Mindfulness and horses
Horses live in the moment, they are the perfect example of living in the now and we can learn a lot from them if we give ourselves the space to do so.
Mindfulness and horses go hand in hand. In this blog we will explain what mindfulness is and why you should give it a go, as well as provide a couple of exercises you can try next time you are with your horse.
What is mindfulness?
I think the cleanest definition I have seen comes from Jon Kabat Zinn:
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally,”
Lets break that down to see exactly what is involved.
This is a conscious act, a deliberate decision to pay attention, this is breaking out of the state of auto-pilot so many of us live in. Many of the tasks we do on a daily basis we do by rote, we have done them so many times we don’t need to think about the task at hand and so our mind wanders off to the past or the future.
This is not about not needing to concentrate. This is about making a conscious decision to pay attention to what you are doing right now – on purpose.
One example for me might be when I make the horses feed up each night. I have the same routine, I place the same items in the same ratios into the same buckets, sometimes I finish making up the feed and I can’t even remember exactly what I have put in what bucket! This is autopilot – not good.
I need to consciously make a decision to place my attention where I choose, on the task at hand, and not allow my mind to wander off on other topics.
In the Present Moment
In my example above during my 10 minute task of making up the horse feed my mind has probably flicked over a dozen or more topics – what I am going to cook for dinner when I get home? how much housework needs to be done? when does the car need to go in for a service? I can’t believe what such and such said today? what do I have to do at work tomorrow? wonder if my friend will ride with me this weekend? The list goes on, and on, and on.
So what has this achieved – absolutely nothing except for taking me away from the task and causing me stress and worry about things that need to be done later, or worry considering things that I can do nothing about that have already happened.
We can let go of all tension, worry and stress by thinking in the “now” instead of the past or the future.
I love Eckhart Tolle’s saying, and I paraphrase “Is there anything for you to worry about RIGHT NOW?”
Don’t dismiss this question. Really think about it.
Right now in this very second do you have anything to worry about?
Simply meaning without judgment. You are now being conscious (no more autopilot) in each and every present moment (right now) and not judging the moment.
One example I find that reminds me to come back to mindfulness is the weather.
When I am out with my horses, often times the elements are not kind. The wind may be blowing, it’s raining or its very hot, what ever it may be. If I find myself grumbling under my breath about how horrible the conditions are I know I am being judgmental and really how is that changing my conditions or the weather?
I can be grumpy about having to be out in the rain, or I can accept that yes it is raining and being grumpy is only going to ruin my enjoyment of the time I’m with the horses, it’s not going to change the weather nor is it going to get me dry.
This is an acceptance of what is right now. Obviously if you can change it you will – maybe I can stand under the shelter for a few minutes, but if you can’t you may as well accept and embrace the rain, because you will be wet anyway.
Why practice these techniques
Not only will your horse love you for it, every aspect of your life will improve the more you grasp these concepts and put them into practice.
Doesn’t your horse deserve to have the very best “you” that you can be?
You expect your horse to concentrate on you, be on his best behaviour, give you the best of himself for the time you spend with him. I think it only fair that we return the favour.
Horses want to be with people who are self-aware, who can live in the moment and who can moderate their emotions and feelings. Horses respect people who are fair and they trust people who prove that they are firm but fair leaders.
Mindfulness can give you these qualities.
How to do it
Mindfulness can be practiced during meditation, but for now we will talk about the practice of mindfulness during your normal daily life with your horse.
This is the beauty of mindfulness, you have a daily life where every moment you have a chance to practice.
Exercise 1: Non-demanding Time
This exercise is about spending time with your horse without wanting anything from him.
Ideally this exercise would be practiced in a paddock, although if you have a small yard this would be fine as well.
Turn your horse out, with water but no additional hard feed or hay. Find yourself a comfortable chair, grab a drink and a book or something to keep your attention and find a spot in the paddock where you are unlikely to be disturbed.
You are not going to focus on your horse, not wish him to come over and be with you, not wondering what he is doing. You are simply sharing space and companionship without projecting any intention or thought towards the horse.
Your aim is to immerse yourself in your book which gives your mind something to concentrate on; and intermittently look up and focus on an element of nature.
- Feel the breeze and turn your attention only to the wind for a few minutes, then go back to your book. You can want to close your eyes to really feel it.
