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Mindfulness and Horseback Riding

by Anastasia Strgar

I’ve been riding horses since I was 8-years-old. Through my tumultuous adolescence, my horse Pegasus stayed by my side, amidst failed friendships, breakups and general teenage angst. Horseback riding became a sort of meditation for me; I could just be myself, and learning how to ride dressage taught me a lot about being confident, expecting the unexpected and facing each situation with grace and courage.

Recently, I’ve taken the stance of learning to be mindful to my own thoughts- to face them with grace, courage and the intention to destroy old destructive patterns through increased patterns. I am on the learning curve, so it is not always easy, but through cultivating new strategies, I am finding I am more aware. Interestingly, it wasn’t until I was teaching horseback riding last week that I realized how inextricably linked working with horses is to working with my own mindfulness practice.

I’ve just started working with kids who come from broken homes. They are in desperate need of love and are at the prime point in their lives to learn about how to move through the world with grace, love, compassion and courage. The three kids I was working with that day were all riding horses that were challenging for them. Some weren’t listening, some were going too fast and others weren’t going anywhere. It was through observation that I realized I could apply what I’ve learned horseback riding to my new mindfulness practice.

Like the survival mind, horses are creatures of fight or flight. Generally afraid, they’re constantly on the lookout for potential threats. They’re also incredibly sensitive to the energy and stimuli happening around them. Therefore, when working with a horse, a human must be mindful of the horse’s base nature, while also balancing the knowledge that with the right work a horse can be the most powerful and loyal ally. But first, the human himself must be calm, confident in his skill and grounded within themselves.

However, these skills take time to develop but luckily, a kindly horse can gracefully teaching us these skills because of how present and sensitive they are to everything around them.  They can sense if the rider is confident or afraid. If the rider is confident,  then they will strive to be brave as well. However, if the rider is afraid, they will act that out- sometimes in dangerous ways– just as the mind can.

Ultimately, learning how to work with a horse and with one’s own mind is simple. Both things must be done from a place of pure presence. Although these tasks can feel daunting, one must approach these two very similar types of work with confidence and courage.  This does not mean one cannot feel afraid, but it means that you actively work through your fear to figure out what, in you, is causing the fear.  These two types of work also require cultivating strategies that get results. This means that a certain amount of exploration and experimentation is involved- after all, some strategies work for best for some but not for others. However, once you figure out what works for you (or your horse) STICK WITH IT. Don’t take the easy way out and start slacking on the strategies that have given results, for that can lead to a re-learning of bad habits.

Finally remember that these types of work are continual processes. You never finish training a horse. A good rider recognizes that he is a continual student and that each horse he rides has something to teach him. Similarly, someone who is so present and conscious realizes (and is not afraid of) Life, for they realize that lessons can always be learned. Keep in mind that some days (and some rides) are easier than others. Ultimately, you learn to surrender and receive one day at a time.

Anastasia Strgar, a recent graduate from the University of Oregon with a B.A  in journalism, has been writing about love and relationships for several years. She has written short stories and romance novels, penned the love and sex column  in the  school newspaper and wrote several blogs. As the eldest of founder Wendy Strgar’s four children, she has been inspired by watching her parents’ marriage and strives to put those lessons to use in her own relationship. She believes that teaching her peers early on about how to maintain healthy relationships  is essential to creating a future generation of loving partnerships. She currently works as the Director of Public Relations and Magazine Editor at Good Clean Love.