Welcome back to The Equestrian Mindfulness Series, I hope you are well and ready for part 2! Whether you read Part 1 or not you will be able to participate in this exercise if you own a horse or have access to ride one. If you don’t, please do not panic, you can join in the mindfulness exercises in Part 1 or join in with this but doing it without a horse the original way. Like I said, this series has something for everyone whether you own a horse or not!
Part 2 of The Equestrian Mindfulness Series we will be exploring the body scan. Now this exercise is usually done lying down or sitting up in a room where you cannot be disturbed but over time I have learnt to incorporate this in to my riding now and again and it really helps to relax, especially if you are a nervous or tense rider. Once you have completed this exercise at the start of your ride, you will notice yourself relaxing and your horse, which sets the foundations for a better and more productive ride.
What is a body scan?
The purpose of a body scan for a mindfulness exercise is to simply notice your body. This exercise is not necessarily to relax your body, however this usually occurs as a side effect of the body scan. The body scan is to simply notice and be aware of your body in the present moment.
How do you use a body scan in riding?
Like I mentioned, I have trialled and practised using the body scan exercise while riding my horse Buddy. I find this really helps to relax my body and get my mind in the correct zone for a more successful ride. Sometimes, after a long day at work or a stressful day, I can be very tense when it comes to riding. Also, being a nervous rider, this helps to relax my body and mind. The body scan lasts around 5-10 minutes but you can adjust the time to suit you. Whether you school, hack or both you can do this exercise in the warm-up stages of your ride. If you are nervous about doing this exercise out of the yard then I would practice doing it in the menage first.
Tack your horse up and take him into the menage. If you do not have access to a menage or enclosed arena mount your horse and walk him to the location you are going and wait until you are somewhere safe and comfortable to start the exercise. I will be explaining this exercise as if we are in a menage or arena. You want your horse to be as calm as possible so try and do this when there are no other horses around and the arena is empty. If your horse is more relaxed in the presence of another then try and time it at a quiet time at the yard and ride with someone who you trust and their horse is calm. I know that horses are unpredictable but you do not want to be in the arena with a youngster that is spooking every 2 minutes. Quietly mount your horse or pony and adjust the girth like you would for a normal ride. Get comfortable.
You want to do everything you usually would when starting a ride as this will help your horse to be more relaxed. Proceed to your usual warm-up and make sure your horse is in a nice forward going walking pace and is supple. Check your girth again like you usually would, take a big deep breath, relax. Proceed to walk again.
You are going yo start doing the body scan. When doing this you need to let your horse know that you are still in control. Make sure the walk is still forward going and at a speed and rhythm you are happy and comfortable with. Usually, when doing a body scan we are advised to close our eyes but for doing this when riding this is not advisable.
Lets Body Scan
- Start by bringing your awareness to your breathing. Take three deep breaths and mindfully tune in to your thoughts and feeling. Observe them and let them flow freely through your mind.
- Decide whether you want to start scanning from the top of your head or the tip of your toes. You will work down or up from there.
- As you place your awareness on that first body part, tune in to what you can feel. If you start with your head you might feel the tightness from your helmet, pain, itchiness, throbbing, lightness, tingling, heaviness.. Sometimes you might not feel anything.
- Once you are aware of how you physically feel in that specific area, expand your awareness to see if your emotional state has been triggered by this. Whether you have a positive feeling, negative feeling or a neutral feeling.
- Now bring your awareness back to your breath and feel it go through your body as you breathe in. Then exhale as you let go of any tension in the body part that you have just focused on. Do not try to control any feelings or emotions, just accept.
- Now you are going to move up or down your body depending on what body part you have started on. Usually, in a body scan you focus on every single part of your body (ears, nose, sole of your foot etc) but we are going to focus on the main parts of our body that we use while riding.
- You are going to focus on your head, back, arms, hands, fingers, abdomen, butt, thighs, calves and feet. Using the same technique with every body part.
- Feel how each body part feels physically in the motion of riding in walk. How do the reins feel in your fingers/hands, the stirrups, the movement of the seat below you.. These are the sensations we feel when doing a mindfulness body scan using our horses. If you want to up the pace over time then you can. Walk to trot, back to walk.
- Take around 1-2 minutes to focus and go through each body part.
- Once you have finished every body part, take a minute to just be aware of your body as a whole, relaxed, loved and moving to the motion of your horse. You still may feel some discomfort in some areas, but that is ok.
Now you should be really relaxed and ready to progress in to the rest of your ride. Your horse should be ready too, listening to your body language and aids. Over time, you might decrease the time spent on the body scan before your ride. As you practice this exercise more, you will find it quicker to relax and engage. This is also a great exercise to do before going into a class at a competition to get into the zone and relax yourself before hand as being tense always shows through you and your horse!
I would love to hear if you have used this exercise before your ride or before a show so please leave a comment below or tag me using the hashtag #equestrianmindfulness over on instagram.
Thank you for reading, until next time..