You hear me talk a lot about being mindful in the moment and “being” there with and for your horse. But here’s something you might not have heard of…
This is something that takes your mindfulness to another level. And you may be doing it without even knowing that you are. Not only is it useful for creating a better connection with your horse, but it also is very good for your brain.
Let me tell you how I found out about it…
As you know, I have a dear friend who had a terrible car accident about a year and a half ago and luckily, he walked away with only a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Even though his TBI was pretty bad and it has caused many issues, he is very blessed to be alive.
I have been helping take care of him and in doing so, I have learned a lot about how the brain works and how to help the brain heal. You know me and research. I love it.
One of the ways to help heal a TBI is to have a balance of rest and work. Sounds easy right? Not for this guy.
Because I do mean an even balance.
My friend, Mark, has always looked at life as “go, go, go” and if something goes wrong, he just “pushes through it”. He has used this as his way to heal his brain injury as well. However, healing from a brain injury is different than healing from a broken arm.
He’s also very competitive, even with himself. So, he is constantly working on his therapies to get better and try to beat his last score. A lot of these therapies are online mind games you play that give you scores, like Luminosity, Elevate, and Constant Therapy.
This worked in the beginning because he was doing everything the doctors gave him and he worked as hard as he could to get better. He was back to work, part-time, after 6 months and full-time a few months later.
And even though there were still issues, he had recovered about 75% after a year and seemed almost back to normal. Unfortunately, he thought he was 100% and started doing more and more overtime at work while still continuing all his therapies (speech, vision, audio, neuro, etc.).
He was still competing with himself trying to get 100% on his therapy sessions and his mind games. Not realizing that his lower scores were telling him something was wrong, he pushed himself even harder to try to get better.
However, all this pushing backfired and he was now overworking his brain. Pushing through it, when he wasn’t 100% yet, actually made his brain go backwards. Not only was this disappointing, but it meant he needed to really rethink his recovery plan and his mindset towards how to recover.
His doctors had been telling him the whole time to rest his brain and not overdo it.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before. We all have our tipping point of where the phrase ‘overdoing it’ means something to us. And I think we all find it the hard way… once we’ve passed that point and finally realize that we overdid it.
Well, he found his tipping point, so to speak, and because he lost the balance between rest and doing, his brain was yelling at him. His test scores were now getting worse and his EEG showed more damage happening in his brain not less.
He had been doing equine therapy sessions with me and Jazz in the beginning of his recovery and it really helped him learn how to calm down and rest. But once, he thought he could do more work and be normal again, he stopped the sessions and resumed his normal patterns.
I tried to get him out to the horses again, but there’s no pushing a workaholic into being calm and relaxed. He just had to DO something all the time. I’m sure you know someone in your life that has that same Type A personality.
But now he had to stop and rethink what was going on and thankfully he came to me and asked, “What can I do to stop the regression and start healing again?”
I had gone to his doctor’s appointments with him and they all told him that he needed to stop “doing” and start “being” relaxed. His brain can’t heal if it’s on all the time. It can only heal when it stops and that means through sleep, breaks, meditation, etc.
But Mark didn’t like meditation, he wasn’t sleeping well, and he didn’t feel the need for breaks unless he was eating. And then he would eat and work at his desk.
You’ve heard me say this about horses many times… “Stop ‘doing’ and start ‘being’ with your horse”. It really makes the world of difference both to your health and welfare and also your horses’.
Now another problem…
Since Mark is Type A personality, he just can’t stop moving and doing. It actually causes him stress and anxiety to do nothing. That’s why meditation is so hard for him.
I completely understand this in Mark as I was the same Type A personality and a workaholic before I started hanging out with my horses.
It took me quite a while, many months, to finally learn how to relax. I know that even sounds funny…to say that I had to learn how to relax. But it’s true.
But once I figured it out, I couldn’t get enough. I loved it!
It was life changing for both me and my horses.
But back to Mark.
He didn’t want to take months to learn how to relax, he wanted it now.
You’ve heard me say, “Push the Easy button whenever you can”. To do this meant that I had to take a baby-step backwards with Mark to get him comfortable quicker with relaxing and get quicker results to help his brain start recovering instead of going backwards.
Challenge accepted. Now, how was I going to “push the easy button” with Mark?
And that’s when I found “Mindful Movement”.
As you know, mindfulness is all about the mind-body connection. And grounding your physical body is a way to help get your mind into the present. “Being” not “doing”.
Getting into the science a little:
Those thoughts that you replay over and over in your mind, the should, could, and would have’s that you just can’t shake… psychologists call this type of thought distortion – “rumination”.
And technically speaking, rumination is the tendency to think repetitively about the causes, process, and consequences of a situation or experience.
Essentially, rumination is a repeated focus on the problem rather than the possible solutions.
A study conducted in California and published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine stated that the best coping skill to push past rumination and help reduce it was “mindful movement”.
