A very warm welcome to part 1 of The Equestrian Mindfulness Series, I cannot wait to share all with you. In part 1 we will be exploring how to use mindfulness around horses on the ground. Whether that be looking, touching, seeing or smelling. These mindfulness skills do not require actually riding or being on top of a horse but just being in the presence of their being so you can practice these exercises whether you own a horse or not. If you pass horses in a field you can take 5 minutes to watch them over the fence line or if you know who owns them you can ask that person if it is ok to touch their horse over the fence. Just remember not to approach a horse in a field that is not yours, being mindful of it’s presence is enough.
Horsemanship is a massive part of being a horse owner and this creates the bond between a horse and rider, but do you really know your horse? Do you take time to be mindful of your horse and your horses needs? Using these mindfulness skills will help not only your mental wellbeing but help with getting to know your horse a little deeper than you already do. Being mindful for just 5 minutes every day could really help with a lot of issues that you are facing in and out of the saddle. You can see changes in your horses mood, actions, physique and condition which is really important when owning a horse to make sure they are as happy and healthy as they can be. Horses can pick up on human vibes and usually reflect on the way in which you are around them. Being mindful and taking part in mindfulness exercises hopefully will create a calmer and happier you which will reflect through your horses behaviour and attitude.
Skill 1 – Observing
The first skill within part 1 of the series is observing. Observing is just paying attention on the purpose to the present moment that you are in. With observing you describe what you can see, smell and hear. Observing is wordless, just seeing what is going on in front of you. Do not try to change what is in front of you, move anything, touch anything.. Literally just observe.
So to practice this skill using my horses I like to do this either last thing in the evening after I have put them to bed or during the day at the weekend while they are out in the field. Both of these times are when the horses are at their calmest and the yard is quiet which sets the tone for the mindfulness practice.
When observing at night before I leave the yard I like to sit comfortably in the corner of my horses stable (Usually the side of the haynet so that I am near their front end) or I like to lean on the stable door from outside and look in. Make sure that it is safe to do this with your horses before you try it, you should know your horses stable manors. Most equestrians are used to sitting in their horses stables but if this is not something you usually do, you can try standing in the corner first so that your horse is comfortable and relaxed. Distract them with a haynet so they are occupied. I do the same in the field, I sit in the corner of the paddock or look over the fence line. Again, make sure that it is safe to do this before as horses can be unpredictable.
Once you are comfortable in the setting you have chosen you can start observing what is around you.. Your horse, what he is eating, the stable, the field, what is in the field, what you can see, what you can hear but do not describe, just observe. Breathe in and out slowly and calmly. This takes some practice as you will have hundreds of thoughts going through your head but this is ok, observing takes skill and practice. Take a couple of minutes to do this and relax as much as possible.
Skill 2 – Describing
You should be relaxed now after observing for a few minutes, this now means you are ready to start describing. Describing is the tool designed to bring us to the present by describing the current situation. This is not to make judgement on whether you like what you see.. This is to describe the facts of what you can see. Describing is factual, not opinion.
You will now start to describe what you can see in front of you, what you have been observing, your horse. Describe the colours you can see, the texture of his coat, the pattern of his coat if he is coloured, if you can see any shapes, if he is wearing a rug you can describe the pattern or colours, the tone, what your horse is doing, the sounds he is making, if he is eating.. Describe the facts in what you can see, what you cannot change. You can do this either in your head or speak out loud, whatever feels more natural to you. You will naturally judge what you can see but you need to practice to just describe and accept. Listen to how your body is feeling, whether you feel cold, warm, happy or sad.. Some of you may not feel anything. Take control of your mind and just accept what you are feeling and the current situation.
Skill 3 – Non-Judgmentally
This is the hardest out of the 3 skills and takes lots of practice; you will really need to engage with your mind. Non-Judgmentally does not mean not to recognise when things are helpful or harmful, safe or dangerous.. It means that you recognise all the things that are FACT about you in the current situation, your values, your preferences and not facts about the thing. ‘This horse is ugly’ is not a fact, it is your personal opinion – ‘This horse is grey and I am not happy about having to look at it’ this is fact.
It is very hard to differentiate the difference and this is what takes the practice. This is where you really have to engage with your mind to non-judgmentally ‘judge’ what it is your are looking at.
For this part of the exercise you need to non-judgmentally describe your feelings about looking at the horse in front of you and what you are actually looking at. Is the horse bay or grey, do you like looking at it? How do you feel when looking at your horse? Are you happy or sad about looking at he or she? Try and accept what you are looking at and how you feel. If you feel yourself judging the horse in front of you, stop yourself. ‘My horse is so moody’ – This is a judgmental opinion, stop, change your thought process. ‘My horse is putting their ears back for a reason, it is in their nature’ Understand their mood and why they may be doing this behaviour. Are you doing something to cause this? The fact the horse is putting their ears back is fact, the opinion that they may be moody is a personal judgment. Don’t judge, understand, accept and love.
Some other examples..
‘My horse looks horrible when he has a winter coat and needs a clip’ – This is a judgmental opinion and something that is your personal preference. Change the thought and the way you look at this. ‘My horse has his winter coat, it is fluffy and thicker than usual and I do not like looking at him as much when he is like this’ Learn to understand, not to judge and to accept.
‘I hate my horses confirmation’ – This is also a judgmental description. This is not fact. ‘My horse is slightly bum high so is not the perfect confirmation’ That is fact. Again, learn to understand, not to judge, to accept and love.
You can practice these three main mindfulness techniques in a few ways with your horses or any other animal. You can do this by looking at your horse as stated above or you can do this while grooming or stroking your horse, tweak the skills according to what task you are completing with your horse or animal. There are many more ways in which you can use your horses for mindfulness so stay tuned for Part 2.
I would really love to hear if you have put any of the above skills to practice and your thoughts on them, or if they helped you in anyway. So please leave a comment below or tag me on instagram using the hashtag ‘equestrianmindfulness’
Thank you for reading, until next time..