Meditative Riding - Developing Feel
By Natalya Gryson
I can’t count the number of times someone has told me, “I can’t meditate. I can’t stop my mind.“ To me, meditation isn’t so much about stopping stream of thought as it is recognizing the space in between and around our thoughts. The best suggestion I have heard for beginning to develop a meditative mind is while you are listening to the news, a podcast, or book on tape, listen for the silence between the words as well as the words themselves. When I started listening to the silence between the words I realized that there is a lot more space, time, and silence present in my life and began being able to pay attention in those moments rather than only giving attention to obvious physical and auditory stimulus.
So what does this have to do with riding? Developing feel and being present in every stride is something that all riders struggle with at some point in their development. The skill of being able to listen to the silence is the same skill that allows a rider to sit still and listen to their horse’s body, balance, and rhythm. And then we need our cognitive mind to decipher the message - determine what we felt, what it means, and what to do about it. This is why for me meditation is not about turning my mind off. It is about being able to choose when I pay attention to my thoughts about what I am seeing and hearing, about what I’m remembering from the past and projecting for the future. And when to instead pay attention to simply what I am feeling in the moment, to hear the silence, and to experience the space between the objects and tasks that run my daily life.
So this is what riding is about for me: every stride every ride I am working on improving my feel and my response (aid application) to what I feel. With every horse, no matter the level, no matter how long they’ve been in training with me, I am working on improving their acceptance of the basic connection and their response to the basic aids. That they let my seat and leg mold their body and my hand receive and channel the energy from behind. It is about finding the feeling of through and teaching the horse to maintain that feeling no matter what we’re doing (movement/balance/gait). The ability to teach that requires a rider who can be still and quiet enough in their mind to not lose focus on the feeling of through no matter what other stimulus presents.