Mindfulness is complete attentiveness and awareness in the present moment. Recent research has demonstrated the multifold benefits of mindfulness practices, which can reduce stress and improve overall wellness. Horse owners are typically innately mindful when they interact with their animals, which is partly what allows horses and owners to form such a deep connection.
Because horses are always fully present with us, they invite us to be the same way with them. Horses do not come to interactions with agendas or judgments. This creates an environment conducive for complete presence and mindfulness.
Veterinarians also speak of the value of connecting with a horse through mindful co-existence. This connection calms horses down and ultimately leads to more effective treatment.
The Mindful Nature of the Horse
A horse’s actions reflect his or her current environment. For this reason, horses can help humans connect with the present moment. As people tend to horses, they necessarily get pulled into the present as they analyze why a horse makes a sudden change in posture or reacts in some other way to what’s happening nearby.
The horse is an authentic creature with no capacity to pretend or judge, so its body is always an accurate reflection of its mind. People can clearly see how their actions influence a horse. And by doing so, they can learn more about how their actions affect others around them.
For example, a horse that holds its head up high is often in a state of heightened response due to a perceived threat. The mindful owner recognizes the threat as an unimportant one and places a hand on the animal to relieve stress, which causes the horse to relax and drop its head. This feedback loop keeps the owner mindful of his or her actions and reinforces the need to consider consequences carefully. For example, if the owner had also become frightened by the threat, this would have increased the horse’s anxiety.
Connecting to the Horse through Mindfulness
Despite the mindful nature of horses, owners still need to practice being present when with the animal. One way to accomplish this is through equine therapy. One organization, the Mind Body Awareness Project in Nashville, which runs programs for adults who are incarcerated and youth who are at risk, has partnered with a local horse-based learning program to incorporate horses into its mindfulness training sessions.
When individuals have lived mindlessly for years on end, they cannot hope to achieve mindfulness with only a few hours of meditation or a handful of days with a horse. Even people who interact regularly with horses need some direction in exploring the mindful relationship between human and animal to reap the most benefits.
The following are some tips for forging an even deeper connection to a horse through mindful co-existence:
- Center yourself—Before you interact with a horse, spend some time emptying your mind and centering your energy so that you can be fully present.
- Remove distractions—When making time to be with the horse, switch off your cell phone and remove any other potential distractions so that your mind does not wander elsewhere.
- Simply be—Too often, people think that they need to be doing something with their horse, whether it is riding, training, or grooming. Instead, you need to take time to simply be with the horse. This could involve napping or eating together.
- Use massage—Massage involves focused mindfulness as you pay attention to knots in the horse’s muscles. This can not only help relieve tension in its body, but it can also strengthen the connection between the two of you.
- Breathe together—Synchronizing your breathing with that of your horse is a wonderful way to stay mindful while connecting directly to the animal’s experience.
- Focus on togetherness—When you are not acting mindfully, you tend to look at a horse as an object rather co-existing with it in mutual respect.
- Play music—Horses will react to music, so playing a song is a great way to stay together in the present moment. You should choose calming songs rather than dissonant or highly emotional ones.
Many people involved with horse competitions recognize the importance of this mindfulness-based connection between owner and horse. Ultimately, this connection builds trust and allows both the horse and the owner to perform at peak levels. Paula Santana, a jumping champion with her horse Taloubet, always teaches younger riders about the importance of a mindful connection, which allows them to really listen to the horse. Callan Solem, who has competed on multiple Nations Cup Teams, has expressed the importance of staying present with horses. Although she rides multiple horses, Solem always makes time to connect with each one by clearing a spot in her schedule and removing all potential distractions.