For most horse people, the only place your brain turns off is at the barn. You become so absorbed in every little detail as you connect with your horse (How is he walking? Do I feel heat? How is his attitude? Is that a cut?) that there is little other room for worry, anger, sadness or stress to zap most of your attention, as so often happens when you go through daily life.
Our role, when we are with them, is to become so finely attuned to what is going on in the here and now that everything else pauses. The stress of your job, parents, children or significant other, of your bills … they all just stop. What a gift the ability to turn off a mile-a-minute brain is.
With horses, it’s a huge disservice to them and to yourself to be on your phone, answering calls, texts or emails. You don’t pay money to board or lesson to only get 50 percent out of it.
Simply put: Don’t. Turn off (or at least turn down) your ringer. Realize that the world won’t end if you take 90 minutes for yourself—if anything, you’ll be better able to help those around you if you’ve had the ability to care for yourself.
At least once in every interaction you have with a horse, you should pause to realize this: We are the lucky ones, to be surrounded by these amazing animals. Don’t lose sight of what a gift that is by spoiling your time to decompress and connect with another living being by being only halfway present.
The Best Teacher
I put my old horse down on June 29, 2015. I knew from Feb. 10 of that year that time was short—I just wasn’t sure how short. I loved him beyond reason, but knew that keeping him here with me would be selfish.
In the last months of his life, we did a role reversal. Instead of me teaching him, I let him teach me everything he knew about being an animal that lived only in the present. In that too-brief time, he taught me more about life, love and living than I had learned in my entire 34 years on this earth prior to losing him.
I had always admired his sweet red face when I called him to the gate. Now I notice how the trees in his field change color with the light and the seasons.
I listened for the clinking of the tags on his blanket when he walked toward me in the winter. Now I turn up my face to the sky to see how brightly the stars shine while waiting for my other horse to come snuffle for treats.
I laughed until my sides ached watching him run into the water like a little kid on the first hot day of summer. Now I always look at the pond to see how beautifully the light reflects off the water.
My heart took pictures at each of these small-yet-important moments, and so many more, replaying them through my mind when I missed him so much it felt my heart would truly break.
I took a page from his book and began to savor small treasures even more deeply. The taste of a cup of coffee in the morning. The smell of my favorite perfume. The way the stars reflect off freshly fallen snow.
I mention each of these if I am with someone, wanting to share in something so small, but so significant in the cultivation of awareness and gratitude.
Mindfulness is a not a knee-jerk reaction; it’s a cultivated response to the world around you. Don’t wait. Learn what your horse has been telling you since you learned to love him: Be here, now.
We truly are the lucky ones.
Based in Lexington, Ky., SARAH E. COLEMAN has a soft spot for chestnuts with chrome, including her off-track Thoroughbred, Chisholm.
This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!