Since rumination keeps you in the past, and mindfulness is meant to bring you back to the present, into “being”, you can probably see how that this type of skill is a “counter-thought” to the initial “doing” issue.
Ok, so what’s “mindful movement”?
Basically, it’s mindfulness coupled with grounding.
Grounding is actually a skill that is rooted in mindfulness.
It’s meant to bring you back to the here-and-now by engaging your body, mind, and spirit in your current situation.
There are lots of ways to do grounding:
Walk outside barefoot in the grass
Go outside when it’s raining and enjoy getting wet
Sit on the ground
Move your hands through water or sand
Pick a flower and smell it, enjoying its aroma
Now add grounding to mindfulness and voila…you have “mindful movement”.
It is presence in motion and connecting yourself to your surroundings.
The best way to practice “mindful movement” is to take a walk out in nature. Somewhere that makes you feel happy and calm. This can be different for some people.
It can be walking in the city down a busy shopping district.
It can be walking down the sidewalk in a small-town window shopping.
It can be walking through a forest pathway near a stream.
But my favorite way is to walk through the forest trails with my horse Apollo and just enjoy the sights, sounds, and the presence of my horse.
I also learned that the human brain finds it easier to meditate and be mindful in a green space. Basically, that’s anywhere outside where there are plants or grass.
No wonder I love walking out on the trails with Apollo the best. It’s “mindful movement” as well as using a green space. Two pluses for the price of one.
But seriously, studies show that your brain on green space shows less frustration, and less excitement. Thereby, being more peaceful and content.
And it doesn’t have to be a deep, mysterious forest path or some long walk along a riverbed. Although, those are great too. Just going for a walk in a park near your home or walking around your horse’s grass pasture will get your brain into a Zen-like mode.
Here are some more bonus points for taking your horse for a walk (in the saddle or on the ground)…
Green space can do more than just calm your mind. If you spend just a small amount of time outdoors in nature, you will improve your memory and your attention span.
How does taking a walk with your horse help your memory and your attention span?
Well, when you are out in nature, you turn off your “voluntary attention”, and give your “involuntary attention” system a chance to shine.
That’s because you are “involuntarily” listening to the birds sing, looking at beautiful flowers bloom, watching the trees sway in the wind, and hearing the wind blow through the leaves. You’re using your senses automatically.
This allows your “voluntary” attention (where you are forcing yourself to pay attention to something…like your boss giving a presentation) to have a much-needed break.
Which of course means that you are giving your “doing” brain a break and allowing it to just “be”.
“Doing” all the time can be pretty mentally and physically draining. Being out in nature gives your brain a rest and it can improve your brain’s performance.
This is exactly what I am doing now with Mark. We are going to the farm and taking Apollo out on the trails, just having the two of them walking side by side with a halter and lead. It gives his Type A personality something to do with his body that actually causes his brain to rest automatically.
Plus, I’m there to help him if he needs me and this also gives him a sense of peace and security. Thereby, allowing him to stay calm and relaxed.
“Mindful Movement” became my easy button for Mark’s current situation.
It has improved his performance in his brain games, allowed him to rest his brain without the added anxiety of doing nothing, given him something he enjoys since he doesn’t like meditation, and gets results now.
So, I challenge you to start taking your horse out on walks together starting on the ground, side-by-side first, and walk around in nature together to see if it helps you too.
Shut off your “voluntary attention” and allow “mindful movement” to increase your memory, calm yourself, increase your attention span, and allow your brain to do all the additional healing it requires.
Plus, there is one other added bonus…
Your connection with your horse will naturally and organically grow stronger and the two of you will have an even tighter bond. All from just a little walking around out in nature together.
Don’t forget to enjoy the experience and be happy. Smile whenever a rumination thought creeps back in and it will soon dissipate.
Another quick tidbit I learned about how to relax your brain and increase recovery of the brain…
Yes, it’s a real thing. Turns out, when you laugh, your brain experiences freedom from thoughts. It’s the same reaction that you get when you meditate in nature. I even found laugh meditations online which are used as a form of therapy.
I hope this was useful for you. Please leave a comment and let me know what your favorite “mindful movement” is and if this article was helpful.
Do you know someone who needs to see this? Please share it. I would be eternally grateful. My purpose is to reach and support as many horse owners as I can.
I know a few who could benefit from this but they always have an excuse for why for them it isn’t doable. Love your emails 😊
The right people always find their way with horses when they’re ready to hear it or when their horse decides to let them in on the ‘secret’. 🙂 Thank you for your continued support.
I spend a lot of time dealing with my ems horse, twice a day. I find I'm in a special Place when I'm there. I also have a horse which was traumatized and is shut down and very defensive while rugging. So I used mindfulness as I slowly undo her rug buckles. It works well. I only thought of this yesterday.
Mindfullness is a great way to solve a lot of emotional issues with horses, both for the horse and the human. Thank you for sharing.
