Brushing and grooming a horse is an easy activity that anyone can learn. There are a few specific grooming tools (brushes) which are used in specific ways in order to clean the horse from head to tail and condition its coat and long hair (mane and tail). The task itself is simple: to get the horse clean. But when we add in the element of mindfulness, grooming becomes a labor of love, gratitude and awareness. The work becomes a mindful meditation, bringing us to the present moment and creating the conditions for a profound connection to ourselves and our horse.
The benefits of mindful grooming are myriad. First is a sensory awareness and awakening. We can place our focus on the sight, smell, sound and feel of the horse’s warm, living body beneath our hands. We can become aware of the setting of the stable: the smell of fresh hay, sight of clean bedded stalls, the feel of stiff brush bristles, the clip clop sound of shod hooves on the barn floor. Mindful grooming brings us fully into the present moment as every one of our senses are stimulated and engaged. The massive body of the horse is a continual point of interest drawing us back to the present whenever our thoughts drift away.
As we begin to brush and groom our horse we will notice we naturally find a rhythm to the brush strokes. Our whole bodies will begin to move, sway and balance as we reach and stroke, reach and stroke the brush along our horse. Rhythmic, repetitive, predictable sensory input relaxes both our bodies and our minds. We will notice our thoughts begin to slow and then to clear as our brush strokes center and ground our brains and bodies.
And most importantly, we are not alone! We are in relationship with our horse, both giving and receiving attention, focus, calmness and energy. This reciprocity creates an emotional feedback loop: as we brush we become calm, helping our horse to be calm, which causes us to be calm, and on and on it goes as we mindfully move deeper into gratitude, empathy and compassion for both our horse and for ourselves. The horse is a living, thinking, feeling being who continually expresses it’s experience of the moment in every moment. As we practice mindful grooming we try to do the same: for these few minutes we can live fully, authentically, with gratitude and loving kindness for ourselves as well as our horse partner.