The practice of yoga benefits riders and their horses both subtly and obviously. Here are some things we can watch for and celebrate as we learn and grow in our practice.
This benefit is perhaps the first one we recognize. After a well-rounded practice, our bodies have moved in all directions, we have created space and heated the body through conscious breathing, and we have stretched comfortably within our limits. Over time, flexibility increases and we notice our physical limitations expanding.
I can’t recount how many times I have heard, “Oh I can’t do yoga–I’m not flexible enough!” Yoga isn’t about showing off how flexible you are; it’s about gently coaxing your body toward suppleness and gaining flexibility over time. It is a practice, and it may not happen overnight.
Flexibility is beneficial in the saddle. Even though we aren’t exactly riding in a specific yoga position (though some–myself included–would point out that sitting on a horse is yoga), a flexible body has fluidity: it moves efficiently and gracefully with the dynamic movements of the horse. Try sitting a trot with your shoulders scrunched toward your ears and you will feel a dramatic example of how a lack of flexibility impacts your riding (then be sure to pat your horse afterward and thank him for letting you experiment).
With flexibility comes ease: notice the difference between a limber horse who has warmed up and a stiff horse who has just stepped out of its stall, or a horse who will bend easily to slight pressure and a horse who resists the bridle. Visible grace arises out of flexibility, and this concept applies to both horses and humans.
Physically, as we age or through lack of practice, we lose our balance more easily. This can be remedied simply by engaging in balancing activities. All Hayloft Yoga classes have a balance component, with modifications that are accessible to anyone.
Physical balance translates to staying centered in the saddle through every gait and transition. Yoga develops muscles that aid in balancing through seated, standing, and moving postures. In the saddle, we find greater ease and stability as a result of the yoga practice. Our horses will appreciate our integrity and ability to support their movements through our heightened sense of balance.
BODY AWARENESS & COMMUNICATION
Unlike humans, who primarily use words and tone of voice to express ideas, horses rely on what we consider subtle physical cues. As a prey species, horses are far more sensitive to physical messages.
As we practice yoga, we heighten our awareness of the messages we send through our bodies. We become more intentional in how we move. We begin to notice the impact of posture, the energy in our seat, and the awareness of our breath. In these ways, we learn to communicate with our horses with more clarity and effectiveness.
CLARITY & A HEALTHY MENTAL FRAMEWORK
By focusing our attention on the physical body and the breath, a yoga practice clears the mind of distractions and makes this mental state more readily accessible. We gradually realize that mental clarity is a choice: it is a matter of taking a moment to breathe rather than getting wrapped up in external circumstances.
Yoga can teach us patience, persistence, grace, humility, courage … the list goes on. When we’ve had a rough day and arrive at the barn frazzled, we often find after just a few minutes of grooming or riding, our troubles have melted away and we’ve gained a healthy perspective again.
Yoga empowers us to create the same impact: no matter how busy or chaotic the day has been, a few minutes of breathing deeply brings us to center. It only takes a moment.
This mental clarity can benefit us before we enter the show ring, as we get prepare to mount a nervous horse, on the trail, in the arena–virtually every circumstance we encounter.
I invite you to share some of the benefits you have found in your practice in the form of a Comment or Reply, below.
Thank you and Namaste.