Mindfulness with Horses
Feb 27, 2015 12:34AM
Horses and people evolved together over millennia. Though commercial uses largely overwhelm this ancient friendship, horse whispering is the subject of such films as Buck and related practices are taught across North America. At Nobodaddy Farm, two hours north of Washington, D.C. in Palmyra, Pennsylvania, a band of rescued and whispered-to-health horses regularly tutors human beings in compassionate power and inclusive community.
Twelve adults stand in the soft dirt of a horse ring, listening to horsewoman Beth McCann and master coach Melissa McNair describe the day’s first exercise. The group’s task is to pen a small, good-natured pony named Flirt, without words, tools or holding hands. They decide to face inward and make a circle with their arms outstretched to touch fingertips, leaving one pair of hands open for a gate.
Led gently on a rope, the golden-coated Flirt approaches in silence, head lowered and blond mane bobbing. The rope is unhooked and she ambles to the circle’s center. Human arms swing shut and fingers touch, enclosing her in the pen. Instantly Flirt raises her head, pricks her ears, turns around and trots briskly past two women, straight out of the pen.
The group debriefs and agrees they need a better plan. “I knew she would pick me, I’m afraid of horses,” says one of the women. When the other states the task was impossible, someone wonders aloud if the pony sensed the doubts and chose them to break through. Another participant proposes the group retry the same formation but with everyone sending energy around through their fingertips to strengthen the penning effect.
Silent again, the group circles and concentrates. Flirt enters with a perkier step. The human gate closes. The pony lifts her head, pricks her ears and stands still for a long moment. Then she drops her head, lowers her eyelids and relaxes as if to nap. She is penned. The group is stunned.
In response, McCann tells how humans and horses evolved as prey animals and explains the significant similarities we possess. Our safety and well-being depend on that of the group or herd. Every time we come together, our sense perceptions and communications measure the condition of the others’ health and strength and assign corresponding roles to everyone. We need to feel safe. Flirt sensed the energetic difference in the second circle.
The group learns more from inside a fenced area in the middle of an indoor show ring. One by one, a dozen loose horses enter the open space. They run, buck, snort and neigh until a palpable peace settles over them. In five or 10 minutes, the horses determine each one’s state of being, reach agreement on roles in the group, and establish safety for the herd.
These basic behaviors have numerous parallels in the human family and workplace, which McNair helps the group discern and apply to individual concerns. Yet for animal and nature lovers, an even more profound terrain of being emerges when learning with horses.
These large animals seem imposing but are sensitive and relational, similar to people. When we embody mindful awareness, feeling the earth and our breath, our minds can quiet enough for us to gaze upon horses and sense their respectful awareness in return, conveyed through their own embodiment of being. Experiencing shared aliveness, across species, in the present moment, can ignite an unquenchable joy.
Whether you have a pet at home, love to hike or sit in the garden, learning inner stillness and trust can help you become aware of a peaceful power wordlessly connecting you with other creatures. Practice this by simply meditating with a pet, gently returning yourself and the pet to stillness while you sit or lie down. See if you can rest in the awareness of being one together. Let it surprise you. Enjoy the bliss.
For information about Nobodaddy Farm programs, go to TeamHorseSense.com.
Grace Ogden teaches mindfulness for the GW Center for Integrative Medicine and is the founder of Grace Productions, which offers transformational consulting and Living Sacred events. GraceProductions.co.