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Ignorance is...not bliss!

Many of you have grown up seeing stickers or posters with the saying “Ignorance is bliss.” Well, if you haven’t, you probably haven’t missed much because I did grow up hearing that saying, but I never quite "bought" it.

In my personal experience, I find that there is a very direct correlation between ignorance and fear.

As a young kid and young adult, ignorance always seemed to me to be the derogatory word to describe someone that purposely kept themselves in a state of complacent oblivion. Later, in studying history I saw how, throughout millennia, ignorance led to such folly, destruction, and pain.

In my personal life it seemed that it was always the ignorant people who were the most vociferously opinionated! You know, like someone who doesn’t educate themselves on basic medical concepts and thinks that sitting where the breeze blows on you can cause pneumonia; or insisting that you will drown if you swim less than two hours after eating (those of you with European grandparents are vigorously nodding your heads in agreement right now.)

Ignorance popped up (fortunately inconsequentially) a lot in my life, (You lived where? Singa-who? You’re Greek? So you speak Greekish?) and continues to be ever-present in our supposedly globalized world. Consequential ignorance across populations, cultures, and countries is, of course, one of the main reasons there is prejudice causing havoc—we don’t know or understand other people/cultures/beliefs/lifestyles and therefore we fear them. And fear breeds mistrust, rejection, and, worse, hatred. How sad.

Fear, in my personal life, shows up in your typical places: fear of the dark, roller coasters, flying, losing my parents. Yet, I generally approach new challenges and situations in my life with enthusiasm and gusto. Well, except when it comes to horses.

For the majority of my life, my passion for horses simply could not eradicate my fear of them. Love, passion, even enthusiasm, these were not enough. Little did I know (you see, I was ignorant), that my ignorance was what perpetuated my fear! (As an economist, I should have known that I needed to gather data, analyze the statistics, and then make emotional conclusions!)

Once I immersed myself in the horse world, first as a polo school assistant, later as a full-time polo groom, and then as a polo pony exerciser and weekend trail-ride leader, I found that my fear lessened day by day as my understanding of horse behavior increased.

What before seemed to me the commencement of an assault by a horse as I stood next to it became a horse swinging its head to shoo a fly off his belly.

Pinned ears? Contrary to my previous assumptions, the horse wasn’t giving me a menacing message, but often pinned his ears to warn a fellow horse to not come so close.

My falling off? Usually it was my lack of balance and my inadvertently cueing a horse to turn with my legs/seat/hands while thinking in my head that we were going to continue straight.

Day after day of exposure to horses and their behavior has given me the opportunity to really gather data and analyze it. In observing horses, watching their reactions, and trying to understand to what they were reacting, I find that, most of the time, there is a perfectly logical reason for their behavior, and a trained eye can even predict the behavior happening moments beforehand. What an a-ha moment!

I had been taking everything personally, and in my ignorance, misreading everything!

Working every day with horses in my mid-20s meant facing my fear every day, too. But instead of allowing it to push me away, I walked through it, faced it head on, and got through to the other side of it. This newfound courage made me stronger, more sure of myself, and more able to later take risks in every area of my life.

In this past decade, the privilege of having my own horses live with me in my backyard has increased my knowledge (and therefore my fear-devoid enjoyment) of them exponentially.

I still know very well what fear feels like (it is a feeling that comes over me, several times a day, especially now that I am training young horses and am no longer young and flexible!). But, I now know to trace that feeling back to its source: ignorance.

So, in the moment that I get scared with my horse (or my horse gets scared) I know that I (or he) am being ignorant of something and this ignorance is NOT bliss, but fuel for fear.

Instead of giving into fear by remaining ignorant, I stop and think about the origins of the emotion: What is causing it? What can I do to ameliorate it?

In the moment I literally slow things down and give myself and my horse a moment of reflection and defusion. If my horse continues to be agitated, I ask him to move his feet and flex his head. We both exhale.

Later, I think back to the moment and analyze when things went south and determine whether I missed the clues that led to that moment, or if I could have prevented it or fixed it faster. I also go back to the notes I’ve taken from my study of dozens of horse masters and inevitably find tools that help me understand better why certain fear-inducing events are happening with my horse, and what I can do to prevent their repetition should such a situation arise again.

Sometimes, the mere arming of myself with knowledge from analysis and study helps lessen my fear tremendously. I am then better-prepared to help my horse eradicate its own fear when we are next working together.

Ignorance is most definitely the foundation upon which fear (and not bliss) is built.

To destroy the edifice of fear in my life, I turn to knowledge and self-reflection. These are the tools I use to tear down the walls that threaten to separate me from understanding, respecting, and enjoying those with whom I share my time on this earth: my beloved equines and fellow humans.

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