Ok, not lions. And not tigers. But one bear - oh, my!
On Sunday Mac and I had a lovely trail ride with some new friends (Mac's girlfriend from the Buck Brannaman clinic and her mare friend) - we went up to the forest to enjoy a light rain shower in the tall pines as we guided our horses along the single-track trails through the trees. Just as we were walking down the last 100' of trail to turn to a smaller trail that would begin our loop home, a BEAR crossed our paths!
I've been trail riding at this location for 9 years now. I know there are bears up there, but until now I had never seen one. Based on the short time I got to see it, I would estimate that it was 400 lb. or so, so not a huge bear, but certainly a bear of substance (well, aren't they all?).
Deciding that chasing after a bear wasn't the wisest thing to do, we turned around to take a different trail back. The horses weren't hugely spooked, but they definitely knew that something big and potentially scary crossed their paths. As we turned the other way, there was just a bit of tension in the air.
My words as a yoga teacher kicked in and I followed my own advice. Sensing the potential tension in the situation, I focused on my breathing. I frequently talk about how changing your breath can change your body's response - and as riders, we know that our horses feed off of our energy, so changing our response changes their response. Recognizing that my breath could help keep anxiety to a minimum and create a sense of calm right away, I focused on breathing into my belly. Inhale, belly expands against waistband; exhale, belly contracts; repeat. I focused only on belly breathing, keeping my center of gravity low and my shoulders relaxed and releasing tension with each exhale.
And you know what? It worked! What could have been a scary situation didn't escalate at all. It took about two seconds for my body to respond and my horse to respond and we turned and went on our merry way down a different trail, loopy rein and all.