- Look up and find an object (not your horse) to really study for a few minutes. It might be a tree close by, look closely at the branches, hear the wind through the leaves, inhale deeply and think about the aroma, if you can reach out and touch the tree do so and feel the bark under your fingers. Really concentrate on each sense. Then go back to your book.
- Close your eyes and breath deeply as you count back from 30 to 0. On each in breath mentally draw the number and on each out breath erase it, and start again as you progressively count down to 0. Once at 0 you can open your eyes, or of you prefer you can immerse yourself in the moment as long as you like and keep your eyes closed. Try to retain that feeling once you open your eyes.
You might find your horse comes over to check you out. Horses enjoy being near calm energy. If this happens don’t reach out to your horse, just allow them to come to you and be as near as they choose.
If you feel you can’t quite trust your horse, place your back to a fence or even just sit on the other side of the fence to start with if this makes you feel more comfortable.
Always remember safety first.
If your horse doesn’t acknowledge you or come closer that’s perfectly normal. Remember this is not about engaging with your horse, this is about you practicing mindfulness in their company and learning not to demand anything from them.
Exercise 2: Give Without Taking
Grooming is an excellent way to give back to your horse without expecting anything in return, and also an easy way to practice mindfulness.
You might do this when your horse is eating or just relaxing in his yard, stable or paddock. Don’t tie your horse, if they choose to walk off during the exercise that is fine. You are not imposing yourself on the horse that way, he is free to choose if he remains with you or leaves.
If your horse does leave during the grooming that’s perfectly normal and OK. You can find he will return in a short space of time if you wait quietly and without pressuring the horse to return. If not then finish the session and try again later.
This is not about getting your horse sparkly clean, if you don’t remove one speck of dust that’s fine too.
This is about stilling your mind, by providing it something else to think about rather than idle useless thoughts, and really giving yourself wholly to your horse.
Start grooming your horse with a brush you know your horse enjoys (I use a soft body brush):
- Begin from his neck and work your way quietly, slowly and gently all over the horse and back to his tail.
- With each brush stroke feel the pressure you are using, take note of how long the strokes are, look at the bristles moving against your horses coat, run your free hand along where you have brush feeling the coat, take note of the colour and shine, feel what muscles you are using.
- Do this slowly to allow yourself time to really concentrate on the various elements.
- Do not worry if you don’t think about all the items above as you are grooming, this is just a few suggestions to get you started. You might find yourself concentrating only on the feel of your horses coat – is it dry, soft, smooth, what colour is it, is it shiny? That’s fine, the aim is to really immerse yourself in the task.
If you find your mind asking questions or wandering away to other tasks you need to do, simply acknowledge to yourself that you have had the thought and then turn your attention back to the brush strokes.
You are not trying to work out why your horses coat is dry (if that’s what you feel) you are simply acknowledging that is it, without any judgment about it. Once you have finished and are away from your horse, you can consider why and what you might do about that, but not NOW.
You can do this exercise for 5 minutes or as long as you and your horse are enjoying the experience.
These same basic concepts can be used for any task eg. doing the dishes, mixing up feeds, putting rugs on, saddling up.
The more you practice the easier it will be to turn your attention on purpose, to the present moment and without judgment.
You will be amazed at how calm and clear your mind becomes once this becomes a habit every time you are with your horse.
Horses already have these skills
If your horse is in with a herd have you ever noticed how the horse you want to catch seems to know even before you reach the gate that it is them that is going to be caught? Everyone else mills around saying G’Day but your horse has wandered away over to the far corner of the paddock.
You’ve had a bad day at work and arrive at the stables to feed up and your horse seems to be acting oddly, doesn’t approach you as he would normally and seems somewhat distant.
Horses can feel your intent, your emotions and your thoughts. Do not doubt this, once you can still your mind and be open to feeling them you will be amazed at the bond that begins to grow between you.
You will wonder how you ever got this far on auto-pilot.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on mindfulness and horses.
If you have a go at the exercises in this blog please leave a comment below and let me know how you went. Also, as always if you have any questions we’d love to help you out.
If you have been inspired to include mindfulness into your everyday life, I highly recommend you read anything from Eckhart Tolle, but probably best to start with his book “The Power of Now”.
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