Zen &
            the Horse


Zen Meditation and Riding

Zen and the Horse is about seeing horses and riding as a Way, becoming an activity of training and self-development.

On the surface, it would seem that Zen meditation and riding a horse would have little in common. The first activity takes place on a stationary cushion and the other occurs on the back of a moving animal. Your legs are crossed in meditation, while on a horse they straddle each side. Your hands are placed together for zazen (sitting meditation), while riding they can separately hold each rein. Given these differences, the principles of posture, breath and awareness for Zen meditation can and do apply to horseback riding.

From a zazen perspec
tive, your posture is adjusted to bring your spine into alignment. To accomplish this, the bottom of your spine is lengthened downward as the top is extended upward. In zazen, your ears should be in line with your shoulders as if the top of your head were suspended from above. Tension in your neck and upper body needs to be released. This can be accomplished by moving the front of your pelvis upward in the direction of your nose, allowing the trunk of your body to rest squarely over your legs.

From a riding perspective, the posture of a rider on a horse is referred to as the “seat” of the rider. If you maintain your position in the saddle by self-carriage and balance, allowing the motion of the horse, you are said to have an independent seat. W. Müseler in Riding Logic refers to “das Kreuz anziehen,” an action of the rider’s lower back that is essential for a stable and balanced seat. In das Kreuz anziehen, the lower spine and sacrum are brought forward. This levels the pelvis and lengthens the lower spine.

When your pelvis is level, your diaphragm can expand into your lower abdomen. In zazen, the spine lengthens on both inhalation and exhalation. Your focus should be on making the exhalation long and even. Your inhalation should occur without effort. The abdomen remains slightly expanded on both inhalation and exhalation.

In riding, breathing can be used to stabilize both rider and horse. By using a downward exhalation, you maintain your center and increase your stability. By using an upward inhalation, you release tension from your upper body and gain lift. The inhalation can be used as a half-halt to rebalance your horse.

In zazen, your field of vision spans 180 degrees to keep the mind from focusing and becoming narrow. In riding, your eyes must be able to see the entire field of vision while looking ahead. Such a diffused field of vision prevents your attention from being taken up by individual stimuli in both zazen and riding.

If posture and breathing are correct, then awareness becomes correct. Words cannot accurately describe the awareness cultivated by Zen training. This awareness is non-dualistic, transcending the either-or of subject-object. At the highest level of awareness; thinking, acting and feeling become one.

Through refining posture, breath and awareness, you can experience your connection with the horse. The horse can serve as a mirror to reflect the results of this refinement. At the highest levels of riding, the rider allows the motion of the horse and the horse responds to the rider so closely, both appear to become “one with” each other. The ultimate goal of riding is to transcend the duality of rider and horse.

While maintaining different forms, the posture, breath and awareness of zazen and riding have fundamental similarities. The techniques of zazen can be used to train and develop the rider. Riding can be used to develop posture and breath in movement. What is experienced through both Zen meditation and riding can be used as a method or Way of self-development when applied to daily living. The end result of both is to fully experience and respond to each moment, whether in stillness or in motion.

For more information on Zen training:                daiyuzenji.org  


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