“M” word? Mindfulness? Good one, but not quite. Well, you can’t mean that “M” word!! No, this isn’t that kind of blog. The “M” word in question is…..
Yup – I said it. I just rolled out the woo-woo, hippie, New-Agey word. The word of saffron robes and incense and people who have nothing better to do… I can see your eye rolls from here, for heaven’s sake!!
It may (or may not) interest you to know that meditation does NOT require you to be able to sit in lotus position (thank God!), nor does it require you to be a willowy 20-someting clad in spandex with a serene expression and nary a wrinkle in sight. It doesn’t even require you be sitting on a deserted beach or standing on a majestic mountaintop! Who knew?
So, are you willing to stick with me (at least grumblingly) for a few minutes to learn a little about what meditation is and how it can help with your horse? Good. You never know – you might even surprise yourself and give it a try!
If you’re like many people (including me up until a few years ago), you are pretty certain that meditation isn’t, never has been, and never will be your thing. Why? Glad you asked – let me list the ways:
- you’re too busy
- you don’t have the time
- you can’t sit still long enough
- your mind won’t stop
- you’re too busy (trust me, I used to trot this one out frequently)
- it’s boring
- it’s too woo-woo
- and, last but not least – you’re too busy
I had all these reasons, and dozens more – but I got to the place where I was a little tired of living my life on auto pilot, never “finding” time to ride for enjoyment, sit and read a good book, or even sit and read a trashy book. I would get to the end of a day and wonder how the hell I got there. Yeah, not exactly the queen of awareness. And I started paying the price. Migraines, a big uptick in my fibromyalgia symptoms, being completely exhausted and depressed – I wasn’t living, I was existing, and it sucked.
So, I “tried” meditating. I would set my timer for 3 minutes and wait for my mind to go blank. It never did. I thought -“Wow – I can’t even get this right! It’s freaking sitting still for God’s sake and I can’t even do that! What kind of a failure am I???” (Did I mention how kind I used to be to myself? No? Well, you probably get the idea…)
Now, before I get into some of the benefits I’ve received from meditating (and I meditate anywhere from 5 – 20 minutes a day, that’s all), I want to tell you how it relates to this whole Find Yourself on a Horse thing…
In this post I spoke about how your horse is likely to react to you when you approach him with an agenda. Horses are much better partners when you’re fully present. Whether you’re “just” bringing your horse in from the field or you’re running barrels to win a kick-ass buckle, the more present you are, the better the experience will be – for both of you.
The first thing you need to be able to do to improve your level of presence is to be aware of what you’re doing. But awareness does not just happen. Let me repeat that: Awareness does not just happen. It takes work, it takes awareness… wait – if we need awareness to become aware… Yeah, the whole chicken-and-egg thing, I know. And here’s where meditation becomes a useful little tool.
Make meditation your bitch.
When I say “useful little tool”, I really mean make meditation your bitch.
Meditation isn’t just for hippies any more. It can help “normal” horse owners (does such a creature exist??) with things like remembering your dressage test, controlling your road rage, alleviating your constant stress, oh yeah, and giving you a better relationship with your horse and the key people in your life – especially yourself!
Meditation isn’t just for hippies any more.
By sitting (or standing, or walking, or lying down, or riding) in meditation, you step back from the chaos that is your mind. You detach long enough to realize that your mind is chaos, but that chaos is not you – not all of you, anyway.
Meditation helps you observe the rabbit, without getting dragged down the rabbit hole.
So if you’ve “tried” meditation and found that “it doesn’t work” (see above), you’re going at it with the wrong expectations. You see, meditation doesn’t mean your mind goes blank. It means you start to find tiny spaces between the to-do list, questions that pop up, memories of your grandmother’s plum cake – God, that was so buttery and good and …. Hey! I’m still thinking here!!! Yes. You’re a human being. We think. Get used to it – but, not so used to it that you believe that’s all there is.
Mind the Gap
Remember that tiny space between the questions and the memories of the plum cake? That’s your first opening into the world of meditation. That tiny fragment of open space allows you to realize that there is a space not occupied by thoughts. A place where you are a human being, not a human thinking or a human doing.
Mind the Gap
If the first time you meditate, you have a gap that lasts for about a millionth of a second – congratulations! That’s a great place to start. If the first time you meditate you have no gaps at all – congratulations! That’s a great place to start, too. The important thing is you started. Don’t expect miracles overnight. (I’m still not a willowy 20-something with no wrinkles and oodles of serenity).
