Tag Archives: Stress management

How do you connect with a Horse?

By being present in the moment…
and by not being present in the moment.

The older I get, the better I understand that living a happy life is all about keeping things in balance. In my 50 years, I have seen fashion come and go, even in the self-improvement world. I have lived long enough to see the pendulum swing from one end side to the opposite side: the exact opposite of what is fashionable today may be fashionable in 10 years’ time.

Mindfulness is fashionable now. I am all in favour of mindfulness as a counterbalance to multi-tasking and living in the past or the future. So much so that my day-job is running mindfulness and meditation workshops.

However, as is often the case, my horses have once again taught me that jumping on the latest bandwagon, no matter how convinced I am about its effectiveness, may not be the perfect solution to the  stress of modern day living that I had hoped it to be.

My teacher on this occasion was Leo, the 14-year old ex-bullfighter that we rescued at the gate to the abattoir three years ago. Before Leo came to us, he had been very badly abused. You can read the story of this scared but courageous horse here. In the first year that Leo was with us, I asked next to nothing from hm. I spent a lot of time with him, as close as he would allow – in the beginning, 20 m was way too close for Leo – just being present in the moment with him. Over time, this tactic worked. He got used to me being there and gradually allowed me to come closer and closer.

It was during this period that  Leo taught me the importance of alternating being present with him in the moment…with not being present with him in the moment.

It was a concept I had some difficulty taking on board. Mindfulness is supposed to be good for you. It IS good for you, my clients and retreat participants thrive when they incorporated mindfulness into their busy schedules.  Horses are by nature mindful animals. As prey, they have to be present in the moment at all times, to detect the approach of a predator. So why could Leo tolerate it only in such small doses?

When you are standing right next to a horse that has been mistreated by people in the past, in the field or in the school, it is not particularly difficult to remain mindful. You quickly learn that one too sudden move could result in a very painful kick. As Leo used to be a bullfighter, he moves extremely quickly, and even if you can see the kick coming, you rarely have time to get out of the way. So you pay acute attention to what is happening at the moment, while at the same time, staying as calm as you possibly can.

It was on a day that I have loads of other things on my mind that I discovered the effect of not being mindful had on Leo. As time went by, the kicking stopped and I one day found myself making a shopping list in my head, as you do, while scratching Leo’s favourite spots. Until then I had always been very careful to remain mindful in his presence. The effect on Leo was interesting. No doubt I was now more relaxed in his presence, relaxed enough for my mind to wander into the future, and he responded by relaxing as well.

I thought about it afterwards and decided to alternated mindfulness and multitasking while I was with Leo. The effect was noticeable. When I was present in the moment, he was alert, when I was not, he was relaxed. As I spend a lot of time trying to find ways of communicating with Leo, a horse that was mentally totally shut down and unreachable when he came to us, this was a precious new way of getting through to him.

For example, when I work with Leo, I remain present in the moment. When our work is done and I am grooming him, I let my mind wander. He is used to this pattern now, so much so that it can be used in threatening situations to calm him down. Recently, while out on a walk, we suddenly found ourselves in a position where we had to confront an aggressive, wildly barking dog. Luckily the dog was no real threat as it was behind a sturdy fence. Leo went into hyper-alert I-am going-to-bolt-back-home-any-moment-now mode and I calmly went into I-wonder-what-I-should-cook-for-supper-tonight mode. Leo noted my distraction and calmed down somewhat. We managed to walk past the hysterical dog without too much prancing and eye-rolling.

Obviously, mindfulness is not the only factor at play here but in my opinion, being mindful and not being mindful does have a noticeable effect on Leo’s behaviour.

What I am really trying to say is that mindfulness is good as long as it is balanced by non-mindfulness. There is nothing wrong with spending time in the past, some of our memories are pleasant after all and from others, we may learn something useful. Nor is there anything wrong with spending time in the future, we do after all have to plan our days. Problems arise when we spend too much time rehashing the past or when we spend too much time worrying about the future. Multitasking is a useful skill to have, as long as we do not spend all our time multitasking.

