My father was afraid of horses, so of course I had to learn how to ride. I was terrified of snakes, so my son has had a lifelong fascination with reptiles. Not surprising.
My father witnessed someone being kicked by a horse and killed. Needless to say, he became phobic about riding horses. When I expressed an interest in riding at around age 10, he forbade it. He was rarely this emphatic about anything.
My mother and grandfather didn’t think I should have to live by my father’s fears. So they went behind Dad’s back and took me for riding lessons near our summer-house in CT. I studied English style walk, trot and canter in a ring. Then I decided to follow my close friend into jumping classes. I never got very far. I was not a great rider. I was always a bit afraid of the horses and they always knew it. The result was that I had little control over the horses I rode.
My father never found out about my riding and I eventually stopped. But when I was in college, I had a wonderful riding experience in, of all places, New York City. A friend of my mother’s rode in Central Park and asked me to join her. There is a large reservoir in Central Park that goes from the East side to the West side of town. There is also a long bridal path that goes around the entire perimeter of the reservoir.
Most horseback riding in the Eastern U.S. is ring riding or trail riding, which is basically a walk in the woods but on a horse. The NYC bridal path gave you the opportunity to just ride on a straightaway for miles. As an added treat, once the horses reached the halfway point and realized they were heading home, they would break into a gallop. What a treat! It was awesome.
I pretty much stopped riding after college. I did enjoy it but it wasn’t a real passion for me. I think my father’s fear rubbed off enough on me to dampen my enthusiasm for the sport.
When it came to my turn as a parent, I got to expose my kids to a different animal phobia – snakes. When I was about ten years old, I stepped on a snake and gave myself a scare. I started having nightmares about snakes and a full-blown phobia was born. I would scream and run if I saw even a photo of a snake.
From a very early age, my son, David, was fascinated by snakes and other reptiles. I obviously couldn’t share that interest with him. Then in 1989, when David was nine, I started taking the anti-depressant Prozac. I first realized that the medication was working when I suddenly came across a live snake and realized that I wasn’t afraid anymore. I even petted a boa constrictor my kids and I saw at a local mall. My son was stunned but ecstatic. My phobia was gone. It had been part of my anxiety based depression.
David and I started reading about snakes together and soon David asked to have one as a pet. Once we made sure David understood how to take care of it (because I certainly wasn’t going to), we got our first of several pythons, Turbo. At 37, David now has two snakes, one a python, three Geckos and a Bearded Dragon lizard. He has become quite a reptile expert and sometimes even goes to herpetology meetings with breeders and other aficionados.
My mother and grandmother were terrified of cats but, while I loved cats, I prefer dogs and never became a true cat person. However, my fear of snakes inspired a real passion in my son. So I guess it served a purpose – the creation of a positive and gratifying hobby for David.