Day 14 of my 21-day meditation experience. Today I dove into “Gratitude brings Compassion.” This is what I learned: Compassion is supposed to link us together through our humanness. We as humans are more alike than we are different. And yet, from what I see in the world, we humans can’t seem to get along or see eye to eye. Judgment will deny us the connection that ties us together. Persons who practice compassion become a conduit for peace and understanding. Hearts soften and miracles can happen. I am learning to have more compassion for humans. I feel they are tainted from a very young age. Parents influence judgment by telling children what to believe and how to think. I know that is why I am drawn to animals. Animals are so connected to nature that they don’t judge us.
It is taught that gratitude and compassion are linked. The warm feeling of kindness in our hearts is compassion. For me, sometimes compassion feels impossible towards people. My judgment against those who have wronged me sets in and the desire to be right and validate my feelings takes over. I know this creates separation, but sometimes I can’t help how I feel. I am learning that gratitude is the opposite of judgment and one cannot judge and have compassion at the same time. At times, I feel the need to help and not condemn. However, my bruised ego takes over and I feel that the person who hurt me does not deserve my compassion.
Forgiveness is the next step and I find it very much emotionally depleting—especially when I have to do my forgiveness practice over and over for the same person. Even though I know forgiveness loosens the grip of resentment and grudges, it is still a work in progress for me. When I do find forgiveness, I know my awareness becomes all-encompassing. Forgiveness expands beyond me, myself, and I. Forgiveness allows compassion to open up to an empathetic common ground with humanity. In order to purify my soul, I can only offer this without pride or self-regard. When I stop judging others, that is when I can stop judging myself. Once I get to that place, I will be in a state of grace. Getting there is the hard part ...
Only eight days left of my 21-day meditation experience—today is day 13 and I examined the concept of “success through gratitude.” It is taught that we can’t attract more into our lives until we are capable of being grateful for what we already have. I have learned from society that success only comes from hard work and sacrifice. Spirituality says this is not true. The Universe wants to fill my life with blessings. When I feel my life is blessed, my blessings multiply—that is a law of nature. When I believe I am worthy and recognize my worth, that is when I attract abundance in my life. It is a process, but I am learning to recognize my worth, radiate my gratitude, and give thanks from the depth of my being. As I get better and better at this, success shows up for me.
Success and grace are linked together. I don’t believe in evaluating success from my financials but rather what I achieve on the inside. The desire for more is natural and this is constantly changing. I am learning to accept every gift from the Universe with humility and gratitude. This doesn’t come easily from the ego, but I am learning from meditation how to express gratitude from my true self. Grace is the source of abundance—not the ego’s selfish struggle of wanting more. Ego gratification feels like triumph and grace feels warm to the heart. Ego gratification is only temporary because the ego feels empty and wants more. I addressed this ego-based “more and more” idea on day 11 of my meditation experience and how it applies to the horse world. The ego wants more to feel gratified.
Gratitude aligns my intention to receive the support of nature through horses. I accept a deeper truth—especially when I am with horses. I have always been successful in my relationships with horses and animals. How do I know this? Because they fill my soul with a warmth of peace and satisfaction that I have never achieved from anything else. This sensation never came from a blue ribbon or a trophy. I was only able to experience this true connection with the horse on a spiritual level after I learned how to put my ego aside. Now, I am connected with horses on a level I never dreamed possible. And, it continues to get better and better every day as I practice gratitude and self-awareness. And in return, I receive grace.
Today is day 12 of my 21-day meditation experience and let me tell you this is not getting easier. Today’s meditation was themed “Loving with Gratitude.” It was about divine love, the spiritual grace that supports everyone and everything and this was a challenging topic for me in regards to human love.
My Bio-Energy Analysis mentor taught me that we have two choices—love and fear. I can’t have both at the same time. I either choose love or fear. One or the other. Love, from a place of gratitude, can erase fear and with love, I can overcome fear, anger, and rejection. This is really about connecting with the truest expression of myself. My life experiences have shaped me into who I am today. Loving fearlessly through gratitude is one of the hardest things for me to do ...
In every wisdom tradition, grace is connected to divine love and it is something we can have even if we feel we don’t deserve it. Grace isn’t necessarily a choice, but love is. I can choose whether I give a little or a lot of love. I limit the amount of love I express to humans because humans have caused me more pain and rejection than any horse or animals. There is nothing more awful than allowing yourself to be vulnerable and love someone only to find that love is not reciprocated. However, the pain from my past does not stop me from giving and receiving love with horses. The more love I give to the horses the more I become who I am really am and my heart is gladdened. Gratitude assists in love through the removal of my ego … but I am not always successful.
At this time in my life, the only way I feel supported by divine love and grace is through animals. My horses are a huge support system, but I also have some amazing felines in my life. Horses are amazing creatures, however, when you have a cat or dog that lives in your house and shares a bed with you, it changes the dynamic. For me, there are few things more gratifying than a snuggly, purring puddy cat on my lap.
Active steps I take towards gratitude that are helping me overcome my inner obstacles and resistance to divine love with humans is learning the art of forgiveness. It is not easy for me. I know how to forgive and keep it in the past. I have yet to accomplish it in the present. I feel like if someone hurts or wrongs me over and over then I just have to do my forgiveness process over and over. It is emotionally exhausting. Thank goodness for the animals that rejuvenate me! I know as I continue to practice forgiveness (over and over) and keep practicing gratitude and receiving grace, one day the hurt and pain will stay away and I will be able to experience divine love on a whole different level. Today, that’s all I can do but practice makes perfect, right?
Today is day 11 of my 21-day meditation experience and the theme for today is “Nature’s Generosity is Waiting.” What does that mean? I have learned that in a moment of grace, I am supposed to feel safe and worthy. Love is all around me. Nature is infinitely generous and I am supported all the time. For most of my life, I have been criticized for my love and committed lifestyle to horses—mostly by non-horse people, but nonetheless criticized and judged. Over the years, I have learned to embrace my uniqueness and gift of being connected to horses. This inner growth has led me to my truth, understanding, and acceptance of myself. Something I believe I never would have learned to acknowledge and honor about myself without my gratitude for the horse.
The more I grow to appreciate horses the more I receive grace from the horses. When I am with horses, I lose all thoughts of being unworthy or symptoms of contracted awareness. When I recognize limitations in my life, I choose to come back to meditation and open my awareness. I do this when I am with horses. Some people think that meditating requires sitting cross-legged on a pillow chanting the word “om” over and over. Yes, this is one way to meditate, however, being in the present moment is achieved in many different ways. One can even meditate while doing the dishes. I meditate while I am cleaning poop, grooming, and sometimes just sitting and listening to them eat.
The opposite of contracted awareness is expanded awareness and it isn’t passive. Expanded awareness opens me up to the generosity of nature. I see this in my connection with horses. I know in my heart that it is part of my birthright and my God-given destiny. Expanded awareness is normal to me when I am with the horses. It is said that contracted awareness is abnormal and stems from fear and doubt. I am sure we have all experienced that!
Nature is always generous through constant replenishment. It is the flow of life. Even though it is very painful when I lose a horse, it doesn’t stop the Universe from bringing new ones to me. This flow of horses in my life is what keeps me growing and blooming. Horses inspire me and are my mentors for keeping in the present moment. When I am generous and give to the horses my time, energy, and love, I always get something positive in return from them—their energy renews me. Horses are truly a gift to me from the creator of the universe!
