Life Lessons From the Barn: Presence, Harmony, and Connection

March 03, 2017

Horses, like all animals, live in the moment. They’re in tune with their surroundings—aware of the turkey in the next field, the start up of the truck that brings their hay, or if you’ve got a carrot in your pocket. That presence, harmony and connection is something most of us want more of.

For the past six weeks, I’ve been experimenting with what horsemanship instructor Carolyn Resnick calls the Chair Challenge, “sharing territory” with my horse, Tank. Mostly it involves simply sitting in a chair in his paddock. Some days I read, some days I write in my barn journal. Others, I just sit and listen and look. The theory is that this practice develops a stronger bond between us, by “achieving a companionship experience and connection in the moment in harmony and unity.” We so often only spend time with our horses when we want to do something with them, when we have expectations. Simply hanging out allows us both to relax and become more in tune with each other.

When I first started this practice, my mind scrabbled around like a trapped lizard. I found it almost impossible to sit and do nothing. No matter how much I profess to want a present life, I more often than not careen through my day—racing from checking emails, to working out, to writing a blog post to cleaning the bathroom to running errands.

Tank napping next to my chair
At first, Tank was puzzled. Apparently, he’s absorbed my “we must be doing something all the time” attitude, and my journal entries record that he nudged me, nibbled on my magazine, journal, and pen. He still tries to do this sometimes, especially if he’s bored, and I have to shoo him away. At other times he’s happy to stand in his favorite spot looking out beyond the fence line, or doze in the corner of his shelter. I love it when he stands near me, gives a nice long sigh, and we savor the peace of being together with no agenda.  That’s when I realize one of the most pleasurable of the benefits of this exercise: harmony, living in the moment, the sheer pleasure of sharing space with this beautiful animal.

While I still have to fight my desire to “accomplish something” when I go to the barn, I’ve also started to crave the peaceful togetherness of sharing territory. Of hearing the tap-tapping of a pileated woodpecker, the haunting cry of a hawk. Of seeing sand, sky, puffy white clouds, scrubby woods bordering the paddocks. Of feeling Tank’s muzzle nudging me or resting for a moment on the top of my head. The quiet within the quiet. No one around, no sound of traffic or people.

Yesterday, I even found myself using this technique while waiting for a prescription to be filled. I stopped fidgeting, checking my phone for the time and mentally ticking off the next three items on my to-do list, in favor of sitting calmly, breathing slowly, and observing what was going on around me.

So what does this have to do with you, most likely a non-horse owner? The lesson is: if you want peace, harmony and connection, stop, look, listen, and be. Slow down especially when you feel called upon to rush. Quiet your thoughts, let your body relax. Let the moment draw out as long and smooth as possible.

You don’t need a green plastic chair and an American Quarter Horse. Wherever you are, slow down. Pay attention. Don’t miss the daily simple pleasures that are right there for your enjoyment.

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  1. Dear Kathy - wonderful advice friend. I think I will practice this with my two Shepherds. In fact it might be nice to share it with my hubby too. He says "I am always moving about - in such a hurry." Hope to let you know how this works for me. :) - Hugs!

  2. Debbie--Yes, do let me know how this translates to the shepherds...and the husband! :)

  3. Thanks, Cheryl. I'm still rushing too often, but am finding it easier to slow down and pay attention with practice.