Equestrians spend a lot of time balancing jobs, family, school, and horses. Often our minds are frazzled, in a hundred different places at once, or constantly interacting with barn friends. While this is normal for most of us, it doesn’t allow us to be fully NOW and IN THE MOMENT with our horses. Relaxation and being in the present moment allows you to fully appreciate that moment, and only that moment. The past is gone and the future doesn’t exist. And yes, your horse knows all about the present moment. He also knows when you are not there.
There’s quite a bit of scientific evidence that proves horses can not smell fear. There’s also quite a bit of scientific evidence that proves they can (and will) respond to your heart beat. When you are in a hurry, have a lot on your plate, thinking about your grocery list and your to-do list, your heart rate is elevated. Perhaps traffic was horrible. Perhaps it’s raining and you despise the rain. Your horse will know. His heart rate and state of alertness will increase. (Do you see where I’m going with this? Imaginary spooky monster around every turn?) While you can’t literally control your heart rate, you can control your breathing, which in turn, relaxes your heart rate. Bonus of relaxation and breathing exercises – you will become more focused, more centered, more now. BAM.
Here are a few relaxation and breathing exercises for you to do before you groom and climb aboard your horse. It’s best if you find a quiet spot to sit, but standing or laying down is fine, too. Try and remove as many distractions as possible. A few options:
-Close your eyes and start to notice your breath. Do this for a few moments, paying attention to it but not changing it. Then start to lengthen the inhales and the exhales. See if you can slowly count to four or five on the inhale, then four or five on the exhale. If you like this trick, add in moments of stillness. Count to five on the inhale, hold for two, exhale for five, hold for two. Inhale for five, hold for two, exhale for five, hold for two. Lather, rinse and repeat as necessary.
-Close your eyes and begin the old counting backwards trick. Start at 30 on an exhale. Inhale 29. Exhale 28. Inhale 27. Exhale 26. Carry on. If you lose count, start again. Begin to notice only the counting and your breath.
-Work on a three part breath, again with eyes closed. When you inhale, bring air into your belly. Then inhale a bit more into your chest. Then inhale a bit more into your head. Smoothly exhale from your head. Then exhale from your chest. Then exhale from your belly. Repeat again and again until you feel great! And yes, you can’t literally breath into your belly or head, but send your breath’s energy there.
If you are in the cross ties or actually riding, you can still do these relaxation exercises. Just skip the closed eye part. As you massage and Posture Prep groom your horse, add in some breathing. It even helps to make loud breathing noises. Notice the stress and elevated heart rate melt away. Some nervous horses like the breathing exercises that involve a count (skip holding your breath for two steps when around or on a horse). Counting out loud in a relaxing voice can reassure your horse.
As with any exercise program – be smart. Practice these relaxation techniques away from horses until you are comfortable with them. They don’t’ guarantee a spook free horse, they are simply a way for you to connect to your horse by letting go of the rest of your day and only focusing on your breath. In doing so, you come to the present moment, where your horse is waiting for you.
About the Author: Liv Gude was a Professional Groom, starting her grooming career with Olympian Guenter Seidel. After years of grooming, Liv saw the need to bring professional Grooms and horse owners together in a supportive and educational manner. In 2011 she founded proequinegrooms.com, an online resource that provides information about grooming, employment, and horse care. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biomedical Science from Texas A&M University, and spends her days at the barn riding her Grand Prix horse and writing for her website as well as for national magazines.