The trick is to keep everything in balance and this includes mindful and less mindful periods.

If you would like to meet Leo, please join us for a Connect with Horses Workshop here in the south of France. If you would like to follow Leo’s progress, please subscribe to this blog and to our newsletter at the top right of this page.


Stress Addiction

I have been thinking a lot about stress lately. Mostly because I have recently been introduced to a new concept: stress addiction.

Those of you who know me, know that I have always considered stress as the number one enemy of my patients’ mental and physical health. After all, 75% of all GP consultations, in one way or another, has something to do with stress.

I have always accepted that a certain amount of stress is essential if we want to realise our potential. It is only when the amount of stress exceeds our ability to use it to our advantage that stress becomes our enemy rather than our ally.

Stress addiction, however, is a concept I have not come across before. It appears that there are now people who are getting high on stress. People who wear their high stress levels like badges of honor, drawing their peers’ attention proudly to how little sleep they are getting, how their downtime is spent racing to meet deadlines and how they are too busy to take time off.

When we find ourselves in stressful situations, hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released and circulate our bodies. However, when cortisol and adrenaline remain present in our system for prolonged periods of time rather than reducing once the perceived threat has passed, this hormonal “high” can get us hooked — and looking for more. We find ourselves craving additional boosts of adrenaline on top of the adrenaline already chronically present in our bloodstream.

This lifestyle seems now to have reached epidemic proportions. In an attempt to escape boredom and make themselves feel more important, people are getting addicted to stress. The problem is that chronic stress causes a variety of long-term physical and mental problems, that much has not changed. The only difference is that where we in the past were the unwilling victims of stress, we are now actively chasing it.


Obviously, I shall have to adjust my stress management workshops with horses to address this new trend. I have no idea what our horses are going to think about this – hoses use the release of the stress hormones to help them escape dangerous situations – it is essential to their survival and in that sense more of a friend than an enemy. I have been teaching workshop participants these last 5 years how to manage stress so that they can use it to perform better than ever before.

This approach will certainly not help anybody who is addicted to stress, quite on the contrary!

So I have decided that it is time for a major and in-depth update of my knowledge of stress. I had barely formulated this decision when the perfect solution landed in my lap: attending The Global Stress Summit. According to the host, Dr Heidi Hanna, “during this summit, 35 thought leaders will teach you about the “new” science of stress.” I have to admit, she has gathered together a most impressive group of people who shared their knowledge with us from the 24th of April to the 1st of May.

I have attended many virtual summits in the past – there recently was an excellent mindfulness summit. My problem is that it is just too much information to take in at once, so for the first time ever, I am actually going to pay to have access to all the videos online so that I can listen to each in my own time and digest the information in bite-sized portions.

So everyone attending our stress management workshops with horses this summer is going to benefit from my up-to-date knowledge. I will be teaching participants how to

  • Recognize stress-related signs, symptoms and conditions
  • Understand historical and present-day stress/resilience research
  • Learn how stress can be harmful or helpful
  • Practice important stress-management skills
  • Gain simple, practical tools to build a more resilient brain and body

Stress Addiction

Money can buy Happiness

Do you hate Mondays?

Or maybe my question should have been, “Who doesn’t hate Mondays?”  Apparently there are a small number of people who actually do NOT hate Mondays.


We work to earn money to pay for and buy the things that we need. Money pays our rent, our mortgage, our insurance, our loans. With money, we can buy clothes, groceries, cars, services etc.

To earn money we have to work even though many of us dislike or hate our jobs. Some of us feel entirely indifferent towards our jobs. We get through Monday to Friday on automatic pilot and only really come alive during the weekend.

We have all been told and most of us firmly believe that money can not buy happiness.

It turns out that this is not true. Money CAN buy happiness:

If we were wrong about money and happiness, maybe we are also wrong about having to work despite hating our jobs?

Some people jump out of bed every Monday morning. I do. I love my job. I didn’ t always feel this way about work. I use to have a very stressful job and it took several cups of strong black coffee to get me out of bed, not only on Mondays, but on most days.

