“Yoga with horses?” “What’s that?” “Can horses even stretch?” This is what I often hear when people discover what I do. I realize it may be difficult to comprehend at first but once you get a glimpse of what yoga with horses is all about, it actually makes a whole lot of sense. If you can appreciate the need and benefits of the practice for humans then you can translate the same to the horse.
What’s good for you can be good for your horse
The practice of yoga reconnects you with your body. You essentially teach (or re-teach) yourself where your body is and how to move it in the strongest and most balanced way with the least amount of stress. You also stretch, strengthen and tone. Anything with a body is therefore a yogi. Body awareness is fundamental to preventing injury and chronic pain. For riders, knowing how you are using your body can help you realize that sometimes it is your body that is preventing your horse from performing something you are asking! Yoga helped me when I was seeking relief from a chronic back issue caused by a serious injury in my past. Diligently combining yoga with massage therapy and physiotherapy, the symptoms became less severe and reoccurred less often. It was undeniable.
The massage therapy and physiotherapy are now only used on an as needed basis. The yoga remains. Without such chronic back issues my riding abilities and stamina improved and thus the athletic demands on my horse did. My ongoing concern for his well-being made me wonder what I could do to help his body with his physical stresses. I realized that if yoga was so good for me it would also be good for my horse.
Yoga for horses
So how do you get a horse to stretch? I researched. I practiced. I observed and learned from horse health care practitioners. There are quite a few methods of stretching and strengthening your horse. Some are done while riding; performing certain maneuvers such as half passes and shoulder in/out. Others can be done from the ground. There are books available with explanations and pictures. The horse sometimes needs a little time, encouragement and practice to figure out what you are asking of them. It is a wonderful bonding experience and you start to figure out where your horse is lacking in flexibility and strength and may be uncomfortable. Knowing more about your horse’s body can help identify problems sooner or avoid them altogether. You can make better informed decisions about what and how much you are going to do with your horse on any given day. Any horse person can tell what a benefit that would be.
An easy addition to your daily routine
Now you might be thinking the same thing I was. How can someone possibly have enough time to stretch themselves, the horse and groom and ride and do barn chores and…? Yes, some details started to get left out, but some started to combine! Is it time to pick the horse’s hoof out? Why not throw in a forward bend? That makes four forward bends if you do it for each hoof. How about brushing the legs? Why not side lunge to the front, then to the back. That’s two of each when you go to each side of the horse. Girth all done up? Now it is time to stretch the horse’s leg forward. It’s a stretch in addition to smoothing the skin under the girth area. Your horse deserves a treat? Make them stretch their neck and head to each side to reach it, or down to their chest or between their front legs before you give the treat to them. Not only do they stretch, but they learn not to pester for treats. They don’t get the treat directly from the pocket. After coaxing my horse with treats to teach him to bow he now will automatically start to bow when he knows I have a treat.
The horse-human yoga partnership
People saw what I was doing and wanted to learn. With the encouragement and support of a wonderful Master Coach, Linda-Ann Bowling, I started to teach what I love. I combine fundamental yoga postures with fundamental horse stretches, which all together provide a fabulous whole body stretch and balance. Depending on the horse and human participant some of the yoga poses can be combined, and some alternate between the human doing their pose and then helping the horse do their pose. Some poses use the horse for support or for a visual aid for the experience. The horses almost always join in on the experience before we even ask them to. As the humans start their yoga I have seen the horses stretch their own legs out, arch and stretch their backs, or go for a roll. During one session one of the horses leaned right back into a downward dog and held it while we all stared in awe. I had shown horses how to do that stretch but had never seen one do it freely on their own! Just the presence of a horse can sometimes take a human to a different level in their yoga. I guide humans through chair yoga sessions where a horse is present, loose to wander in the enclosed area. The horse’s reaction to us and what we are doing is always interesting. It can become quite a spiritual experience. Yoga in a chair helps people understand that yoga can be done anywhere. We can incorporate it into our lives easier then we might have thought. Wouldn’t that be nice for our health? For horse owners they can take that chair yoga into the saddle and have some fun while seated on their horses (or on a hay bale!). There are different people doing different things with yoga and horses out there. I believe it is all wonderful. If you get a chance give it a try and experience it for yourself….for your sake and the horse’s.
Linda Guanti is a certified yoga instructor based out of Pemberton, BC. She discovered yoga after an injury left her with chronic health issues, affecting her ability to ride. Yoga changed her life and she now utilizes it to help other riders, and stretch their horses too! yogawithhorses.com