It’s not all chanting and crystals. Penny Hawes is back with the next installment of The Ride of Your (Mid)Life, for the later-in-life equestrian.
Welcome to Part III of The Ride of Your (Mid)Life. This week, as the subtitle suggests, we’re talking about the spiritual side of spending time with your horse.
Before you even start your eye roll and click on another post (any other post) to read – hear me out. When I say the “spiritual” side of things, it’s not all chanting and crystals. As a matter of fact, there doesn’t have to be any chanting or crystals involved. You don’t have to learn to sit in the Lotus Position (although it’s great for opening your hips), and there is no requirement to visit a high peak in Tibet (or anywhere else).
I’m using the word “spiritual” to include all of the parts of riding (and life) that go beyond the physical actions and conscious thought. To me, spiritual is going that little bit deeper with our connection with our horses, key people in our lives, ourselves, and the world in which we live.
Awareness – Do you hear what I hear?
The first stop (on what I’m sure some of you are thinking of as the “Woo Woo Train”) is awareness. And just so you don’t think this is all fluff, we’re going to start with a quiz.
1. What was the first thing you heard this morning? (If it was your alarm clock, what was the 2nd thing you heard?)
2. Name 3 landmarks on a drive you regularly make, in order.
3. What is the most recent song you heard?
4. Where are the whorls on your horse?
If you can’t answer those questions, don’t worry too much, I can’t answer them all either; however, that doesn’t mean total oblivion to our surroundings is a good thing – especially when it comes to relating to our horses.
Developing a greater sense of awareness not only decreases our chances of getting stepped on, bitten, or kicked – it can make our time spent with our horses (and even our time spent at work) more enjoyable and fulfilling.
For the most part, developing awareness requires… well, awareness. If you aren’t aware that you’re not aware, it can be kind of hard to fix. The solution? I try to start each day with the intention of being more aware. However, since I tend to find myself getting pulled in 10 different directions before 8:00 am, I cheat and set reminders in my phone. My reminder pops up, I take a deep breath in and out, and take note of myself and my surroundings. Bingo! Greater awareness.
The biggest win from developing awareness? It helps remind you to slow down and actually enjoy the moment. Yesterday is over, tomorrow is over the horizon – right here, right now is all we have – so take a deep breath, and go count your horse’s whorls.
Meditation – It’s NOT about not thinking
A lot of people have the mistaken idea that in order to meditate, you need to completely clear your mind. Yeah, right. If your mind is like my mind (known among meditators as “monkey mind”), it swings from one thing to the next faster than Tarzan swings through the jungle. Completely clearing my mind would take heavy equipment and a crew of 30… at least I don’t do any chest beating or yelling…
So, if meditation isn’t completely emptying your mind, what is it? Well, it all starts with awareness (see how I organized this article so cleverly and put awareness first?).
Focusing on your breath is the most common, and one of the easiest ways to begin to meditate. You don’t need to change your breathing, you don’t need any special equipment, and you don’t need to sit on a mediation pillow. Because all you need is your breath, it’s completely portable and won’t cost you a dime.
Once you start focusing on your breath, by noticing how your chest rises and falls, or how the breath feels coming in and out of your nose, all you need to do is return to the breath when you’re distracted. Thoughts will still come into your mind – (I have to remember to call the blacksmith, when is the closing date for that show?, why, in the name of all that’s holy, do dressage riders wear white breeches??) The trick is noticing the thought, and then allowing it to go, preferably before you get sucked down a mental rabbit hole about what dressage riders would wear if you ruled the world, and returning to noticing the breath.
Why on earth would you want to spend 10 minutes (or even 10 seconds) paying attention to your breath? In short, because it can improve practically every area of your life – including the time you spend with your horse by helping you be more relaxed and mindful.
Not convinced? There is real science behind the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. It’s been shown that developing a meditation practice can help you not only release stress (once you get over the desire to check your watch every 30 seconds to see if you’re done yet), it can actually help reduce your risk of heart disease, and help control high cholesterol and Type 2 Diabetes. All good things, even if you’re not a horse person.
Let Us Give Thanks…
The last stop on our quick tour of the spiritual connection with our horses (and lives), is gratitude. Unless you spend every free second you have at the barn (counting your horse’s whorls), you’ve heard about gratitude journals – which can be as simple as jotting down a few things you’re grateful for in a notebook from the dollar store. Do this every evening, and you have a gratitude journal.
And, as horse people, we have a whole lot to be grateful for (other than the whole being bitten, kicked, and stepped on thing…). We get to share our lives with these noble, beautiful, kind animals. We get to feel their sleek coats, look into their deep eyes, hear their gentle breathing.
In closing, I offer you a challenge. Just for today, try to be a little more aware, notice your breathing a couple of times during the day today, and be grateful, very grateful, that you have horses in your life – they ground us while they give us wings. They carry us to some of our greatest triumphs – they humble us completely. We ride them, care for them, and love them – and we’re pretty darn fortunate to be able to do so.
Penny Hawes is a writer, dressage rider (who also wonders about white breeches), meditator and very grateful person who lives in Virginia. For more horsey goodness, visit her site: http://thehorseylife.com.