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  • Think Like a Horse to Feel Better

    Last updated: May 18, 2020
    Photo Credit Shelley Paulson

    Looking at the world from a horse’s perspective may help reduce your anxiety

    During these days of quarantines and uncertainty, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. For families of those with disabilities or special needs, the burden can be even greater. The importance of programming such as We Can Ride’s is illuminated especially now, when we can’t serve our clients. We know our work helps our clients’ physical and mental health. We also know that their caregivers and loved-ones benefit from being with the horses each week.

    The challenge of staying positive in trying circumstances can test the best of us. It’s only human to worry about what will come, stress about what we can’t control, and struggle with new day-to-day realities. People can suggest that you “look at the bright side” or “focus on the positive” but when your endurance level is low, that is not easy to do.

    That’s when you can look to our horses for help. You may not be able to be around them now but our ponies have lots of valuable lessons and examples to inspire you and give you peace of mind. Check out why thinking like a horse can really make you feel better:

    Photo Credit Shelley Paulson

    Maintain a simplistic view of life. In reality, as a prey animal, the main thing a horse worries about is becoming somebody else’s meal. This is a theme that drives their internal engines – they instinctively check in with their surroundings and their herd mates to discern if all is well in their world.

    You’d think this would make horses nervous wrecks, but that isn’t the case. Most often, horses desire and find calm by observing their environments and then relaxing into a harmonious state of balance. In the wild, the band’s stallion keeps an eye out for predators, the mares maintain discipline and the herd happily goes about their daily business of eating, sleeping and playing.

    We can find this comforting balance, too. When we determine that the predators are not banging on our doors, we can focus on simpler, gentle things. Next time you feel your anxiety building, imagine our herd, out in the pasture, munching contentedly in the sun. It’s bound to lower your blood pressure.

    Laugh and play a little. Everyone knows a bit of play and a good belly laugh are good for the soul. Horses know this too and will engage in play throughout the day. Geldings are especially prone to playing. You may see them nip at each other’s faces; this is actually an invitation to play. Or you may see them rear up facing each other; this too can be just a bit of play. Perhaps they are dreaming of being mighty stallions.

    Join them and find a way to bring a laugh to every day.

    Chill out like Mort. Take a walk past any pasture filled with horses and you may think they are oblivious to the world. They’re not. Horses are in constant communication and relationship. The slightest twitch of an ear, or swish of a tail can speak volumes about the state of mind of each individual. Every now and then a short scuffle might break out as the herd members jostle for social position, but the speed at which they get back to a harmonious spirit is astounding. Besides food and water, two of the most important things to horses are peace and space. They maneuver among themselves to give respectful distance in order to maintain tranquility. You can find this soothing place, too. Allow for breaks in proximity. Get outside to decompress and widen your environment. Inside, create a space in your home – perhaps decorated with soothing images and infused with essential oil aromas — where you can take a moment to breathe.

    Photo Credit Shelley Paulson

    Live in the moment. You won’t find a horse brooding over past failures or mind-hopping to the future about what bad things might await. They simply aren’t wired that way. While we tend to jump back in forth in our minds between all sorts of scenarios and possibilities, we can change our focus to live in the moment, too.

    When you spend time with a 1,000 pound animal you have to be present, especially for safety’s sake. You need to be aware of his movements and mood, and sensitive to all his signals. There’s no time to think about that grocery run or to-do list! The attention required in that moment causes the rest of the world to disappear.

    The Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers helpful advice to live in the moment, including:

    • Focus on your breathing. Take a few minutes to enjoy deep, slow breaths.
    • Play with meditation by chasing all thoughts from your mind for brief periods during the day.
    • Exercise, stretch, and mobilize your body. This will help release stress-reducing hormones like endorphins and serotonin.

    Remember to be kind to yourself. It’s normal to worry about the situation, give yourself permission to live without self-judgement.

    As we navigate through this unprecedented time, remember that the We Can Ride horses are well-cared for and happy, but they’ll be even happier still when they see you walk in the barn. Until then, stay safe and think like a horse!

    More resources for families:

    https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html

    https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-climate-safety-and-crisis/health-crisis-resources/helping-children-cope-with-changes-resulting-from-covid-19

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