Stressed in the Saddle? Shed the day's noise as you set foot in the barn aisle.

I am pleased to share my experience and expertise with our community in a regular feature column for www.StreetToStable.com.

Is barn time your therapy? Most of us amateurs consider our horses essential to our mental health. Pulled between work, family and other commitments, we lead complicated, stressful lives. The barn gives us an opportunity to slow down, be present, and get reconnected—not just to our horses, but also to ourselves.

At its best, barn time is a mini vacation. It’s like being ‘off the grid’ for that 45 minutes you’re in the saddle. 

Photo Credit:  Alden Corrigan Media

But what if your commitments hover over you as you ride? Or you’re pulled to answer that last call from a client as you groom and prep your horse? Or you’re lost in thought about how to negotiate that deal. I guarantee your horse knows you’re not present, and you’re not getting the benefit of being ‘off the grid’ for that precious time you’re on his back.

I get questions all the time about how to ‘balance’ regular life with a serious sport like riding.  Most people start with the idea that balancing means fitting it all in, like organizing your closet really well. While organization helps, in my experience it’s not the core of the solution.

You can’t have it all.

Sorry, but it’s true. You can’t have it all, at least you can’t have it all at the same time. Remember when multitasking was a revered quality?  We were all so proud of our ability to do 3 things at once.  We thought we were so efficient.

I would argue that multitasking is central to our distracted way of living and to our general malaise. 

What do I mean?  If you don’t allow yourself to be fully present in whatever you are doing, then you don’t get to fully participate in anything. You don’t get the emotional boost of being ‘in’ a lively conversation with a friend, you don’t get the real joy of closing that deal, and you don’t feel that connection with the horse you love. Oh, and you also can’t ride your best, by the way.

The key to balance, in my view, is boundaries. Draw lines around commitments and relationships, and yourself.

So what does that look like, practically? 

  • Resolve to be fully present for a designated time while you’re at the barn. Maybe that can only be for your riding time, but maybe it can be longer. Can you allow some time before and after your ride so you can fully enjoy your horse from the ground too? I find that leaving the phone in the car helps.

  • Keep a list handy where you can jot down thoughts like, ‘I need to call Joe back’ or ‘send that email.’ Don’t just do ‘it’; put it on the list and do it at a time you designate. For me, putting things on the list helps reassure me that I will get it done later. Knowing that I will get it done, I can bring myself back to the present.

  • One way to quickly ‘get in the present’ is to consciously—and exquisitely—notice where you are. That means seeing, feeling, smelling. Pay attention to your feet on the ground. Look around you. Take a deep breath or two. Soak in the color of the leaves, the smell of the hay, the feel of your horse’s shoulder. Look into your horse’s eye and acknowledge him. This mindfulness practice will help slow your brain, bring your body into the present, and help you connect with that beautiful animal who is so generous with you.

Remember, barn time is your you time. It’s precious. I’ve often referred to the barn as a sanctuary, a sacred space.  For your mental health, and for your horse, leave the rest of it behind for the short time you’re there. It’s restorative for your brain and your spirit. I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at how rejuvenated and alive you’ll feel. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

All the best,

Darby