Once you see that little chink in your thoughts the first time – notice it. Remember it. The following day, you may have 2 tiny gaps. Notice them. Remember them. As for the endless stream of thoughts? No worries – they’re not going to just go away, (because that would probably mean you’re dead, and that would suck, too…) What do you do about the thoughts, the itch, the ache in your left ankle from getting stepped on last year? Nothing. You don’t have to try to evict them from your mind. You don’t have to tally them, worry about them, or feel guilty about them. They are there – so just let them be there. (Isn’t it nice to have something you don’t have to do anything about?)
I Do It My Way
As you may imagine, there are thousands of “right” ways to meditate (explained to you in the thousands of books, apps, courses, and videos about meditation). I simply sit in a comfortable position (on a chair, not on a meditation pillow, mountain top, or beach), close my eyes, and focus on my breathing. Just noticing the breath going in and out of my body. I don’t change my breathing or try to breathe a certain way – I just breathe and notice the breath. Thoughts come up, I notice them, and then I come back to noticing my breathing. Sometimes I come back to noticing my breath within a few seconds, sometimes it’s not until the timer goes off at the end of my meditation (damn that plum cake!), but that’s fine, too. You see, one of the best things about meditation, is that there’s no wrong way to do it.
If you truly want to see benefits in your (horsey) life from meditation, commit to a week or so before you decide that A) Meditation sucks B) You suck at meditation C) I suck because I recommended you try meditation in the first place.
For those of you who want to explore meditation a little further and don’t want anything preachy or woo-woo, check out the app 10% Happier – Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. It’s available for your mobile device of choice. 10% Happier was developed by a team led by Dan Harris, an ABC News anchor who started his meditation journey after having a panic attack… on live TV. (Kind of makes forgetting your test in the last dressage show seem pretty insignificant, doesn’t it?)
The app is part instruction manual, and part humorous autobiography of how Dan found meditation to be helpful. If it turns out you love his self-deprecating humor/actual useful advice style, check out his book on Amazon. (This is an affiliate link – when all tens of millions of my readers order this book from this link, I shall retire to Tahiti and continue to write my blog from there). 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story.
Whichever path you choose, I hope you’ll give meditation a try, and that it becomes at least a small part of your daily routine. While you aren’t likely to become an Olympic-calibre rider overnight, it will help improve your relationship with your horse – and that’s what this is all about, isn’t it?
As a mid-life, happily married woman, I have to confess, horses add a lot to my life that I just don’t get elsewhere. They fulfill my desire for beauty, for nurturing, for connecting with another life form, and yes, even for petting something warm and fuzzy. (Although the Beagle would insist I can fulfill my entire warm fuzzy petting needs with her…)
The reasons for the depth of the connection between horses and women are myriad, but even though many of us are aware of the connection, we’d like to make it stronger, or we simply go on in our habits (which might be decades old) of interacting with horses, and therefore miss a lot of the advantages of spending time with these amazing creatures.
I started this blog to help women become more mindful in their relationships with their horses, with the important people in their lives, and, most importantly, with themselves. I’ve owned horses for 45 years, and been an internationally certified instructor for most of that time. I’ve owned and run a large boarding, training, and lesson barn; taught everything from kids on ponies to adults who were working on national rankings in the dressage arena. I’m a certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor and Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning, and I’m an avid student who has learned (and continues to learn) important life lessons from horses. I’ve picked up a fair amount of wisdom (as well as knowledge) along the way, and I’ve helped dozens of women find their way. I’d like to help you, as well.
I’ll be focusing on 10 key areas over the weeks and months to come. They are:
I’ll be posting on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I hope you’ll join me on this journey and that in some small way, I’m able to help you find yourself on a horse.
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Check out this quick exercise!
If you’re like many women, getting to the barn to ride usually happens after you’ve spent the day at work, taken care of the family, done a load or 10 of laundry, and tried to find the cupcake pan that you knew you had for the school bake sale last year…
Your list may look different, but however you slice it, you’re usually pretty tired and stressed by the time you head to the barn for a ride. Sound familiar? If it does, I’ve got some great news! You can do a simple exercise that will take less than a minute (on most days, anyway), and will allow you to walk into the barn and greet your horse with a relaxed and positive attitude.
Introducing: (Drumroll, please…) The Magic Box!
OK, I can see the eye rolls, but bear with me a minute. If you’re tired of arriving at the barn stressed, and it’s been forever since you were relaxed at the beginning of a ride, you owe it to yourself (and your horse) to read on. Here’s the deal.
What it is: The Magic Box is an exercise to help you not bring your baggage into the barn. You can use an imaginary box, or you can get an actual box that you keep in your car, under your saddle rack in the tack room – anywhere you have access to it before you go see your horse.