There are two domains of life—the inner and the outer. Through my gratitude for horses and the world they live in, it effortlessly links me to my inner domain. I believe our culture and society only know how to link to the outer domain of life. We are taught that more material things are better and more leads to abundance. But what I observe in the horse world, is that more leads to extremes and extremes lead to unhealthy horses. From an inner perspective, I would like to see more love, respect, and appreciation for the health and well-being of the horse that yields longevity. This would require us to put aside the ego and release all attachments to blue ribbons and accolades.
I gave up horse shows years ago. It is not to say that I will never show again or that I condemn horse shows. I say it all the time, “It’s not what we do, it’s how we do it.” The motive for doing things with horses should not be in a competitive nature. It needs to be about the nature of bonding and connecting with the horse. I desire to see a shift in the horse world. A shift in the mentality that believes the horse is a tool and a means of winning. For this to happen, it would require us to think differently. For example, we need to use the discipline of dressage for the horse and not the horse for dressage. Perhaps this begins with the awareness of gratitude and being in the present moment. When we stop thinking about the next show and the next ribbon, that is when we can truly be in the now and appreciate today’s ride and the love of our horse.
When I feel gratitude at the moment, I can cultivate a sense of acceptance and openness as is. I know that by dissolving differences it allows an opening to a way of deeper connection alignment and energy. That is true love and grace manifested. Heartfelt gratitude enables bonds to flourish and connect with what truly matters. Gratitude can bring us together. But first, we have to be open to it ...
I imagine gratitude is magical—it has the ability to dissolve resentment and remove obstacles. But, it comes down to have a fulfilling relationship and you have to be able to relate to each other. I have learned that what I give and receive is the life of my relationships. Giving is most powerful at the emotional level. I believe the horses are thankful I am in their life and I am thankful they are in my world. World traditions teach that the giver benefits as much as the receiver—I experience this every day I am with horses. I know this is supposed to soothe the heart and allows relationships to flourish, but sometimes I only experience it with horses. However, it is taught that we cannot achieve this without expanded awareness aka. gratitude. My true self knows that grace can accomplish what the ego cannot. My ego self isn’t always ready for it.
I am learning to be grateful for the here and now and not the delusion of an old dream. The real potential is ready to be awakened when I allow gratitude and form a bond that allows two to become one. I totally get this from my relationships and bonds with horses. I am learning that grace can keep the flow open even when I am anxious and doubt the perfection of any relationship. I know my real potential is waiting to be awakened. However ...
I am not going to lie, today’s meditation was a challenge. Perhaps life got in the way, a tax appointment, distractions, and just not enough hours in the day. But as I follow through on my commitment at the eleventh hour, I realize that today’s theme is probably not a coincidence after what I wrote yesterday. If gratitude expands every relationship, then why do I have a hard time finding gratitude in the ex-relationship I spoke of yesterday? Words are hurtful and you can’t take them back. It’s like putting toothpaste back in the tube … it does not work.
Love is nothing without action. Trust is nothing without proof, and sorry is nothing without change. My current emotional state does not allow me to feel the good qualities I once thought I knew of this person. The qualities that used to make me feel good. I have no idea if it would be possible or how it would be possible to feel what I used to feel, but what I know for sure is this, “Right now, at this exact moment in time, horses are the only thing that makes me feel good. That and a cuddly, purring puddy cat sitting in my lap. That is my current present moment and the present moment is all that matters and for that I am grateful.
This meditation experience is assisting me in learning to be aware and appreciate the privilege of the ultimate connection to grace through gratitude. It is my connection to the divine. I am grateful for who I am. It has taken me many moons of being the black sheep of the family and learning about myself. But what I know now is that I am the author of my own story and I choose the chapter I want to write—day by day.
Reality is always personal based on each individual experience. Every one of my experiences is filtered through my core beliefs and attitudes. My emotions are always responding even when I am not aware of them. I know that I am unique in how I see the world and I have control over my individual reality. Only I can reassure myself. Only I can be the author of my own life story and my story can change. Every day is a new world with new possibilities. I am not the same person as I was yesterday and I will not be the same person tomorrow. Gratitude connects me to today’s reality. As part of my true self, the only constants in my life are existence, nature, grace, truth, and love.
When I make this connection to gratitude, hours and days stop feeling like the same thing. Repetition makes life stale. It brings boredom, indifference, and fatigue. When I keep repeating the things I have no real interest in, I can grow numb. Instead, I choose to experience life through the nature of being with horses. The continuity of the freshness in every moment I experience with horses delivers me grace. This is why I do horses. Every day is a new day. Every ride is a new ride. Every moment is a new moment. I never stop learning or growing when I am with horses. Without them, I would be numb and stale.
I have specific memories of an experience I had with an ex-boyfriend regarding my lifestyle with horses. On numerous occasions, he belittled my relationship and my love for horses by saying hurtful things like, “You repulse me because you wear cowboy boots to ride in.” Ultimately, I feel he blamed the horses and used it as an excuse to break up. It is very hard for me to find gratitude from that relationship. I know we had some good times and vibrated together in chemical attraction and at times on a spiritual level. But at the end of the day, I have strong physical sensations of pain and feelings of hurt and betrayal. It always made me question how someone could tell me they loved me, but then devalued the only unconditional love I have ever known from horses.
As a result, I have gained an even stronger love and appreciation for the horses in my life. Horses are not just a hobby. They are the only constants in my life. Horses are my existence. They are my connection to nature, grace, truth, and love. And for that, I am eternally grateful that the Universe brought horses into my life as a small child and that I will leave this planet with horses in my heart and spirit.
Today, I started the second week of my meditation experience. This week explores a deeper facet of gratitude—my overall health and well-being. Science has proven that new pathways open in our brains and change when we practice thoughts of gratitude. The more I practice gratitude the more I want my neuropathways to open up and change for the better.
There are only two kinds of input our brains experience; negative and positive. Obviously, positive input increases our well-being and negative input decreases our well-being. Gratitude is a positive input and aids in the generating of new pathways in my brain. Gratitude also leads to compassion and empathy. When I focus my awareness on positive input, greater health and well-being come my way. But, it is something that I have to exercise—just like going to the gym to exercise the body we have to exercise our brains too! As I continue to exercise my brain with gratitude, compassion and empathy become a little easier.
Gratitude is not a totally new concept for me. One of the first spiritual teachers that showed up in my life was Dr. Wayne Dyer. I have never forgotten how he shared the first thing he did every morning when he awoke was to say, “Thank you.” This is a practice I have incorporated into my everyday life except I say “thank you” one time for every horse and cat I have in my life. I also give my animals hugs and tell them they are loved. Because every time you give a hug, you receive a hug and love is one of the highest vibrating emotions.
Three main factors that contribute to negative input in my brain are the negative voices in my head that stem from negative people in my life declaring things over me like, “You can’t do that” and “You will always be a failure as long as you have horses.” This negativity has led me down a path to insecurity, self-doubt, and fear of standing in my truth. Ways I am learning to eliminate these negative inputs are by eliminating people and things in my life that are not for my highest good. From now on, I only allow people in my life who love and accept me for me—this includes my love of animals along with my passion and lifestyle for horses.
When I practice gratitude, it allows the awareness of what shows up in different areas of my life including health and wellness. The more I practice gratitude the more I can reroute old pathways in my brain and turn them into a positive pathway. From now on, I choose a healthy mind and body and I hope you do too!