Somewhere along the line, I decided that life was too short, that I did not want to live my life this way anymore. Now, when I am working, I lose track of time. An hour feels like 5 minutes to me. What I do looks easy and effortless because it makes best use of my talents, training and experience. I love equine-assisted experiential learning specifically and personal development in general so much, that I could talk about it the whole day long. My work is a source of intense joy and it gives meaning to my life. I believe in what I do. I feel like I’m making a difference and I do it with all my heart, mind and soul.

Getting here has not been easy, I had to make several painful sacrifices. I was worth it though, a thousand times over.

How about you? Do you also feel that life is too short to spend 5 out of 7 days feeling miserable because your too stressful job does not inspire you?

Secure Your Future ebookIf so, I can help. Come and spend a few days with us here in the south of France. Or read my book, Secure Your Future.

I would like to hear from you. If you could do any sort of job at all, if you were free to choose a job that you loved, what would you choose? Please get in touch at margrethamontagu@gmail.com  or post a comment below. I am seriously interested in your choice!

If you know other women who might benefit from reading this blog post and watching these TED-talks, please share this post with them. If you would like to get a summary each month of the best posts on my blog, please subscribe to my Mpower Me e-magazine and mailing list (see top right corner of this page.)

Can self-hypnosis help me cope with stress?

What does the word HYPNOSIS make you think of? 

There is a very good chance that you immediately think of swinging watches. Or stage shows featuring people clucking like chickens. Or maybe charlatans gaining access to their victims’ bank accounts and stealing all their savings. Maybe the word makes you think of the brainwashing of prisoners and even of people committing crimes instigated by a hypnotist. Read more…

Women’s Retreats: Empowering Women to Speak their Minds

In Vino Veritas

This weekend was the Portes Ouvertes de Madiran, when all the independent Madiran wine makers open their doors to the public. We have lived here for 7 years now and have very rarely missed one. Initially, we did not know anyone.Now we know most of the producers, most of them have become friends over the years, so it is with great pleasure that we visit to taste the wines of the new season and to support our friends by attending either their Saturday evening dinners or Sunday lunches…or both. Not only do we get to see our wine-making friends, but we also come across most of our other wine-loving friends during the two days, as we all wander from vineyard to vineyard, tasting wine, exploring cellars, admiring the latest machinery, the newly planted vines and so on and so forth – by the end of the day it becomes somewhat difficult to remember the details, spittoon or no spittoon.

Women’s Retreats: Strictly Women Only

As is usual, we often end up at the same wine-producer at the end of the day, looking fairly desperately for somewhere to sit down (standing upright eventually becomes a bit of a challenge), and since women tend to feel the effects sooner than men, we often retire to comfortable seating in a quiet corner while our menfolk rejoin the fray. So it was again this Sunday afternoon. We were an eclectic group : women of all ages, convictions, backgrounds and of various nationalities and cultures. We discuss all sorts of subjects when we meet like this, but Sunday’s hottest topic was the new women-only Midlife Renaissance Retreat that I have launched in Autumn 2015. More than one of the women had already attended one of my retreats or workshops and all were familiar with my horse-inspired ways. It was the first time that I was doing a woman-only meditation retreat and opinions about it were varied and mixed. Being an outspoken bunch, they did not hesitate to share their well-developed views.

Women Speaking Their Minds

Some were in favour, others voiced doubts. My retreats are working very well as they are, attracting both men and women, and often couples – where one attends the retreat as an active participant and the other as a non-participant, spending his/her days lying in a hammock or sun bed by the lake while devouring a book or two from our library, or enthusiastically walking the surrounding countryside taking photographs or painting, or visiting the local markets, both food and flea, and coming back in the evening to proudly share the day’s treasured finds, or joining my husband who enjoys nothing better but to take non-participators on tutored wine tasting tours often barely getting back in time for dinner.

