How many times have you heard the phrase, “Just live in the moment”? It seems so easy, right? Just temporarily place your mind on autopilot, yet the thoughts continue, and your mind rambles from what you need to pick up at the store to the last remnants of holiday shopping you forgot.
The truth is, unless you live in a tent and practice enormous amounts of yoga, you, like most people, probably struggle with being fully present. So just how do we learn to live in the moment in today’s ever more distracted world? Is it possible that the same animals that spend the majority of their time blissfully grazing in the sun, can teach us something about living in the moment?
As it turns out, there are actually many things horses can teach us about being fully present — and in a much more understandable way. For most people, being told to just “clear their mind” is a bit like telling a person to “just speak Greek.” It isn’t that simple.
When you’ve been used to operating at a very high speed, your brain actually adjusts to this pace. Treating this rapid fire style as if it were normal, your brain produces higher levels of epinephrine, and nor-epinephrine, which give you the “keyed up” feeling. Then, when you try to slow down, your brain is still producing too much of these stimulating neurochemicals, and you can’t seem to stop the racing thoughts. Your muscles probably feel tight, your breathing shallow, and your pulse elevated. Now try to just slow that down.
But interestingly, when you are around a horse, something happens. As you engage with the horse, either grooming or working with him, naturally your focus shifts to the animal. In trying to decipher the hoofed animal’s actions so as to know how to behave yourself, your focus shifts. This happens because it has to.
Thinking about your grocery list while attempting to lead a horse not only isn’t safe, it isn’t effective. Because with horses, the minute your focus shifts to something else, so does their’s, and all of the sudden, the rather large animal you are trying to lead around isn’t listening anymore. So, amazingly, without any words being spoken, even the novice horse-person learns to stay in the moment.
Beyond staying in the moment, however, horses are an amazing physiological barometer. The moment a person’s heart rate starts to rise, the horse — acutely aware of any perceived threats in his environment — registers a response. This happens because, to the horse, a rising heart rate could mean danger — even if the rising heart rate has nothing to do with the horse. And an alarmed horse is a scary thing. So people quickly learn that the only way to keep the horse calm, is to keep themselves calm — on a physiological level. Amazingly, what this usually means is being fully present in the moment with the horse, and through his responses, also uniquely tuned in what is happening within themselves.
It is also at this point that people feel most connected not only to the horse, but to themselves as well.