I am still learning how to connect gratitude and grace through this 21-day meditation experience. What I have learned is that shifts towards grace open up from a place of gratitude. It is not uncommon for obstacles to show up during personal growth. Obstacles many times are messages from the Universe. I have to remind myself that when I start to feel struggle from life’s obstacles, it is time to pause. I can choose how I react to the obstacles. Do I react as a negative or as an opportunity to know that all will be well? There is always a blessing in every issue.
Obstacles are not my enemy. They are signals from my true self to look at the situation differently. When obstacles show up, many times I allow inner resistance to getting in the way of my gratitude. Looking at life’s dark side was taught to me by my family. I grew up hearing nothing except negative. Over time, these pessimistic beliefs became “normal.” When those old thought patterns show up for me, I can’t see or feel gratitude. My family never taught me to be grateful for anything. I was only taught to be what my father called a realist. Learning to shift my perception has helped make room for optimism to start in my life. This is where I am today. Learning to not resist opens me up to receive grace.
One thing I struggle with that I am sure we can all relate to is stress. Stress from everyday life. Things don’t always go the way I plan or things show up in my life that I wasn’t expecting. I know I shouldn’t let it, but I allow it to stress me out. Through meditation, being with my horses, and learning the art of gratitude, it puts me in the present moment. I believe we can’t hear it enough, “When you are in the present moment, nothing else matters!” The past no longer exists, therefore, the past does not matter. The only thing we have control over is the here and now. As I learn to do this, I start to feel the joy of my true self and that feels good.
Eckhart Tolle taught me to say yes to the present moment and yes to life. This includes surrendering to what is. And the next step is to change yes to thank you. When I allow distractions to distance me from the here and now, that is when I feel I need more and don’t feel satisfied with my current life. Bringing myself back to a place of gratitude reminds me that the present moment of gratefulness creates abundance.
I realize that every moment has its own energy and unique feeling. It brings out grace in the here and now. Grace does not exist in the past or the future. When I awaken my gratitude, grace responds to me. When life is not enough, gratitude turns my attention away from what I don’t have to what I do have.
When I spend time with the horses, I have sincere gratitude for their energy and presence around me. Horses are the epitome of being in the present moment. I love sitting with them when they eat. I love listening to their gentle munching noises and observe the softness in their eyes. The horses are not worried about what tomorrow will bring. The horses aren’t angry about something someone did to them in the past. Every moment I am with my horses is filled with grace.
Things that distract me are text messages and Facebook notifications. When I hear my phone ding, I can’t help but see what or who it is. But when I check my phone, I am no longer in the present moment with my horses. I make it a habit to leave my phone in the house or tack room while I am with my horses. Horses are definitely what brings me into the present moment. How do your horses assist you in tapping into the here and now?
Gratitude awakens my true self. My true self is connected to everything in the Universe. Gratitude guides me to inner acceptance—a stillness, silence, and deep peace. The deeper I go within the more profoundly I connect with myself. A cultivated state of appreciation creates grace authentically and naturally.
The path of grace is unique and requires devotion. This path is possible by contacting my true self. I have many different selves. These selves include my work self, my horse self, my play self, etc. However, when I put all of those selves aside, my true self is left behind. My true self knows me better than anyone else—it knows my hopes, dreams, and disappointments. Gratitude is one part of my creative force. The awakened energy of gratitude leads me to my true self. The true self exists in silence and is the source of grace.
I am in the process of learning to stand in my truth. One way I intend to live and speak my truth is through my writing. I am letting go of the fear of what people think and putting myself “out there.” Through meditation and being thankful for the present moment, I am more accepting of myself. Of my many selves, I know that my intimate self needs to come forward more. When intimate Pamela writes from the heart and a vulnerable place, that is when my readers connect with me the most. I committed to this mediation experience as a way to tap into a deeper level of my true self for my writing.
It is no mystery that when I ride that is when I am fully aligned with my true, authentic self. When I am riding and being with horses, I am fully in the present moment and nothing else matters. This is why I will never stop riding and never give up horses. Without horses, nothing else matters. Every horse, every ride, every moment creates a new experience that aligns me with my true self. And that my friend is grace.
Everyone around me seems to be seeking the same things as me. I often feel invisible and just want to be seen. I wonder, “Do I matter? Does anyone hear me?” When the Universe responds to me, this is grace. Grace replies to me through knowledge and understanding that I belong and am part of something bigger than myself. Gratitude is my catalyst. When I express gratitude, grace responds. The little things and moments aren’t little. When I am present in gratitude, little things seem more important.
When I am present, everything flows more naturally. The Universe makes me feel like I am appreciated. This shows that I am in the flow of life. Signals from within me bring peace and calm and moments of joy. My perception shifts. The old mare is still beautiful in my eyes. The lame gelding still moves with grace and ease. Other signals come from external sources. Like the appreciation of a friend. Horses have become more and more enjoyable and vibrant to me. Grace is a nurturing force of nature that sustains all life. When I am aware of this, I can ask for it. Grace comes from a deep source within me.
One way I renew my energy is by appreciating what’s around me. When I am feeling overwhelmed and stressed, I take a few moments to find something that will slow down my brain and make me feel better. Many times, leaving my computer and walking out to the barn does just the trick. Believe it or not, mucking manure always renews my energy—especially when the weather is nice. Other days, making a phone call and having a heart-to-heart talk with a like-minded friend allows me to feel rejuvenated.
So, now it is your turn. What are the signals of grace in your life?
Gratitude is an energy that lifts and expands me. When I am aware of it, gratitude takes me to a deeper place in my heart. It turns what I have right now into enough. And it turns enough into more. Gratitude can turn a tiny house into a home and a strange person into a best friend.
Yesterday, I was able to acknowledge that I have indeed experienced grace. Today, I experienced the concept of gladdening the heart. When my heart is closed, I cannot feel gratitude. If I am stressed or tired, I don’t have the energy to practice gratitude. What does this idea of a gladdened heart feel like? To me, it feels safe and warm. I am accepted and supported by the Universe with no judgment.
When I am in a space of recognizing the good things in my life, that is when I feel abundant. I can’t achieve this feeling unless I take the time to renew this energy and it only happens when I meditate. This isn’t accomplished by looking out a window and seeing a perfect life. I focus on the simple things like a ray of sunlight, a shadow on a mountain or listening to my horses munch on their hay. I know that I belong to the horses. My existence is woven into their existence. However, it is not the horse but the energy of joy that I receive from being with horses. Horses open me up to be able to look at the world with love and gratitude.
So, what gladdens my heart? Of course horses, but when I am with the horses it is more than that. It is about being in nature and listening to the birds, feeling the sun on my face, and smelling the fresh air. One of the most heart-gladdening experiences I have ever had was with my mare Arabica. The night I had to put her down she held my hand. Her eyes were still bright while she talked to me the entire time we waited for the vet to arrive. It wasn’t that she was telling me everything was okay, she was simply living in the present moment and sharing her love. I fed her treats and she enjoyed eating them at that moment. Instead of crying, I cherished our last moments together as she made me smile and gladdened my heart.
The most beautiful thing I saw today was a blackbird courting a female. He sang her the prettiest song while dancing to the beat of his own drum. He shook his booty and danced like no one watching. By watching him be in his present moment, it allowed me to be in my present moment and grateful for the sight I saw.
