Lacking awareness while handling and riding our horses means missing their subtle cues and conversations. Mindfulness is good for growing the bond you have with your horse, as well as tackling confidence issues. It’s about appreciating your surroundings, noticing people, sights, smells and sounds, and controlling your internal dialogue.
Equestrian performance coach Lisa Eklund shares five techniques to help you achieve mindful riding:
1. Just breathe
Focusing on your breathing is the bedrock of mindfulness. It helps you to focus on the present and tackle wayward thoughts.
“Start as soon as you get to the yard,” says Lisa. “Take a moment before you leave the car to take a few deep breaths, focusing on the out breath, and make a mental note to stay in the here and now.”
You can continue this as you groom your horse or muck out around him to stop your mind from wandering to more stressful things.
“When you mount up, relax, lengthen your reins and breathe, and repeat this as you move off. You’ll find your horse starts the session in a more relaxed attitude too. Next, choose a couple of markers in the school and, every time you get there, halt and inhale and exhale deeply.”
2. Be in the moment
Connect physically , emotionally and mentally to each moment and, if other thoughts pop into your head, acknowledge them and then let them drift past.
“At the yard, recognise the details around you and your horse,” says Lisa. “Groom him, enjoying the touch, sight, smell and sounds, and recognise how he seems – are there any changes physically? What is his state of mind?”
3. Use your head
“When something isn’t working, a mindful rider uses thoughtful assessment to decide what needs changing without laying blame at them or their horse’s door,” explains Lisa. “Failures and mistakes become opportunities to grow and learn. So be open minded and free of judgement.”
Practise positive thinking: don’t ask what went wrong, but what went right.
“Many riding sessions are full of positives, but riders focus on the one thing that isn’t,” adds Lisa.
4. Choose to be happy
“This doesn’t mean you’ll walk through life blinkered, not seeing the bad things,” says Lisa. “But it does mean that you’ll choose to walk up each morning with a positive outlook, no matter what lies ahead. Make a mindful decision to handle everything with grace and dignity while experiencing all emotions.”
Happy people bring meaning to their riding with a clear vision of what they want. They understand there will be ups and downs and stay open to the lessons in front of them.
5. Get creative
Not all mindfulness involves your horse. Take up a hobby that focuses your mind and requires concentration.
“Choose one that takes you to a quiet place,” says Lisa. “Knitting, embroidery, gardening or cooking are ideal – they’re complicated enough to make you focus and analyse what you’re doing. Let your mind wander and you’ll lose your place.”
This is what training yourself to be mindful looks like.
Meet the expert: Lisa Eklund is an equestrian performance coach who’s based in New York, USA. She uses mindfulness with her pupils to tackle a wide range of issues.