techniques, tools, tips for learning and growth
Mental Health Toolkit
techniques and principles to improve your overall mental health and wellbeing
Practice belly breathing to help your body physically and emotionally. It will increases relaxation and decreases anxiety through
- Take two deep breaths with your hand on your chest and one hand on your belly.
- Observe the rise and fall of your chest and stomach.
- On each inhale, pretend like you are sniffing a candle.
- On each exhale, blow out a candle.
- If you notice that your chest is rising but your stomach is not, you are shallow breathing. If your stomach is rising, you are deep breathing activating full relaxation in your body.
- Be aware of your breath to ensure that you are taking deep breaths, allowing your stomach to rise. Imagine your stomach being filled like a balloon with each breath.
- If this is your first time practicing box breathing, push your stomach out while focusing on smooth, deep breaths.
Box breathing or square breath helps you slower your heart rate and reduce anxiety while increasing relaxation. Before you begin this exercise, make sure you are breathing properly by doing the Belly Breathing exercise.
- Breathe in deeply.
- Exhale, imagining a line moving from left to right.
- Continue to exhale, imagining a line from top to bottom, right to left, bottom to top, until you close the box.
- Take another breath naturally.
- Repeat the box, see if you can exhale one breath, and close the box.
- Repeat, seeing if you can make two boxes.
Repeat this exercise at least one time a day. Utilize this exercise when you feel the onset of stress or anxiety.
So try this version of a mindfulness exercise I do with my clients that is called 5-4-3-2-1:
5 things you see
4 things you hear
3 things you smell
2 things you sense touching your body (like your shirt around your elbow)
1 thing you feel on the inside (like a tightness in your chest).
Between each sense, take a deep breath.
Practice 5-4-3-2-1 multiple times a day to help your body relax!
Watch this simple explanation of the hand model of the brain, created by Dr. Dan Siegel.
tools, tips, and techniques to improve your horsemanship on the ground and in the saddle
These important facts about a horse's sense of smell come from Horse Brain, Human Brain: The Neuroscience of Horsemanship, by Janet Jones:
- When a horse "smiles," the Flehem response activates. It is a response to smelling something unusual or flavorful. They collect odor molecules by inhaling, raising their nose, and curling their lip back to hold the molecules inside the nostrils. The vomeronasal organ works to transduce odor chemicals and send neural data to the brain for interpretation.
- Horses have more olfactory receptors than most breeds of dogs. Dogs have up to 300 million receptors; humans have up to 10,000.
- Horses can smell the stress hormones of cortisol and adrenaline, which signal fear.
These important facts about a horse's vision come from Horse Brain, Human Brain: The Neuroscience of Horsemanship, by Janet Jones:
- A human has 20/20 visual acuity compared to a horse's 20/30 to 20/60 vision.
- A human can see details from 30 feet away whereas a horse can see from 20 feet away; i.e., a horse needs to be 50% closer for the same details.
- A horse experiences a 340-degree view, which is four times greater than humans.
- From 30 feet back from a fence, a human can see 5 feet wide clearly, a horse can see only 2 1/2 feet wide.
- Horses need 45 minutes to accommodate indoor lighting from bright outdoor sunlight whereas humans typically need 25 minutes.
- Horses best see bright yellow with a chartreuse tint, bright turquoise, and teal.
- Horses cannot pick up on red and green. It is all grey
- Watch this video to see a simulation of a horse eye view.
- Horses have Categorical Perception, which means they don’t group objects together as humans do. Every object is a new object when it has been moved or positioned in a different way.
Did you know that you can reinforce a behavior based on how you go about rewarding a behavior?
For a horse, the reward can come from the release of pressure, such as giving up leading a horse from a pasture and allowing them to go back to grazing, as much as it does by receiving something they want, such as a treat when the pass effortlessly through the gate.
Any time we interact with a horse, we are reinforcing a behavior, even if we are not aware of what we are doing.
This is why it is important to understand the principles of reinforcement and how they play into our interactions.
Understanding Reinforcement & Punishment
- Positive reinforcement is the adding of something to encourage a behavior
- Positive punishment is the adding of something to discourage a behavior.
- Negative reinforcement is the removal of something to encourage a behavior.
- Negative punishment is the adding of something to discourage a behavior.
Neuroscience research demonstrates that when the body experiences something positive, dopamine is released, which we know as the "feel good" loop.
A dopamine release motivates behavior.
This is why dopamine leads to addiction when there is no restraint. Therefore, we must be cognization of what we are motivating and the triggers that bring that on, whether we're interacting with horses, other animals, humans, and even the way we are conducting our lives.
Essentially, when interacting with horses, keep these two questions in mind:
In what ways am I providing a reward according to what makes this horse feel good that is reinforcing a behavior?
You head to the field to catch your horse. He greets you in the field and you respond with scratches on his withers and grounding of energy level before you offer the halter, to which he consents. Then you walk to the gate with ease and immediately after you close the pasture gate you ask for "head down" and reward with either more scratches or treat. You are reinforcing connection and making it positive with your even energy level, clear direction, and endorphin release (head down).
In what ways am I providing a consequence that this horse would like to avoid that is reinforcing a behavior?
You're nearing the end of the tacking up the process and your horse begins to paw. You scold the behavior, raise your hand aggressively, and in frustration, take him off the cross ties and put him in the stall. You have reinforced this behavior by giving him attention and removing him from the situation. He learns that if he paws, he can get your attention, go to the stall, and maybe delay the process. What should you do instead? First, rule out health issues. Second, identify what you are bringing into the relationship that he may be seeking to release the pressure from experiencing. Third, work with a trainer who understands behavior modification to identify how to extinguish this behavior and reinforce the positive behavior.
The more aware you become of how your interactions are shaping a behavior, the more you'll release your influence and hopefully, the more thoughtful you'll become about your behavior in all your relationships.
What would you like to know about horses and horse care? This ever-growing list of links offer a good starting place for the rookie:
Horse Brain, Human Brain: The Neuroscience of Horsemanship, Janet L. Jones, PhD
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