If you want to practice mindfulness, get a horse…

Ever hear anyone say “Be Here Now?” Ever hear anyone talk about meditation or mindfulness? Have you ever tried to meditate? I have, and I failed miserably. Do you know how hard it is to clear your mind and be still, especially when all of our brains are so hyped up on digital stimulation?

Mindfulness means being in the moment, appreciating and noticing what is right in front of you, right here, right now. There’s a lot of talk about it because our culture produces a fractured mental state where our minds are drawn in sixteen directions at all times. We are overstimulated. We are bombarded with ads, memes and information all competing for our attention. No wonder we have a hard time feeling clear.

Today I rode my horse on the beach and I realized that for a solid hour I thought of nothing except my horse and preventing my own untimely death. I have a large, athletic horse that even in old age manages to be agile and cat-like in his reactions to things that scare him, which are many. I know my pictures look idyllic, but there is a lot of anxiety involved in riding on the beach or in the woods alone. There are so many things that can go wrong with horses, and most of the time when I’m riding, I’m dealing with anxiety. I’ve written about that before. I try to be very transparent about it because most riders as they age deal with some lack of confidence issues. We have more to lose and we don’t bounce as well as we used to.

One snapshot of a ride on the beach doesn’t tell the whole story- the story of trying to keep my horse from taking off, or panicking and having a bucking fit. One picture doesn’t tell you how hyper-focused I have to be on controlling my energy and exuding confidence so that my horse can see me as a leader.

When I ride, I think of nothing else except every cue my horse is giving. Is he nervous? Is he a little edgy, or is he reaching the limit of what he can deal with? Is he about to flip out and dump me? Being that closely attuned to another creature’s emotional state, especially one that is non-verbal, requires every ounce of my concentration. It is not relaxing in the slightest.

At the same time I’m reading his cues, I’m doing my best to send confident, fearless energy his way. That means breathing deeply, relaxing my body and loosening my grip when what I really want to do is hang on for dear life. It means sitting straight and deep, connecting with his back in a way that reminds him he still has a passenger. It means swallowing my fear, shoving it back down when it starts to rise up into my chest.

I wouldn’t call it fun, but I would say that it’s instructive. It’s just about the only time that I completely forget about all other distractions in my life- work, kids, marriage, bills; they all magically disappear when I’m riding.

Once he calms down and we’re able to walk on a loose rein, I’m still in a different mental state, but it’s one of positivity and joyfulness. I’m filled with gratitude that I’m able to ride, to have my own horse (something I longed for as a child), to ride through beautiful scenery. Today on our beach ride we saw dolphins in the water. How amazing is that?!? How lucky am I to not only have a horse but get to see such wonderful things?

And it isn’t just riding. Have you ever tried to put a horse on the trailer when the horse didn’t want to get on? When I’m working with a horse on something like trailer loading (or crossing water, passing something scary, etc…), I’m laser focused on the task at hand. I go into this other mental place where nothing else exists except the task in front of me. Those situations are fun because there isn’t as much likelihood of getting hurt as there is while riding. The hyper-focused state without the anxiety of riding is just a ton of fun and a great mental exercise!

When people talk about horses having healing power, I think mindfulness is part of that. The horse itself is magical to me in a way I can’t articulate, but they also launch me into a different mental plane that I don’t access when doing other activities. I enjoy other things, but horses are next level. Nothing about the horse changes, but the horse creates a change in me. The horse is just being a horse; it has no concept of being a “better horse.” But it sure as hell makes me a better human!

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