Training the [horse/human] mind…
February 3, 2010, 3:39 pm
Filed under: Random Reflections, Thought-Provoking Muses | Tags:
Gale & Etta aka "The Black Buddha"

I occasionally work with horses–usually one of my own, shown in the photo here, but sometimes horses owned by other people or, more recently, at a rescue facility. The other day it occurred to me that training my mind has been a lot like training an inexperienced horse.

Horses are very much “here, now” – they live in the present moment. This means they are aware of everything going on inside their own bodies, and all around them, via their sense perceptions. Their minds don’t inhabit a world of thought (and problems). However, when one starts to train horses, it is often challenging to get them to be “here, now” when that means to keep their attention on the task at hand, whether it be moving forward, backwards, sideways, or simply standing still—always attentive.

So when one first works with a horse, the most important aspect of the training is to get a horse’s attention—and keep it. This is not always easy, especially to keep a young or inexperienced horse focused for any length of time. But gradually, with gentle reminders to the horse to, “be here, now” the horse’s capacity to focus grows. And with that growth, the trainer’s trust in the horse grows… he or she trusts that the horse will “be there” for them, anytime, including when the shit hits the fan (so-to-speak). Horse and trainer actually become One, both “here, now” — the horse seems to be reading the trainer’s mind. (Knowing this, it comes as no surprise that books written by master horsemen are titled “True Unity” [Tom Dorrance] and “Think Harmony With Horses” [Ray Hunt], and “True Horsemanship Through Feel” [Bill Dorrance & Leslie Desmond].)

Here’s what I mean… When working with a horse on the ground, one asks the horse to move left or right, forward or back, and–in between moves–to stand, quietly, but attentive. To stay focused on the task at hand—whether moving or standing quietly, looking at the trainer. If/when the horse’s attention wanders, the trainer simply has to bring the horse’s attention back. After awhile, the horse understands that part of what he is being asked to do is to simply keep his attention on the trainer at all times, during all maneuvers, including standing—alert and ready. Alive.

So as a horse becomes good at this, a trainer will actually become less demanding, and allow the horse’s attention to wander a bit. It is a way to let the horse explore, and yet find his own way back to center–the required focus. Depending on how well and often he can bring his attention back, the trainer learns to trust that the horse is actually still “here, now” … even as his attention seems to be elsewhere. (There is so much that can be spoken about here, including Sally Swift’s description of “soft eyes” vs “hard eyes” when describing focus; how the former encompasses so much more—including the periphery—and the later is a laser-like focus that blocks out all but the narrowest point. But I won’t get into all that here, now. A full description can be found in her book “Centered Riding”).

This constant refocusing results in a horse that is reliable—his attention is always on the trainer and the task at hand. If/when the trainer needs him to move, the horse is ready, and in his mind he simply asks, if necessary “where to, how fast, how far?” If he is moving and the trainer requires him to stop, the horse has no questions—he simply stops, now.

Many spiritual seekers wonder how much effort they should put into their seeking, and how disciplined they should be. This is something I have wondered, and struggled with, for many years. It is only recently that I realized the effort and discipline that is required–in myself–can be likened to training a horse’s mind to stay focused on the task at hand, which is to keep his attention “here, now.” The only difference between the two is that, in the beginning, the horse has the benefit of a trainer–a human being who constantly (hopefully, gently) reminds him to “come back.” As someone on the path to awakening, I have discovered that, in this analogy, I am obviously the inexperienced and inattentive horse, but I must also fulfill the role of the trainer.

The first requirement has been to notice when my own mind wanders. I may or may not catch this quickly. When I do, I simply bring my mind back to “here, now” … over and over again; as often as necessary and for as long as required. Sometimes, as the horse, I am all over the map—and this requires the trainer in me to be vigilant and active. Sometimes the horse is quiet and attentive and the trainer need not do anything. Eventually, as in the real world of horse and rider, both horse and trainer merge into One, as awareness in both is simply “here, now.”

My goal is to rediscover, fully, my true nature as One, and finding myself as both horse and trainer has been revealing, and incredibly liberating in some ways. I am enjoying the ‘effort’ and ‘discipline’ required in the training process!

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3 Comments

equiwolf – this is very interesting to me. The insight you suggestion of “one-ness”. The concept of the “self” as a separate entity is fairly recent (in the larger view of human evolution). It is both “object” and “subject” – “observer” and “the observed”….the “trainer” and “the trained”….

Comment by CatlowComments

…and I meant to compliment you on the happy and beautiful photo!

Comment by CatlowComments

Love-ly photo!

Comment by doreen




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