Even for those of us who describe ourselves as firmly connected to reality, our tethers to a calm, realistic state can become frayed during everyday life. For numerous reasons, we often experience our bearings altered, our perceptions skewed. This is when a give a sigh of gratitude for horses. Riding has made me more grounded.

It has done this by requiring that I possess two particular traits on a daily basis: mindfulness and accountability. I would argue that when a person practices these, she is the best version of herself. But without horses, it is pretty hard to cultivate them.

Consider mindfulness, for example. In the course of our lives, becoming distracted or frazzled or fatigued is a norm. But where horses are involved, there often is no room for these other states. There is only room for paying very close attention to every moment, staying calm, and being ready with the right response to your environment. To do anything well with horses, we have to focus and concentrate. We simply cannot wander off in distractions. Both for safety reasons as well as respect for the horse, we have to stay present with 100 percent of our attention.

When a person experiences this in enough moments throughout a day, it spreads throughout the rest of her life. It becomes more attainable and consistent. And I can only pause and smile when I think what a gentler place the world might be if we were all a bit more mindful.

Or what might the world look like if we were all more accountable? Riding and training horses reiterates this trait for a person every single moment. When something is not going well in the training or care of a horse, I have to stop and ask myself why not. What am I not getting quite right? When during a ride, the mood or comfort of the horse changes under me, I must stop and assess what I botched. Tempting as it is to point a finger elsewhere, there is nowhere else to point it where horses are concerned.

They mirror back to us the spirit in which they are cared, the health and comfort they either are or are not provided. No conscious person can ignore the reflection of that mirror. Sure, it can be sobering, but it also prevents any of us from getting caught up in delusional thinking or ‘quick fixes.’ It keeps us tethered to our own individual integrity and honesty. It helps us respect other horse professionals.

Perhaps I’ve made the case that if more of humanity were mindful and accountable, the world might realize a better version of itself. This just might be true if even more people rode horses. At the very least, they would undoubtedly be more grounded.

About Jec Aristotle Ballou