Connecting with your horse through yoga and meditation

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Connecting with your horse through yoga and meditation
All photos courtesy of Kindred Spirits, Costa Rica.

Looking to build a deeper bond with your horse? Try harnessing the power of yoga and meditation.

During my life, I’ve come to learn that yoga and meditation create a healing space. Trained in natural horsemanship, yoga and holistic healing, I quickly realized that these “separate” worlds are in fact very compatible, and can come together in the most organic way to promote health and wellness in both human and horse. In fact, practicing yoga and meditation with horses is an emotional, mental and spiritual journey that helps you rebalance and restore, while deepening the human-animal bond – and all it takes is an open mind!

Start with your breath

When you practice meditation with horses, you’re learning how to control and be aware of your breath, which helps you quiet your mind and the busy thoughts racing through it. When you do this, and arrive at a point where you are fully present in the moment – not thinking about what you’re going to cook for dinner later – you start to participate actively in what is happening right now. Horses not only feel this in you, but need it. This meditative space is where you can hear your horse – and your own inner voice – and begin to forge a deeper bond with him.

Horses are very sensitive, so they quickly realize when we’re using our breath to communicate with them, and respond accordingly. They are always in the moment, aware of the slightest change of breath, energy and movement. As prey animals, this is what has kept them safe and alive. As humans, we’ve become disconnected with these subtle energies and movements, but through yoga and meditation, we can reconnect with our breath, and use that heightened awareness to become more conscious of our energy and body language – something our horses will deeply appreciate.

The practice of Pranayama (breath control) helps you calm down, increase focus and unify your energy with your horse’s. Breathing in rhythm with his respiration rate has a calming effect on both your nerves and emotions, and can help you connect on a subtler level.

Kumbhaka is a Pranayama breath work exercise that centers on retention. It requires you to hold your breath, very briefly, after the inhale and exhale. This practice is very simple, and can be done in the presence of your horse on a daily basis.

  1. Take a deep, slow inhale. Pause at the top of the breath, and hold for two counts.
  2. Slowly exhale. Hold the breath at the bottom for two counts.
  3. Breathe normally for one or two rounds, then repeat the retention.

The purpose of this practice is to heighten breath awareness, clear and still the mind, and improve concentration. Observe your horse before and after a few rounds of Kumbhaka – his mental state, much like your own, will be calmer.

Moving in harmony

By moving through yoga asanas (postures), you become aware of your body and learn how to relax each muscle, how to stretch and release, and how to tighten and strengthen when needed. This heightened physical awareness and balance helps you communicate more effectively with your horse, both on the ground and in the saddle. As a bonus, practicing yoga on a regular basis will serve to strengthen and align your entire body, making you a more stable rider.

Horses make you feel good. Simply being in their presence releases the hormone oxytocin in your system, making you feel happier. Yoga, ironically, does the same thing. This “love hormone” helps your body and mind relax, reduces blood pressure, and lowers cortisol – the “stress hormone”. And that’s not all! When you practice yoga in the presence of your horse, you can experience many physiological benefits such as increased levels of beta-endorphins (neurotransmitters that serve as pain suppressors); reduced feelings of anger, hostility, tension and anxiety; improved social functioning; and increased feelings of empowerment, trust, patience and self efficacy.

If you’re new to yoga, taking a class or watching online videos is a great way to learn some basic sequences. Most standing poses are easy to execute in the barn, in an arena, or in a round pen – just be sure to keep a lead on your horse in case he decides to get into trouble while you’re practicing. Drape the lead across his back so he still feels free – an important component of yoga and meditation – and only practice with a horse you know well and are comfortable with.

Horse stance (shown above) is a strengthening pose that helps build muscle in the legs while opening the hips.

  1. Start by walking your feet out into a wide stance – the heels should be a little wider than hip distance.
  2. Turn your toes out so they’re on an outward angle, then slowly begin to bend the knees until they’re over the toes. Keep drawing the knees apart from one another.
  3. Reach your tailbone toward the ground and keep your spine long and straight. Reach the top of your head toward the sky. From here, rest your hands gently on your inner thighs to encourage the legs apart, or draw your palms together at heart center.
  4. Close your eyes to challenge your balance, and breathe deeply.

Building a partnership

When we practice yoga and meditation with horses, the animals are not our props. They are our partners. These practices allow us to spend time together in stillness, which provides a therapeutic change of pace compared to the typical learning/working/grooming environment in which we usually co-exist. Throughout the practice, horses mirror what we need to see in ourselves more clearly, and help us enjoy each moment without expectation. With time, this will improve your communication and deepen all your relationships, both in and out of the barn.

On the flip side, when your horse begins to feel your mindfulness, it makes him feel safer. When he senses you’re not present, he feels the need to be in charge. Because you’re not paying attention to that scary tractor or the wind rustling the leaves, he takes over and spooks, runs, fights back and worries. This “bad behavior” is no more than instinct, and it can be prevented with active presence and awareness.

As your energy becomes more present and positive, your horse will begin to yawn, his lower lip will quiver and he’ll even close his eyes – completely relaxed. This is a good sign that a powerful healing process has taken place for both of you.

Correcting energetic imbalances

When you spend time regretting the past, stressing about the present and worrying about the future, you set yourself up for dis-harmony that can lead to dis-ease. Spending quiet time with your horse, and practicing yoga and meditation in his presence, realigns your energies and releases negative blockages. In short, it helps you let go of what no longer serves you.

If you’re worried about energetic blockages in yourself or your horse, modalities like Reiki and acupressure are great adjuncts to these regular practices. By enhancing the body’s natural healing abilities, these alternative medicine techniques promote physical, mental and emotional balance.

Practicing yoga with my horses has made me a better human. I’ve slowed down, become more patient and compassionate, and I’m truly there for my horse in every moment we share. My horses are calm and relaxed, and because they know I’m listening to them, they are listening to me.