Now that you know what gladdens my heart, I want to know what gladdens your heart?
Okay, I am on day two of my 21-day meditation experience where I am intending to experience the manifestation of grace through gratitude. Initially I questioned if I have ever really experienced grace. I wasn’t even sure how to describe it. I know that when I extend gratitude to nature it is returned as grace. Perhaps it is just a feeling?
How do you feel when you are grateful for someone or something? When you are present in that moment, do you feel more alive? Open? Connected? Aware? Do you feel warm and fuzzy? I activate gratitude by giving it not only my attention but also my intention. Gratitude takes on a new energy flow of goodness that changes me on the inside. I feel the warmth, light, and a transformational power that lightens my current state of being. For me, those feelings are grace.
Grace has been around for centuries in many cultures. People thank God and in exchange they receive grace. It starts with gratitude. One of the ways I practice gratitude is by thinking of three good things in my life. Today what came to me are sunshine, mountains, and of course horses. I am grateful for the sun on my face that warms the earth and provides growth to plants and energy to life. I am grateful for the mountains that provide beauty and refuge for animals. I am grateful for horses because they provide me unconditional love and fill my soul.
My heartfelt gratitude allows grace to flow to and from and I believe horses and nature are the conduits. I give and a response comes back to me. Paying attention to good things allows me to welcome grace into my existence. I incorporate gratitude into my everyday life as part of the mind-body connection. I visualize and honor how the Universe supports me. When I do this, gratitude brings me support from the Universe and what comes back to me from the Universe is love. Grace is love and I feel it every day when I am with my horses.
What are the good things in your life?
I committed myself to do a 21-day meditation experience called, “Manifesting Grace through Gratitude.” I believe it is no coincidence that when things show up in our lives over and over, it is the Universe telling us something. It is up to us whether we choose to listen or not. Recently, grace has been brought to my attention. Therefore, when this meditation experience was brought to my attention (with an emphasis on grace) I knew it was a sign.
Up until now, grace was only a concept to me. Religion defined grace as ‘divine love.’ I believe I experience divine love every time I am present with my horses (the keyword is present). Deepak Chopra expressed that we lack perception when it comes to grace, but somewhere in the middle of all that life throws at us, we can create a space to have appreciation/gratitude towards nature and creation. All it takes is a few moments to look away from your phone and notice what is all around you. I achieve this every time I am with the horses. Every morning I say, “Thank You” for each horse and animal that are present in my life. As a horse lover, if horses can’t connect me to nature and my higher self, then I don’t know what can. When I look into their soft eyes, listen to their neighs, and feel their breath on my face I experience pure gratitude.
Spiritual teachers tell us that anger is living in the past and worry is living in the future. I have a mantra that I say to myself every time I start to worry or get pissed off. It goes like this, “Thank you that at this exact moment in time, everything is perfectly fine.” It brings me back to the present and reminds me that the only thing that matters is right now. And right now, everything is perfect when it comes to horses. My life is abundant because of my level of being with horses.
Do you want to feel more abundant and fulfilled in your life? All it requires is that you start with awareness. Gratitude is the key that shifts awareness. Gratitude leads to grace and grace changes perception. Manifesting grace means to me to achieve gratitude and make a connection with my higher self.
Today was the first day of my meditation experience and it was a reminder why I love horses. Being with horses means being outside. And being outside means connecting to creation. When I am connected to creation, I am connected to my horses. It is part of the circle of life and I can’t imagine my life with no horses. Because without horses, there would be no gratitude in my world. And without gratitude, there would be no light.
Obviously yoga postures benefit riding with the stretching and strength building. However, some people are doing yoga on the horse's back. Why you ask? Because yoga helps us get grounded and centered. This is important when working around horses and riding because they are sensitive creatures that pick up on our emotions.
Also, there are yoga stretches for the horse to do too! So, this is about yoga for you, yoga for your horse, and yoga for you and your horse together! Yoga is great for overall health and better riding, yoga is for centering and grounding on and around horses, and yoga stretches are for the horse.
Before I saddle one of my horses to ride, I do a brief yoga stretch sequence for the horse. First, I ask my horse for the Carrot Stretch. This stretch frees up the use of the front end of the horse and increases muscle development. The goal for the horse should be to bend his/her head and neck all the way back to the stifle. If they can’t bend that far, it tells us they are tight in the shoulders.
The second horse stretch I do is the Front Leg Stretch. This stretches all the way up to the withers. This opens the scapula to the withers. The goal is to hold the ‘drunken horse pose’ for at least 60 seconds.
Third is the Tail Pull. This stretch is a traction hold that stretches the hind end. This is a gentle pull of the tail and should ONLY be done if the horse is safe to stand behind. This stretches out the lower lumbar and psoas muscles.
The fourth stretch in the horse sequence is the Bumm Tucks. This helps free up the lower back. The goal is the horse should be able to roll up all the way to their withers. This is NOT a speed event. Keep the spine straight and just ask for a little bit at a time.
The last stretch is the Belly Lift. The horse’s back is like a suspension bridge. This stretch helps the ribs raise and expand to keep the horse’s topline from dropping and losing its development. The ribs need to come up in order for the hind end to engage. By doing a series of five belly lifts and holding for about 10 seconds each, your horse will start to develop a stronger topline and the goal is to expand through the withers.
After I do my horse’s yoga stretches, I mount my horse and spend 10 minutes walking. Walking for the first 10 minutes is very important because horses have no muscles below their knee. It takes 10 minutes for all of the tendons and ligaments to warm-up.
As I do the walk warm-up for my horse, I do my yoga stretches in the saddle. These include a mounted Reverse Warrior and Warrior II. The Warrior II pose has been modified for horseback, but still helps open the hips. This pose benefits the legs and arms, opens the chest and shoulders, and tones the abdomen.
Reverse Warrior is obviously modified for horseback, but it is still a great side-bend that stretches the ribs, which are hard to get to but still important. This pose also strengthens the legs, opens the side of your body, and improves spinal mobility along with balance and core strength.
I am a certified Equine Musculoskeletal Unwinding Practitioner. In my bodywork training, we learned the importance of stretching horses. I also have over 25 years’ experience riding and training horses. Horses are athletes and require proper warm-up and cool down just like a runner, sports player, or swimmer. If one body part doesn’t work like the other body parts, the horse will compensate and that is when you will start to see soreness or even lameness issues. Stretching is about flexibility. A horse can’t engage his/her hind end, stride out in front, or carry the weight of a saddle and rider without being physically and emotionally sound and in shape. Take the time to stretch your horse and yourself. It will bring longevity to both of you!
What does it mean to empower yourself with your horse and where do you begin? When you’re empowered you feel more in tune to your horse which yields a better connection. You’re able to set a goal or intention you want to accomplish with your horse and believe that you have a really good possibility you will achieve it! When you are empowered, you will feel good about yourself and it will improve your self-esteem and self-confidence. It is not uncommon to experience difficulties and setbacks. It happens but you must learn to view them as learning experiences that in the end will make you stronger. You take each day as it comes and appreciate all that you have. You learn to be grateful whether it is for your health, your friends, a job or simply that inner peace and contentment you feel while being with your horse. Empowerment is also about being authentic, honest and true to yourself and your horse. It’s recognizing your gifts and talents and ability to connect with your horse and earn his/her trust. Is this something that interests you? The following are a few ideas on how to empower yourself with your horse.
