Equine-guided meditation is a mindfulness meditation method.
But what exactly is Mindfulness Meditation?
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction method, mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment. Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations and surroundings.
Why would anyone want to train their brain to do this?
- to reduce stress and so increase health. A study found that, after just eight weeks of training, practising mindfulness meditation boosts our immune system’s ability to fight off illness. (see references)
- to increase productivity and creativity
- to enhance relationships. Research suggests mindfulness training makes couples feel more optimistic, more accepting of and closer to one another.
- to process emotions more effectively and increase emotional stability
- to improve their ability to concentrate, so that they can learn faster. Research has found that it increases the density of grey matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.
- to reduce vulnerability to pain
- to improve the quality of sleep
- to improve their memory
- to slow down the ageing process.
Unique Method of Mindfulness Meditation
What is Equine-guided Meditation and what happens during an equine-guided meditation session?
Equine-guided Meditation is a meditation method that is practised in the presence of one or more horses. Initially, when I started sharing this practice with our workshop participants, I decided to call it equine-facilitated meditation. My intention was that it would be a focused form of meditation, the horse serving as the focus point, instead of a candle, for example. I thought that the horse or horses would facilitate meditation in a passive way. I did not intend that the horse or horses would take an active role as in actually guiding the meditation.
To help our workshop participants reach that state of thoughtless awareness when the mind is calm, yet completely alert that I understand meditation to be, I usually start an equine-guided meditation session by directing them to a peaceful spot somewhere near the horses where we could all sit down in a circle. I begin by asking them to concentrate on their breathing. At first, we breathe normally, gradually letting our breathing slow down until it is regular, smooth and slow. If this seems hard at first, I suggest they counting their breaths. This simple technique involves counting 1 in your mind, as you breathe in. As you breathe out, count 1. Breathe in, count 2. Breathe out, count 2. Continue through to 10, then count backwards to 1 again. The counting connects your mind to your breath. If you lose count, simply return to 1 and keep at it.
I then ask them to focus their attention on one of our horses. I encourage them to engage all their senses and even imagine that they are in fact a horse, that they can see, hear, smell, feel and even taste what a horse sees, hears, smells, feels and tastes. I suggest that they imagine how it would feel to have four legs, four hooves and a tail. I ask them to imagine moving like a horse: walking, trotting, cantering, rolling and rearing.
As they imagine that they are seeing the world through a horse’s eyes, physically, mentally and sometimes metaphorically, I encourage them to look at their individual problems as a horse would look at a problem, as a member of a herd, interdependently and individually. Sometimes, when I personally reach out to the horses, they respond in kind, offering me solutions to problems from their perspective.
I soon added mindfulness to the meditation. I explained to participants, that if any distracting thoughts should interfere, they should notice these in a non-judgemental way and then allow the thoughts to fade away again. Guests are often surprised to find that when they are sitting in the paddock with the horses, it is much easier to quieten their minds and enter the meditative state, than it is at home. Especially if they do not have much experience of meditation. Horses’ ability to be at once fully present in their bodies, in their environment as well as in the moment, facilitates mindful meditation by giving us a perfect example to follow and to focus on. Our workshop participants found the sessions very useful and continued to practice equine-facilitated meditation at home, by imagining that they were still in the paddock with the horses or by watching a Youtube video made for this purpose.
So it worked quite well, until the day I decided to add a loving-kindness meditation at the end of the session. That day, everything changed. We were a small group, not more than six. We were sitting in a circle in the paddock closest to the lake. Belle, Bass, Aurore and Tess were with us in the paddock, grazing peacefully nearby. I lead the loving-kindness meditation, starting with the focus on each individual. I then moved the focus to a loved one. I then moved the focus to the horses. I asked the participants to send waves of loving-kindness to Belle, our boss mare. Before I had voiced the second sentence, Belle had walked over to us and was standing just outside the circle. She had never approached a circle before. It was intimidating because we were sitting flat on the ground and Belle is enormous: 1m65 at the withers. As I started the third sentence, she came over to me and made it quite clear that she intended entering the circle. I moved slightly to the side, out of the way of those dinner-plate-sized hooves. Unperturbed, she took her place at the centre of the circle. We all sat there staring at her with our eyes wide, not sure what was going to happen next. As I moved on the next phrase, Belle went into equine relaxation mode. She started licking and chewing. She sighed, slowed and deepened her breathing, yawned and lowered her head. She stood like this for a few moments. As I continued with the loving-kindness meditation, moving the focus to the community, the country and eventually the world, Belle did the rounds. She went up to each person in turn. Sometimes she just stood close, sometimes she breathed on someone’s hair, sometimes she rested her head for a moment on theirs. We were so engrossed in what was happening, that we had not noticed that the other three horses had approached too, and were now standing just behind us; Aurore and Tess together, and Bass slightly further along the circle. When she had ministered to everyone, Belle left the circle and walked off, the other three following in her wake.
The group was so high after that experience that it took them three days before they came back down to earth. It was clear that something had happened to each of them individually. I asked each one in turn, what the experience meant to her. The answers varied but they all mentioned a general inner awareness of contentedness and sometimes a deeply moving sense of connection and understanding. That day, our equine-facilitated meditation sessions became equine-guided meditation sessions.
Many great horseman and horsewomen have mentioned this uncanny ability of horses to connect with people. Charles de Kunffy sums up the benefits of spending time with horses as follows: “Horses forge the mind, the character, the emotions and inner lives of humans. People can talk to one another about all these things and remain distanced and lonesome. In partnership with a horse, one is seldom lacking for thought, emotion and inspiration. One is always attended by a great companion.”
I first came across equine-facilitated meditation while I was looking for ways to improve my relationship with Belle, my soul mare. I found the book “Meditation for Two,” by Dominique Barbier. In “Meditation for Two” Dominique chronicles his own soul-searching journey as a horse rider and his subsequent spiritual growth. “The only limits I have found have been my own. Where our own egos regularly allow fear and negativity to interfere with our ability to let go and form spiritual connections, horses possess an incalculable ability to function as conduits of connection,” Dominique writes in his book. “Where we analyse, where we try to explain, where we try to re-create, where we try to simply be, horses are already there –waiting for us to walk through the open door, to follow the path of spiritual oneness, to allow healing energy to come in.” You can download an excerpt from Dominic Barbier’s book “Meditation for Two” from my MargarethaMontagu.com website.
Contact and connection with horses, especially when during meditation, can teach us the skills we need to handle the trials and turbulence of life: Perseverance, patience, self-discipline, empathy, forgiveness, leadership and much more.
Our guests, especially those who find it difficult to sit still for long periods, are invited to discover 2 forms of moving meditation: Walking Meditation (with the horses), Working Meditation (grooming the horses) and Writing Meditation (about the horses).
More about Equine-Guided Meditation:
If you would like to experience this unique method of mindfulness meditation, join us for a few days on a Connect with Horses Mindfulness Meditation workshop here in the south of France…please e-mail us for more information on welcome2gascony[at]gmail.com.
“Dedicating some time to meditation is a meaningful expression of caring for yourself that can help you move through the mire of feeling unworthy. As your mind grows quieter and more spacious, you can begin to see self-defeating thought patterns for what they are, and open up to other, more positive options.”