singing to a horse? What has that got to do with the model prayer that Jesus taught his disciples in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4? Well, the suggestions I got from the horse folk actually correspond to the five movements in The Lord’s Prayer as taught frequently by my husband.
Over the past couple of years, every time Norman is invited to counsel a lady, he would bring me along to avoid any inappropriateness and to get my female perspective. Many a time, when someone is depressed, experiencing anxiety or simply overwhelmed with their lives, I observed that he would go back to basics and break down The Lord’s Prayer into five movements they could use when they did not know how to pray or what to pray for.
These are the five movements:
First Movement: Praise and Thanksgiving
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.
The beginning portion starts with praise and thanksgiving - allowing you to recall all your blessings and appreciate the many good things in life. This lets us see the beauty around us and cultivates in us a grateful heart.
So, when I sing to the horse - and they are inevitably happy songs like You Are My Sunshine or All Things Bright and Beautiful - I am giving thanks for the opportunity to spend time with one of God’s beautiful creatures and bond with him or her.
Second Movement: Asking For Help
Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
This is where we ask God for help. We recognise the shortcomings of this mortal realm and cry out for those who suffer and also for ourselves. Here is where we acknowledge situations that cause us fear, worry, frustration or anger - and we ask God to help us deal with our inner demons.
This application to my horse issues is an obvious one. While I was encouraged to meditate before the lesson to calm down, it was natural for me to modify that to prayer to help me control my fears and to remember that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).
Third Movement: Our Daily Bread
Give us this day our daily bread
This third movement is a favourite of mine. After recalling the fears and worries we have, this portion compels us to focus our thoughts on the present and to ask God for strength to deal with our struggles for the next 24 hours. Not to dwell on yesterday’s actions or anticipate solutions for tomorrow, but be fully present in the now and to ask God to give us enough strength to live today - and live it well.
This was the suggestion to leave all other distractions at the stable door and focus only on my riding lesson. This is important, because to be able to communicate with the horse while riding, you need to be fully present and calm. Horses are flight animals (as opposed to fight animals) and they pick up on the slightest bit of nervous energy from their riders. If I was to do proper justice to my horse partner, I would need to ask for our daily bread - provision for both the horse and me to be able to be there for each other without distractions.
Fourth Movement: Cleansing & Forgiveness
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
This is an important movement. It is essentially my previous column on The Power of Apologies. Jesus wants us to surrender all our resentment and bitterness against others, have the courage to admit our mistakes and apologise, and ask for the grace to forgive those who hurt us. This is so we have a clean and light heart, and we will be able to commune with God and each other without baggage or a heavy spirit.
The horse-related suggestion that correlated to this fourth movement was a little strange to me. The person was an animal communicator and suggested that I consciously remember the runaway incident and ask that horse for forgiveness. (Though, in all honesty, I would much rather ask it for an explanation!) Apparently, only then, she said, could I move on with an unburdened heart and conquer my riding fears. I suppose I will try this, but I’ll probably ask God to be the mediator rather than try to telepathically reach the runaway horse whose name I don’t even remember because I had forgotten it when I got concussed!
Fifth Movement: Preparing For What’s Next
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
This final movement is all about preparing for what’s to come. It is couched in the language of spiritual battles but really it is a direction for us to be aware of our weaknesses and the dangers lurking out there. It is a reminder that it’s our decision to seek wisdom: to stay away from wrong decisions and make good choices when faced with options.
In my equine version of this movement, it is the decision not to allow the runaway horse nightmare to grip me with its terror, but instead seek happy memories, like that first, exceptionally magical ride together alongside my husband with Jack and Tommy (pictured above), and give myself courage by choosing to relive that lovely ride rather than keep replaying the other disastrous trek in my head.
Those are the five movements of The Lord’s Prayer as broken down and taught by my husband that I hope you can find useful on a daily basis. You might laugh at how I’ve adapted it to overcome my fears when it comes to any anxiety triggered by traumatic horse-related events, but if it works for me perhaps you can adapt it to address regular worries and concerns in your life too.
Here’s a quick summary of the five movements:
Give praise and thanks for your blessings;
Acknowledge your concerns and ask for help;
Focus on what you need to get through the next 24 hours;
Cleanse your soul and release resentment; &
Prepare for what’s to come.
And it’s not just fear that stems from anxiety that we can use The Lord’s Prayer to overcome. Reflecting on my horseriding journey while stuck in hospital has taught me that I can use The Lord’s Prayer to overcome any fear in my life - not just horse-related ones. We can use it to deal with fear that emanates from depression, heartbreak, disappointments, distressing current affairs, and anything that weighs heavy on our souls.
I would like to share with you a lovely quote from a book I’m reading called Horses Speak of God authored by Laurie M Brock. It’s about riding, but like The Lord’s Prayer, it speaks about working through your fears.
“Riding is not as much stellar moments of accomplishments as we strive to perfection as it is steady work, being afraid and riding anyway. Even being afraid and knowing this isn’t the right time and horse at the moment and getting off. Riding is not faking courage, but instead allowing enough space for courage and fear to reside together. Fear, after all, is a useful emotion. Just not the only useful emotion. So are confidence, persistence, and belief that day after day, fear does not have the final note in the song of our lives.”
When I finally go back to riding lessons after falling twice in three months as a novice and fracturing four ribs, I know I am going to be full of fear. But I’m not only going to practice the suggestions given to me by my Facebook horse group, I’m also going to directly apply those five movements from The Lord’s Prayer to help bring the fear under control when it rears up in my face.
And if I fall again, so be it. I’ll get up and start over with the basics. I will overcome any fear that holds me back from enjoying my newfound riding passion.
Don’t let fear rule your life, my friend. Try using The Lord’s Prayer to liberate your fears today.
Joanne Lee Wong is a writer, wife and corgi mum. She’s not a bible scholar, teacher nor church leader - just a former journalist and member of a Methodist congregation who struggles reconciling her faith with everyday experiences. All views expressed are her own.