The Magic of the Season: 3 Tips to Help you Experience Gratitude at the Barn

It’s the start of the season of joy, gratitude, and miracles, right? We should be happy and grateful with childlike wonder this time of year, no?

It’s no secret that it feels good to take in experiences of wonderment like a crimson sunset, the feeling of a “just right” canter departure or giving/receiving the “perfect” gift. We feel grateful, blessed, and present, as if we’ve been touched by magic. Additionally, study after study confirms that gratitude has benefits for our physical and mental health, overall wellbeing, and feels good. Why then, are so many equestrians left feeling stressed, disappointed, and depleted at the end of the day? Could it be that they’ve forgotten, or more like they are too busy and over stressed to experience the childlike joy that horses once brought them?

How lucky we are to live in a world with horses. You know as well as I, that that statement is true… Why then, do we find ourselves constantly stuck in our heads, reliving the past in our memories or projecting our anxieties into the future, wondering what we could have done differently and at the same time fearing what might happen in the future instead of living in the present moment?

The more important question to me, is how to create an environment for ourselves where we can rediscover the joy and pleasures of time well spent with our horse. In a world of division, injustice, pain and distraction, how do we crack the code of gratitude and remember what we’ve known all along, “How lucky we are to live in a world with horses.”

I have a few ideas to get you started…

1. Slow Down!
In order to experience the beauty of the holidays (or any day with our horse) we’ve got to slow down. When we’re always running from one obligation to the next our mind is constantly on to the “next thing” and never focused purely on the current thing, the thing right in front of our face. It doesn’t feel good to rush or as if you’re running on autopilot, and it creates a barrier to gratitude. We can’t see the low hanging fruit, the beauty and magic right in front of us. We can’t feel gratitude when we’re in a rush.

2. Start Unitasking
Upon a search, Merriam-Webster says that unitasking is not a word, I think they should consider adding it for 2024. Equestrians are experts at multitasking. We can lead a horse while carrying a saddle, while also talking with the vet. Multitasking is an amazing skill to have as an equestrian; no doubt you use it all the time. However, chronic multitasking creates a barrier to experiencing the present moment, including the gratitude, joy and/or satisfaction that comes along with the present. Additionally, multi-tasking is known to increase blood pressure and raise stress levels; chronically high stress can lead to cognitive impairment.

Try to limit your multitasking and make time to do one thing at a time. When you brush your horse’s tail, simply brush your horse’s tail. When you’re treating your horse, give them your full attention watching their reaction, the funny face they make, or the graceful way they move. Over time you’ll find this leads not only to being more present, but also a deeper connection with your horse. As prey animals, horses know the benefit of slowing down and doing one thing at a time. In the wild it could mean the difference between life of death, or simply the difference between connecting or disconnecting with their human.

3. Use your 5 Senses
Using their senses is another skill that comes naturally to horses. The shift in the wind, the noise in the distance, the change in our voice or the whinny of a friend all have deep meaning to horses. When we start to pay attention and savor our senses, relaxation begins to flow, and from relaxation, gratitude. It’s really difficult to feel grateful when our body is tense or we feel unsafe. However, when we pause at the end of the day in a cozy quiet barn and hear the horses munching on hay or feel the damp earthiness of horse breath on our skin, the awareness of those experiences can begin to reshape how we’re feeling. The freedom, beauty, connection, and magic of horses that we once fell in love with is still there, if we can only slow down and pay attention.

If you find you need a few more tips to get you in the spirit and experience gratitude this holiday season:
● Keep a gratitude journal and fill a page with details (big and small) that you are grateful for at that moment.
● Scheduling free time (10 minutes? 30? more?) to do nothing or simply sit and watch the horses in their pastures or stalls.
● Attending a foundational yoga class (if you’ve never been you may be surprised at the results) or better yet a class designed specifically for equestrians. You can sign up for my live online classes here if you’re interested.
● Volunteer with an organization in need. Connection and helping others is one of the quickest ways to experience gratitude.
● Donate food or gifts to those in need.
● Try out meditation or, better yet, this FREE equestrian specific guided meditation.

Whatever it is you’re doing, slow down to see, feel, smell, taste, hear and fully appreciate what you may otherwise be missing.