Tag Archives: Equestrian

Human Interactions Shape Horses’ Emotions

Mini-CooperIf you think about it for a moment, you already know this.  It’s fun to find that folks are studying the horsy phenomenons we encounter every day, and we see that very useful perspectives can emerge.

Clémence Lesimple, PhD, researcher at the University of Rennes in France, found that horses emotions (particularly their negative emotions) can result directly from their interactions with the humans who care for them.  You can read an article about the study here, published in The Horse.

We’ve all encountered a horse that seemed shy, standoffish, or even aggressive who was transformed by the love and dedication of a new owner or trainer.   This principle of loving care and kindness is referred to as Ahimsa in the yoga tradition.  It is one of the main principles which must be integrated into the practice of asana (yoga postures) and into a practitioner’s life as one steps onto the path of yoga.

I think back to the miniature horse we lovingly referred to as Mini Cooper.  He was neglected and malnourished, and when my Mom adopted him from Blue Ridge Rescue in Iowa, it was hard to get near him.  We took him to Sanborn, the amazing summer camp I was working at as a wrangler, and taught the campers how to be very patient, gentle and slow with him.  At first when approached, he’d run to the other end of his turnout area, so campers learned to get centered and calm, and practiced radiating love from their hearts.  Slowly, sometimes with the help of a handful of grass, Mini Cooper would turn toward the kids, and walk closer, closer, and close enough to eat out of their hands.  After just one summer, Cooper was transformed from a mini who ran from people and did not know how to trust them to a happy-to-be scratched bud of many, many campers.

PeteI also think about my sweet wrangler horse, Pete.  When I met him, he was really just a bit misunderstood, and had a reputation that likely colored many former wranglers’ approaches to working with him.  Man-handled or jerked around aggressively, he was eager and capable to respond in kind (even unloading riders he wasn’t fond of).  But when approached with softness and with an intention of loving connection, he became a snuggly, happy, willing-to-please and eventually camper-friendly mount.  So much of what we do–and who we are–impacts the horses we find ourselves among.  So keep breathing deep!

Before we can effectively and deeply help to transform the emotions of our equine partners, we must first dive inside to our own inner state, cultivating loving care and kindness toward our selves.  I can’t tell you how many times I have walked into the barn feeling a certain negativity and realized that as I worked on the horses ~ grooming or even just turning them out or filling their water buckets ~ I found that they seemed to be working on me, helping lift my spirits and demanding my presence in each moment.  How lucky we are that horses can be these emotional stabilizers for us!  In yoga, we can learn to do this for ourselves, turning within and growing Ahimsa from inside.

Another element of the study I found notable regarded not only our emotional state and how it impacts our horses, but also our physical bodies and training methods:

Certain training techniques and positions—as well as poor equitation style, especially of novice riders—can lead to chronic pain. Horses with chronic back pain showed more signs of depression, aggression, or learned helplessness (when they seem to “check out” of the environment that they have come to perceive as negative), she said.

Christa Lesté-Lasserre in The Horse

Our position in the saddle, our habitual movement patterns (whether we are aware of them or not) are always influencing our horse on both a physical and emotional level.  Consider Amy Cuddy, social psychologist’s study on the hormone responses and social implications of physical posture in humans ~ here is her Ted Talk called Your Body Language Shapes who you Are (it is one of my very favorites):

We know that a low head is calming for horses, we can read ears, facial expressions, lips, eyes, and body tensions.  How are our approaches to training and the positions we ask our horses to embody impacting their emotional state?  What is your experience in this arena?  I would love to hear from you!

Wishing you and your horses a sense of collective Ahimsa ~ the yogic principle of loving care and kindness ~ throughout your times together.

Happy trails!

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Reflections: Retreat to the Hayloft

Blanchard_ViewAbove, the view of Blanchard Mountain; beyond, the sea, just outside Double S.