Give Yourself a Period of Exploration
You might be feeling disempowered because you’re stuck in a rut. You can’t pick up the right lead or sometimes post on the wrong diagonal and you don’t have a clear idea on how to correct it and move on to something else. Perhaps you’re just bored with your horse in general and need a new reason to ride. Give yourself permission to take a six to 12 month length of time and try some new things with your horse. These new things do not require being related to your area of unhappiness. You just want to get some energy moving in your life and challenge yourself a little. Ideas might include taking some lessons, riding in a clinic, experiment with a new discipline, or try trail riding and explore someplace new.
Focus on What You Enjoy with Your Horse
I have discussed many times how intuition is like our inner GPS. It’s always pointing us towards success, joy and greater happiness. There are many ways to hear its wisdom. One way is to pay attention when something feels draining, boring or uninteresting. That’s your intuition saying “do not do this.” On the other hand, when you feel drawn to something, energized or excited, that’s your inner wisdom telling you “This is the better way to go!” Again, just be open to what shows up for you right now. You don’t have to figure out a big new goal or how you’re going to achieve it through exploring this new interest. Just keep taking next steps in the right direction with your horse’s best interests in mind.
Move Your Body-Not Just Your Horse’s Body
Before you groan about the word EXERCISE, think about how it could make your ride better. Perhaps the idea of working out with a bunch of rugged, in-shape people at your local gym makes you want to crawl back under the covers. If that’s the case, what do you enjoy? You might like something simpler, like a leisurely stroll, a bike ride or a beginner yoga class. Start where you are. Getting stronger and having more stamina and energy is a great way to feel good about yourself and in return will make you a better and stronger rider.
Think of Someone You Admire
Imagination is a powerful tool in becoming more empowered. Think for a moment about someone you admire. Perhaps it’s someone in your group of friends and family. It could be a local horse trainer where you currently live, or an historical equestrian figure like someone who won the Olympics. Close your eyes for just a moment. Bring this person to mind and really feel those qualities you admire about them. Are they powerful, kind, full of vision and purpose? Do they have a great work ethic when it comes to horses? Use the power of your mind to imagine riding or training with that person. How do you feel in their presence? What would they say to you right now to encourage you? Psychologists say that using your mind in this way actually boosts our self-confidence.
Have More Fun
Sometimes life just sucks. You may be going through a tough time right now and have lost some confidence in your horse abilities. What could you do to make this time a little less difficult and a little more inspiring? Is there a friend you could invite over to hang out with and elevate your mood? Is there something fun and inexpensive in your local community like a horse fair, equine demonstration, a clinic or convention that you could plan to attend? What’s “fun” is different for each individual. You may be the creative type who gravitates to horse art and crafts. Or you may be the person who loves all things techie. Honor yourself and your interests, but sometimes it is okay to do something non-horsey. Or perhaps you might want to do something different with your horse. If you are a dressage rider, you could try taking trail ride. If you are a trail rider, you could try learning a training level test.
No matter what your fancy, sometimes we need to step away from what we know, learn something new or experience something different. In the end, it will ultimately make us better partners with our horse. I challenge you today to try something new, but most of all don’t forget to enjoy your horse!
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!
Some say Happiness is a matter of personal discipline. I say, Happiness is a matter of personal discipline with your horse. It is a stance that we choose. We must build and reinforce it on a daily basis whether we are in the mood or not. Many people are sensitive to the term discipline, perhaps because it is associated with punishment. In truth, the practice of personal discipline is an act of self-love. It is the way we turn our backs on a long, bleak history of abandonment and come home to ourselves. The following are ten steps to practicing and achieving discipline with your horse:
Break Free From Denial
Acknowledge the need to become more disciplined in your equine practice. Break through any denial you have about your relationship with your horse. Make the distinction between discipline and punishment—discipline is an act of love. Deal with the mixed emotions you may have and acknowledge them and yourself.
InspirationSearch for what inspires you with your horse. Some of the world’s greatest leaders and performers have had great personal discipline. What great horses and/or riders inspire you and your riding? Hang up their pictures. Let their excellence call you forward to realize your own goals and purpose.
Repeat the Phrase - I WILL...
Make the decision to become disciplined. Choose an area where there is a need for discipline with your horse. State your intention to make a change with the help of your Higher Self. Say it aloud as a statement of your spiritual will: “I will become a better rider.” “I will become honest with myself and my capabilities and the capabilities of my horse.” “I will finish what I start.” “I will … “fill in whatever it is for you.”
SupportEstablish a support system. Choose friends who demonstrate personal discipline with their own horse and learn from them. Inform your current friends and family that you are making some difficult changes and that you want their quiet, nonjudgmental support for your effort. Talk to your Higher Self about it often.
Rid Yourself of NegativityRelease feelings of impossibility. Impossibility will come up when you attempt to change old patterns. Feel it, cry or rage about it, but don’t believe it anymore. Declare that you will keep moving forward in your discipline with your horse.
FocusStay on track. Remind yourself every morning what your discipline is and your goals for the day. Remember that it isn’t optional. You must just do it even when you don’t feel like it. Post a copy of your spiritual will statement where you can see it. Each evening, evaluate how your day went and what you can do better of different tomorrow. Did you do what you needed to do today to produce long-term happiness and discipline with your horse? Check in with a horse friend from your support circle at least once a week.
Pat Yourself on the BackAcknowledge your progress and the progress of your horse. Celebrate even the smallest of successes. Acknowledge yourself and your horse. Honor yourself and your horse. Be aware of your overall health and well-being and accomplishment in your chosen areas of discipline.
RepetitionPersevere, persist, and continue to press forward! Horses learn by repetition and you can choose to learn right alongside your horse. Attain a sampling for repetition and good habits. It will take you and your horse far!
Get With the Flow
Steady yourself into your new way of being with your horse. Give yourself time to get used to new behaviors. Remember that they’re still new for you as well as your horse. It can take years to stabilize, but your effort will pay off in the long run. You are building a new foundation for your relationship with your horse.
RememberBe observant! Notice if you’re getting too relaxed your equine practice and slacking off. Notice what happens to you and your horse when you do. Recall the power of repetition. Try not to be compulsive or rigid, but remember that too much relaxation isn’t good for you or your horse. It is easily considered self-abandonment. And when you abandon yourself, you abandon your horse too!
Incorporate these steps into your equine practice and honor yourself for choosing self-love and love for your horse!
Transmission is the flow of consciousness between guru and disciple. Do you believe your equine friend is like a guru in your life? I believe that my horses are the teachers and guides in my life that I can trust. This trust is mutual and has been earned through building a relationship with each other.
Spiritual transmission is the transfer of spiritual information from one point (the horse guru) to another point (you the disciple/student) or too many points (students) simultaneously.
One context to examine this is someone on a spiritual path who approaches the guru/teacher, or in this case the horse, with an open mind and heart who is ready and willing to learn. Some people might have a negative implication when they think of disciple because it is often implied with submission, coercion or punishment. However, a true disciple is one who is prepared to study a prescribed discipline in order to gain the knowledge and skill to master that discipline. Something I believe we horse people can identify with being most of our goals or intentions are to master some sort of discipline with our horse. This can range from English, western, dressage of even natural horsemanship. A student engages in a chosen discipline for the joy that comes from undertaking a path of learning that brings knowledge, wisdom, and the means to live a healthier and more meaningful life.
