Originally published in the June 2011 issue of From the Horse’s Mouth
You rush into the barn after a killer day at work, after being caught in traffic or missing your train or having to listen to loud-talkers on their cell phones when all you wanted to do was try to relax. You don’t have much time to ride now, darn it, so you dash around the barn at top speed, throwing on your riding clothes, silently cursing the fellow boarder who stops to tell you a (not very interesting) story about her or his horse or dog or child. Ordinarily, you would love to stop and chat, but not today. You smile weakly, nod in fake agreement, silently counting the minutes of riding that you are missing, computing how long it will take you to get back home so you can shower, eat something, pay some bills, and get ready for tomorrow, to start all over again.
Or maybe your horses live on your property, which means you won’t have to drive home after you ride, but you will have to feed and muck and fill the water tank and sweep the aisle, and what is that, a loose fence board?
Maybe neither of these scenarios rings true. But you get the idea: Sometimes when you go to ride, you’re stressed.
Horses being horses, the more hurried you are, the slower they move. And the more stressed you are, the less cooperative they are. They’re trying to tell us something, but too often we’re just not listening.
Because a stressed ride is rarely an enjoyable ride, it’s a good idea to calm yourself before attempting to communicate with your horse. You could take your horse for a short, relaxing walk in hand before mounting up; if you have been trained in Reiki, you could do self-Reiki for a few minutes, and then share a few minutes of Reiki with your horse; if you practice meditation, you could calm and center yourself with a few minutes of meditation.
What all of these approaches have in common is that you are slowing your breath, letting go of distractions, and refocusing your attention on your equine companion, on the calm, the peace, the fullness of heart that just being together can bring.
If you don’t already have an approach for finding this calm center, I would like to teach you a very simple and effective one: Breathing with your horse.
Softening Your Hands
The first step is to soften your hands. To do this, pretend you are gently pulling taffy. Start with the fingertips of your left hand touching the fingertips of your right hand. Then gently pull your hands apart. Repeat this slow, gentle motion until your hands, wrists, and arms are relaxed. Four or five repetitions will probably be enough.
Remember to breathe as you do this. Humans often hold their breath when they are learning something new or concentrating too intently. Let your mind go; relax. Pull the taffy, gently, slowly.
Placing Your Hands on Your Horse
Remember that whenever you touch your horse (or dog or cat or child or spouse—any other being), you are joining your nervous systems. This is why touch from an agitated person can be so unnerving and why touch from a calm, centered person can be so soothing. As you know, horses are extremely sensitive to touch, so you want to make sure you are sharing calm, nourishing touch.
Once your hands are soft, place them on your horse’s body. You can place them wherever you like: The ribcage area is probably easiest, but you can also place your hands on your horse’s back or neck or chest or girth area (or one hand on one area, one hand on another). Just be sure you are in a comfortable position.
Make sure your hands are actually on your horse, not just resting on her hair, which can tickle and annoy her. And be sure your hands are not gripping your horse. You want soft, firm, calming hands.
Your horse may move away from your touch, especially if he is trained to move away from pressure, which can be frustrating when you are trying something new. But be patient. Once your horse understands what you are doing, which may not happen the first time you try this, he will both enjoy and appreciate it.
Breathing with Your Horse
You’ve softened your hands and placed them on your horse; now all that’s left to do is breathe. Yes, I know you’ve been breathing all along! But now you will slow and deepen your breath.
Try breathing from your abdomen. As you inhale (yes inhale), let your abdomen fill with air like a rubber ball; as you exhale, allow your abdomen to flatten. Find a comfortable, slow rhythm. Keep your hands soft; breathe.
You may be able to synchronize your breath with your horse’s breath (although this can be easier with a dog, where you can feel the rising and falling of the creature’s chest and sides). But whether or not you can feel your horse’s breath, your horse will be able to feel yours.
If you keep your hands soft and breathe deeply and slowly, you will find that the anxiety of the day will evaporate; within minutes, you and your horse will be one.
Your horse will be grateful for your calm and loving presence. And you will be in a better frame of mind to enjoy your ride.