Last night’s class at the barn was spectacular ~ the warm summer breeze, baby swallows peeping their blue tiny heads over the edge of their nest, horses and cows grazing in the almost impossibly bright green pasture.  It was the type of night that subtly reminds us, through the way that the evening light settles into the grasses and trees, that this ~ here ~ is exactly where we are meant to be.  Not many years ago, when I lived in the beautiful tremendous bustle of Chicago, I would never have ever imagined that someday I would be teaching yoga in a gorgeous horse barn at the base of a mountain, just steps away from the salty sea.

Here, it is like a retreat, a respite full of nourishment that we can access just by opening our eyes.  Or closing them, and feeling ~ the cool breeze on our warm skin, inhaling the aroma of horse hair and hay.  By noticing.  It is simple here, easier to let go and truly be present.  The horses help, in how they “experience the simple energy of [their] emotional state of being,” as Hamilton explains (I am reading his book.  It is brilliant.  Thanks Cody!).  In the presence of the horse, we settle into our bodies, into our simple energy and re-remember how to just be.

“We are human beings, not human doings.”

Pasture

It was the kind of night where you’re driving home and your heart just explodes open in the way that a flower blossoms open, gently and all at once.

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Stay tuned …

Horseback Yoga Twist… for the first Horseback Yoga workshop of 2014!

Sneak preview: This 2-day workshop built around improving your horsemanship and deepening your connection with your equine partner will be hosted by Double S Quarter Horses in Bow, WA, and will be scheduled for a weekend in May.

March 3-4, 2014
as a part of the Extreme Horsemanship Clinic at Double S Quarter Horses

Each morning opens with a yoga practice in the hayloft (taught by yours truly), transitioning to yoga on your horse (also taught by me), and then on to horsemanship workshops taught by Sue Sultze & Tom Pasma.

Call Sue to inquire and to register for the workshop: 360-661-5026

Click here to join Jessie’s yoga e-mail list and get updates to your inbox.

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Hayloft Yoga: Compassion

Tonight was our first Fall-feeling Hayloft Yoga class of 2013, and the crisp air brought some friendly new faces!  I was struck by what a sweet community of horse- and yoga-lovers I am so fortunate to be a part of.

Horses-Grazing-Double-S

Horses and cows grazed outside in the field to the backdrop of the Olympics, and the sunset was lovely as usual.  The weather has changed and is a bit more brisk, but nothing some conscious breathing and active poses can’t warm us through.  I noticed, after having been out of state for a month, the incredible impact the horses have on our practice of yoga.  In the hayloft, we can gaze down into their stalls and watch them (and they often watch us!).  We are enveloped in the sweet smell of hay, the sounds of them breathing, chewing, the taste of the dusty air.  Most importantly for me, horses help us to be present, in the moment, in our bodies.  Their way of being in the world–whether standing in the pasture or ridden under saddle–shines a mirror to our deepest selves and helps us to access that depth in ways we wouldn’t otherwise know how to.  Simply being in the presence of a horse is healing, calming.  They patiently, persistently show us how to be our best selves.  It is an honor and privilege to share a space with these equines, the true yogis!

Tonight’s theme was compassion, and we began class in a restorative pose while I shared a quote from Jack Kornfield:

“True compassion arises from a healthy sense of self, from an awareness of who we are that honors our own capacities and fears, our own feelings and integrity, along with those of others.”

This practice of having compassion toward ourselves is one of great import in yoga and in our lives.  On the mat in asana (posture) practice, we can approach each breath, each movement, with a sweetness in our heart toward our body, its capabilities and its limitations.  With this intention of loving-kindness, we find that we avoid injury and can go deeper into our practice, learning more and more about our physical, energetic and spiritual bodies.  Cows-Chickens-Double-SAs Kornfield says, before we can be of service to others, we must first gain a healthy sense of Self.  Yoga is a system that offers us tools to develop an awareness of who we are, with honesty and patience, allowing us to purify our body/mind with continued practice.  Only then, from a space of clarity and self-awareness, can we truly serve others.

As we refine this compassion practice on the mat, it begins to seep into our lives.  We can consider: what if we awoke each morning brimming with a joyful sense of self-awareness?  What if we lived every moment of the day with a sense of compassion toward our selves?  What if we cultivated unconditional self love, so that no matter what, our hearts stayed open?  What might our day look like?