For those of us who are serious students of a horse discipline, we understand that to master our art of horsemanship we must follow a prescribed discipline. It doesn’t matter what equine discipline that you fancy too, you have to consider how much you are willing to invest into that discipline and what you can give up to become accomplished.
It is a good idea to consider developing the following attributes if you want to become a student and hopefully someday a master of your chosen discipline.
First, you need a relaxed attitude and an open mind along with patience and self-responsibility; the capacity to listen; sincerity and industriousness. In the beginning, it is vital that you know your horse teacher and have a relationship, bond, and trust with him or her. You must feel confident that your equine teacher holds the authentic knowledge that you seek.
As you engage in the teachings with your equine partner, it is essential to have faith in your horse as well as yourself. You need to develop commitment and a resolve to stay on course. This may consist of taking one step forward and two steps back, but commit to maintaining a forward momentum. Your horse teacher will only transfer their knowledge if you are receptive, keen and enduring. Only then can the horse pass his or her gifts to you and truly have a significant impact on your life.
Transmission is something that occurs naturally in life. However, it is not always in an easily, recognizable form. Every time you meet someone there is an energy exchange. We exchange information, feelings, and emotions in some way, shape or form. An example of this is when your horse picks up on how you are feeling on a particular day. If you had a bad day at work and are really stressed, chances are your horse will sense your mood and not give you the best ride. This is an opportunity to learn from your horse. Listen and take a deep breathe. Get yourself grounded and centered-this will along for you to flip your emotions around, release the unwanted stress and proceed with a better ride. We all know that horses are the great mirrors of our emotions, so listen to them!
We as horse and animal owners have most likely heard one story or another of how closely linked animals are with people. For example, the service dog who senses when a person is going to have a seizure. Or perhaps the story of when a twin sibling sensed from the other side of the country when something was wrong with his/her sister or brother. These close bonds are all forms of transmission.
My understanding is that in a spiritual life, when one meets a great master, they hold spiritual knowledge and their consciousness and energy is vibrating at an extremely powerful level. If you are open to this relationship and energy, then you can allow yourself to resonate with this master (or in our case the horse teacher). When the student meditates on the relationship with the master and intends to awaken their inner guru, the higher awareness that lies dormant in all of us will come alive. At the same time the awareness takes place, the transmitting energy and knowledge that is guiding and unfolding the student. When this happens, the out guru and the inner guru merge into one. Provided the student continues to engage in this effort of meditation the state of self-realization will occur.
Through the exercise of developing a meditation practice with your horse a deeper awareness will occur along with the transmissions and interchange of energy, feelings, and information that take place between all beings. The more your consciousness unfolds you will be able to differentiate which energy is coming from you and which is coming from your horse.
Many people block themselves from having a connection on a spiritual level with a horse because they have a fixed image in their mind that spiritual may mean religious or of a doctrine. It is said that transmissions from spiritual masters occur constantly and is available to all if we can tune into it. So today, I encourage you to open your mind and seek that spiritual connection with your horse and see what he has to teach you!
As I continue to study and learn more and more about mindfulness, I can’t help but consider how mindfulness in my life is directly in alignment with my horses. Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. All of which is required while being with horses and riding horses—Provided you want to have the most authentic relationship possible with your horse(s).
This idea of mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging. This includes believing that there isn’t always a right or wrong way to think of feel in the moment. I can relate to this through my experience over the years with horse trainers. Many times I have seen a trainer abuse or send a horse away when that horse doesn’t fit into their training program. I have witnessed the “my way or the highway” mentality instead of the trainer changing his or her training program. Thus, accepting the horse for his or her individuality and being malleable and flexible enough to adjust the training program for the individual horse. Our thoughts tune into what we are sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or the future. When we learn to practice mindfulness with our horse, it translates into other areas of our life and reflects in other relationships.
Author and professor emeritus, Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, simply explained that mindfulness is really about paying attention in a systematic way and for no reason other than to be awake. If you pay attention to where your mind is at, it usually isn’t in the present moment. It’s off someplace else worrying, planning, being upset about something that did or didn’t happen. We are blasting through our present moments. The conditions are never perfect for the present moment, which is why we don’t want to be there. We watch Netflix, play video games, and scroll through Facebook never-ending avoiding the present moment … but why?
Why would you want to practice mindfulness with your horse?
Greater Good, the science-based magazine published at the University of California-Berkeley, explained that studies have shown that the practice of mindfulness, for as little as a few weeks, can bring an array of physical, psychological, and social benefits. The following included some of these benefits, which encompass a variety of diverse scenarios:
The present moment is the only time we can be in a place to be creative, love, or be in a relationship. Mindfulness in Chinese characters translates to presence of heart. Even though mindfulness is rooted in the Buddhist meditation tradition, a secular practice of mindfulness has recently entered the US and noticed in Jon-Kabat Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. Thousands of research studies document the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness. This research has motivated places such as schools, prisons, hospitals, veteran’s centers, and more to incorporate the MBSR model. I want to encourage you to include mindfulness in your everyday practice with your horse(s). It doesn’t happen overnight, but can begin with one simple step: Start to breathe, become more grounded and pay attention to your horse. He or she is always reliable to guide you in the right direction toward mindfulness-based riding. And most of all … you will enjoy the ride!
Stress follows you everywhere, even into your ground work and rides with your horse, and it is powerful. It reminds you how much stuff you have to do and how many things you've been putting off. It's the adversary that puts strain on your mind, body and spirit. It makes you feel unmotivated and convinces you that your workout is too hard. If only you could eliminate stress completely out of your life and take a vacation at the beach without any responsibility. Unfortunately, your schedule is overloaded and time is constrained. One way you can deal with stress and not let it affect your ride is by combining a workout for your body with a workout for your mind. You can do it with what I call mind-body riding.
So many times I have seen horse owners get so mad at their horse because of a bad ride, a bad spook, or something else. The owner gets off of the horse pissed off and declaring, “Today, this horse is for sale…CHEAP!” But what they don’t take the time to acknowledge is that they had a bad day and took it out on their horse. We all know how horses pick up on our emotions. Through the practice of mind-body riding, we can learn to leave our bad emotions at the barn door, come into the present moment, have great rides and enjoy our horse!
This idea is nothing new. Henry David Thoreau was aware of mind-body walking more than 100 years ago when he wrote, "I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit."
We as horse enthusiasts are taking this to a whole different level by applying it to our riding. This component can be accomplished by focusing on breathing while warming up your horse at the walk or listening to the rhythm of the gait at a four beat walk or the two beat rhythm of the trot—walking just happens to provide one of the greatest vehicles for melding mind with body.
What Is Mind-Body Riding?
Mind-body riding can be thought of as a spiritual approach riding. It's ridinging that is spirited in nature and thoughtful. It's aerobic mindfulness. In other words, it's something you're probably not used to doing.
If you're like most people, your mind never stops thinking of everything you have to do and what is going on in your life. We all know how our schedules become over loaded. For years, our society has engaged in mindless exercise. We talk on the phone while walking or listen to music while we run or have the radio blaring while we clean stalls. Mind-body riding means becoming aware of the talking/noise and choosing to shut if off and choose peace and quiet.
What Can Mind-Body Riding Do for You?Mindfulness is scientifically proven to increase your overall health and well-being. Whether it's lowering blood pressure or decreasing levels of "bad" cholesterol, physical activity provides numerous physical benefits and riding is definitely physical. So let’s explore what happens when we combine the two and call it mind-body riding.
