To those who are equine enthusiasts: let your mind be your most powerful weapon.
Trainers and coaches will agree that when it comes to training, competing and ultimately reaching your goals, it is the mind that matters. For both you and your horse. Tapping into the great and endless potential that is your mind is harder than you might think.
Mindfulness is not merely storing the good and throwing away the bad or unnecessary. Mindfulness is a type of control and a type of "letting go". Let me explain.
Mindfulness is a learned tool that you can apply to everything in your life. The reason why this tool is so handy when it comes to riding or dealing with horses in general basically comes down to time and doing what matters. With horses, intention is very important. Intention is choosing to be deliberate about certain actions.
If you are honing your skills, being deliberate can shed off seconds in your jump off, minutes to your pre-show routine, and can bump you up from a mid-pack endurance rider to a top ten influencer.
Mindfulness can also come in handy when building a business, or dealing with outside sources. When you are mindful with your relationships in the equestrian industry, only good things are bound to happen.
Let Us Break Down What Mindfulness Means
-When dealing with your horse in a lesson, being mindful of how you start your day, how you saddle up your horse, and how you treat your coach can make a huge difference. Not in only what you learn that day but by the relationships you are hoping to build. Whether that's a strong relationship with your trainer, one filled with support and confidence in each other, or dealing with the other students in your barn. These are your peers. Giving them not only an example of how mindfulness makes your lesson better but by putting out a positive vibe that can resonate.
- When dealing with your equine bodyworker or farrier, being mindful of how you prepare your horse for them can go really far. How receptive you are to what they have to say and how your follow-through after a session can highly impact your horse.
-Mindfulness in competition might look like: having a conversation with yourself and your horse before your round. Talking with someone about how you want your endurance race to go. Doing visualization exercises before competition. Being deliberate about how you choose to respond to the outcome of the event. Going over your dressage test while closing your eyes.
-Mindfulness when it comes to how you are going to approach each new horse. This one applies to trainers, assistants, equine bodyworkers, farriers and anyone who deals with multiple horses and personalities each day. Get yourself in the right frame of mind each ride or each session. Getting yourself prepared is almost as important as the actual work itself.
How Can You Be More Mindful?
There are many mindfulness techniques. Some people choose to meditate or listen to music. Whatever your approach is make it a routine. For instance, if you know that a certain song will put you in a positive frame of mind, by all means play it in the car before coming to the barn.
Perhaps you have some physical limitations. Get yourself worked on. Massage, physical therapy, or back and knee braces can do wonders and eliminate this frustration when riding.
If you have a mental block with certain people or places, try and pinpoint why. Some people have horrible anxiety when competing. Others get butterflies when certain people join their group lesson. And other times the fact that you have to ride that difficult horse one more time can send you sailing through an ocean of negativity.
Get organized. If you know you have 6 horses to ride in one day. Put the ones that need to most "work" or are the most frustrating first. Give them that extra time and be mindful about how you are going to ride them. As an equine bodyworker, I try to place my harder horses first. Harder to me might mean ones I know have more physical stuff or even mental baggage. It can be very hard to get through to a horse physically when their mind is totally somewhere else. Why would I want to spend my time fighting with a horse? This is bodywork and it's supposed to help and feel better. Luckily with cranial sacral, there are a ton of techniques that I use to delve right into the mindset like addressing the area of greatest restriction or tuning into the Amygdala. Get the horses mind and yours first, and get organized.
Know your limits. Our mind is strong but it still has limits. Most of the time we push these limits and that is where we find a breaking point. Your limits could be related to skill or environment or even just strength or tolerance that day. Know your limits. This is a form of mindfulness. Knowing when to stop your ride or hand over the reins is a great tool to have. This is self-awareness and we should never be ashamed of our limits. Work on them like hell, yes, but know them and accept them. They will change over time.
What Matters Most
What seems to matter most to the horse is how you choose to be that day. Let me clarify: Your actions are a choice. You choose to be happy or forgiving or lighthearted. Environment really only makes up about 10% of our happiness according to a recent study. If you can learn to block out that 10% and focus on you and your horse, how magnificent would that be?
Your horse wants you to be with him at 100% capacity. He may have to step up to the table on some days and other days tone it down, but YOU should be consistent. Having a mindfulness practice that you put into your daily riding routine can help with this consistency.
Before I work on horses, I do a few things to become mindful:
1- I use essential oils to clear myself, the horse and use it as a catalyst for "starting fresh".
2- I do a visual overview of the horse before I lay my hands on them. I get a sense for the horse and his presence before I start.
3- I check in with the owner if they are present. How are you doing? What should I know about said horse? Is there anything you want to get out of the session today in particular?
4- I tend to eat and drink a little before each session. The work I do can be very exhausting and emotionally and physically taxing. My "hangry" side needs to be tempered. I try and enjoy and be present when I eat. This is fuel for my body and I appreciate it.
5- I use a breathing technique which is this: four second inhale through nose. Hold breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 6 seconds through mouth. Doing this about 8-10 times can "reset" your body.
Mindfulness Exercise For Your Riding Routine
1- Mindfully stroke your own hand. Ok this might sound weird at first, but not only is it relaxing, it will give you mind powers. Take your right index finger and stroke your hand going up and down each finger. Be mindful and concentrate on which finger your are touching. Thinking about this and nothing else is a simple way to reset your brain. Switch hands and when you are done get back to business. Notice if you feel differently.
2- Yawn for ten seconds. Forcing yourself to yawn will actually make your body cooperate with your mind. Did you know yawing is a sign of empathy? That is why it is "contagious". Our minds and bodies listen to one another.
3- Stand up and breath. Think about exhaling your energy into the ground. This is also called "grounding". This is an exercise that can help you to visualize what your body is doing and call it to let bad energy out and only good energy in.
4- Ask yourself a question. Stop and ask yourself a question. Stop for 20 seconds to answer it for yourself. This is a mental exercise in being self-aware.
5- A body scan meditation. Start with your toes (or boots if it's right before riding) looking at them. Notice them and how they look. Slowly gaze up the rest of your body. Your shin, notice this part of your body. You can even say out loud what your parts do for you when you ride. Thigh- helps me to stay balanced in the saddle. Working up further: hands, helps me to release my horses mouth when he does what I ask. You get the picture.
What Does Mindfulness Do To You?
Mindfulness exercises can help to:
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Help with body pain
- Aid in depression
- Help with insomnia and sleeplessness
- Help with hypertension or high blood pressure
- Give yourself focus in high stress environments
- Help with stage fright
- Can improve attention
- Decrease burnout when your day is long
- Has been proven to help aid in people with diabetes
- Will positively impact your ride and your relationship with your horse
- Has been shown to help people with acceptance
- Can help you to be a better listener and more attentive to details
If you are looking for yet another competitive edge in you and your horses performance, try mindfulness. I help horses to work on this through cranial sacral and decompression exercises. Horse can also benefit from mindfulness exercises. And I love to see how they react to my physical bodywork after the "mental bodywork" is done.
With so many benefits, why aren't more people using mindfulness techniques?
Well, the high-performing business people and athletes are!
Expand your knowledge from what you think you know to what you need to know.
Be mindful and make it a daily habit or exercise.