S IS FOR SPIDER
(Equine Arachnophobia)
Elaine Doll-Dunn, Psy.D.

His name was Spider. He was the biggest, blackest, meanest, most long-legged, most calculating, most cantankerous horse on the place. He hated me and I hated him, I was afraid of him, and he wasn’t afraid of me…the problem was, we both knew it. He wasn’t mine, he was one of the ranch horses, and I only had to ride him when we had a heinous long day of riding projected or all the well-behaved horses had been delegated to greenhorns. I dreaded when dad would say, “Gonna do the winter pasture today, Elaine, you saddle up Spider.” I knew it would be a looooong day.

It wasn’t so much that he bucked, you never knew. It wasn’t that he was a chronic runaway, he might or he might not. And it wasn’t about laziness; I never did get him rode down. It was that he was a coiled spring. A big, black, demonic coiled spring. He would turn his huge head and fix me with baleful obsidian eyes as I tightened the cinch and adjusted the latigo; I would feel him tense as I mounted, and I knew that any direction I gave with spur or rein could as well be ignored as obeyed. I fully understood that what transpired during our day together would be what he chose more than what I directed.

But I learned a lot from Spider. I learned that tangible fear is readily communicated. I learned that when you have a job to do and there are no options, you make anything work. I found that surviving a stressful situation is strengthening, and that it may not be all that much easier the next time; but it will be more do-able. And I learned to respect an awesome athlete. There was a reason Dad assigned me the rangy black, he was gifted with the legs and lungs and heart of a thorough-bred, and had the temperament and tenacity of a pit-bull. He could go forever. No terrain was too challenging, no distance too daunting, no truculent bovine beyond his control. He had the explosive energy and intimidating speed to shoot out and quickly turn any critter that had the temerity to leave the herd, I mostly had to anticipate and hang on. He knew his business and some minor irritation on his back wasn’t going to deter him from the situation at hand.

So it is with the real athlete. At whatever level we compete/complete…nothing should sway us from doing our job. And a huge part of that job is to take care of ourselves--- mentally, emotionally, and physically. If I believe that my work-out is critical to my physical and emotional well-being, nothing should get in the way of it, nothing should be daunting, frightening, tempting enough to sway me from the investment in myself. I’ll call it the “Spider Syndrome”. If I face those things that frighten me, mount up with courage, conviction, and determination; no ‘black horse’ can intimidate me into altering my course. I survived Spider; I can surely tame other demons.

And you? Having trouble staying with your fitness plan? Don’t wanna step out into the chilly dawn and put away a few miles? Think those “smart bells” you purchased are decoration? Intimidated by fitter friends? Think you’ll feel more like working out tomorrow? Naah, fitness starts today. Yank ole Spider’s hackamore, look him in the eye, then grab the horn and mount up. No Fear.

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