First of all, it can reduce stress. When riding becomes a mind-body workout, the mental benefits increase. The most obvious benefit is a reduction in stress, and therefore, stress-related illnesses.
Second, it can assist you in achieving your goals with your horse. Mind-body riding also allows you to achieve what you might never have thought possible. For example, there might be a particular maneuver you find difficult with your horse. However, if you were to repeat to yourself the mantra, "I am perfectly capable of accomplishing this maneuver and so is my horse.” The maneuver will become easier. This is a result of the mind-body connection.
And last, mind-body riding can enhance your personal growth. Mind-body riding improves self-esteem, stimulates creativity, keeps exercise from getting boring, and allows for present moment awareness. You learn to stay in the present moment as you feel and connect with your horse. Pay attention to how your horse’s feet strike the ground and you become aware of the way your body is in sync with his or her body motion.
Learning to Focus
So how do you experience a mind-body ride? First, you start by tuning out the meaningless mind chatter in your head and begin to focus. While you are at the walk, trot, canter, halt, etc., focus on how it feels, focus on your breath, and focus on the here and now. Try to not think about yesterday’ ride or what your expectations are for today’s ride. Of course, this occurs though practice. It may take time to learn to concentrate and be in the present moment enough to experience this connection on a higher level. But don’t give up! With time and patience, it will come naturally to you!
Your mind most likely will stray in several different directions, but keep bringing it back to you and your horse. It will be challenging to focus for an entire ride. So set a goal of focusing for just five or 10 minutes at a time.
You don't have to do this for every ride. However, I have found that by doing this during your warmup, one becomes more grounded and in the present moment and therefore ends up having a better ride. I do recommend turning the radio off in the barn and leaving your cell phone on your tack trunk.
Activities to Bring Mind and Body in Tune
To experience mind-body riding, try adding these exercises to your rides:
Breathing—This is such an important part of mind-body riding because it gives you physical energy and the meditative aspect. Focus on breathing into your belly so that you feel your stomach and diaphragm expand. Then establish a rhythm with the footsteps of your horse. Consider counting in rhythm with the gate of the horse "one, two, three, four" for a walk “one-two, one-two” for the trot and “one-two-three, one-two-three” for the canter or lope. Don’t forget to breathe as you inhale and exhale to the beat of your horse hooves. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, pursing your lips to control the exhale.
Visualizing—Start by thinking of a major goal that you're working toward. Perhaps you are starting to work on lead changes or maybe you are still working on picking up the correct lead. It doesn’t matter what your personal goal is, but what does matter is that you ride as if you already accomplished these goals. In your mind, congratulate yourself for having met your goal or tell yourself how wonderful it feels. Feel the rush in your body, that incredible high that comes flowing through your heart.
Repeating affirmations—In order to alleviate your negative self-talk that tells you can’t do something, create a positive phrase and think of it as you ride. You can say a prayer or repeat a mantra. By keeping it simple, using one or two-syllable words, it will keep you in a positive present moment.
For example, you might recite "I trust my horse. I love my trust. I trust my love" one syllable or word per step or “let go and let god”-whatever works for you. It isn’t a right or wrong thing. When you do this, you'll pull yourself into the present moment and be more in tune with your breath and your horse. You'll also start breathing more deeply which will boost your energy. Most importantly, you'll complete your ride restored and strengthened for the next ride!
Thomas Merton wrote, “Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harm.” When our resilience is low it is often because we are focused on one area of our lives and putting all of our energy in one place. This usually involves some stressful event, work, or a collection of things that are draining are emotional and physical energy. What ends up happening is we are not counter balanced in other areas of our life-the things that are soothing, the slow easy going and nourishing things.
I have heard of amazing yoga teachers that change the focus of their classes each week. One week the emphasis on the class will be intense and the next week the class is doing laughing yoga and doing headstands against the wall like when you were in grade school. Other times, the yoga class is gentle and the poses are held so long it is like slow motion; soothing and elastic.
I don’t remember ever taking a riding lesson when we weren’t being serious and concentrating on a specific focus. Riding is similar to yoga. It is all about balance-when we stretch one side of the horse’s body, we must stretch the other side or the horse’s muscles will be out of whack. When we are energetic one day, we must be calm another day. However, in our modern lives we don’t always get this. We get overwhelmed. We run on empty or we run on caffeine and sugar induced adrenaline highs long past the point where every fiber of our body is telling us to calm down, take a break, and rest. We tell ourselves we can’ slow down just yet, but we will when we get the chance once the barn is clean, as soon as this horse show is over, after the busy season, etc. etc. etc. Does this sound familiar?
I am sure most of us have experienced what it’s like to finally get a day off because our body finally said, ENOUGH, and we came down with some sort of crud. Many of us know what it is like to spend our vacation feeling so exhausted that we have to have a few days off to recover from our vacation. And for us horse owners, our ponies usually get put on the back burner and the thing we work so hard to afford is the thing we don’t get enough of and that means you are completely out of balance. Just like in yoga, our minds need times of activity and times of calm. We need to feel inspired and totally unplugged at different times. It is like an elastic band-if you keep it taut all the time it will eventually snap. However, if you stretch and release it will last a long time.
So, what can we do to stay balanced? And in turn, will allow us more time to ride and spend time with our horses?
First, think about what you are doing to stay busy that you could drop right now? Be honest with yourself – do the stalls need to be washed down every day? Do you need to go to another horse show? How many calls do you make, text messages or emails do you write that make no real contribution to getting balanced and spending time with your horse?
What would you do with an extra hour a day? Here is a suggestion: Ride your horse or just spend some quiet time with him or her feeding treats, talking, and brushing.
What would you do if you ONLY had one hour a day? (This will help you get super focused on what’s really important to you and your horse time.)
Imagine you’re looking back one year from now. What would you regret not doing more or less of?
Once you have the answers to these questions, list 3 things you are absolutely GOING TO DO in the next 7 days to get more balance in your life which in turn will allow you more quality time with your horse. It could be doing less housework, or eating out for dinner once per week so that you’ve some extra time.
Theory is great but if you don’t put some of it into action it is all for nothing – and nothing won’t change without action. So choose 3 things, put them into action, commit to them and regain your equilibrium. This will ultimately result in a happier horse and a happier you!
Self-reflection is essential to personal growth and discovery. And it is even more important if you want to have a strong relationship with yourself and your horse. Imagine a life where you can find appreciation in everyday happenings and even the smallest moment or connection with your horse. Self-reflection gives you the ability to gain clarity in your life and in your relationship with your horse. However, it is important to self-reflect properly. If you take the wrong approach, you will find yourself “shoulding” all over yourself. I could have done this…I should have done that…I would have done….shoulda… woulda… coulda. Self-reflection is made easy with seven simple questions.
1. Doing It: What did I say I was going to do with my horse today? What did I actually do?
Self-Reflection Tip: Plan your time of self-reflection in the evening hours. Consider it your reverse morning coffee time. Do not go to sleep without it. And if you did not accomplish with your horse what you had set out to do, then, set your intentions for the next day. By setting your intentions, you are more likely to follow through the next day.
