Equestrian mindfulness is crucial for your horse handling and riding success. Whether in the arena, on a trail, or grooming in the crossties, being present keeps you connected to your horse, and safe.
Your mind is truly amazing.
So dynamic, you can think about multiple things at the same time. Even do various things at the same time. Like when you ride your horse. But, with this ability also comes the problem of doing or thinking about too many things at once.
Loss of focus.
How many times have you been in the arena warming up for a lesson and your horse spooked at something off in the distance? If you are mentally centered, the spook is easy to work through. But, if you are on the phone or stressing about your deadline the next day, the spook could mean trouble — even danger.
If you want to be one with your horse and perform at your best, equestrian mindfulness is vital.
What is equestrian mindfulness anyway?
You could describe mindfulness as being present in the moment. Self-aware. Having mental focus in your riding. Developing a harmonious bond with your horse. Not stuck in regret about a mistake or worrying about the future. The ability to focus on the task at hand without being preoccupied.
However, equestrian mindfulness in and out of the saddle doesn’t come naturally. It requires daily work.
And… don’t expect to change overnight.
As you develop your mindfulness prowess, you will recognize your ability to stay in tune with your horse. Also, accept your mistakes and where your weaknesses are without beating yourself up. Allowing growth and mastery of skills and ultimately increasing your overall confidence. Who doesn’t want that, right?
Here are some of the significant benefits of a mindful state of awareness as an equestrian:
- Increased curiosity when learning new skills
- Enhanced resilience to handle change and mistakes
- Ability to reduce stress on and off your horse
- Expanded self-care and care for others
- Improved problem thinking skills
- In tune with your emotions and your horse’s
- Developing a deeper connection with your horse
Does this mean you have to adjust the way you do things? Sure does. But, change is a good thing. Even though it can be hard sometimes to improve your riding skills, you can’t be afraid to shift your thinking and add new tools to your toolbox.
Embrace transformation and a new way to do things. Be patient with yourself. Face your fears.
Follow these tips to develop strong equestrian mindfulness habits to benefit you and your horse.
1. Create a RELAXED Pre-ride mindset
When you arrive at the barn determine your mental space. Are you irritable or angry? Are you anxious? Do you have 100 things on your “To Do” list and feel like you can’t get it all done? Leave all that stuff behind and prepare yourself to BE with your four-legged. Turn off your phone so that you can spend time alone with your horse. Why? Because your horse relates to how you feel. Taking on your emotions and most likely acting them out. When you are present and relaxed, your horse will be too. Before you meet up with your horse, do some breathing exercises to adjust your mindset. Below are some fantastic breathing techniques you can use from Verywell Mind.
Also known as four-square breathing, box breathing is effortless to learn and practice. If you’ve ever noticed yourself inhaling and exhaling to the rhythm of a song, you’re already familiar with this type of paced breathing. It goes like this:
- Exhale to a count of four.
- Hold your lungs empty for a four-count.
- Inhale to a count of four.
- Hold air in your lungs for a count of four.
- Exhale and begin the pattern anew.
The 4-7-8 breathing exercise, also called the relaxing breath, acts as a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. At first, it’s best to perform the exercise seated with your back straight. Once you become more familiar with the breathing exercise, however, you can achieve it while lying in bed:
- Place and keep the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue behind your upper front teeth for the duration of the exercise.
- Completely exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight. (verywellmind.com)
2. Don’t get so wrapped up in perfecting your technique that you forget about your horse-human connection.
You know how easy it is to get hyper-focused when you’re working on a drill. Like a perfect leg yield on the diagonal. Or a graceful flying lead change. But, what is the point of correct technique and skill anyway? Is it just to “do it right?’
Riding is way more than that, right? Aren’t you looking to connect with your horse and enjoy the experience? So, evaluate what needs to change and then adjust your aides and technique. Isn’t that what you want?
Bottom line, don’t ignore your horse because you are working so hard to fix THIS skill or THAT drill. Stay in tune with your horse’s emotions. Be aware of your equine’s reaction to your pressure and release. Be conscious of your horse’s mood and willingness to do what you ask.
3. What’s your riding goal anyway?
Is it forcing your horse to comply regardless of how teach a new technique? Or pulling off the best performance with the least equine resistance? Joining your horse with eye contact, a gentle hand, and a confident seat creates a union between the two of you. When you are present and relaxed, your horse will be too.
