How to be Mindful at the Barn
By Shannon Fox
Long before I ever heard the concept of mindfulness I practiced something I called “Zen Riding.” My gelding could be high-strung & anxious at horse shows. Every time I got in the saddle at a show I would focus on him 110% and taking care of him by being as energetically calm as I could be. It turns out that what I called Zen Riding is a pretty textbook definition of mindfulness. According to Mindful.org “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
I have always had challenging horses. I joke that one day I’d like an easy horse just to know what it feels like, but deep down I don’t think I’d have it any other way. Without all of the challenging horses in my life, I never would have discovered mindful horsemanship on my own. It’s one thing to read about a concept and other thing to apply it. So if you’re looking to become a more mindful rider in and out of the saddle and build a better relationship with your horse, I hope you’ll try out these five tips for more mindful horsemanship.
Get Comfortable- This is a no brainer- If you have a scratchy tag or super tight breeches you are never going to be able to fully concentrate, relax and clear your mind. Choose your riding clothes carefully, make sure that everything you’re wearing moves and stretches with your body. Clothing like the super stretchy breeches from 2KGrey like the Olympic Breeches and a simple T-shirt will ensure you are comfortable and ready to focus on you and your horse.
Slow Down- Our world is fast-paced, we constantly try to squeeze just one more thing into our already full lives. The horse does not live that way, he just goes with the flow. His only real obligation comes when you take him out to ride.
In the book Zen Mind Zen Horse by Allan Hamilton, the author delivers a keen insight, that predators are associated with speed. At the root level, we ARE predators, but we don’t have to act like one. Make time to take your time. Allow yourself the luxury of a languid grooming session and a long warm-up before diving into the real work. Don’t hurry your training time in the saddle, allow your ride to unfold according to the horse’s timetable. Give yourself the opportunity to spend time with your horse with no expectations. Watch him eat, sit on the fence while he’s in the pasture; accept that when you’re at the barn, the only time that matters is the horse’s time.
Empty Your Mind- Building on the concept of slowing down your frantic pace, you need to empty your mind. Forget about that phone call you got on the way to the barn, all the unanswered emails you still have to deal with. Your horse lives in the present, he has no obsession with past or present- you need to be present as well. A great way to avoid the hassles of the day is to try to ride in the early morning, before the day has started and before other people can make demands on your time. Even if you can’t make a habit of riding early, make time for it every once and awhile. That feeling of just flowing with the horse is what you want to capture every time you ride.
Build Trust- Without trust, your horse will not accept your leadership. You must earn his trust before you can become the mindful leader you want to be. The horse must be shown that not only do you not intend to harm him, you’re deserving of the role of leader. Take time to let him get to know you- every time you come to the barn, let him smell you all over from your boots to your riding breeches to the collar of your shirt. A good grooming session is also a powerful way to build trust and bond with your horse. Grooming is also a great way to practice slowing down and emptying your mind. Rather than hurrying through your grooming ritual so you can get in the saddle, go slow and take the time to groom every inch of your horse. Make sure you really focus on what you’re doing and how your horse is reacting, rather than allowing your mind to wander all over the place.
Let Go of the Outcome- This one is so crucial- you can want something, you can have goals, but once you’ve set your intention, you need to let go of the outcome. It’s true, what they say: Rome wasn’t built in a day. A marathon runner can’t see all 26.2 miles ahead of her, but she knows if she puts one foot in front of the other enough times, she will reach the finish line. Trust the process. Trust that you’re moving in the right direction. Trust that you’ll get there. Let go of the outcome, relax, and enjoy the ride!
It is said that depression is caused by living in the past and anxiety is caused by living in the future, to be truly happy we must live in the present. Mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience. Enjoy your horse, your time at the barn, focus on the sounds, the smells and how you feel. Appreciate life, live in the moment and never forget 2kGrey’s motto – Ride with Passion!
Do you have mindfulness tips to share with us? Leave them in the comments below.