Butterflies Help With Anxiety?


Watching Pat Parelli, the man who coined the term „natural horsemanship“, live is always an eye-opening experience. He has sayings that he will use over and over again. Because of that, they stick and you never forget them.

There was one story which I only heard him tell once. Funny enough, it has stayed with me ever since.

One way to get a horse to calm down and focus on you, is to work in patterns. Pat was talking about this and mentioned it was also relevant to humans. When he gets anxious or fidgety before a large performance or a nerve-wracking situation, he has butterflies in his stomach.

His way of calming himself down, was imaging that he was moving the butterflies in a figure-8 pattern. I never thought much of it, but his tip stayed in the back of my mind. Years later, I was about to go out into an arena with my dog and horse in front of 3,000 people. My mouth went completely dry, I had a flurry of anxious butterflies in my stomach and my heart dropped into my shoes.

Pat Parelli’s words of advice came to mind. I breathed. I imagined all of those butterflies flying in a figure-8 pattern. It sounds odd, but it really works! Focusing all of my energy on breathing and imagining this pattern calmed me down almost instantly.

It’s not every day that we have a situation that makes us this nervous, but having this sort of meditation or visualisation can really help with our training, as well. There are moments when working on a problem with a dog or horse that can raise our emotions.

For example, if you have a dog who has problematic dog encounters, your nervous energy will escalate your dog’s reactions. Although you need to continue training on your dog’s behaviour and improve it, it can really help if you try this exercise. Focus on your breath and staying calm – imagine all of those jittery butterflies and nervous emotions flying in a figure-8 pattern. Your animal will pick up on your calm energy immediately and it could help deescalate the situation.

What do you do when you start getting nervous and anxious? Share in the comments!

This post is also available in: English (Englisch)

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