2. What Happened? If what I did was different than what I planned with my horse, what were the reasons?
Self-Reflection Tip: Be honest. This is your time to strip yourself of excuses and justifications-stick to the facts and you will see bad habits with amazing clarity. So many times, I hear clients say, “I ran out of time” or “There are never enough hours in the day.” If time is one of the reasons, I suggest getting a day planner, blocking out times in the week for you and your horse, and then stick to it. Sometimes, we have a plan with our horse and our horse has a different plan. This is okay! Reflect on what happened and set your intentions again for the next day.
3. How it turned Out: What went well and what did not go well with your horse?
Self-Reflection Tip: Details can make a difference. When you look deeply at your actions and activities, you will begin to understand what works for you and your horse and what you need to stay away from that did not work. And don’t be afraid to ask for some help if things did not go well. This does not always have to be paying a professional for a lesson or spending money on a clinic. Ask a fellow horse lover to be a ground person for you and have them tell you what they see from the ground. You can then reflect together on what they saw in comparison to what you felt.
4. The People around You: How do you treat people?
Self-Reflection Tip: Don’t forget there is more than just “self” in reflection. “Others” figure prominently in your daily life and you need to think about your behavior towards the people you touch each day. If we can’t treat the horses in our life well, then what do you think the relationship with our horse is like? Also, how we treat our self and our horse transfers over to other relationships in our life. Practice having a good relationship with your horse and I guarantee your other relationships will start to blossom!
5. Honoring Values: Are you proud of the way you lived this day and how you treated and honored yourself and your horse?
Self-Reflection Tip: Questioning whether you lived your values on a particular day is the best way to stick to what you know to be right and true. Give yourself a pat on the back or a kick in the butt-either way notice and acknowledge your daily behavior towards yourself and your horse. Chances are if you aren’t treating yourself right, then you are not allowing others to treat you well either. Again, learn from your relationship with your horse and allow this growth to transcend into other areas of your life.
6. Objective Re-construction: If I had the day to live over again, what would I do differently with my horse?
Self-Reflection Tip: There's a positive way to turn over the day’s events and learn from it. Go through the creative process of looking at all the options in a given circumstance, after the fact. Using hindsight will help you be more effective in the future. For example, perhaps your horse spooked because you didn’t warm him up enough. Or perhaps the little buck was from too much leg or whip? Reflect on the subtleties and learn to correct even the smallest things, which in turn can lead to a better ride.
7. Always Learning: What did you learn today from you horse that will have an impact on how you ride and interact the next day or time with your horse? And what about the next week and going forward with your horse?
Self-Reflection Tip: The most exciting thing you can do with your horse is to always be learning. Boredom and discontent cannot exist if there is something new to be learned. Each day be a student of life and make the world your classroom. Do your homework and review each day’s lesson. The process of continuous learning is one of the things I love the most about being with my horses.
Always remember: Self-reflection is a way to identify your goals, monitor your progress with your horse and silence the noise that keeps you from noticing life’s lessons. Make yourself worthy of the gifts the Universe has for you through your relationship with your horse. Be the kind of person who has a positive impact on the people around you while giving thanks to your horse and what you learn from him or her.
I have always said that good stuff happens when cleaning horse poop. This morning, I had an epiphany. Perhaps more of an awareness, but we will call it an epiphany. I have always been sensitive to when people (usually non-horse people) accompany me to the barn and make fun of the horses, tease the horses, or say stupid things. My least favorite (and it has always come from dudes) is when they ask me something to the effect of if I get turned on when I ride because riding is like sex. To this day, I don’t even really know how to respond to that because it is just so stupid. A friend of mine has experienced the same stupid questions and told me she just says “no, but my ability to ride a horse and stay in sync with the movement does help me accelerate in other areas of my life.” Good answer girlfriend!
So, in addition to the stupid sex innuendos, what I have realized is the shear disregard for my reverence in the barn along with disrespect to these amazing living beings. I have also come to realize that people who are not capable of having respect for non-human animals most likely don’t have any respect for me as a human being either. And probably on another level they don’t have respect for themselves but that is a whole ‘nother conversation.
Back to my epiphany … I realized today that the main reason this disrespect bothers me so much and it eats at my insides is because horses are my spiritual practice. As soon as I walk into their space, my reverence begins. It is like walking into a church, stupa, or monastery. One wouldn’t scream, yell, or ask if you were turned on my being in a church.
Spiritual teachers teach that when you are in nature you are closest to God. For me, I am closest to my higher power when I am at one with my horses. From the moment I step out the door to feed them their breakfast, I begin my spiritual practice. I breathe in the fresh, outdoor air. I take in the scenery of green grass and a grand cotton wood that provides shade in the pasture. The numerous birds greet me with friendly bird talk and as I walk towards the barn my horses stand at the fence with bright eyes and ears pricked forward. The sound of their neighs calms me and brings an overall peace to my psyche.
I proceed to feed my horses their special ‘mash.’ This mash consists of toxic-weed free hay pellets that I soak with warm water that creates a mash that I put their supplements in. Each horse has their own individualized supplement regime based on monthly muscle testing that I do specifically for each horse. Their bodies openly received the nourishment I provide them and their overall health says ‘thank you.’
By afternoon, I proceed to engage my horses in their regular exercise routine, body-work, and attention. Ya see, I have Arabian horses and Arabian horses were bred to live in the tents with their Bedouin Tribe owners. The Arabian’s ability to bond with their human and yearning for human contact is unlike no other breed that I have experienced.
I feed my horses. I clean my horse’s manure and give them the care and attention they deserve. In return, they fill my soul. I have never experienced anything else that fills my soul and gives me peace the way being with horses does. Riding takes it to a whole other realm.
My devotion to these animals and my practice out ways anything else I do in life. So much, that I would dare say that horses are indeed my spiritual practice. The barn is my church. When I talk to them, I am talking to God. And when they talk back, God is talking to me if I choose to listen.
I have unspoken rules that I live by in the presence of horses. First, I practice awareness. Being aware of my surroundings and the surroundings of my horses is pertinent to their well-being. I am aware of their current physical and mental state. In addition, I make sure they are aware of me.
Second, I make sure that I give back to my horses more than I receive from them. What I receive from my horses is endless. But first and foremost, I choose to give them peace and tranquility. Third, I take into consideration the law of cause and effect. If I cause any action that instigates a force of energy, I expect a result. If I am abusive to my horses I can expect them to not be very nice back to me. If I choose love and compassion towards my horses, I can expect them to show love and compassion towards me.
Next, I strive to maintain my goal of intention with my horses. My overall intention is for optimal physical and emotional health and well-being. After that, my intentions may vary depending on the day, time, and activity. Most of all, I allow my power of intention to influence my rides. This is a combination of what my goals are for a specific ride and making sure I am grounded and balanced so I can communicate to the best of my ability with my horse. It is important that I am clear with my intentions and desires with my horse because my horse easily picks up on my energy and knows if I am off base or not.
Last, I focus on my purpose and my horse’s purpose. For example, I have a sixteen-year-old green broke gelding. It isn’t his fault that his original owner did not start his training until he was 12. Despite the fact that he had a late start and then was sold to an abusive woman, he wants to be a good boy. As much as I would like to train him to the highest level and show him, the reality is that is not going to happen. His purpose is to be a very special companion horse and has taught me a ton of lessons in regards to horses, people, and life. And even though I believe he is living his life purpose, once in a while he reminds me that it isn’t always about being on purpose. Sometimes he just wants to be loved. And besides … isn’t that all we could ever ask or want from life?
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