As a horse owner, it is only natural that I have a lot of friends with horses. Interesting enough, I have a friend that I met through horses, but he doesn’t have a horse and rarely rides. However, he does work in the horse industry. We were talking the other night and I asked him, “Don’t you miss having a horse of your own?” He responded that he really didn’t miss it. This concept was extremely hard for me to understand, so I pondered this thought and this is what I came up with: Horses nourish my mind, body and soul in ways I find impossible to replicate elsewhere. It is inconceivable to try and fathom my life without them. The following are six reasons horses are good for my mind, body, and soul:
1. Horses keep me present and grounded.
According to the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca, to be truly happy is to enjoy the present moment, and I have to admit he knew what he was talking about. It's hard for me not be present and grounded when I am with my horses. I don’t play a radio when I am in the barn. I am always aware of what my horses are doing and communicating with me whether this is the four beat gait of the walk, the increase or decrease in stride, the sound of their neighs, or the rhythm of their breath. As I am aware of them, I can just be … present.
Additionally, walking meditation is a common Buddhist practice wherein the goal is simply to walk and be present with every step we take. While more traditional seated forms of meditation aren't for everyone, a long hike helps still a mind that is always thinking about what we have to do next. It's one of the best gifts you can give yourself and your horse. Frequently, I take one of my horses with me as I go on my daily walk. Not only is it a bonding experience, but it allows us to be present together.
2. Horses elevate my senses.
I have observed people in the city walking down the streets, in the airport, or on a bus or train attached to their smart phones. Their eyes are fixed straight down, listening to music on their earbuds, texting or talking on the phone. They are blocking out traffic noise and avoiding physical contact with strangers at all cost.
Unlike a crowded city center, being with horses makes me WANT to engage in all of my senses. Once I enter the space of my horses, that internal dialogue fades away and I begin to take more notice of my surroundings. I notice the breeze against my skin … the sun on my face … and the birds chirping in the background. It makes me feel connected to myself, my horses and to the earth.
What do you hear or feel when you are at the barn with your horse?
3. Horses put nature into perspective for me.
Up mountains, over hills, along plains, through forests, riding is a great opportunity to get in touch with nature. It's a pertinent reminder of how small we are and how beautiful (and vast) the world is.
Studies have shown that being among nature is a great stress reliever and can help lower incidences of depression. The findings of a particular 2014 study suggested that group outdoor walks "may not only improve someone's daily positive emotions but may also contribute a non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions like depression." So why not be in nature with your horse!
4. Horses invite a sense of adventure.
Riding can be a unique way to explore a new place. I am fortunate to have a summer home in the upper Midwest with hundreds of acres to explore. Don't get me wrong. I like spending weekends binge-watching Netflix as much as the next person, but that's not very exciting is it? Riding is a way to tap into your adventurous spirit in a healthy way that doesn't involve whiskey and picking bar fights with bikers.
5. Horses give me space.
Physical space, of course, but more importantly the emotional and mental distance needed to momentarily place aside the pressures of balancing work, relationships, friendships, finances and health. I've come to important realizations about myself and my life while being with horses. Alternatively, I've gone riding and let my thoughts dance from the ordinary to the outrageous. And that's OK too; both are necessary. But both require space.
6. Horses have fostered my relationships.
I come from a family where spending quality time with individuals just doesn’t happen. Being with horses taught me how to be in a relationship and this has transferred into my human relationships. I have learned compassion, empathy, love and how to be in a partnership thanks to horses.
An important someone or horse allows you to check in with them on a deeper level and be part of a support system in your life. This special one-on-one time affords you the opportunity to be of service to those who are more important to you. After all, there's nothing like hours of winding paths to the inner work so that you can show up for others in life.
Do you feel ready to start “being” with your horse and experience the present moment? Here are a few tips for getting started:
So many people have a challenge with meditating because they can’t sit still for very long without their mind wondering into some thoughts. However, meditation does not have to always be sitting on a cushion with your legs crossed chanting “om.” Meditation can easily take place while washing the dishes, cleaning horse pens, and yes even while riding! Through the establishment of your body, breath, and mind in the practice of meditation, a new connection can take place between you and your horse. You can try to sit for around ten minutes per day and meditate or you can utilize your time and learn to meditate on the back of your horse-think of it as part of your warm up. Of course, consistency is more important than length. It is better to practice for five minutes a day, five days a week, than for thirty minutes, once a week.
1. Start Slowly
Don’t say to yourself: “I am going to meditate every single day for the rest of my life.” This is a huge mistake - first, because realistically you’re not going to do it, and second, because it’s just too much pressure on yourself. That is like beginning a running practice by starting with a half marathon. Instead, establish a routine that is very, very doable. For example, you could decide to meditate Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the first ten minutes of your ride. If you could do this for one month, that would be great! At the end of that month, decide whether you want to continue with ten-minute sessions, slow down, or increase the time. If you want to increase, do so by small increments – for example, five minutes. Then, after a month of meditating at the walk, during your warm up for fifteen minutes, you can make a decision for the next time period.
2. Establish Your Seat
Meditation doesn’t require creating anything fancy or spending a lot of money, but choose a time and place for your practice - either a quiet morning at the barn, or out on the trail where you don’t run into anyone else for miles. Choose a time that you know you won’t be interrupted. If you like, you could do something special for you and your horse like treats or extra grooming time. It needs to be something that inspires you and gets you in the mood-if you will. Don’t get carried away here, though. Keep it simple.
3. Choose Your Time
Try to practice at the same time every day. Most people find that the morning works out best, but you may have a dozen kids to get off to school or a job that requires you to start at 6 a.m. Or you may simply be a night owl and find it better to practice when you get to the barn after work or on the weekend. You can experiment with times of day, but whatever seems best, stick with it. There is nothing magical about this; it just seems that habits thrive on routine.
4. Declare Your Intention
As you sit down into the saddle to practice, say to yourself something like this, “Now is my time to practice with myself and my horse.” or “Everything else can wait until I am done with my horse.” Commit yourself from the start. By declaring your intention out loud, it gives it more power and more probability of you following through and sticking to your routine.
5. Follow the 12 Second Rule
This rule states that when you screw up (i.e., miss a day or a week or a month), you must feel awful, guilty, and ashamed - but only for twelve seconds!! Then you have just got to cut that B.S. out and get back to your routine!!
It’s thoroughly not useful. The only thing worse than slacking off in your practice, is feeling like crap for slacking off in your practice. So please, don’t do that.
6. Sit with Others
Meditation is most often a solitary pursuit, a time for you to simply be with yourself. However, if it becomes unrelentingly solitary, which is why you may not feel as lost in space or even lonely while doing it with your horse. While the ability to rest in both spaciousness and solitude are actually quite important, instituting some simple checks and balances prevents confusion as your practice develops.
A great way to keep your practice real is to ask a horsey friend to join you from time to time. Or, invite a few friends to practice with you and establish a riding meditation group. It can be as small as two or three people or as large as you like (although I recommend keeping it small). You could get together once a week or once a month and simply sit on your horses for a mutually agreed time, followed by a conversation about how the practice is going for each of you.
And this last tip is optional …Obtain a dharma book and read a paragraph, page, or chapter before or after your practice. When we incorporate even the slightest bit of study to our practice, our realization deepens. These are simply tools of suggestion. Don’t spend too much time trying to establish the perfect get-up. When in doubt, practice. Whether you’re sitting on a special cushion or on your horse, the important thing is to practice. But even more importantly … enjoy your horse!
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