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Joyful Awareness

Joyful Awareness

By Betsy Kelleher

     Listen! Do you hear the sounds of the world around you at this moment? Do you see what’s happening right now? Is your life full and exciting because you are fully involved with what you are doing? Or do you merely exist to get through another day? The difference often depends upon your awareness of life’s true joys. We are told that our horses live in the moment. They kick up their heels and run, not worrying about the economy or tomorrow. They wait expectantly for their food and our attention with the hope we will take care of them. Can we learn anything from this?

     Each morning, as I greet our horses and give them a carrot, I look at their eyes and their ears—their expression and attitude. I listen for Traveller’s welcoming nicker when I enter the barn, and I’m glad to see that his eyes are bright and alert. I am amused to hear Lady’s hoof pawing the heavy rubber mat inside her stall door. Those sounds reveal their individual personalities. I am happy to hear these sounds and see their healthy responses and touch them and smell their horsey carrot breath.

     Our senses are a tremendous gift. There are people who cannot see or hear or smell or touch. Be thankful that you can. A horse in the wild lives by his senses. If he didn’t smell or hear the approaching mountain lion, he would not see another day. And if you are not aware of your surroundings, your horse may discover that you are not a good leader. He needs to respect your leadership and trust you to take care of him. If you ask him to go through a doorway, first make sure it is safe. The relationship between you and your horse is the basis for everything else.

     When riding, can you relax and enjoy the ride as you feel your horse beneath you? Can you sense the subtle placement of his feet, knowing when each foot touches the ground? Can you sense his mood and know if he is tired or playful, on edge or afraid or resistant? You need to know. You need to be aware of your horse’s state of mind as much as possible before you get in the saddle! You need to read his response to what you ask and realize if he is able or willing to answer your request. This is a skill that can be developed, with patience and understanding, but it takes practice. Ground work often gives us the necessary understanding and a strong foundation for riding, and it makes a difference. If you push beyond your horse’s ability or willingness, you will find resistance sooner or later. Don’t try to force things to happen the way you want; work with your horse to find a way he can do it willingly.

     By developing awareness, you can feel the horse’s mouth through the reins and gently transmit your guidance without having to use forceful pressure. Did you know that a horse’s mouth can feel harder when he is experiencing pain? Learn to know the difference between resistance and compensation for a hurting body. Take a deep breath from your diaphragm and lift your ribcage. Let your head reach up and your legs reach down and relax and feel joyfully aware of being alive! Your balance helps your horse move better. Enjoy the smell of horse and the feel of his body’s graceful power within your hands. Learn to feel what your horse feels, so you can work with him in true harmony. So much to be aware of all at once—practice it each time you ride. Take time to listen, to watch, to feel and to sense what is going on with your horse instead of just going at it from a take-charge mindset.

     You can be very sure that your horse senses you. He knows your mood, your confidence (or lack of it) and he knows your worthiness to be his leader. Just as you can feel a difference in the way your horse moves (is he off on that right front?), he knows when you are not all that you can be. If you are not paying attention, he may do something unexpected or his pain could worsen. If you are tense and worried or distracted by personal problems, he cannot give you his best. He needs your total involvement just as he is willing to give the same. Live in this moment of partnership with your horse and focus on what you are doing. I’ve learned a lot from Sally Swift’s Centered Riding principles along this line. Her simple basics are tremendously effective.

     The Illinois Horse Fair (first weekend in March) is full of learning opportunities. Did you go? Did you find answers to your questions? Are you aware of the new trends in thought regarding horse training? Do you know the why and how of them? Did you hear the voices of new ideas—the many voices that proclaim their methods and sell their wares? You don’t need to follow all these teachers; but do learn what you can and find what works for you and your horse. Develop your abilities of perception and discernment while keeping an open mind.

     Apply your awareness to other things. As you walk to your car in the parking lot, are you aware of anything suspicious or unusual? Trust your instincts and learn to use your senses more fully to protect yourself from our own world’s predators. Don’t let a busy schedule and a worried mind keep you from living with awareness. If you would see something happen before your eyes, could you remember what color and make that car was, or what that man was wearing and how tall he was? Learn to see with purpose.

     Listen! Do you hear the sounds of the world around you and know their meaning? My husband watches the stock markets on TV, not because he owns stock, but because he likes to know what is going on and the stock market is a great barometer of the conditions shaping our circumstances. He knows the best time to buy gas or trade cars. We have a great amount of information available from many different resources and we can take advantage of whatever we need. But we also have the responsibility to judge which information is trustworthy. Even those touching emails can be checked on Snopes before forwarding!

     I walk our dog each morning by a lake, where I enjoy a piece of nature that helps me feel peace within. It is a time of solitude that develops my awareness of today and of my own place in this world. I am reminded of Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” 

     Can you see the beauty of the snow in spite of its coldness? Can you feel the joy of life in spite of its sorrow? Can you be thankful for each blessing in the midst of a struggle? Are you aware of the path you are on and where it is leading? Are you happy with that path or are you restless? Have you looked for a new path? Are you aware of the many directions your life could take? Have you asked your Creator for guidance? He knows each one of us in an intimate way, and He has a special plan for each individual. Are you trying to follow your own plan or are you ready to try His?

     We hear the uncertainty of the future and our economy. We worry about jobs, retirement, health care, taxes, foreign trade and danger from foreign powers as well as dangers from within our own country. We worry about all the unwanted horses. And we can become overwhelmed with our worries. Or we can trust in the God who holds all things in His hands. We can become more aware of His involvement in our lives. 

     If you know you are one of His children, be thankful that your future holds the promise of eternal life. If you don’t have that assurance, seek it with all your heart.

     “Too many people go about their lives without a genuine sense of God’s closeness,” according to TV minister Charles Stanley. But in Hebrews 13:5, God promised His people, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” His Presence is always near and we just need to learn to be sensitive to it. When you say your prayers, take time to quiet yourself from all distractions and listen patiently for God’s subtle answers. Our awareness of His Presence and His guidance gives us peace and hope as well as the energy to enjoy living within His loving care.

(Originally published in the March 2010 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)

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