Some people find the Polly Anna complex, the art of always finding the positive in everything, very annoying. However, studies are starting to show the benefits of gratitude on a range of health topics from sleep to heart health. I have been actively practicing gratitude and also compassion for a number of years. I have found it to be one of the singularly most helpful shifts in mindset I have ever made. It allows me to feel genuine gratitude for some of the roughest parts of my life, even if it takes a few days or weeks of reflection to get there.
Earlier this year I thoroughly naffed my ankle while trying to climb over a fence. It was one of those seemingly stupid accidents which ruined my riding and competitive plans for the year. Lali, my main riding horse, was fit and ready to tackle her first 2 day endurance ride. She was so mad at me for the sudden change in activity, that she wouldn’t even come near me for 3 weeks! I could hardly walk and was banned from riding for 3 months and endurance was out of the question for a year.
However, I had been saying for months how I was feeling overwhelmed with all the things I was trying to jam into my life. Suddenly, the injury provided me with 10 weeks of being virtually house bound. I had so much time, and so many opportunities to change the way I was living my life. I had to learn to ask for help, a lot of help. Getting the kids to school, looking after the horses, still seeing the occasional client, going to hospital umpteen times – I needed help for everything.
And after the initial shock, grief and irritation had passed, I started to return to gratitude. I like a challenge, so stuck on the sofa I began to find the good. For starters, what a gift to have so many wonderful friends and family members who willingly helped us out. Even more of a gift, I learnt that asking for help isn’t a sign of not coping. That was a lesson I really needed to learn. I learnt that life continues even if I am not physically picking it up at carrying it at the speed of my ambitions. While my ambitions are my own, there is more joy in reaching them with others. And I learnt that all the things I want to achieve will wait their turn and I can savour the experiences more when I can fully engage in them.
In our modern, winner takes all, society it can be hard to find the gifts in the hardships. And life always likes to throw a curve ball when you feel least ready to catch it. It takes an initial commitment to daily gratitude practice. Just like yoga, healthy eating or any of the resolutions we make for our own improvement, it is the days and weeks following the resolution which matter most. Talking about improving ourselves will never be the same as going out there and improving.
For the next 7 days apply the practice just to your equitation. Try reading the blog I posted last week on resistances, and see if each time you meet a resistance in your horse you can find its hidden gift. Find the gratitude for the things you can learn from your horse’s actions. By focusing on the gratitude you will begin to feel your whole attitude to your horse lift. With the dark evenings and the cold rain of a British autumn, the horses can start to feel like more of a chore. But as you shut the yard gate behind you, take 30 seconds to pause and think of one thing your can be grateful for with your horse that day. A moment of harmony in the riding, the luxurious feel of winter fluff or a moleskin smooth clip, even their reflection in the puddles in the arena.
These gems are all around us, if only we remember to look for them.