What if I told you that the most important thing you can do to improve your relationship with your horse is something you’re already doing, and that you’ll actually be able to see results in as little as a minute or two. Would you believe me? It’s true – but before I get into this simple exercise, I want to give you a little context.
When we think of things we can do to improve our relationship with our horse, most of us think of riding lessons. Now, having been an instructor for over 4 decades, I’m a huge fan of riding lessons. They can improve your riding, and, with a good instructor, your understanding of how and why your horse does what he does.
But listening to your instructor, trying to get your body to follow directions, and attempting to have your horse provide the appropriate response to your requests can sometimes feel like a master juggling act – lots of balls to keep in the air. In case you hadn’t guessed, this isn’t really the best way to improve your relationship with your horse.
No, that’s better achieved by being present, and the best way to become fully present is by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply being aware of yourself and your environment at this moment. It’s learning to shut out the distractions of the long day you had at work, the broken washing machine, and the fact that the cat is due for her shots. It’s about becoming fully aware of the here and now. Sound simple? It is… but just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy! With our schedules full and our electronic devices ever-present, it’s really not that easy to disconnect and just “be”.
Take heart, mindfulness does get easier with practice, and the benefits won’t be limited to just your relationship with your horse. You’re likely to find you have less stress, and that the relationships with the key people in your life improve as well. So let’s get started!
Remember at the beginning I told you that the most important thing you can do to improve your relationship with your horse is something you’re already doing? You’re even doing it as you read this, and you’re probably unaware of it. What is it? Breathing! The simplest way to begin the path to minfdullness (and a better relationship with your horse) is by breathing. Yup, simple as that. Well, actually, it’s just a little more complicated.
Most of the time we’re pretty unaware of our breathing. It tends to get more shallow as we become tense, which limits the amount of oxygen going to our brain, which then makes us rely more on instinct than on conscious choice when faced with decisions. The trouble with instinct is that it comes from the prehistoric part of our brain – our amygdala. Think of your amygdala as your reptile brain – it wants to survive. Period. Retreating to the fetal position, experiencing blind panic – those are the types of activities favored by your amygdala. Not exactly the part of the brain you want to rely on when you’re trying to develop a deep relationship.
Correct breathing supplies your brain with more oxygen, which then allows you to access the more evolved parts – the parts reptiles don’t have. Here is a 3 step plan to use breathing to help you become more mindful and start improving your relationship with your horse.
- Slow Before You Go. Before heading to the barn, take a minute or two to sit with your eyes closed and just breathe in and out. Become aware of your breathing – don’t try to change anything, just become aware. Feel your breaths as they enter and exit through your nose, feel your chest move and let your body relax as much as possible.
- Awareness on Arrival. When you get to the barn, spend another minute or two before you go to your horse. Become aware of any changes in your body or your thoughts. Are you in a hurry because you’re later than you expected? Are you already dreading tacking up because your horse is cranky about being ridden this close to dinner time? Spend a minute or two, focus on your breathing again, and let those thoughts go. Some helpful ways to release stressful thoughts are imagining them written on balloons floating off into the sky or visualizing that they’re bubbles and they simply pop and disappear, taking the associated stress with them. Don’t worry if the thoughts keep leaping back into your awareness – this does get easier with practice.
- Tune in while tacking up. While you’re grooming or tacking up your horse – become aware of his breathing. Watch his nostrils and ribs, and notice his regular, relaxed breaths. You can synchronize your brushing with his breathing to help you tune in even more.
There are many more ways to develop awareness and deepen your relationship with your horse. It’s a rewarding process, and the benefits reach far beyond the barn. If you’re interested in learning more, watch your inbox over the next few days. I’ll be sending you some information on my upcoming course, Find Yourself on a Horse – Empowering Women in the Barn and Beyond.
In the meantime, take a few deep breaths, and enjoy your time with your horse.