Updated: Aug 16, 2021
I have been studying horsemanship for the past 20 years and about 8 years ago I got interested in meditation and mindfulness. It started while I was dealing with some personal issues, as it usually does for most of us, but shortly into it I realized how much of it applies to horsemanship. One of my favorite teachers Buck Brannaman always said when you get deep into this style of horsemanship it becomes a way of life, not just a way of working with horses. As always, he was correct.
Unfortunately when most ideas and traditions come to the United States we have a weird way of turning ancient and cultural practices into the “new fad.” I’m here to tell you the honest truth which is if you really want to benefit from these practices, you have to put in the work. Just like with good horsemanship, meditation and mindfulness are not something to be picked up and put down whenever you feel like. It requires dedication, discipline, consistency and effort. It will also require you to look up, research and find appropriate teachers or guides to help you along this journey and make sure you aren’t following someone who is just talking about this stuff on their videos because it’s the new thing everyone is doing. Same goes for finding a good horsemanship trainer and teacher. Do your homework and find someone that has many years of experience and has obviously dedicated themselves to the path of self mastery.
With all of that being said, let’s dive in to the meaning of each of these words- Meditation, Mindfulness, and Horsemanship- and how they all can work together to help you grow your relationship with yourself and your horse.
My favorite definition of meditation is “to engage in contemplation or reflection.” I believe that there is a big misunderstanding around meditation for a lot of people. Some think that meditation means clearing your mind of all thoughts, turning off your mind, and being emotionless. This couldn’t be further from the truth. You can’t “turn off” your mind. What you can do is learn to separate your true self from the thinking mind, and observe it, without judgement, from a distance. You learn to become aware of the thoughts rolling through your mind and recognize the patterns and the presence of the ego and how it feeds and takes over your mind. You can practice focusing your attention and tuning out all the noise. You can also use this meditation time to reflect on the day, how you are feeling, and your awareness of the present moment. You also learn to recognize and accept your emotions as they arise, and to let them go immediately. Humans will always experience emotions of all kinds so it’s about accepting them, not fighting them, and letting them go instead of letting them take over and control our actions. This is all very important for working with horses. Learning how to stay focused, calm, and to not hang on to any particular emotion is very beneficial to the horse and rider.
Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” Anyone can practice mindfulness at any time, any day. The goal would be to have the ability to stay mindful all day, every day, in everything we do. To me, this is extremely important when working with horses. If we are distracted, in a hurry, or just plain not being thoughtful in each moment we are working with the horse, then we are missing so many opportunities to connect and hear what are horses are trying to tell us about how they are feeling. Mindfulness also allows us to stay relaxed, positive, nonjudgemental, and aware during our entire time spent with each horse. It truly does help the horse and rider enjoy their time together even more as well as having QUALITY work, instead of just quantity. Imagine what that could do for our horsemanship.
Horsemanship is a pretty broad term these days, but for me personally it means the art of working with horses. It doesn’t matter what discipline you follow, what breed of horse your ride, what clothes you wear, it only matters how you make your horse feel during it's interactions with you. True horsemanship is about always putting the horse’s needs ahead of your own, and following the philosophies of some of the great horseman that came before us. There are many great teachers of horsemanship out there, all with their own personal touch applied to the same general way of working with horses handed down by masters like Tom Dorrance, Bill Dorrance and Ray Hunt. The basics revolve around communication that the horse can understand, giving the horse time to think and learn (instead of forcing things), timing, balance and feel. Like I said at the beginning, this way of interacting with horses becomes a way of life. It changes the way we interact with each other as humans as well. It is an art, and not easily mastered, but worth every second of effort we spend towards achieving it.
In my mind all three, meditation, mindfulness and horsemanship, work together in a powerful way. The beautiful thing is that anyone can practice and become at least efficient in all three areas, especially with a little help from someone with experience. Your horses will thank you for it!!!