We all have fears. Even people who claim they’re not scared of anything, at some level, experience both rational and irrational fear. Fear can be a great thing when it saves you from getting electrocuted or run over by a bus, and it can also be a negative thing when it holds you back from wonderful life experiences or rewarding relationships.
Today I spent quite a bit of time getting to know a professional rodeo cowboy named Wyatt Daines. I looked through a couple of Wyatt’s photo albums of his rodeo competitions and asked him all sorts of questions about how it all works, what the proper technique is that scores the rider the most points and increases his likelihood of not getting killed! Wyatt gave me a really great overview of saddle bronc riding and I found it all absolutely fascinating, but as I examined the enlarged photos of this 23 year old young man, with his entire life ahead of him, in mid air getting tossed around on top of a 1,200 pound frantically flailing animal of pure muscle and bone crunching brute power, what was really running through my mind was “there is no force in all of creation that could get me on that bucking horse and convince me that I would stand any chance at all of surviving”!
Wyatt also described to me throughout the course of our afternoon together the many injuries that he has sustained during his rodeo career. The shelves in his bedroom and the family’s livingroom walls are well adorned with medals, awards, framed rodeo photos and belt buckles that show how rewarding it can be to become one of the best at this dangerous and thrilling sport. Seeing the pictures and hearing him describe what really happens in the saddle gave me a huge level of respect not only for Wyatt but for anyone with the courage it would take to learn those specialized skills. There was also, however, a part of me that immediately thought and still thinks, that he’s just pure bleeping nuts!
I was surprised then, to find out later when our conversation moved from rodeo to aviation, that a brave and dare devilish person such as Wyatt, could actually be scared to go up in a small airplane. Surely he was joking? Nope. Brave enough to climb onto 6 different bucking bulls during his first year of college, yes, and brave enough to climb back into the saddle of a bucking bronc even after getting trampled on only a couple years ago leaving him with broken bones and severe trauma to his head, but brave enough to hop into a single engine 2 or 4 seater plane? Good luck!
I can’t claim that Wyatt’s fear of “what would happen if you’re up there and the engine fails?” is totally unfounded, since 6 years ago that very thing did in fact happen to me and my family when our 6 seater Piper Malibu had a catastrophic engine failure over Lake Huron leading to a crash landing in the ditch and cedar trees along a narrow country road on Manitoulin Island. All 5 of us on board survived, with cuts and bruises and a hell of a story to tell. Those kinds of accidents are sure rare in private aviation, but it does happen and I can understand people who don’t know much about aviation having that fear.
Before talking to Wyatt and his sister Jocelyn, I knew very little about rodeo. So it was rational then for me to be a little nervous (not ‘scared’, just nervous) when I hopped on one of their older gelding horses, “Badger” to learn how to barrel race! Jocelyn was a great instructor and slowly walked me through the steps, showed me the technique of how to trot and lope and even gallop, and then I tried a couple times to race around the 3 barrels as fast as I could bring myself to go. I have to admit, feeling that acceleration when Badger took off like a bolt of lightning was exhilarating and fun, but it was also pretty dang scary for a first time rodeo cowboy like myself. So what is the difference between a rational and irrational fear? Sometimes I think it’s mostly just knowledge and comfort. Saddle bronc riding and flying a small plane both have inherent dangers that are well understood by the people who have experience doing it, and with that understanding almost any calculated risk can be managed and mitigated. While it seems crazy to me that Wyatt would hesitate to jump into my 1961 Aircoupe to go for a low fly by of his family’s ranch, I have to remind myself that he was probably trying pretty hard not to laugh when I giggled and yelped like a little girl after my first time experiencing a gallop (you know, where the horse runs pretty fast but stays on the ground and doesn’t try to throw you in the air like a rag doll). I guess whether taking on any perceived risk is healthy and safe or just plane nuts is all a matter of perspective.
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