You’ve had a long day – perhaps even a long week, month, or year – and you’re ready to head to the barn to see your horse and de-stress. Before you pull on those barn boots, take five minutes to run through these 3 simple exercises. You and your horse will both be glad you did.
1. Take a Few Deep Breaths.
It may sound trite, but taking a few deep breaths really can help you get centered and de-stress. There are a few reasons for this:
- When we’re tense, we typically don’t breathe fully. When we don’t breathe fully, less oxygen travels to our brain, and we’re more likely to make decisions based on habit or our subconscious rather than conscious choice.
- We often carry tension in our upper bodies, particularly our shoulders, neck and jaw. That tension can make us less comfortable when we’re grooming, less effective when we’re riding, and most importantly, can be transmitted to our horse.
- The act of stopping to take a few deep breaths has the effect of slowing you down and bringing you into the present moment – which is the best place to be when you’re with your horse.
Once you’ve taken a few deep breaths, do a few shoulder rolls and neck rolls, open your jaw wide (as if you’re yawning) and then let your mouth close and your jaw relax. The minute or two you’ve taken to do these are the first step.
2. Have a Goal
It’s a good idea to have a goal any time you head to the barn. Having a goal will make you clear on why you’re spending time with your horse, and give you a chance to pat yourself on the back for accomplishing it.
If you’re visiting the barn to destress, your goal can be as simple as, “I will spend 45 minutes enjoying the company of my horse. I will be fully present, and if I find my mind wandering to work or things that are stressing me, I will release those thoughts until I return home from the barn.”
Sometimes giving yourself permission to delay dealing with life’s problems while you’re with your horse is hard, but it gets easier with practice – and it’s worth it! As I covered in this post – you’ll get more enjoyment from your visit if you’re fully present – and so will your horse.
If you find it very challenging, try setting aside a half hour after you get back from the barn to deal with the situations that are stressing you. Make an actual appointment with yourself, and then when you’re at the barn, you can let go of those thoughts a little more easily by knowing that you have a specific time set aside to deal with them later.
3. Leave Your Troubles at the (Barn) Door
One of my students used to arrive at the barn stressed, and she found it very hard to unwind during her lesson until I made a suggestion. When she arrived at the barn, I asked her to imagine taking her stress and leaving it in a box just outside the barn door. She found this hugely helpful.
It became a little ritual for her to stop just outside the door, close her eyes, imagine her stress as a physical object, and “see” herself putting it in a box. Although slightly self-conscious about the whole thing at first, she soon discovered that once that stress was in the box, she always “forgot” to pick it back up on the way out, and the rest of her day was more enjoyable as well.
I had another student who felt her stress was wrapped around her, like a cloak. Once she started using visualization to remove her “cloak of stress”, she also found it easier to unwind and enjoy her time at the barn.
So the next time you need some equine therapy to relax and recharge after a tough day, take 5 minutes to prepare for your visit using these 3 simple exercises, and you and your horse will both get much more out of the visit.