The horses we love never criticize themselves for having a lameness, or being overweight, or aging, or feeling pain.  Perhaps that is one of the gifts they can offer us: a reflection of how to stay present, how to be compassionate, without judgement or harshness.  With honesty, truthfulness, nonattachment, these equines offer us an approach to living.

I encourage you, as you move through your days, to check in with yourself and see that you are approaching your thoughts, your actions, with compassion.  With acceptance.  With a genuine sense of self love.  You may notice that honing in on this practice enables you to become more compassionate toward others.

I would love to hear about your experience.

ॐ The highest potential within me honors the highest potential within you: Namaste.  ॐ

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June 25, 2013 · 9:59 pm

Horseback Yoga at Big Lake Stables

Horseback-Extended-Tadasana

SUNDAY JULY 7th
ALL LEVELS HORSEBACK YOGA WORKSHOP
12 noon ~ 3 pm
$40 includes arena use fee   ~   Free to “audit” (participate/observe on foot)

Big Lake Stables is located at 16550 State Route 9, Mount Vernon, WA

Here are the best ways you can prepare:

  • Please bring a trusted horseperson friend to hold your horse for you if needed.  It is also possible to partner up and spend half the time riding and the other half holding for your partner.
  • Show up on Sunday with a sense of play and childlike curiosity.  Let go of former approaches to horsemanship or expectations, and have an open mind about trying something new, even if just for a day.
  • If you have not already made payment arrangements with Terri or Jessie, please bring cash/check on Sunday.
  • Have your horse groomed by 12 noon.  If your horse would prefer, keep her/him in a stall while we do yoga (or you can leave her/him tied around the perimeter of the arena).
  • Wear comfortable riding clothes and boots.  Contrary to what you may have heard, you can absolutely do yoga in boots and jeans.  However, for our purposes, it is easier to move in flexible pants like breeches rather than tight-fitting jeans.  Wear what you will be comfortable moving in.  
  • No yoga mat or special equipment needed.  Bridle, hackamore, or whatever you are used to riding with is all the tack you need (no saddles!).
  • Okay to eat lunch before we start.
  • Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any other questions or concerns.

The workshop will flow somewhat like this:

  • We’ll start at noon with a 1-hour yoga practice in the arena (horses can be groomed & tied around the arena or in their stalls while we humans do our yoga).
  • At about 1pm, after human yoga, we’ll bring our horses into the arena to help them stretch.
  • Next, we’ll bridle our horses, then do some breathing practice and work on deepening our connection with our horses.
  • After that, we’ll each mount up, one at a time.  Please be comfortable bareback.
  • We will proceed with breathing & connection horseback, and then move into poses on horseback.
  • Trust that you don’t have to try anything that you are not comfortable with.  Come with a supportive attitude toward your fellow horses and riders.

I look forward to practicing yoga with each of you!

Please contact me using the form below:

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Overcivilized

“Horses help overcivilized people reconnect with the wisdom and rhythms of the natural world.”   ~ Linda Kohanov

PeteJanuary2010

I have been working on a new essay about Horseback Yoga over the past few months, and during this process, I’ve revisited some of my older writing.  In “Overcivilized,” I wrote about horses at a time when I was just beginning to work with Pete, my project horse who would end up teaching me more about yoga than I could have imagined, a time before I began to teach yoga to my peers or on horseback.  I am finding that those ideas are still just as valid and timely today as they were in 2010.  Here’s to looking back so we can move forward!

Click here to read.

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Birdsongs, Breath and Rainbows

No, this is not the title of a cheesy love song.  These are the three words that perfectly sum up tonight’s Hayloft Yoga class at Double S!

Rainbow-trees

I was thrilled to have been joined in the hayloft by some friends from Big Lake Stables!  Sue & Tom’s exchange student from France also joined us, and in addition to a few other familiar faces, the hayloft was full!  What a sweet sense of community.