Empowering and Supporting Women 

I had to marshal my thoughts, while all faces were turned to me expectantly. Yes, I am embarking on a new path here, but I will still be hosting mixed retreats, so it is neither a complete nor a permanent change. The whole idea for me is about bringing women together to empower and support each other. I have spent many hours watching in awe as our horses work with our female guests, dramatically boosting our guests’ self-confidence, showing them how to be assertive, how to communicate in a way that gets the desired results, demonstrating effective, practical and immediate ways of handling stress, enabling them to express their feelings, be themselves without excuses…and of course teaching them how to practice mindfulness meditation.

It is true that our horses can help women just as well whether there male guests present or not. The difference at a women-only retreat would be the way women would be able to share their experiences. When a non-participating husband asks his wife, having spent the afternoon wine-tasting, how her equine-assisted experiential learning session went, I have heard answers along the lines of “Yep, it was great, I learned a lot.” When another women participant, who had been watching the session asks, it is more along the lines of « That was amazing! I couldn’t BELIEVE I would ever be capable of doing that! Wasn’t it awesome ? » followed closely by an in-depth discussion of each women’s experience and ending with the firm foundation of a new friendship have been laid.

Women on a women-only retreat, assuming the retreat location and set-up makes them feel safe and supported, find it easier to talk about things that matter to them, than when they are in the presence of their own and other menfolk. On women-only retreats, women meet other women, from different walks of life, with different convictions and of different  persuasions, different cultures, backgrounds and at different life stages. This offers them the opportunity to step out of their comfort-zone while feeling safe, to explore other options and ideas and make friends with women that they may never otherwise have come into contact with. At women-only retreats, women find it easier to share : their lives, their burdens, their frustrations, their fears…and for some reason, working with the horses, sharing the fear (of the horses, yes, but also of failing or looking ridiculous) and overcoming it together, binds women in a way that it does not bind participants of both sexes.

For some reason or other, many women are attracted to the mystical beauty of horses and many yearn to experience that mysterious connection that they have only read about in books or seen in films. I think it is easier for them to benefit from all the horses can offer in the presence of other women. Women and horses are a magical combination, with endless possibilities and opportunities for personal growth.

Quoting Empowered Women

A small silence followed my impassioned discours, while my friends took their time to digest this. Yes, they can see where I want to go with this, but the details need more discussion, they have a few concerns. Maybe I could get the rather attractive son of the house to bring over some more wines for them to try first? I could not resist quoting Margaret Thatcher at them, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman !” and went off to find the daughter of the house, who would know much better what sort of wine other women would like.

I am a great believer in the motivating power of quotes. I am going to choose a quote to base my retreat on. Here are a few of the options I am considering:

“I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back. I speak not for myself but for those without voice… those who have fought for their rights… their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.―Malala Yousafzai

“A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman.” —Melinda Gates

“Women, like men, should try to do the impossible, and when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others.” —Amerlia Earhart

In the adjustment of the new order of things, we women demand an equal voice; we shall accept nothing less. -Carrie Chapman Catt

“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” —Madeleine Albright

“I’ve never met a woman who is not strong, but sometimes they don’t let it out. Then there’s a tragedy, and then all of a sudden that strength comes. My message is let the strength come out before the tragedy.” ―Diane von Furstenberg

“A strong woman understands that the gifts such as logic, decisiveness, and strength are just as feminine as intuition and emotional connection. She values and uses all of her gifts.” —Nancy Rathburn

Women Raising their Voices

I rather like the Madeleine Allbright one, about women having a voice. In the day and age we live in, women have an (international) voice more than ever before – we can say what we feel on Facebook, Twitter, on our blogs, our websites, in public, through art, on forums etc. We are starting to make ourselves heard. As Amy Jo Martin says,”Social media is the ultimate equalizer. It gives a voice and a platform to anyone willing to engage.”

My friends finally, just before the poor designated alcohol-free driver arrived to take us all home, ended up giving their blessing to my new project, but with one stipulation and one question. The stipulation was that I do an « open day» on one or both of the weekend days before of after the retreat, as a One or Two Days Retreat » so that women who live nearby can also attend – obviously, they would not want to stay over – and the question was, « What are you going to do with « Himself » ?

I think I’ll suggest that he goes on a wine tasting tour of the Loire Valley.