Live in the moment. Be here now. Look at your feet; that’s where your life is. The past has been spent; the future is an unwritten check but the present is a gift.
There are many ways to say the same thing. Sometimes humans need these simple reminders to be fully present because as far as we know, we are the only species capable of using our brain to also think about the past and fantasize about the future. Horses, on the other hand, and to the best of our knowledge, are only mentally alive in the moment. They don’t look forward to the next day. And although they may know the way back to the barn, that is not the same brain event as reminiscing about the quality of last years grass.
There’s nothing wrong with thinking about the past or the future. However, doing so prevents us from being 100% present to our reality, what is actually happening at this very moment in time. If I’m not totally present to my immediate reality (e.g. hitting a ball), I will not be able to perform at my best. As a human, if I swing at the ball and miss because I’m thinking about what’s on TV tonight, the worst that can happen is I strike out. If I’m a horse and I don’t run away when I first hear a strange noise on the trail, the worst that can happen is a mountain lion eats me—big mistake.
Two primary ingredients of high performance for both humans and horses are reaction time and quality of response.
Reaction time isn’t always crucial with humans but it can often mean life or death to a horse. This is why horses (a vulnerable prey animal) evolved to possess the fastest reaction time of any animal on the planet—the time elapsed between a stimulus to one of their senses and their physical response to it. For many humans, this biological equine characteristic is often painfully realized. If a person is unwittingly within a horse’s kicking zone and the horse decides to kick them, he or she will never see it coming and it is physically impossible to get out of the way before the horse makes contact.
Living in the moment, being aware and only thinking about what’s immediately occurring is natural for horses. It’s how their brains work. Along with their enormous strength and speed, it is an evolutionary characteristic that has allowed them to survive for millions of years. They are literally aware of everything that’s going on in their environment every second of their lives. They not only use their superhuman senses to eternally monitor their surroundings, they use them to detect the slightest change that occurs in their world. They’re like a walking mental, emotional, and physical alarm system set to go off at any perceived lethal danger, many of which are often imperceivable to humans.
They’re like a walking mental, emotional, and physical alarm system set to go off at any perceived lethal danger.
The human benefit of being in the now with one’s horse is always a mutually improved relationship, mentally, emotionally, and most important, physically. Our trail ride is safer and, therefore, more fun. If we’re showing, we have a better chance at winning. Staying mentally connected to our horse helps prevent him from misinterpreting our physical energy and body communication, which can happen if we’re thinking about something else.
It also helps prevent him from tuning out his riding partner who is not paying attention. If I’m riding and talking on my cell phone right before a show my horse immediately knows his leader has “left” him. He must now fend for himself and become his own leader. If my horse is the leader, he may decide to do the opposite of what I want (e.g. refuse the jump).
Not being in the moment when we’re with our horse may not always be a life-threatening situation, but it definitely works against us performing at our best. If we want our horse to respect us, we need to show him the same respect. Not being consciously connected to our horse 100% of the time that we are together is disrespectful and our horse knows it.
A horse can be our greatest teacher, reminding us to be fully present not only when we ride but in every moment of our life.
The power of being in the now is natural for our horse. If we want that power, it needs to become natural for us as well. A horse can be our greatest teacher, reminding us to be fully present not only when we ride but in every moment of our life. Love is what you give your complete attention to. Children know this, so do horses.
About the Author
Tim Hayes is the author RIDING HOME: The Power of Horses to Heal. It is this amazing power of horses to heal and teach us about ourselves that is accessible to everyone and found in the pages this book. Every book ordered will benefit veterans with PTSD, children with autism, and children of families in need. Learn more at ridinghome.com. For Tim’s clinics, private sessions, books, DVD’s and more articles go hayesisforhorses.com.