The birds were especially vocal today, and they sang to us throughout the entire practice!  The horses chewed their hay, the cows grazed outside, there was a single hang glider riding the wind off Blanchard Mountain in the distance.  As the sun began its slow descent across the summer sky, the hayloft was alive with color.  I couldn’t help but think that I have landed in the most perfect moment I could imagine as we began class.

In tonight’s class, we considered the difference between judgement and observation.  In yoga, judgement involves  the ego, like when we think our breath is “too shallow” or “not full enough,” or we how attach to what we think a pose should look because we saw a picture of a bendy person in a magazine, or when we criticize ourselves for having a busy mind and not being able to relax.  Tonight, we collectively set the intention to leg go of judgement and instead honor our power of observation.  When we observe rather than judge, we soften.  We don’t have to be so hard on ourselves.  We notice what is happening in the body, whether it is a sensation or a physical limitation, or the quality of our mind, and instead of attaching to it, we simply watch it in the pose.  If there is pain, instead of getting involved in the story about where the pain came from or how we think it should feel, we simply acknowledge it, and see if we can get into a position that is happier and healthier for the body.  If there is a busy mind, we watch the thoughts come in, acknowledge their presence, and then let them pass, like watching a leaf float down a stream.  SS-RainbowIf there is limitation in a pose, we go to the point of sensation and breathe with intention into the space that is feeling tight, consciously releasing tension on the exhale.

“…imagine what would happen if you started feeling tremendous love for all creatures, for every plant, for every animal, and for all the beauties of nature.  Imagine if every child seemed like your own, and every person you saw looked like a beautiful flower, with its own color, its own expression, shape, and sounds.  As you went deeper and deeper, you would start noticing a phenomenal thing–you are no longer judging.  The process of judging has simply stopped.  There is just appreciating and honoring.  Where there used to be judging, there is now respecting, loving, and cherishing.  To differentiate is to judge.  To see, to experience, and to honor is to participate in life instead of standing back and judging it.”    ~Michael Singer in The Untethered Soul

 

We can go further and take this practice off our yoga mats, into the saddle.  I think of a time when I was younger, riding a horse who had a history of being terribly barn sour.  I was determined to make this horse carry me on a trail ride (ego!).  I started calmly, turning her head side to side, giving her all the rein I could, clucking, squeezing, and leaning forward.  When none of this worked, I kicked her in the sides.  This backfired and she backed up instead of moving forward.  Frustrated, I redoubled my efforts to make her do what she was supposed to.  Instead of recognizing that I had exhausted all the tools I had at the time, ego kicked in.  I am embarrassed to say I kept wailing on her, even using the ends of my reins to force her to move forward, and she just kept backing up toward the corral where her other horse friends were.  She backed up so far (with me still on her, flailing my legs and arms and at this point, even yelling at her) that her rump was touching the fence.  And me, so involved with my ego’s idea of how things should be, kept kicking and clucking and getting nowhere.  It finally took another person coming over to me and saying “maybe it’s time to get off and take this to the round pen,” for me to give up on trying to make it happen.  I was so embarrassed: it was the first time in my life I’d beet told to get off a horse.  And even then, I was reluctant to give up.  I’d thought I had failed at riding, and instead of working with the horse in the roundpen, a new tool for me at that time, I un-tacked her and put her back in the corral, frustrated that she had “won.”

If I hadn’t been so invested in the way I thought things “should” have gone, I might have created an entirely different experience.  If I’d had the mind of observation rather than judgement, I would have noticed that I was having trouble dealing with this horse on my own, and observed that I needed help.  This would have changed the experience into a learning opportunity!  I could have asked for assistance (later that summer, we realized that if someone hand walked this mare away from the barn, just about 50 yards, she was fine).  I could have engaged in a roundpen session under the guidance of the person who suggested it.  I could have gotten off and hand walked her away from the barn.  This could have been a transformative experience for both me and the horse, but because of judgement, I’d shut off that possibility.

View-from-arena

At the core of this teaching: be honest with where you are.  Balance effort (sthira) with ease (sukha).  Notice rather than judge.

