The Dharma of Horsemanship
by Mary Ann Campbell
Working skillfully with fear, with horses as our mentors
When we sit to practice meditation, we don’t just walk in the room and sit down. We develop a sense of occasion, we pay attention to our physical balances and tensions, the quality of our mind, the quality of our emotions. As we develop a practice we begin to wake up to the effect of unconscious imbalance in the mind, the emotions, and the body. The more consistently we practice, the better we get at re-centering ourselves.
At first we practice this rebalancing consciously when taking our seat and when in practice itself. It seems special to that process. But, at some point the meditator begins to notice that we can remind ourselves to be present both on the cushion and throughout our day.
As we begin to integrate mindfulness practices in our daily lives, we begin to notice what sends us off center.
At the most fundamental level, the thing that sets us off our center is fear. We are afraid of being knocked off balance, hurt, misunderstood, stepped on, ignored, run over or otherwise damaged by the world around us. So we armor. We become aggressive towards the situation- we go on the offensive, we raise our voice, we walk “that way”, we armor. Or, we hide—we direct the aggression towards ourselves, we become depressed or neurotic.
And all that invisible armor keeps us locked in the fear itself, and the corrosive effect hurts our bodies and our minds.
On the cushion, sitting stationary we return our mind to our breathing, or our focus of concentration. In the active world of our daily lives there are many more moving parts, some of them fraught with risk. It is much harder to just stay centered when there are palpable dangers threatening us, whether they are physical in nature, cognitive, or emotional.
Fear can send us flying out of control.
But it’s not fear that is the problem, it’s the way we guard, protect, or armor ourselves that makes things get complex. We tend to flee, fight, or freeze. None of these are the best option if the fearful things is, say, our teenage daughter or our boss. So, how can we learn work with fear in a more skillful way?
One way is to work with skillful people in a controlled situation that tends to provoke fear.
That is the central idea in our course coming up this May 12 and 13th, the Dharma of Horsemanship.
Your instructors will be Marcia Oberg, who is a meditation instructor with Shambhala who began riding as a child on the family ranch. She is also a body worker who is very present to the cost of unconscious fear in the human body. She works with her clients to bring awareness and release to the many ways our bodies hold tension. Co-instructors Craig Stevens and Mary Anne Campbell both are horse trainers, teachers and clinicians who teach internationally, instructing riders in an ancient method for working with their horses with clarity, gentleness and peace. Craig is a long time Shambhalian, Mary Anne is a friend of Shambhala and a yogi.
We each see the cost of fear and aggression daily in our work, and we see the power of awareness, mindfulness, and connection as well.
For horses, good training helps them learn that when they feel fearful they can turn to their human partner for strategies to get through the risks they experience.
For us humans, it’s useful to train ourselves in a fearful situation to be our own allies as well, and to recognize fear as an ally that, instead of destabilizing us, can help direct us in a skillful way.
The Dharma of Horsemanship is a course that uses the experience of being around large, unfamiliar, sometimes dangerous animals to develop a skillful way of being with the presence of fear in our lives.
We will not be riding in this introductory course, we will be working with horses on the ground learning some of the skilled leading techniques called ‘the work in hand.’
The Dharma of Horsemanship brings together the horse and the human to help us identify our own fear response. Working first with one another and then, safely and only on the ground, with the horses, we will engage in questions such as: what does my fear response look and feel like? When does it begin to engage? How can I feel the changes earlier when my ‘gut’ tells me something is off? How can I respect that feeling, and work with it skillfully to re-create and identify safety? When and why and how is it right to challenge my fear? What is the role of “challenging ones fear” vs the role of “respecting one’s sense of danger”?
These and other questions that will arise will be taken on and played with safely with the intention to draw out our skill in relating with fear as a friend, and an ally, and a mentor.
The course is taught by three long-time meditators who are also experienced horse people. Marcia and Craig are both Shambhala members, Mary Anne is an old-school yogi.
To learn more about your teachers, please visit our websites,