Monday, March 23, 2009

Stress Reduction for Better Horsemanship

“Have you seen my glasses? I can’t figure out where I put them.”

I’d love to tell you that in our household, this is Best Husband in the World talking. But no. It’s my bad. It’s my mantra. It’s a way of life.

And I’m sick of it.

So I recently started meditating.

I’m not the only one. From your local heart specialist to national talk show hosts, to aging super models, all the way up to respected and renowned religious leaders from all variety of worship, there’s a general buzz out there—meditation, it is said, can help you focus and de-stress.

Given that stress is one of the primary contributors to heart disease (the #1 killer of women in the US), this must be good news.

My meditating hero, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, advises that you shouldn’t tell people you meditate until you have at least 10 years under your belt. After that, you should still give it another ten years before you start blabbing about it, and even then, it's best to keep it to yourself. Yet, as I am wont to do, I’m going to disobey.

I’ve been meditating for about five years. In the last year, I started utilizing Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness meditation.

Kabat-Zinn first introduced Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Since the success of that first program, he has implemented MBSR programs into hospitals across the nation, and, in fact, throughout the world. He has helped thousands of people cope with heart disease and other life-threatening health problems.
(For an MSBR program in your area, click here.)

Regardless of your religious persuasions, I can vouch for Kabat-Zinn’s programs: meditation is an excellent way to help you get in touch with your heart—and ultimately, your higher power.

To learn, I first purchased an audio version of Kabat-Zinn’s “Mindfulness for Beginners” at From there, I progressed to more intensive programs. Thanks to Best Husband in the World, who gets up to feed the horses and clean stalls, I have the luxury to spend at least 45 minutes to an hour each morning in mindfulness meditation.

What has it done for me? Without any effort at all, I’ve started eating less and exercising more. I’m more careful about what pops out of my mouth. I’m kinder.

And I’ve become a better horse trainer, rider, and teacher.

One of our most recent additions is Sammi, a 5-year-old Standardbred mare who has required a slower training program than any other STB we have worked with so far.

Her former owner, Stephen Chambers, believes that Sammi, who raced under the name “Joanne’s Fancy,” was kicked in the head fairly severely when a tot. Given her what I call her fragile sensibilities, I believe him.

She has none of Kiwi’s rock solid confidence. She has little of Stormy’s wise appraisal of new tasks or situations. Nor does she have a speck of Cordealia’s bravura.

With Sammi, everything must be taught with an extremely quiet, unfailing focused, and persistently patient attitude.

If one of my close friends, dare I say Best Husband in the World, were asked to describe me, I don’t imagine the words “quiet,” “focused,” “focused,” or “patient” would come up.

At least until now. I made the connection between mindfulness meditation and my horse training a few weeks ago when I was working with Sammi. I’d been in the round pen with her for about an hour when I suddenly realized time had flown by without my even noticing it. I was deep into each and every moment—and loving it!

I was working quietly. I was working with great care and patience. And I was utterly focused. I wasn’t thinking about grocery shopping. Or the fact that I had to get the house ready for my mother’s impending visit. Or that I had a deadline for an article for a national magazine looming. I was completely present.

As a result, Sammi responded to everything with interest, ease, and elegance.

The true payoff came yesterday, when Best Husband and I took a ride with two friends. The rain was coming down, but we couldn’t help ourselves; the lush green hills were calling. I wondered how Sammi would do with new horses and intemperate weather.

She performed with aplomb. She quickly accepted Best Husband as her leader. She strided out for him with new confidence. Things didn’t seem to baffle her as much.

Craig and Sammi in the rain at Cronan Ranch

I most assuredly attribute her happy nature on the trail to Best Husband’s skill in the saddle. But I would be remiss if I did not also give a nod to Jon Kabat-Zinn. His soothing, humorous, non-judgmental approach to mindfulness helped me make a timid horse just a bit braver.

And I almost never lose my glasses anymore.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post, Annie! I haven't really been meditating, but I've tried it here and there and it's pretty relaxing. I also love Sammi's name. When I first read this post, I thought she was a new horse. When you got further into describing her, I realized you gave her a new name, and I think it is absolutely adorable! I'm glad she's been improving.

    This is kind of off topic, but do you think we could go for a ride soon? I'm on spring break starting 2:04pm on Friday, and I'd love to get out there and get back in the saddle. It's calling me! Plus, we all miss you and the others out at the Bunkhouse.

    E-mail me!