Every good horseman and horsewomen is and should be “mindful” when they are interacting with horses. The silent, interpersonal relationship you share with your horse is a form of meditation for some and just deep connection for others. Even such simple actions as cleaning a stall can be a mindful when you are counting manure piles or carefully flipping them into the wheel barrel.
The moments spent with horses, when you’re totally present and aware of the horse’s thoughts and feelings (as well as your own), allows you to “share awareness” with another creature and feel a harmonious bond. This special connection allows horse and human to achieve things together that perhaps individually they could not—whether it be performing together or just BEING together. This is MINDFULNESS—the quality or state of being aware and present in the moment.
With the certainty that there was something special going on between horses and humans, I set out to study this connection in college. After growing up riding jumpers in California and doing well, I knew horses could be aware of our thoughts, feelings, and subtle body language, as they were so present in the moment. I could feel and see pictures from horses, but I wanted to validate how I knew what I knew, and understand this process in order to teach others. The closest research in this subject was the field of “ethology”—studying animal awareness and the horse—human interaction, specifically. That was in 1970s–1990s when teaching “Inner Rider” clinics and using music to bring people into a conscious moment were considered a bit “outside the box,” except in California where it seemed normal. Flash forward: We have entered the age of mindfulness. Mindfulness training has spread from the personal growth arena to the corporate health-care menu.
From meditation practices to business visualizations and breathing breaks to reduce stress, the “Mindfulness Movement” is expanding as human consciousness evolves—which brings us back to horses. Look at what is happening in the horse world. From the huge growth in equine-assisted therapy programs (over 6000 percent in the last 10 years alone, which includes the many facets of “learning,” “facilitated,” “guided” and other words branded to mean some form of horse-human interaction) to the expansion of training methods focused more on therapies and techniques that require people to be more “mindful” with horses.
I spent years surveying people who had appeared to have a special connection with horses, connections you could see in both the horse’s eye and the human’s eye—that calm, relaxed, inner knowing and feeling of safety—a light of happiness in the eyes. Both horse and human seemed complete with each other as they were in a state of “Being” together— a mindful state of awareness.
When working with wild horses, both in the field and captivity, since the 1970s, it was this ability to share a state of mindful awareness that I suspect allowed me to create a sense of safety and comfort with them. And it was the same mindful state of empathy and safety which, when working with very aggressive horses who were dead set on attacking any human, also allowed me to work without fear to help these horses. So understanding this state of being was key to my own discovery—and necessary in order to teach others. Instead of studying more equine behavior in graduate school, I pursued the field of Consciousness Studies to better understand horse-human interactions. What might have been pioneering thought 30 years ago has now bloomed into the mindfulness movement, as many others have discovered that same sense of peaceful connection.
Dr. Allen Schoen, a traditionally trained veterinarian, has pioneered a path of mindfulness in the veterinary profession for more than 35 years. Integrating his personal journey with his professional work, Dr. Schoen, through his books, teaching, and practice has evolved the fields of Holistic, Integrative and Complementary Therapies with a focus on mindfulness. In his new book with co-author Susan Gordon, The Compassionate Equestrian, Dr. Schoen states:
“I feel one of the most important keys to healing horses is for horse people to heal themselves. Mindfulness training is an extremely beneficial approach to healing our hearts and minds. Without healing our own hearts and minds, it seems like so many approaches are like placing Band-Aids on the Titanic.”
Paulo Santana, a Brazilian-born international equestrian who’s jumped to championships with his equine partner Taloubet is passionate about training young horses and riders. Paulo shares the importance of mindfulness, and teaches this philosophy to his students, giving credit to Taloubet, who taught him to “listen” to horses.
“When we connect with horses physically we must submit ourselves to understand the same physical activities. If I am feeling tired or pain from too much exercise then that could be happening to the horse too. They never complain so we really need to live in the same channel as the horse,”
Callan Solem, who has represented the USA on multiple Nations Cup Teams, runs a top show barn and rides a number of horses each day commented on how see stays present with her horses.
“When trying to connect with a horse, I find it helpful to have a clear schedule. It always seems easier for me if there are not time constraints or distractions.”
Making time to be with each horse and understand its needs is no doubt why Callan lives above her horses during the show season in Wellington, Florida, where she can check on her horses day and night.
Recently, I watched an equine dentist in a show barn stand quietly in front of his client’s horse. I could feel his soft, gentle energy. I commented to the dentist that it felt like he was connecting to the horse as I watched the horse turn his worried attention to a soft eye. The equine dentist responded saying,
"I used to be focused on getting as many horses in a barn done as I could. Now I am focused on getting as many horses as possible connected, relaxed and telling me what they need. I want the horse to trust and to like me."
Obviously, he had learned how to connect and be mindful with horses. He further stated that he could "feel" the horse’s mouth if he just slowed down and took time to be really present with them.
People are driving the mindfulness movement through their choices and buying power. From having massages and a spa day to learning yoga and meditation, people are seeking ways to manage stress and connect more deeply with life. All the equine facilitated programs demonstrate how horses are extending their reach to assist not only equestrians but also others seeking connections with another species. Our horse world is growing as people discover deeper meaning through “being” with horses, not just riding them.
For those who already appreciate those special moments, share them with others. And for those who are missing the deeper connection, it is not far from reach. Just take a moment to appreciate the soft look in your horse’s eye, the gentle nose bump, or quiet nicker to say “hello.” You will feel better, and your horse will appreciate you more as well.
Mindfulness and the Inner Rider©
Tips for Being Mindful With Horses
1. Look “with” not “at” horses.
2. Empty your mind and center your energy to be present.
3. Synchronize your breath with your horse’s breath.
4. Use calming signals such as eye blinking to connect with your horse.
5. Slow your brain wave down from Beta to Alpha frequencies.
6. Turn off your cell phone and bring your attention into the moment.
7. Spend time just “being” with your horse, like eating or sleeping.
8. Practice yoga or tai chi, and share techniques while riding.
9. Use music to relax and connect you and your horse while riding.
10. Be happy and friendly when in your horse’s presence.
11. Spend time helping your horse feel good and release tension through hands-on massage.
12. Use relaxation techniques such as aromatherapy, breathing, flower essences for you and your horse.
How to be mindful and present when you ride to gets the most out of your relationship with your horse. The best performance horses in the world are the forces that trust the humans who were on their back and the reason they trust them is because we humans have the ability to be present in the moment and be very aware the way the horse needs so the horse feels safe
Mary Ann Simonds, MA , is a mental fitness trainer for horse and rider, international author, speaker, clinician and educator. Mary Ann has worked professionally for over 35 years, bridging the fields of equine and cognitive sciences. Her Meditation CD with horses came out over 20 years ago when she researched and taught methods for helping people communicate and connect more meaningfully with horses. From lecturing at vet schools to keynote speaking, and from working with behaviorally difficult horses to expanding awareness in humans, Mary Ann continues to be passionate about educating and helping people and horses deepen their relationships. She lives between her West Coast farm and Wellington, Florida. For more information on products, coaching, speaking, clinics, or programs, contact her at 360 907-4591 or visit www.maryannsimonds.com