#TBT: What Is This Thing Called ‘Presence’?

Unlike humans, horses don’t live in the past or the future — they live in the now. Callie Rae King explains how mindfulness can improve your riding and reinvigorate your life.

Pixabay/Piet van de Wiel/CC

From Callie:

We’ve heard it before, those phrases that call for us to “live in the moment,” “enjoy every minute,” “be fully present.” But what do these things really mean and what can our horses teach us about this concept of living life in the here and now?

Being present is not as easy as it sounds, but it is a skill, a habit, and a state of mind that will truly enrich your life, your relationships, and your horsemanship.

Thinking about the past, or into the future will leave you anxious or worried, or at best distracted. Humans are the only known species to be able to think so far ahead and dwell on past events, thanks to our frontal lobes. This ability is both a blessing and a curse, it has allowed us to progress as a species and to create better futures for ourselves, but it can also prevent us from living life to the fullest as our minds race back and forth through time. The recent surge of technology and the always available smartphone also keeps us preoccupied in times we would be better served to slow down and focus.

The horse, on the other hand, is always present and is always in the moment. Sure, horses have emotional triggers that their brains have linked to past events and will bring up feelings of that old experience, just as we do, but they don’t dwell on the past. Likewise, they don’t think into the future and worry about the show this weekend or dream about qualifying for the Olympics. Instead, they just hold the feeling of the moment, whether that may be contentment, playfulness, anxiety, or fear.

This is one of the most powerful lessons we can learn from our horses, for in order to really connect with a horse and interact with them on a deeper level, we need to come into the present moment as well. Which leads back to my initial question, what does this really mean?

The easiest way for me to think about it is feeling the senses. More right brain instinct and intuition, less left brain analyzing. Being present is about seeing with greater clarity and noticing the details, it’s about being aware of your body and feeling the slightest changes in the balance of the horse underneath you.

It is also getting lost in what you are doing, and losing track of time. It is mental focus, but not the kind that is forced. It is having a conversation with a friend or significant other, and being fully engaged, listening in a way that you can feel what the other person is saying, not just hear the words going in and out of your head.

When we become present, our riding and our sense of connection to our horse can go to new levels. When we slow the chatter in our minds and focus on feel, we become tuned in to the horse and can give more subtle cues and will pick up on the body language that horses use to communicate. Any good athlete knows it takes a certain mental clarity to excel at one’s sport and as equestrians this becomes even more important for us as we ride on the backs of 1200lb animals whose energy and emotion can change at the rustle of a leaf.

Unsplash/Philippe Oursel/CC

So how do we come “into the moment?” Take little steps first, leave your phone in the car when you go to the barn, if you feel mind skipping away on other things, take a moment to stop and reconnect with what you are doing. Look around and take a deep breath, noticing sights and smells you hadn’t acknowledged before. If you are talking to someone, listen intently on what they are saying and feel the tone and the body language behind the words. Being present is a habit and a lifelong practice. The more you make a point of checking in and pulling yourself back to now it will get easier, but you will still need to ask yourself, “How engaged am I in this moment?” “What could I do to become more present in what I am doing right now?” Even a brief daily habit, like going for a walk in the morning or over lunch, and taking in your surroundings will make it easier to start connecting to each moment. For most of us, riding or spending time with your horse is an easy place to start, because it is something we love so much, but try creating a new level of presence in other areas of life too!

Make the effort, give it a try! I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments – do you have any other strategies for engaging in the moment and being present? Tell me below and I will see you in the comments!


About Callie: I own and operate a small boarding and training facility in Chester County, Pa., where I love working with young horses and so-called “problem horses.” I enjoy learning from every horse I get to work with and always finding better ways to train and to teach my students. Writing is another passion for me, and I write two blogs. The first is CRK Training Blog, where I feature riding and training tips and interview other trainers and horse industry experts. The second blog is Happy Horse Reviews, where I share my thoughts on a variety of equestrian products. Thanks for taking the time to read my article!

Callie King

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