Every barn has a list of rules which protect the safety of horses, riders, and guests on the property. Many of these dictations seem like common sense to horse people, but non-equestrians often find them surprising. Nevertheless, they improve the environment and experience of all participants when followed correctly.
I reflected on this concept for some time, as I think a lot of our “common sense” has been lost in the hustle of survival. When we are not aware of our behavior and its impact on the world around us, we lose the chance to enrich our experience through presence and purpose. Many horses with whom I connect share a displeasure or mild frustration with their human counterparts about the stress and worry they bring to the barn. It’s not that the horse is upset to be around an unhappy person (though, who would want to?), but rather that when their human friend is stuck in mental pre-occupation, they are not present to the relationship. The feeling I get is similar to when you’re chatting with someone and they zone out in their phone or check e-mail. Yes, they’re there, they’re sort of holding a conversation with you, but they’re not invested in your time together. Horses see our stress and have so much compassion for our challenges, but they cannot help us return to our hearts when we stay disconnected from them mentally. Some also feel a bit miffed, as though they are not important enough to warrant our attention. These types will find creative ways that we don’t enjoy to bring our focus back to them, just as a child might engage in destructive behavior just to get attention from his parents.
I speak with many clients about this topic, and most do not realize the impact this behavior has on their horse, or that they are inadvertently sabotaging their relationships by bringing their work/stress-brain to the barn. Once I offer the horse’s perspective, they understand immediately and can’t believe they didn’t realize it before. Common sense, and all. I am certainly not immune to this vice! A young, talented import with a very high opinion of himself actually pooped on my head when I was idly cleaning his hind leg and my mind wandered elsewhere. He thought it was quite funny and it proved his point succinctly, though my hair and sunglasses disagreed with the method.
That’s not to say that if you have these moments, you’re a terrible person or horse owner. After all, many people seek time at the barn as a refuge from their stress, and use this space as a way to stay grounded. What we can instead do is hold an intention to be as present as we can be on this day, and focus on building awareness of our horse. What is his physical condition? What is her body language saying? What mood is he in? What am I feeling from her? Being present, through your attention and mental focus as well as the grounding physical acts of touch and feel, is a valuable gift for your horse and yourself. It is the courtesy we give to living beings that tells them that they matter in the world.
Consequently, I have prepared my own list of Barn Rules to help improve all of our equine relationships and experiences.
- Be present. Leave everything else outside the door.
- Relax. There’s plenty of time for everything.
- Stop and smell the horses.
- Keep everything clean and sparkly, including your attitude.
- In moments of difficulty, find something to appreciate.
- If you aren’t having fun, do it differently.
- Your horse is your reflection. Look in the mirror.
- Choose kindness, especially for yourself.
Remember, riding is the union of focus and connection with the horse. Your focus determines your connection. Put your attention where you want to be, not on where you are right now.