Six Reasons Horses are Good for the Mind, Body and Soul by Pamela L. Maynard, PhD
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:
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