How it works: When you arrive at the barn, do a quick mental (and physical) inventory of your current state. Tense from an argument with your daughter? Crabby because your co-worker baked double chocolate macadamia nut cookies even when she knows you’re trying to lose weight? Whatever it is that you’re lugging around with you – take a deep breath, exhale, and deposit it in your Magic Box. Whether it’s anger, frustration, or even fatigue – put it in the Magic Box, and leave it there till you’re done with your ride.
Note – sometimes it helps to imagine your negative feelings as a physical presence (assigning them colors like red for anger, yellow for frustration, etc.) Once you can “see” your negative stuff – place it in your Magic Box, and make a pact with yourself that the Box stays closed till you leave the barn.
If you go to the barn directly from work, using a physical box will allow you dump in your brief case and heels right along with the self-abuse you’re giving yourself for eating 2 of those damn cookies.
Why it works: By taking a minute to do an inventory of your situation, you bring awareness to it, which is the first step in affecting a change.
Physically – Once you’re aware of the tightness in your shoulders, clenched jaw, and stiff neck, you can take a deep breath, do a few shoulder shrugs, and prepare for your ride with a more relaxed body.
Mentally – Ditching the negativity puts you in a better frame of mind to actually enjoy your whole ride.
So, you get to dump your baggage and enjoy your ride and your horse gets an owner who is fully present and relaxed. What could be better? Well, as an added benefit, you may find that when you finish your ride, you don’t feel the need to reopen your box and take back any of that baggage. Then even your family benefits by having you smile your way through folding a load or 10 of laundry. Oh, and that cupcake pan? Check with your son – he used it for his art project right after the bake sale…
You may have read the title of this post and been indignant – “Of course I remember the last time I groomed my horse, it was right after I rode him yesterday! What a stupid question!”
Do you really remember?
First off, let me assure you that this isn’t a condemnation of your horsey hygiene habits. In this post I’m more focused on the experience you and your horse had than debating your care of your equine partner – so here’s a little quiz.
- What did you hear while you were grooming?
- Name 5 things you saw while you were grooming.
- Can you remember a particular smell?
- What was the first thing you felt (physically or emotionally)?
Had some problems answering those questions? If you did, don’t worry, you’re not alone. A lot of us go through life on autopilot. Our brains are racing, filled with the things we need to do. How often have you driven somewhere routine, and on arriving, realized you didn’t remember most of the drive? Poured a cup of coffee only to find it still sitting on the counter an hour later? Left the barn and not remembered if you picked your horse’s feet, checked the water bucket or latched the gate?
With our busy schedules and the advancement of technology, we’re less physically involved in our everyday chores, and that convenience comes at a price. When we’re not as physically engaged in a project or chore, we’re not as mentally engaged either. Automation allows our minds to be on other things, and we end up missing out a lot of enjoyable experiences because we’re simply not present.
Each moment is a gift – perhaps that’s why it’s called the present.
Want to be more present? I have good news. I’m going to share some exercises with you that will not only help you enjoy your next grooming session even more, but can also improve other areas of your life – like interacting with your family, being productive at work, and paying attention during your commute.
First, I’d like to define what I mean by “being present.” Being present is a state of awareness where you use your senses to experience this very moment. Right now you are using your eyes to read, but what else is going on? Are there birds singing? Traffic noise? Voices from another room? Do you smell coffee? The left-over aroma of the burrito someone just heated up in the break room? Are you warm or chilly? Are your shoulders tight?
Being aware of your state in this exact moment means letting go of the dozens of thoughts buzzing around in your brain and just experiencing now. An impossible task? Maybe not. Here are 3 exercises to help you get into the present moment.
1. Centering Breaths. The purpose of this exercise is to ground you in your body. Close your eyes (please don’t do this while you’re driving, skiing, operating a backhoe or any other possibly dangerous conditions), be aware of your breath moving into and out of your nose and lungs. Feel your chest rise and fall. Become aware of the center of your body. Don’t get too wrapped up in where the exact center of your body is located, just be aware of an area that seems like it might be the center of your body. Now focus on it as you take 3 slow breaths. Practice this exercise a few times a day. Next time you’re faced with a tense or stressful situation, you can take 2 or 3 centering breaths (you won’t even have to close your eyes), and it will help you become more grounded and less reactive to the situation.
2. Pick a color. The purpose of this exercise is to help you improve your awareness of your surroundings. Pick a color – it can be any color, but preferably one that is reflected in your normal environment at least occasionally. For the next 2 or 3 minutes, notice everything you see that’s your chosen color. As you go through your day, notice everything you see that matches your color. Another great exercise is to look around you for 1 minute, then close your eyes and see if you can name 10 things you saw. Both of these exercises help you focus on your immediate surroundings. Bonus? This is a great way to increase your personal safety when you’re alone and in high-risk areas.