I just love reading your emails and benefiting from your research on the science behind things. I love walking and horseriding in God's creation. Particularly by the beach and rolling hills/paddocks (not huge hills) and streams. My twin sister is visiting for a few days and so I floated my horse out yesterday to a park/little beach near us and did some riding, some leading and some hanging out with my sister. It was wonderful.
I am currently teaching parttime and doing a postgrad maths course which is connected with my teaching. I am right in the middle of an assignment at the moment which is huge learning for me as I haven't studied for 20 years, so taking time out is hugely important and is always something that I have made sure I did regularly, since having my son. My horse time is my time out.
I love your problem solving, Teddie. Finding a way for Mark to relax his brain but still move his body is a fantastic winwin situation as it also allows you to hang out with Apollo at the same time. 🙂
Right on the nose as always Sarah. 🙂 I just had to find a way to “push the easy button” as I always say. Plus, I get to spend some extra quality time with Apollo too. Win-Win.
Hi Teddie. I was sorry to hear about Mark's accident. Please send my regards and wishes for a quick recovery to him. I have been able to change my relationship with my horse dramatically in the past years by just listening to him and approaching him without any fixed agendas. And we have done a lot of mindful movement without knowing because it felt so well for both of us. I always remind myself: Alice let go and enjoy the moment. I am sure Mark will get better soon thanks to Apollo and yourself. All the best to you three.
That’s great Alice. Funny how we have to remind ourselves to actually relax and take care of ourselves. Thank you for sharing.
Love the basic idea of this – for my daughter with a TBI, we definitely found that going out to the woods or the ocean was very soothing, for all of us; gardening, as well. Even today, 20 years after her accident, woods/ocean/or gardening are both soothing and energizing for her 🙂
I’m glad to hear this has worked for others with TBI as well. I hope your daughter has healed from the injury. It looks like he will get about 80% back to normal after about 2 years of therapies. It’s amazing how the brain works.
My 2 eldest sons had a car accident nearly 2 years ago. One was travelling behind the other taking one of our cars to their aunty (my sister) since hers was undriveable from a rear ender she had. My sons had just pulled over to make plans where the oldest brother suggested the younger go first as the car had just been repaired and the oldest brother was in his brand new audi sport car. That way if anything went wrong with the newly repaired car, he'd know. They continued on their way, one minute later the younger brother in front had a head on. An old lady crossed double lines without warning and smashed head-on and fortunately the older brother travelling behind had awesome braking system and pulled up just in time before he had a head-on with her.
The younger brother was slumped at the wheel and the older brother got out, checked older lady who was trapped, in a bit of pain but looked over to see an image that has not left him, his brother slumped at the wheel of a smashed up car looking dead. Big brother called emergency and after 1 1/2 hours of cutting away at the wreck, his younger brother was air lifted to hospital. Incredibly, younger brother had only a smashed right leg, pinned from knee to ankle, he also has short attention span and lost his patience – slight brain damage from the blow to the side of his head breaking the side glass car window. Both now suffer from ptsd and still seeing Dr, Psychologist, and Psychiatrist. Both are still coming to terms with the event and older brother suffers from the guilt of sending his younger brother first. The older brother use to work with horses and now doesn't have the patience for any of our herd any more. Perhaps one day he may return to them. My 2 younger boys came to the accident scene with us as it was close to home. They too were disturbed by what they saw and have scenes left in their minds too.
We have had 2 beautiful quarter horses, well trained who taught us well. We have since increased the herd with 2 rescue ponies who taught our younger boys about winning horses over using trust. Since the older brother's accident, we've rescued another 3 horses from the doggers. 2 Quarter horses – 8 and 14 and a young paint. All are terribly spooky so just taking the time to spend time walking them and winning their trust. I saw your talent with horses which intrigued me and found your story with Mark. Will encourage my boys with what I learned psychologically from your story and see if we can get them working with our rescue family.
I am so sorry you and they have gone through that. I know first hand how tough it is for both sides. It is truly amazing what the brain can and can’t do when it gets jostled or bounced around. I hope your boys recover fully.
It has been a blessing for my friend to be able to go out to the horses and relax in nature. My horse just nuzzles with him and I swear he is giving him healing energy. You can just see the exchange when they are together. My horse just puts his head on my friend’s head and sits there very purposeful. They are truly amazing creatures.
Not only has that been good but so has just learning to relax and calm his mind. I think that has been the hardest thing – his brain injury made it hyper and it wouldn’t slow down. He’s had to remap his neural brain pathways around the damaged parts. But the doctors are amazed at how quickly he has improved and how much. They didn’t think he could get this far. They do say he’s at his limit now though. So it is just maintenance work now and it’s been 18 months since the accident.
Even volunteering at a barn grooming horses would be good for your boys. 🙂 Let me know how it goes and I wish you all the best.