Create Positivity and Presence in the Moment
Haven’t you ever wanted a guide to exercising mindfulness for equestrians? Problem solved! Mindfulness is the moment-to-moment awareness without judgement providing connection through observation, will benefit your riding and your life.
Mindfulness is the art of being in the present moment. Some people may assume this is New Age but in truth there is 2500 years of practice in Buddhism as well as Hinduism. This practice teaches the brain to be observant of thoughts and feelings without judgement, like feeling the breeze in our hair. A fleeting moment of observation without incorporating past experiences or thoughts of future possibilities. Since I’m a bit of a control freak this is something with which I continually struggle.
As I sit down to write, I have about an hour before I have to pick up my kids from the school bus. The television is on in the background and my phone is beeping incessantly with social media notifications and voicemails. Ironic, absolutely. My life is filled with noise and I’m so used to it that I barely notice anymore until my brain screams for quiet.
Our lives are so often filled with chaos. Our minds are filled with internal and external pressures that grow and grow until we break under the weight either physically or emotionally.
Living By Example
I feel this chaos keenly as a mother, a business owner, and an equestrian wondering if I am ever doing enough in all aspects of my life. I’m often running from one thing to the next, one project to the next, or one errand to the next. As a result, I’m always on the go with little time spent on myself.
My inability to control the chaos has always been like a lead balloon in my gut. The truth is that I cannot control it. I hate being reminded that I can’t manage everything and yet the realization gives a sense of freedom.
When I spend my time in Mongolia with the Gobi Desert Cup it often acts to reset my perspective. I spend two-to-three weeks in that remote country without electricity or plumbing and very in tune with the nomadic way of life. One of my favorite things is waking to the sound of horses nickering as they graze or make their way into the horse line for the day. The lightening sky is lit only by the remaining stars and the soft caress of the sun’s rays as they embrace the earth.
As I make my way outside to stretch I take a moment to listen, observe, and experience the moment. This is mindfulness.
Benefits of Mindfulness for Equestrians
- Lower stress levels
- Improve attention and focus.
- Reduce anxiety
- Increase body satisfaction
- Improve memory. Through the growth of gray brain matter in the hippocampus
According to Psych Central “Researchers found that increases in gray matter concentration occurred in the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, temporal-parietal junction, and cerebellum. These are the regions involved in memory and learning processes, regulation of emotion, self-referential processing and taking perspective.”
Mindfulness for Equestrians Exercises
There are a number of ways to experience mindfulness in our daily lives without having to venture across the world.
The Body Scan
A typical body draws your attention to each part of the body, paying special attention to the way each area feels from toes up through the head. Concentrate on your toes, wiggle them and feel them grounding into the earth keeping you balanced and steady. Moving upward through your body focus on each important point: shins, knees, hips, core muscles, shoulders, neck, and head. Don’t forget your fingers, ears, nose, and eyes. What do you see, smell, and hear? How do you feel? Are there any places that are tight and tense? Focus on breathing in for a count of 3 and breathing out for a count of five, visually a release of tension with your exhale.
I find breathing to be exceptionally useful when it comes to refocusing myself. Like many I tend to hold my breath, contributing to tension. Remember your body scan breathing technique? Use it! Once, I was in riding my OTTB friend Delight and I wasn’t having the easiest time. I could feel myself shutting down. More, I could feel that I was starting to panic for no reason that I was in my head too much and overthinking. I asked my trainer for a minute to reset, rode to the center of the ring while everyone schooled their horses around me, and use this breathing exercise. After only a few minutes I had relaxed enough to cause my horse to doze off and release my tension. I used breathing and mindfulness to reset and finish the lesson without any other issues.
An important part of mindfulness is feeling a connection to the outside world. The easiest way to do this is to focus on one of our senses for a time: sight, sound, smell, and touch.
Often I like to sit in the paddock and just “be” with the horses, asking nothing of them. Leaning against a tree and feeling the breeze through my hair, lifting the strands and tickling my nose. Listening to the soft nickers or munching of grass as they wander the pasture, hooves gently plodding across the earth at a leisurely pace.
Yoga is the major contribution from Hinduism to mindfulness in practice. While yoga and meditation are methods to achieve a state of mindfulness, in truth you can achieve this through a few minutes of practice each day. There are a number of yoga programs specifically designed for equestrians to be physically fit, however, mental fitness is our greatest strength.
A simple mindfulness exercise you can do is to groom your horse. Instead of talking on the phone, talking to barn mates, or rushing to get tacked up so you can ride instead think of how each tool is helping your horse to bring up the dirt. Feel your horse’s coat, is it soft or coarse? Can you run your fingers through it? Does your horse breathe deeply and release tension when you touch a particular spot? Concentrate on the task at hand and how you and your horse are communicating. I guarantee even if you don’t ride this is a mental and physical exercise for you both. A pleasurable exercise in mindfulness.
I am often bored at the gym and prefer dance classes or kick boxing to keep me motivated. When I don’t ride often or get to the gym I find there is a direct correlation with my mental acuity. I am tense, overanxious, and easily stressed out. I believe it is very important to add in supplemental physical exercise to quiet your mind and improve your riding. Find something you enjoy doing or that keeps you in the “zone”. I’m not a wonderful runner because of my tight back and weak knees, however, when I do get into a groove my mind clears beautifully and I concentrate only on my breathing and the music pounding in my ears. I become focused on the task at hand.
Visualization is one of my favorite mindfulness exercises, however it must be trained. In life I try to be an optimist. Of course, anxiety and panic creates negativity, which may be a tough rut to break out. You have to train your brain to turn a negative into a positive. One tool I love for this is affirmations. I will post these positive mindset quotes on Instagram and Facebook. Recently, I thought it would be a great idea to create #beBold cards. I brought them to Equine Affaire for sale and they were so popular! More when I had a negative, tense moment I drew a card at random and kept that thought running through my head all day. The phrase “You only fail when you quit” ran through my head all day and actually spurred me on to give me motivation!
Anxiety and negativity are so easy to feel. It is much harder to focus on the positive especially when it feels like the world is against you or you are having a tough day. I hope these mindfulness for equestrians exercises will be something you actively work on. They can help you and they do get easier with time.
Join the Herd and Subscribe to the Blog!