Thursday, May 29, 2014

Chattering Mind

It's seemed to me lately that one of the biggest things that gets in the way of effectively working with horses is what I'm calling "chattering mind" - the human mind and the way it tends to operate.

A step back - I try to do a session of meditation every morning - simple stuff, just paying attention to the breath and noting when the mind wanders or does something else.  I'm what you would call a "baby" meditator - I'm not very experienced at it and I can't do it for a long time - 20 minutes is about my limit.  But even in my beginning meditation practice, it's abundantly clear that my mind is a buzzing, churning, constantly darting around series of random thoughts and feelings, and that the result of this is that I'm only rarely "there" - in the present moment.  My mind is full of memories, and plans and thoughts and worries and . . . and . . . and . . .  One of the benefits of meditation practice is that it really exposes how cluttered and chaotic the human mind really is, if only we pay attention.

But one of the benefits of meditation practice is that it helps teach me that none of that "chattering mind" is evil, or negative, or to be rejected - it just is.  And paradoxically, acknowledging/noting what the mind is doing is the first step towards being able to not be caught up in it.

For me, "chattering mind" is a good summary of how we often are with our horses.  Our minds are full of: "will he spook at that?" . . . "what am I going to have for dinner?" . . . "the kids have an event tonight" . . . "my horse didn't pick up the canter when I asked him to" . . . "what is that kid doing with her horse over there?" . . . you name it, we think it, in a constantly churning stream of thoughts, memories, wishes, desires, worries, and guilt.

Is it any wonder our horses often struggle to be with us - or perhaps to even find us to be with?

And we think horses are easily distracted . . .

I believe horses don't have the same chattering mind that most humans do.  They don't plan, or calculate, or extrapolate, or scheme or plot.  They are almost entirely in the present - they do have memories and learned/repetitive behaviors (many of which are taught to them by humans - any behavior they show with a human is almost always one they have been taught, either intentionally or unintentionally).  They are intensely visual beings, and so are we, but they interpret their visual world from the perspective of a prey animal - any change or anything that is uncertain may be life-threatening.  They don't apply a rational mind to their perceptions in the way we do.

But they are very, very smart about being horses, and surviving as horses.  Their bodies are the physical expression of their thoughts and emotions, and there is rarely much if any gap in time between them forming a thought or experiencing an emotion and it showing up in their body.  Their reaction time is much faster than ours - it has to be if they are to survive - and they are much more in tune with their environment and each other - both physically and mentally (almost in a spooky way) than we often are.

I think, in order to work more effectively with horses, we need to be much more present - in our own bodies and in a sensory way with the world around us and the physical/mental contact we have with our horses.  Being in our minds, and in the chatter that consumes us, distances us from the horse and the mind of the horse.  I'm sure our horses often find us frustrating and overwhelming - like dealing with someone who's always chattering away, often about things that are past/future or unimportant - we're very noisy mentally unless we make a special effort to quiet our minds.

But if we can quiet our minds, if only for a moment, we'll find the mind of the horse there waiting to make a connection with us . . . and that's where the magic truly is.


  1. As a Christian, I have worked on meditation for many years. What helps me is an image from my parents' home. When they were alive they lived on Old Hickory Lake outside of Nashville, TN. When we visited we always would go swimming. When I was at the surface of the water there was a lot of 'chattering' going on - other people, insects, boats going by, etc. However, when I would go deep down into the water is was dark and quiet. I realize that I can operate at two levels if I focus on it -- a surface, chattering level and a deeper, quieter spiritual level. When I ride it helps me to be aware that that deeper level is available to me.

    Regards, Dan

  2. Best Post Ever. Mindfulness practice taught me the same thing, and it's nearly impossible for me not to judge myself.

    Do you think horses can show courage, as we humans interpret it? The Bible seems to say so.

    Lately I've been practicing arriving at my destination in my car and just pausing a minute or so before getting out. I sit there in the moment and realize what an odd feeling it is to not jump out of the car.

    How kind it would be of us if we could learn to have minds like still water. And how much quicker we'd establish trust!

  3. I absoloutly love this!! This is one of my biggest downfalls. I think too much and I talk too much in the saddle. I'm constantly worried about spooks, even though my horse is NOT spooky and will protect me, I worry about other horse/riders, and I end up making my horse nervous just by my own nerves!

    Thanks for this post!! I needed it!

  4. I'm guilty of the chattering mind especially at night. It's why I find it so hard to fall asleep. I've been practicing breathing and concentrating on only that. So I guess I'm a baby meditator too.

    I find it easier to be in the moment with the horses though. And empty my mind of all nonessential thought. Not totally there yet but working on it.good post.

  5. I've been working on that too, and the chattering is actually very distracting some days. The really bad thing about it is, it's usually wrong in its "what ifs." The other day I was working on having my horse stand quietly while I mounted, I was trying to be very quiet and as I put my foot in the stirrup, I felt my pulse start racing, and a little fear and doubt. I ended up standing there in that position, taking some deep breaths while everything calmed down. I wonder if he can feel something that subtle? I believe he can.

  6. Very nice post. I definitely have the chugging mind - but learned a long time ago that when I am with horses, and when riding, all of that churning brain stuff just stops. It goes completely quiet. Same when I write, so for me doing the two things I love most, riding and writing, is its own meditation practice. It's wonderful.

  7. I find that having a strong prayer life has taught me to shut away a lot of the chatter, and yes it is very difficult to do, especially when one is accustomed to multi-tasking! I think horses and dogs help us to focus, to shut away the worries and cares and live in the moment.

  8. One of the things that I love about riding and being with my horse is the quieting effect that it has on my mind. If I am trying to quiet inner chatter I imagine myself riding. :)


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