I have this theory. As a child we are born in to a world that is much larger than us both physically and psychologically. If we are lucky, we are born in to a family that protects and nurtures us on all levels until we are able to take care of ourselves. A foundation is in place for us to prosper. On the flip side is a more common reality… the reality of hardship and struggle in humanity. Whilst growing up and evolving, at varying degrees on a large spectrum, it is not uncommon to see humans hardening to life, closing off to the magic. When our needs, especially as children, are not met, we can grow up with a warped vision of reality that can often cast a dark light on what it means to be human and, thus, to be alive.
I’ve personally made it a point in the past two years to really reflect on what it means to live (from a subjective standpoint). The subject of balance has always made sense to me when speaking of our mental and physical selves. Interestingly enough, our mental and physical selves often take a back-burner daily. We prioritise the wrong things and lose touch with two things we have total control over. ‘I do not have enough to meditate’, ‘I am way too busy to go to the gym, maybe next week’ are two of MANY common excuses we give ourselves and others. When we give up on finding balance in life we start closing off to it. This energy manifests itself in our external world. As an example, we do not exercise because it does not seem urgent to us, reward is further away so we do not prioritise it. Life is naturally challenging but each moment is potential for positive growth. Choosing to live means putting realistic goals on paper about what is important to us and working every day towards the achievement of them.
I recently listened to a podcast by ‘Therapist Uncensored’ that touches on the fact that it has become a status symbol to be tired and run-down from being so BUSY… with the wrong things. We begin to feel guilty if our schedules are not filled with time-consuming stuff. This reality correlates so well with physical and psychological degradation. The real questions should be, what are our values in life, what do we want and how does this relate to the ways we spend our precious time in a day? We should be busy with the things that ultimately bring us joy and revitalise us, not the things that drag us down and exhaust us.
The truth is, I am also guilty of this, of living unconsciously and putting things off until ‘tomorrow’. We are only human, right? RIGHT! But there’ a huge problem with neglecting our mental and physical health by putting it off or never focusing on it at all. When we practice being mindful and focus our attention in the present moment our mind and our bodies naturally guide us. Telling us either to take a break (meditation, days off, rest) or to take action. When we are aligned with our greatest purpose we tend to know exactly what needs to get done and, thus, we evolve positively and grow with unwavering focus and determination. All humans are capable of this. Life can be FUN!
Now that I have laid out my personal thoughts on what it means to live it is important to explain to you how this relates to all of our passions: The Horse. As many of you know, the horse is a creature that thrives off energy and is most confident and comfortable when there is a balance at play…
“The experience of living with human beings has given domesticated horses even more sophisticated skills. I’ve seen even the gentlest gelding become noticeably agitated when his handler wears a mask of confidence to hide anxiety. It’s as if this person appears out of focus to equine awareness. The body language of someone ‘putting on a happy face’ is incongruent with the rise in blood pressure, muscle tension, and emotional intensity transmitted unconsciously by an individual who’s actually afraid, frustrated, or angry. This person may be more of a danger to herself than others, but a skittish horse isn’t likely to wait around and find out. Mainstream trainers explain this phenomenon by saying ‘the horse can smell your fear’. But it’s subtler and more complicated than that. A secure, well-cared for animal will often relax the moment his owner simply acknowledges a hidden feeling – even if it’s still there. Let me say it again: The emotion doesn’t have to change in order for the horse to show at least some improvement. The handler just has to make it conscious. When the mask is removed, an animal that was agitated seconds before will sigh, lick his lips, or show some other signs of release. No matter how good you are at hiding things from yourself and others, your nervous system will involuntarily broadcast what you’re feeling – at a frequency horses are especially good at tuning in to” (Linda Kohanov, Riding Between Two Worlds, pg 150).
Therefore, it becomes clear (via what Linda Kohanov is saying amongst many others) that a horse is able to read our body language and psyche. It is unfair to live anywhere but the present moment when dealing with the equine species. While it is tough to truly ‘show-up’ every time you head to the stable, it will not only benefit you greatly, it will also benefit your horse and, thus, increase your connectivity. A horse can help heal our mental health in a variety of ways and, more specifically, and for the sake of this discussion, will always act as a reminder to check our ego and chaotic minds at the gate. In a way, they become our spiritual guides.
To conclude, we are so blessed to be a part of a sport and practice that not only fills us with joy and passion but that also aligns so seamlessly with positive and mental physical health. As humans we always have a choice to fill our days with things that fill us up in positive ways or with things that drag us down. Even our toughest times can be a chance to grow and learn. As equestrians, we should seek to always live in this manner. Our energy will either have a good or bad impact on our horses and even if we hide negative energy, our horses know. This reality is a blessing in disguise. The more we choose to show up in life the more our connection with the horse will grow. This blessing, taught by horses, trickles down in to everything we do. By listening to ourselves and listening to our horses we can start to have fun in life and truly embrace each moment for the beauty that it is.
The mind is a tricky thing and it can easily be both our best friends or our worst enemies. Horses can act as a reminder to make it our best friend. I follow a blog and podcast known as the ‘Daily Zen’ and more often than not I am engrossed in his material and it has become a great guide for me in my own life. Recently he wrote something about learning how to ‘adopt a beginners mindset’ as a way to approach how we live on a daily basis. To approach life with a ‘beginners mind’ is to be open and be curious. Instead of stroking the ego we start to remember what it is that we do not know. We can find joy in simply doing and being. I challenge you to employ a beginners mind when you see your horse next. Be open, curious, honest, remove any masks and just be you. Your horse will be your greatest guide.