When I’m around horses, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I know true fulfillment; my heart is happy and content. Of course, there are many reasons for this: the fresh air, the exercise, the beautiful creatures themselves, and the deep love I have for them. Horses don't care about your past mistakes, human grumblings, or the drama we cling to. They don't care that your house is a disaster or that you have a million chores to do. They don't care if you smell (in fact, they probably prefer it!). They don't care if your hair’s a mess or if you may have just been crying so hard snot is dripping from your nose. They don't judge you for your appearance, and they probably don’t feel the same way about you as you do… because you're always your own worst critic. Horses do, however, teach you how to listen, how to be present, how to forgive, and how to love unconditionally. Just like humans, horses have many layers, so the list of lessons they teach us goes on and on. It is, of course, for all these reasons that the simple act of being around a horse has the power to soothe my aching heart.
But what about riding? I've been thinking a lot about posture, specifically as it relates to riding. Sit up straight, shoulders back, chest open, hands and heels down, look straight ahead. Don't forget to breathe. And while we know that good posture helps maintain alignment and balance for you and your horse in a physical sense, could it also be helping to balance your mind? I think YES! Countless studies have found that good posture is linked not only to better physical health but also to mental health. It’s old news that your mind and your body are connected.
Good posture radiates confidence to the outside world, but most importantly, to yourself. It is sending a signal to your brain that you are happy and things are good, even if you don’t feel it quite yet. The phrase “fake it ‘til you make it” is relative here. It reminds me of a stress and anxiety management technique. Each morning, look in the mirror, say a positive affirmation, and then SMILE. Even if you don’t feel happy in that moment (you may even feel like a fraud), you are still sending positive signals to your brain. Eventually, it’s likely that this will translate in a genuine way, much like good posture.
Another way to send a positive signal to your brain is through breathwork. When you have good posture, no matter what you’re doing, you're allowing your body to take in a long, deep breath. This lowers your heart rate and stress level. Taking a deep breath while you’re slouched over may not have the same effect. When I feel anxiety rearing its ugly head, I sit up straight and take three deep breaths; I always feel better. My anxiety may still be present, but at least I let it know who’s boss. When you sit up tall and breathe deeply while riding, you're sending the same signal to your horse because your horse feels what you’re feeling: more relaxed, less stressed. And that’s a huge bonus!
My very wise riding instructor, Christina, once said, “Good posture doesn’t come easily or naturally to anyone. If you see a rider with good posture it’s because they are constantly working at it.” It truly is such hard work to maintain good posture. “Why is that?” I’ve been asking myself. Some of us may adopt the habit of bad posture through years of hunching over in front of a computer or workstation all day. On top of that, our bodies get weighed down from carrying grief, trauma, stress, and endless emotions. Sometimes that’s really heavy. Bearing the weight of the world on your shoulders can be difficult. It’s still important to remember to keep those shoulders back, sit tall, and breathe. It may be hard work, but the rewards you will reap will be well worth it. Your horse will thank you for it, too.