Why groundschooling your horse is an exercise in mindfulness

Why groundschooling your horse is an exercise in mindfulness

I am a big believer in using groundwork with my horses. My belief is that in 'ground schooling' a horse you have the opportunity to truly see and observe your horse - both physically and mentally.  

It can often be quite a meditational experience.  

I find that when I ground work my horses I gain a different perspective as to how they are moving. I can ask myself some questions - how happily is my horse bending and moving out? Is there any tension present? How well is my horse tracking up? What is my horse's expression telling me? 

 I usually find there is so much to be gained in a few minutes of observation.  

Along with this, there is the mental element - Is my horse responsive and connecting to what I am asking? Do they understand my request? Are they tense? If there is tension - is the tension due to what I am asking or is something external overshadowing our work?  

Working through these questions starts the problem-solving process and also helps me to be more present and “in the moment” - something I feel is so important when working with a horse - both on the ground and under saddle.  

It is so easy to come home from work or a busy day with a 'busy mind' and not be truly present with our horses. I certainly don't want to go out and “work” my horses like it is a job on a list to tick off for the day - but the reality is - sometimes it is. Sometimes it is that thing that I need to get done on a long list, after a day at work. 

 Nonetheless, it is important for our journey, our routines, and our training, and I very much want to achieve something meaningful.  

In a conversation about dealing with show nerves a wise trainer once told me - the best way to get yourself back in the moment and present is to turn your focus to what you can control...instead of focusing on what is out of your control.

In a competition setting this might involve taking your mind away from people on the sidelines to focusing on the elements you know you need in order to ride a good round - have I got the right canter? Have I got my horse nicely on the aid and ready to listen? Where is my first fence? Am I setting up a good line? 

It's amazing how these little nuggets of advice can be applied in other areas with horses and in life!  

Turning my busy mind to my horse and what I can observe helps me to bid goodbye to all the noise of the day that is no longer relevant. Starting my ground school process with my horse helps to transport me to a place where I am present because my focus and attention shift to the things I can control right in front of me ….this is what I mean when I say ground working a horse can be quite meditational.  

It is that shift in focus to what is happening right here and now. Checking in with the horse physically and mentally, running through my list of questions, and starting the problem-solving process to help my horse in his body and his mind. In turn, I find my own mind transported to a quieter place, and the ‘business’ of the day falls away. 

Next time you work with your horse you may also find it helpful to check in with your mental state and notice how much of your thoughts are oriented in the moment.

Endeavoring to be mindful in working with my horses has helped me to stay safe, improve my skills, and has benefited my horses hugely - I hope it can do the same for you and yours.