3. Use all 5 senses. This exercise is useful in expanding your awareness through the use of all 5 of your external senses. (We’ll discuss your 6th sense in a later post). As you’re reading this, try to catalog what’s going on right now using all of your senses. We’re so used to being bombarded with noise that we often stop listening. Right now as I’m typing, I can hear my dogs breathing (they’re both sleeping right next to me), a car out on the road, the clicks of the computer keyboard, one of the cats twitching in her sleep on the windowsill, and a bird in the yard. I wasn’t aware of half of these sounds until I stopped to listen. Touch is even more elusive to our awareness. Start at the top of your head and do a quick run down through your body to see what you’re feeling. Shirt collar on your neck? Jewelry, clothing, contact with furniture, itches or areas of pain – all usually go unnoticed as we bulldoze our way through our day. Take a moment and really feel what’s going on with your body.
You are a Human Being, not a Human Doing.
A very wise friend of mine has often reminded me that I’m a human being, not a human doing. Good words to live by, especially when you’re deepening your relationship with your horse. I hope the exercises I’ve shared here will help you be able to answer a resounding “Yes!” and share the details the next time I ask you if you remember the last time you groomed your horse.
For the next post, I’ll be discussing some of this from your horse’s point of view. If you’d like to join my mailing list to receive notifications of upcoming posts and more information on improving your life by improving your relationship with your horse, please sign up for my mailing list in the box below.
Little girls and horses. There’s some kind of magic in that combination. Whether the little girl ever gets to ride real horses, or makes do with her My Little Ponies and reading (and re-reading) every horse book she can find in her library, it’s a passion that often doesn’t subside as the years go by.
Fast forward fifteen, or twenty years, or more. Here is the little girl, all grown up. Still loving horses, but maybe life hasn’t offered her the chance to own one. The obligations of family and work and being a grown up have extracted their toll, but no longer will that voice inside be denied. The dream becomes reality, the little girl finally has her horse, and they live happily ever after.
It would be wonderful if life could replicate some of our favorite fairy tales. OK, maybe not the wicked witches and hateful step sisters, but happily ever after would be nice. Sadly, what happens to a lot of women when they finally get their dream horse is that the reality doesn’t quite live up to the dream.
Whether it’s a hectic schedule, training challenges, or guilt over spending time away from family and responsibilities – there are many factors that can derail our journey to happily ever after.
Whatever the cause, when spending time with her horse becomes something that produces stress, guilt or fear; our heroine often doesn’t know where to turn. Her instructor may help with her riding, but what about all the other facets of her life? Many instructors aren’t prepared to take on the challenges their students face outside the lesson. Her horsey friends may be willing to help, but many of them could be facing the same issues; and, while misery may love company, simply complaining to each other over a glass of wine isn’t going to lead to any lasting improvements.
Help is at Hand
Our heroine is the woman I had in mind when I started this blog. As an internationally certified riding instructor, I’ve worked with a lot of women like her for over 30 years. Women who remembered how much they always wanted to ride when their kids started taking lessons, or who had some free time when the kids grew up and finally decided to start riding. Some of the women just took lessons, others had finally made the leap and found their dream horse.
I’ve always loved working with these women, (who are all heroines in my eyes). The come to the barn with a passion to achieve their dream. While they may struggle with fear, a negative body image, or a lack of confidence in their ability to learn a new skill, that passion supported them and carried them forward.
I loved developing and sharing exercises to help my students overcome challenges, both physical and mental. I loved providing a supportive atmosphere so these women could start to live that dream. Allowing themselves to finally live a dream they’d had for so long. Challenging themselves in new ways – and succeeding. Conquering fear. Developing a partnership with an animal that outweighed them by half a ton.
But whatever their challenges and victories, one thing all of these women had in common, was that it wasn’t just about the riding. Their successes followed these women when they left my barn. I began to realize that my lessons were empowering women in the barn, and beyond.
I hope that this blog will become a place where you can come to find support, answers to questions, lessons about your relationship with your horse (and ultimately, yourself), and a sense of community.
Here are a few of the things I’ll be covering in upcoming posts:
- Why awareness is important and how you can develop yours
- How your level of self-confidence influences the level of trust between you and your horse (and how to improve it)
- The Three C’s of Communication (Clarity, Congruence and Consistency)
Please join me each Monday to read more about how you can Find Yourself on a Horse. Have comments or questions? Please feel free to leave them in the comments below and I’ll be happy to chat with you about them.