How a Mindfulness Practice Can Improve Your Riding
By Lisa Eklund, The Mindful Equestrian (www.mindfulequestrian.com)
What does it mean to be mindful? A simple answer is to be more in the moment, not stuck in regrets of the past or worries about the future. Being mindful helps you to be more aware. Many of us walk through life very unaware of what is happening right now within ourselves and around us. We get so consumed with our regrets of the past or worries about the future that we don't stay here right now. We don't notice what is happening in the world around us, nor do we recognize what is happening within us or with our horses. Habits can become so automatic, becoming such a part of us, that we aren't even aware that we have them. Even when we recognize the habits, beliefs and feelings we have, we often are unaware of the triggers that set them in motion.
When riding, a lack of awareness can lead to missing the subtle cues and conversations that horses are trying so to send our way. It is easy to get so consumed with thoughts and worries and so stuck in our heads, that our bodies become stiff and unyielding to those messages. When horses don't get positive responses to their needs, they can become nervous, tense, over responsive or dull and shut down to the aids. It is important to understand the purpose of a proper position when riding. The reason for a proper position is to be balanced and connected on the horse, it is not about looking good. It allows you to stay out of the horse's way and at the same time listen to the horse and communicate, through your whole body, what you want the horse to do. Riders can work very hard, with great intention, on having a proper position. But in the process, they can forget why position is important and how to use it. The position then becomes locked up, stiff and disconnected from the horse causing tension and problems with the horse's way of going. Remember, form follows function. Begin to become more mindful and curious of why and how your position affects your horse.
Mindfulness also helps to create an openness to what is happening and a sense of curiosity. Without curiosity, reflection and self-awareness, thoughtful responses to our situations don't happen. That is where a mindfulness practice can help. When we become more mindful of how we feel, what we are doing, why we are doing it and learn to be right here, right now, we can handle better what life sends our way. Stop and think for a moment of all the opportunities that are missed when you are not aware. Think about how you can bring more curiosity and awareness into your riding. With awareness of yourself, your horse and your environment, you can most definitely have more success in your riding. You will become more focused, in the moment and be able to recognize the feel of your rides. You will begin to look for the reason a horse is going a certain way and maintain that motion if you wish or make changes if it is not.
Look at the relationship between you and you horse with an open mind and without judgement. Notice the communication (or lack of communication) that exists between the two of you. Begin to recognize when you are really listening and when you are not. Notice your thoughts and feelings. Do you judge yourself harshly? Does everything have to be perfect? Do you have a fear of change? Do you have a physical fear? Look for the root cause. When you are aware you can begin to dig deeper and notice the habits that may be creating a situation you want to change.
With your new awareness, notice your feelings, physical sensations, reactions to situations and your horse's way of going and being. Don't beat yourself up if you feel like you are not being aware. Just go back to your tools and bring yourself back to the moment. As you begin to create awareness you will be able to better hear what your horse is saying and learn to be present, balanced and give a proper response.
Meditation, attention to breathe, journaling, walks in nature are a few ways towards living a more mindful life. Find something that brings you back to this moment. Whatever you do, remember, this is a practice that will get better with time, but it will never be perfect. That is why it is called a practice.