A session on the farm today transformed into an impromptu mindfulness session when we discovered the herd laying for an afternoon interlude in their paddocks. Not wanting to disturb their naps, we met our horse where he was today--utterly relaxed with his hooves tucked under him, eyes gently closed and trusting of his environment. We sat together in a circle with the snoozing horse and guided the client through a meditation, grounded in the natural, bucolic environment.
Research continues to expand on the many benefits of engaging in a meditation practice (ie. increased empathy; decreased anxiety and depression; improved learning and memory) but, let’s be honest, it’s challenging to actually begin and even harder to sustain. For those bonded with horses, we’ve developed a few equine-specific approaches to help you explore mindfulness.
Here are three equine techniques (no pony required!) to try as you delve into your next mindfulness practice, whether it’s taking a few minutes to focus on your breath or using a guided meditation on an app (Insight Timer, Calm, or Headspace).
Thoughts will inevitably come as you try to be mindfully present and still. A key component to mindfulness is to avoid passing judgements on your thoughts as they come. As your thoughts emerge, transform them into a herd of horses galloping across your mind. Visualize the herd of thoughts entering from one side your mind and thundering across to exit on the other side. Notice the horses pass without judgment and refocus on your breath.
One mindfulness researcher suggests, “Naming it to tame it.” This means that when you have a recurring, unhelpful thought and associated emotion arriving during your mindfulness sessions, label it. For example, if your thought is, “I need to get an A in all my classes,” label it as, “that’s the perfectionist story” or “here comes anxiety.” By naming it, you no longer allow yourself to be controlled by the emotion tied to the thought. Now, the equine approach to help support this is to assign a specific horse in your mind to a certain emotion when in a mindfulness session. So, when you anxiously think about an upcoming job interview, allow that thought to become the image of Muscateer, the bay Arabian that is always worried about new situations. By labelling the thoughts and feelings as specific horses, “Hey there, Muscateer!” you are also labelling those thoughts kindly since your empathy and compassion are likely far greater for your equine friends than yourself. Allow yourself to personalize these labels to horses within your own experience or archetypes of specific breeds.
Quiet the mind during mindfulness sessions with grounding sensory imagery, returning to a moment on the farm when you were fully present. To achieve this, conjure the blending of shades you saw in the horse’s coat; then, recall the sensation you felt as your fingers grazed through the silky mane and onto the soft body; next, engage your memory of the sounds of hooves rhythmically clip-clopping across the ground at the trot; then, remember the smell of the horse fill your nose as you nestled into his neck. With your mind and body integrated by re-experiencing the sensory elements you noticed on the farm, you may resume breathwork to bring your awareness to now and progress in your mindfulness session.
Feel free to apply these equine approaches individually or combine them to strengthen your mindfulness practice. We also encourage you to assimilate them into methods you have already found successful. In the comments, we welcome you to share how these approaches worked with your practice and any other tools you use already!