Horses are the perfect example of mindfulness because they live in the present. However, they pick up on your body language and emotions. They mirror your feelings of stress and anxiety. So prepare your mind and set clear intentions before you start your work together.
4. Don’t compare yourself to others
You know the comparison cycle, right? Where you get stuck in your head thinking you’re not good enough. Not talented enough to make the changes you want with your riding. Don’t get trapped by the IF ONLYs. “If only I rode like Emily, then Buster would move out like I want him to. Emily’s always calm and relaxed. Always knowing how to get her horse to bend and be supple in hand. Without doing a thing.”
Self-judgment while comparing yourself to others doesn’t benefit you at all. It only tears you down and erodes your self-confidence.
And while you’re at it. Stop fearing judgment from others. If people are judging you — release the thought and worry over it right now. Remind yourself that these people are struggling with their own insecurities and self-doubt. Don’t fall for the trap and perpetuate the cycle.
5. STAY IN THE MOMENT, stopping the little voices in your head.
Embrace your unique talents and gifts. Honor your strengths and weaknesses. Quit being afraid to make mistakes.
Mistakes just point out areas that need work. Be honest with yourself and try to determine what went wrong.
- Maybe your horse needs more attention – in and out of the saddle
- Lunging before your ride time
- An extra turn-out or two during the week
- More riding days a week
- If your horse is green, maybe your trainer needs to do some training rides
- Is it possible you just need to spend some time going back to the basics?
Take time to contemplate what is going on inside yourself and with your horse. Nobody is perfect. Stop putting pressure on yourself to be flawless. Loosen the grip fear has on you.
Tools to quiet your mind
1. Use grooming time to join up with your horse and calm your thoughts.
Adjust your schedule so you have proper time to do a thorough job. Connecting during groom time will improve your mental state and benefit your horse’s physical and emotional well-being. Share space with your horse. Discover the places your horse loves to be brushed or scratched. Your horse will be happy and have a beautiful, healthy coat. And you will feel relaxed and at peace.
2. Play music while you’re riding.
Choose relaxing and cheerful music. Tunes that inspire you and help you stay in the moment.
3. Under saddle techniques to help you stay mentally centered while being with your horse
- Equestrian Mindfulness drills – As you enter the arena, or start on the trail, take 3 to 5 minutes to make yourself totally aware of your surroundings. What do you smell, see, hear? Are there movements do you notice in the distance? Is there a distraction or scary thing you see that might spook your horse? Can you hear or feel your horse’s breathing? Can you feel your horse under you? Making yourself aware of your surroundings alerts you to how your horse might react in certain situations. Maybe there is a plastic bag stuck in a tree. If you approach the tree completely aware, you are more likely to help your horse through it, rather than reacting in frustration after your horse spooks at what seems like nothing.
- Serpentines – Work on staying relaxed in the body and supple in the hands.
- Transitions – Go up and down in your transitions. Walk to trot. Walk to canter. Trot to canter. And back down. Use breathing techniques if you find yourself getting rigid and stressed trying to “do it perfectly.” The calmer you are, the easier the transitions will be.
- Lateral work – moving your horse forward and sideways. This work benefits your horse with stronger muscles and quality of stride. The skill requires concentration, helping you stay in a place of mindfulness. Examples are “shoulder in” on the rail or at the diagonal. Also, “leg yields” on and off the rail. If these techniques are new or you need extra coaching, check out Boost Your Lateral Work Skills.
- Release and praise – As you are working with your horse. Focus on praising your horse every time you give a release. Take your mind away from the skill and put it back on your horse’s actions. Strengthening your horse-human interaction and also building on your horse’s feeling of safety.
- Be conscious of your center – Through breathing techniques and balance work, you can make yourself more aware of your center. Improving your overall riding.
- Breathing – Stay aware of your breathing as you ride. Keep it rhythmic, and don’t hold your breath.
- Rein pressure and release – Rhythmically increase and decrease your rein length and tension.
- Cavaletti drills – working at different gates and in different patterns.
- Stirrups – take your feet in and out of the stirrups at different gates. Don’t peek.
Take time to practice these techniques and drills when you ride. Don’t overwhelm yourself and do them all at the same time. Pick a few to work on throughout the week. You’ll be well on your way to experiencing an improved sense of awareness and centeredness within yourself. Look for a change in behavior from your horse too. He will appreciate your newfound mindfulness approach to riding.
Head on over to the Horseware Blog for more helpful ideas to benefit your horse and riding skills. Be sure to click subscribe so you don’t miss a post.