Written by Jessie Tierney, Certified Yoga Instructor and Summer 2011 Wrangler at Sanborn Western Camps.
On our four-day pack trip, seven ladies and two counselors joined me in a quest to find a deeper connection to Horse and Self through yogic principles.
Many people associate yoga with postures and flexibility (the asanas), which, while an important part of this practice (and especially photogenic), is not the entire picture. Through four days of waking up early to let the horses out to graze, practicing breathing, long rides on and off-trail, technical riding practice and games in the arena, discussing qualities of exceptional humans and horses, practicing patience and persistence, we began to explore some of the more subtle aspects of Yoga and how Yoga can apply to our lives on and off the horses.
I was inspired by this group of ladies–they were eager to learn more about their mounts and had a deep commitment to strengthening their bond with their horse over a short four days. They all succeeded. One of the horses who was often skiddish and would often pull back on the lead rope, shying away when approached by a human, seemed to settle into his skin, so to speak, and actually watched for his rider, following her with calmer eyes than I had seen on him since I met him. Another horse who is known for prancing on the trail and rarely flat-walking seemed to melt under his rider as she practiced slow, long breaths. The sweet mule on our trip who did have a mule-like stubbron tendency when she was away from her buddy in the herd seemed to replace that horse-partner with her human-partner, nickering when her rider walked near. These were subtle differences that might not be noticed if we weren’t watching for them, but the nature of this long trip allowed for us the extra time and space for observation and reflection.
Not only the horses benefited from this trip. Each girl in turn seemed to more willingly take on the responsibility for her horse than I have seen in my years of leading horse trips. Her investment in the welfare of her horse was great, and I heard not one single “are we done yet?” while we let the horses graze for four hours (instead of three) each morning and each evening, under steady watch of their riders. Girls willingly volunteered to contribute to our small community’s well being–”Should I take down these tents?” “Do you want me to collect the dishes?” “Can I let my horse graze some more?” “Do you need to borrow my headlamp?” The counselors and I honored these qualities in the girls by awarding them aspen leaves, a GROW STRONG tradition at Sanborn, naming qualities like Leadership, Helpfulness, Optimism, Great Attitude in each girl and writing the instance down on a leaf. The ladies cheered for one another in our evening circles, and we discussed ideas like Community, Leadership, and Integration.
The entire feeling of this long trip was serene. I don’t remember ever feeling over-tired or stressed (common sentiments on any typical long trip). Yet it was not any small feat; this four-day trip that took the ladies and their mounts off-campus. I think what made the difference between this trip and others I have led was our strong, unified Intention that we took the time to set at the beginning of our journey. I think it helped that we practiced yoga in various forms throughout the trip: Meditation, an active Asana Practice, Partner Yoga, “Hawking Yoga” (in the field next to a grazing horse), Bareback Yoga. We had an excellent discussion on GRATITUDE, and how the simple act of waking up in the morning and listing off five things we are grateful for can totally set the stage for the day or pull us out of any funk. We spoke about how attitude is a choice and that we can choose, literally, to be joyful. One of the girls started out the trip rolling her eyes at a lot of these ideas, but after our Attitude discussion, she was all smiles and seemed to get a lot out of the activities she’d previously felt were juvenile.
I am so proud of these girls. They trusted one another, they slowed down and allowed themselves time for reflection, they became vulnerable to one another and shared their inner and outer observations. These are all things that our culture rarely allows time for. Even camp, which is meant to provide for these opportunities, can feel cramped for time and space when we have so many objectives and goals in mind. I am so grateful to the folks “in charge” at Sanborn for allowing such a trip to happen, for their encouragement!, and for trusting that it is truly not the destination but the journey that matters.