In the world we live in now, it’s not easy to practice mindfulness. Stress and anxiety along with depression can overwhelm and are an everyday occurrence for so many, myself included.
But when you have the support and trust of a willing horse, you can move mountains – I truly believe that! Plus, your horse will soften and surrender to the wonderful feelings, practices and exercises I’m suggesting you try.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness simply means to pay attention in the present moment. That’s it. In my opinion, there isn’t a sport out there more perfectly suited to paying attention than horseback riding. We’re always cognizant of our heels, legs, arms, thumbs, hips – and then we have to think about our horse’s position, balance, speed and more. Phew! Whether you knew it or not, you’ve been practicing mindfulness since your seat hit the saddle!
Now we’re going to fine-tune your skills to build bond, increase calm and confidence, and support positive mental health for not only you, but your horse as well.
Even if you’ve been feeling like your horse lacks trust, confidence, or the desire to connect and bond with you more deeply, I am confident that some of these mindfulness exercises will help you on your journey.
The Key: Practice and Repeat
I read somewhere that you can’t learn to ride a horse by reading about it. The same goes for mindfulness.
Consider journaling your experiences, which will help you in the present moment, but also down the road when you can take pride in your advancements and progress. You might just find that your horse responds with an openness and willingness you never expected.
The exercise examples below are all tried and tested by my horse, Spirit. I spent months incorporating these mindful activities and the results astounded me. Because of the trust I built, Spirit and I have an iron-clad bond.
So let’s head to the barn and get mindful together!
Mindful Exercise #1– Horse Breathing
This exercise is one that you can do anywhere with your horse and requires no additional tack or supplies. The only thing it requires is an open mind and an open heart. Trust me, your horse knows!
It’s also important to note here that before even seeing your horse, taking stock of your current and present moment energy is crucial. If you’re anxious, try 5-10 deep breaths in the car or barn first ‒ then go get your horse. Being aware of the energy you bring, and softening your mind and body, is key. Your horse will catch on.
How-To: Find a quiet, calming and relaxing spot – whether it’s in the barn on crossties or on a beautiful trail. Stand directly beside your horse, holding his or her halter firmly in your hand. You should both be facing the same direction.
Place your ear as close as possible to your horse’s nostril and try to match up your breathing. Together, breathe in and out through the nose, 10-20 times, and imagine your body and your horse’s totally relaxing, melting into the earth, feeling warm and completely zen. As you move to the other side and repeat, gently stroke his neck, nose, ears, and forelock very slowly while continuing to breathe, helping you both find calm and peace.
For spicy horses, you’ll need to do 20+ deep breaths in and out together on both sides. Journal your experiences and don’t give up! Remember: practice and repeat.
Mindful Exercise #2 – Mindful Massage & Affirmations
Our horses love to be touched, for the most part. During this exercise I’d like you to play peaceful background music so that your horse can hear it. Spa or meditation music will do nicely.
How-To: Using your intuition as guidance, gently massage and rub all parts of your horse’s body. Use light and hard pressure and notice how he responds. Use just your hands.
Breath in and out deeply and in your mind, recite as many positive affirmations as you can, keeping your mind focused and your hands moving slowly and methodically.
An example of an affirmation could be: “I am deeply connected to my horse” or “I am so grateful my horse loves me deeply.”
Notice how your horse responds, and do this for a minimum of 20 minutes. Notice how you feel, too! If you’re planning to go for a ride, see if there’s a difference there, too.
As always, journal your experiences and enjoy!
Stephanie Van De Ven is a writer and Certified Mindfulness Instructor for equestrians, children & families. Visit her website at www.themindfulmama.ca