Meditation with animals: Focus, refocus, repeat


2019 09.13 Gabby w Chaps & Emmie in bg

(Photo by Nancy Crowe)

When practiced with animals, Reiki is all about meditation. It creates a safe, peaceful space that promotes healing.

Until a dog barks, a truck beeps and backs up … what was that I was supposed to pick up today? I’ll have to avoid the construction at … aw, crud.

Anyone who has practiced (or tried) meditation will know what I mean. Many folks think they can’t meditate because they can’t sit still, quiet their minds, avoid distraction, or any of the other “supposed tos.” That’s the beauty of animal Reiki. While animals may call you on it if you’re not fully present, they’re all about second chances. 

That’s true even if the moment includes a pig screeching, which pierced a quiet session with some horses in a pasture. I turned from the fence and ran toward the sound, wondering if I’d have to call the police or a veterinarian, only to find said pig simply wanted out of her enclosure. Somebody else with thumbs had obliged by the time I got there.

I headed back to the pasture, taking a few deep breaths along the way. The horses looked at me not with reproach for the interruption, but empathy for reacting to a noise they probably endured often. We continued with the Reiki session. 

This ability to shift in and out of meditation was honed during my training in a sanctuary barn full of barking dogs, restless horses, and other anxious animals. We learned to hold peaceful space by adapting — moving around as needed, responding to interruptions — and refocusing. Dropping our expectations of what was supposed to happen allowed the energy to work … even when a rat ran across the floor and got the dogs barking again! 

At the end of our three days at the barn, our teacher, Kathleen Prasad, pointed out how much quieter and calmer the animals were. (You can see and hear the before and after.) We could hear the rustle of hay and the chirping of birds in the rafters. The place felt lighter.

Occasionally, especially in this season of pandemic and protest, it’s my own thoughts that pierce the peace. As soon as I notice this, I gently steer myself back to the present moment and the “Just for today” Reiki precepts. Or I’ll listen to Gregorian chant, which the animals also like. They don’t mind that it’s in Latin. Neither do I. 

We are 21st-century humans dealing with crazy stuff. Interruptions and distractions happen, but they don’t have to throw us off. Meditation with animals, especially rescue or working animals, is a perfect opportunity for flexibility and compassion. This includes self compassion. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it can make better.

If you don’t have time for what you think is a meditation practice, try sitting, standing, or walking with your animal friend and taking 10 (or five, or three) deep breaths. Focus on the peace you have, or seek, with and for your beloved friend. If something else floats through your mind instead, notice it and return to peace. If your cat leaves the room or your dog barks at the UPS man, let them and return to peace.

Congratulations; you can meditate.

Whether we are practitioners or pet parents, I’m convinced that our ability to adapt to what is happening in the moment can only help the animals. Anything I have learned about mindfulness advises us not to judge the distractions, our “monkey minds,” or ourselves, but to acknowledge our humanness and try again.

It’s not about perfection. It’s about showing up, wandering off, coming back, and being there — sometimes all in the same breath.

The naming of horses

2019 08.14 Dolly 3 - edited

I caught Dolly in the middle of lunch with hay on her face, but her star quality shines through.

There are many rules for naming racehorses, but none for your average equine citizen. From what I’ve observed, horses often get new names when they get new people, new homes, new jobs, a second chance, or any combination of these. Some retired racehorses, like my friends Beau and Pirate, go by shorter versions of their racing names.

This isn’t unique to horses. Look at the way we humans take on and drop nicknames, take spouses’ names, reclaim family names, hyphenate, and depending on who’s talking, go by names like Mom.

One horse I know chose a name his new person wouldn’t have picked in a million years. Another came by hers through blonde star synchronicity. Yet another, when given the choice, kept the name she had.


I felt the sadness of the 17-year-old shire as soon as Allison Wheaton, director of Summit Equestrian Center, sent me his photo. After years as an Amish farm horse, and apparently not the best of situations, he was to become Summit’s newest resident late last year.

Duke 04.05.19 v

This is Duke a few months after his arrival at Summit Equestrian Center. He still wasn’t out with the herd, but he’d decided he liked Reiki. (Photo by Nancy Crowe)

Allison asked me to communicate with him before he arrived and find out what he needed in the transition, and what he might like to do. And would he like a new name, or would he prefer to keep the one he had (Angmar)?

The notion that he had a choice about anything was a strange concept to this heavy-hearted soul. Yet when I asked him what he wanted to be called, I heard: “Just call me Duke.”

I passed that along. Since most school/sports rivalries are not on my radar, it didn’t occur to me that Allison, a University of North Carolina grad, might wince at the name of her alma mater’s chief rival. As I learned later, she had vowed never to name a dog, horse, or anything else Duke. But Duke it was.

As fall deepened into winter, Duke acclimated and found his footing as a therapy horse. He found he appreciated being listened to and liked Reiki, especially once he realized it was his choice. Getting him to the point where he could join the rest of the horses in the pasture took months, many introductions, and a few scuffles.

Then one day this spring, Duke caught my eye from across the pasture. He was standing up straight, ears forward, with the rest of the crew.

“Do you see where I am? Do. You. See. Where. I. Am?” I heard.

Yes, Duke … I see you.


Malibu, a Tennessee Walker-Belgian cross, had a few different homes by the time she joined the Summit herd. No one seemed to have time for her, and now she had no idea where she belonged.

Three or four days later, “Hello, Dolly!” — from the musical of the same name — got stuck in my head. I listened to the album over and over as a child and saw Carol Channing in what many consider her signature role as Dolly. But I hadn’t heard it recently or thought of it much.

The day after that, I received a text from Allison that the newcomer had settled in a bit, but Malibu didn’t seem like the right name. “Dolly? There’s got to be a sassy blonde star name that fits better,” she said.

I told her about the musical and sent a video link to the song. It includes the lyric “Tomorrow will be brighter than the good old days.”

Allison was thinking of Dolly Parton and I was thinking of the fictional Dolly Levi — but both seemed to fit. So Dolly it was, and she’s already shed stardust on a couple of participants in Summit’s veterans program.


Some horses keep their names. Lulu, a beautiful paint mare, was rescued from a horrible neglect situation. As Lulu began a new chapter at Summit, Allison asked me to see if she wanted a new name as well … like Cheyenne?

2019 07.26 Lulu & my hand copy

Lulu has been learning to trust again.

When I asked Lulu, she told me she knew who she was and it didn’t matter what the humans called her. Cheyenne was fine, but she was also fine with sticking with Lulu, so that’s what we did.

Recovery is all about ups and downs, and less than two years later, Lulu’s is no exception. She has a good buddy in Pirate, one of the aforementioned retired racehorses, and she’s helped some of Summit’s human clients heal their own wounds. Every time I check in with her, even if she is struggling with the effects of her past, I see her choose to give her new life — still as Lulu — a chance.

You tell me …

How did your horse friends get their names … or new names?