I think if we all followed these guidelines, our inner lives and the world we create would be quite a bit more peaceful.  What do you think?

“The essence of bravery is being without self-deception.  However it’s not so easy to take a straight look at what we do.  Seeing ourselves clearly is initially uncomfortable and embarrassing.  As we train in clarity and steadfastness, we see things we’d prefer to deny–judgmentalness, pettiness, arrogance.  These are not sins but temporary and workable habits of mind.  The more we get to know them, the more they lose their power.”                           ~ Pema Chodoron

At the end of class, when we’d all rolled up our mats and headed down from the hayloft, the sun-setting sky greeted us with a fully formed rainbow, just outside, perfectly arcing over the barn!  With the sunset painting half the sky and storm clouds darkening the other, we celebrated joyfully under this symbol of promise.

Namaste.

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Reflections on Hayloft Yoga

We have been graced with the most beautiful weather on Tuesdays since the start of Hayloft Yoga!DSC_0405

Here’s a little news from the hayloft: the owl hutches are full … of baby owls!  Come on out and peek up to see if you might catch a glimpse!

~*~

One of the most tangible benefits of yoga in such a magnificent space is that practicing in the barn offers us the opportunity to sofetn, nurture, and strentghen all of our sense organs:

VISION: EYES
We soften the gaze out toward Blanchard Mountain to give the eyes a break from close-up computer screens, or even simply from being indoors all day, where the most distant ocular point is the wall or the window.  Some of the yoga teachings offer “eye yoga,” exercises for the eyes that can actually improve vision.  There are numerous papers & articles documenting that time outdoors also improves vision, attributed by some to the ultraviolet light, or that the eye muscles get the opportunity to focus on shapes, forms, and colors at a wide variety of distances.  In yoga, the dristi is a single point of focus.  It is most often mentioned in balancing poses (helping us to maintain balance through a point of focus through which we gaze softly).  Keeping a dristi, we see that our mind calms and we can find inner stillness.

We  need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the  friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see  the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence … we need silence to  be able to touch souls.
-Mother Teresa

HEARING : EARS
Our busy lives are filled with so much noise that we tend to shut off from the barage of sensory input in an attempt at self-preservation.  This legitimate form of pollution has wide-ranging adverse health, social, and economic effects.  Cars, jets, TV, radio … it is more important than ever that we take time to give our hearing a break from the barage.  Yoga in the hayloft gives us a beautiful opportunity to listen, really listen, without being accosted with discordant sound that takes us away from our curious awareness and into a defensive state.  In a relaxation pose, we can close the eyes and soften the ear canals toward the throat, unhinging the jaw, and sinking into the support of a blanket.  We tune to the soothing sounds of the horses stirring, eating, shifting their weight in stalls below, the sounds of the songbirds inside and outside the barn, and the voices of frogs, cows, and hawks occasionally greet us.  All of these create a gentle symphony to soothe our sense of hearing, our ability to hear.  This helps us to shift our listening inward and give our inner world our full attention.  We can often be surprised at what we can learn from this simple, gentle exercise of listening in.  It is one of the most wholesome and healthy practices we can engage in.

Silence is more musical than any song.
-Christina Rossetti

TOUCH : SKIN
The yoga postures give us the opportunity to bring our awareness to the skin, which we often take for granted.

It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity.
-B.K.S Iyengar

In the hayloft, we notice the temperature of the air on our skin, we feel our bodies in contact with the floor, and we honor this organ of skin which literally holds our body into one form.  As awareness spreads across the skin, we can gain a sense of gratitude and appreciation for being in this body, alive, moving, breathing, living.  We associate the hands with touch, but we can also explore the sensations of the skin of the rest of the body, stretching in each pose, expanding: the sense of breath on the upper lip, the sense of softening the wrinkles in the face, the sense of spreading the skin of the feet to find a strong yet supple standing posture.  What a glorious organ, the skin!

~*~

I look forward to more practice in the hayloft!

Namaste.

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