To be mindful is to stay in the moment, observing the inner and outer world without judging. Mindfulness is a great tool to develop, as it will help you gain awareness of your energy and surroundings. To become more effective at using our energy around horses, we need to develop our awareness. Energy Awareness is the conscious knowledge of whatever goes on in and around your body and mind. A big percentage of the day (some say as high as 95 percent) is spent habitually reacting to stimuli without being conscious about it.
For example, you might be thinking about your work when you are driving there in the morning, without paying much attention to the road, and probably without wondering afterwards how you managed to get there. But, when you learned to drive, it was overwhelming to do so many things at once. Once it’s a habit, you don’t have to consciously think about it anymore. That frees up the brain to think about something else.
However, habituation with horses can be dangerous, especially when you are starting young ones. Even with a trained horse, constant awareness is essential. Horses are always in their bodies, they don’t know anything else. They are watching your every move, what you are thinking, what you are feeling. To become a better horse(wo)man, you should practice staying in the moment. To gain better awareness in yourself you can meditate regularly (and many people do), but it’s not necessary. There is a better tool which can be practiced anytime anywhere, for a few seconds at a time to all day: it’s called Mindfulness Practice. All you have to do is stay in the present moment and observe, without judgment. Observe your inner world as well as the outer one. Acknowledge any thoughts and feelings but don’t hold onto them. Do it as long and as often as you want.
EXERCISE: Practicing Mindfulness
Try this exercise to help develop mindfulness:
At dinnertime, look at your food in detail; smell it, feel its heat, but DO NOT JUDGE (judging means labeling something as good or bad). When you pick up your food with your fork, feel the weight in your hand, look at the steam, feel the anticipation in your mouth. What thoughts go through your mind? Are there any emotions? Mindfulness looks at both the inner world (thoughts and feelings) and the outer world (sights, noises, smells, etc). Put the food into your mouth and taste it, smell it, feel it in your mouth, against your teeth, and in your throat when you swallow. If you find your mind wandering, try and bring it back to the present moment and keep observing.
Now bring your mindfulness practice to you horse time. Pay attention to everything you do, and everything the horse does. Ask yourself how you feel in certain situations. Observe the thoughts and emotions that come up. Get into your horse’s body and mind. Is what you are asking easily understood? Is the horse physically and mentally capable of doing it? If you get resistance, is it yours or your horse’s?
When working with your horse, remember to not just do the rote task, but think about what you are doing, how you are doing it, and how your horse is feeling about it. By doing this, you will become more in tune with the horses view of your actions.
Horses are body centered, which means that they are acutely aware of how their body is standing in relation to yours. Since people are mind centered, they are mostly not aware where their feet are or where their belly button is pointing, what their shoulders are doing, and if the body is standing tall or slumping over. These things are important to a horse, and he will pay attention to them, acting accordingly. Have you ever been stepped on by a horse? Do you really think that was an accident?
Even though horses are body centered, they are tuned in to our thoughts and feelings (mostly through our body language) and will respond to them, which is why we need to become aware of our thoughts as well. Or better yet, be aware of the underlying patterns and feelings, and the near-constant chatter in the mind. In many people this chatter is humiliating and demeaning. Now if you ask your horse to jump over a big log while your mind tells you that you are not good enough for anything, the horse gets two conflicting statements and might refuse the jump. When you are aware of that chatter, you can look for a thought that feels right and ask for the jump with every fiber of your body and mind, joyfully expecting the horse to follow you, which makes you trustworthy in your horse’s eyes. This is the kind of asking he wants, and he will be there with you and for you 100 percent.
In the next issue we will discover how we can be more aware of our emotions and how to manage them to create harmony and peacefulness in our horses and ourselves.
Karen Wegehenkel, author of the upcoming book Awareness Horsemanship, is a longtime horsewoman and student of “healing hands” Energy Work. She has successfully applied human energy work to her equine relationships. Karen can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor Jim Hutchins is director of education at the Northwest Natural Horsemanship Center (NWNHC) near Seattle, Washington. The Center specializes in teaching horse women and men a more holistic approach to their relationship with the horse. Learn more at: www.nwnhc.com