You hear that phrase all the time, but do you really know what it means to “be in the moment” or “stay in the moment” or why it’s so important for equestrians to “ride in the moment?”
Being in the moment means having an acute awareness of what “is”…what you see, what you hear, what you touch…your movement and what moves around you. To absorb this “is-ness” is to be “in the moment.”
Horses live in the moment. Their evolution as prey animals dictated their cognitive development: Survival required an acute awareness of what “is.” The horse’s mind operates by taking a continuous inventory of his surroundings as each moment occurs.
By contrast, humans live predominantly in past or future time and need a reminder to slow down and, as they say, “smell the roses.” To be fully accepted by, and achieve optimal communication with the horse, we must enter their realm of moment-to-moment awareness. That is when we can be a true friend and be accepted by the horse as a trusted leader.
Entering the Realm of Awareness
The philosophy and practice of tai chi and qi gong exercise is based on being in the moment and represent an excellent method to learn how to be present with the horse—without thoughts of past experiences, worries of the current day, or future obligations. This emotional and physical state fostered by tai chi and qi gong is based on breathing, relaxation, alignment, visualization, and balance—all the attributes of energy flow…what riders call “awareness of self.”
Developing this level of consciousness begins with the exhale breath, in conjunction with deep-belly or diaphragmatic breathing. Called your dan-tien breath by tai chi practitioners, this form of breathing lowers the body’s center of gravity into the pelvic core where a tension-free and skeletally-aligned balance can be easily maintained. This is also the position of balance for the rider and is the physical balance that sustains the calmness necessary for awareness of internal and external surroundings.
The slow, deliberative motion of tai chi and qi gong exercise also fosters the meditative oneness between thought and energy that leads to increased mind and body control within each moment, not unlike the horse’s mental process.
In addition, practicing the slowness of tai chi and qi gong exercise serves to align our motion to the much slower natural rhythm of the horse. This is very important. It is why we are taught to check our energy at the barn door and let go of stress before entering. It facilitates the deeper communicative bond between horse and rider, as the horse perceives the rider is “speaking their language.”
Learning to “Be in the Moment” While You Ride
The good news is that developing or improving core-breathing can be easy for most riders: Inhale your belly goes out, exhale your belly comes in. Breathing in conjunction with tai chi or qi gong postures can strengthen your breath and increase relaxation while in movement, as you are when riding. (Making these exercise routines very different from yoga.)
Without core-breathing energy mastery will be out of reach and it is unlikely to “be in the moment” at any level that the horse will acknowledge. This concept may be explained differently depending on the method used to achieve it, but it is the key to advanced riding in any discipline. Some riders with innate athletic balance can achieve this without really understanding why, so I’m talking to the rest of us who, in our hearts, endeavor to be better horsemen and horsewomen.
Now, the all-encompassing term “energy mastery” is easier to obtain off the horse. Working to improve breathing, relaxation, alignment, visualization, and balance before you ride, means you then get on the horse better able to connect and advance. Because the tai chi and qi gong stance is so similar to the riding position, you can, in effect, enhance your riding position while you exercise. You then bring that continually strengthening posture to each next ride. The more time spent “in the moment” in off-the-horse exercise, means higher levels of awareness when in the saddle. Over time this brings grace and sophistication to your ride—energies combine so horse and rider move as one.
Experiencing this union is to be “in a consummate moment” with your horse…and it’s not just for the top riders—riders of all levels can feel moments of this union as they advance with their training. Practicing tai chi and qi gong exercise can help show the way.
© Andrea Steele 2009, updated 2018