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    Mindfulness with Horses

    What is mindfulness?

    Mindfulness is simply being attuned to the present moment. It’s a way of staying grounded, or present with what is happening in our bodies and our surroundings right now, moment to moment. Practicing mindfulness can provide relief of stress and anxiety, because when we fully inhabit the present moment, there isn’t room for ruminating on the past or worrying about the future.

    Practicing mindfulness can be a way to create a little oasis and space for peace in our lives. While there are many great ways to incorporate mindfulness practices into our daily lives, spending time with horses is an exceptionally effective way to experience mindfulness.

    What is it about horses?

    Horses are excellent teachers when it comes to mindfulness. This is because they live entirely in the present- they are experts! As prey animals they have an acute awareness of the present moment. Their entire survival depends upon their ability to pick up on subtle changes in their environment.

    So how do horses teach us? When we become part of a horse’s environment, all of our subtle body language, emotions and energy are being continuously monitored by the horse. When we pay attention to how a horse is responding to us, it’s like an instant biofeedback loop. Through their response, a horse will mirror back what’s going on inside of us, even before we may be able to recognize it consciously in ourselves.

    As we spend time with horses and learn to respond to what they are showing us, we can become more consciously aware of ourselves in real time. What’s really amazing is that this learning gives us a foundation for self awareness and self regulation. Having greater awareness of our bodies and our internal states can also improve our riding as we monitor and adjust the effectiveness of our cues. This self awareness is a gift we can take with us when we leave the barn and apply in other areas of our lives as well!


    Grooming as a Mindfulness Practice

    Grooming time is the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness. So often, grooming is seen as a means to an end – something we have to do before we can get on with riding. When we do this, we miss out on a wonderful chance to center ourselves, connect with our horse, and set ourselves up for a much better ride. For me, whenever I make a point to practice mindfulness with grooming, I find that I enjoy the process as much I enjoy riding.

    Ok, so what does that really look like in practice? Here are some ways I have found that have helped me approach grooming time more mindfully. There are certainly other approaches, so feel free to try what you like and see what resonates for you. The key is to stay present and responsive to what you notice in your horse and in yourself as you go.


    Breathe

    As you get started, and before you begin to work with your horse, take a moment to check in with yourself. Notice how you are breathing. Take a few deep breaths. As you breathe in, see if you can breathe from your abdomen instead of your chest. As you breathe out, release your shoulders and allow any tension to fall away. Once you feel that you are in a relaxed pattern of breathing, check in with your horse. Put a hand on his withers and notice his response.

    Body Scan


    While maintaining the connection with your breathing, begin to move your hands along your horse’s body. Check in on any places of sensitivity you may already be aware of in your horse. Take note of any new or different responses in your horse that may give you an indication of pain or injury.

    Checking in with your horse

    Before moving on through each step of the grooming process, I like to incorporate a connection technique developed by Linda Tellington-Jones, PhD. With a cupped hand, use your four fingers to make small circular motions on your horse’s neck and back, in a clockwise direction. Start at 6:00 and end back at 9:00. (You can learn more about her methods here.) As you work, you may notice your horse exhale deeply, licking and chewing. These are great indicators of relaxation in your horse!

    Brushing and Cleaning Hooves

    Once you’ve established a nice connection with your horse through the breathing exercises and body scan, go ahead and move on to brushing out your horse. I like to incorporate the same circular motion technique each time I finish with one brush and move to the next.

    When you’re finished brushing, it’s time to pick out those hooves. By now your horse should be pretty relaxed. If your horse is not super cooperative with his feet in general, you might find this improve over time as you work with your horse in a mindful way. As I finish up with picking out hooves, I also like to run my hands over each leg to check for heat or swelling.

    Now that you’ve taken care of those hooves, you’re ready to tack up. The time you’ve spent tuning in to your horse and yourself should give you a nice baseline to work from together as you mount up to ride!