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. Given these differences, the principles of posture, breath and awareness for Zen meditation can and do apply to horseback riding.
From a zazen perspective, your posture is adjusted to bring your spine into alignment. 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.
In zazen, the spine lengthens on both inhalation and exhalation. Your focus should be on making the exhalation long and even. 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.
In zazen, your field of vision spans 180° 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 changes. 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. The ultimate goal of riding is to transcend the duality of rider and horse.
A Way of Self-Development
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.