I started incorporating yoga into my daily routine to help with my running. I have tight hips and I knew yoga was good for flexibility and I was hoping this might help. It did so I kept expanding my knowledge and practice.
As I have started to age I run less but I still kept the daily yoga. It’s amazing how I can tell when I skip a day; my body isn’t as happy and my mind isn’t as calm and clear.
A few years ago I started riding a big Dutch warmblood and, for the most part, he was a typical warmblood, lazy and quiet. Occasionally he was as spooky as all get out and, as an older rider, this un-nerved me.
When I was younger I was the person that would get on any horse. Won’t jump? Ask Laura. Rearing? Ask Laura. Shying? Ask Laura. I loved the challenge of trying to figure out what it was that was creating the misbehavior. Then set out to fix it.
As I have aged my confidence has waned mostly because my body is a few seconds behind my brain in reaction time and because I no longer ride 3-4 horses a day. So this warmblood’s spooking really intimidated me.
Because I love to solve a puzzle (especially when it involves horses) I started tracking his daily routine; feeding schedule, turn out and such, to see if there were any clues to his behavior. It revealed nothing that could possibly trigger the spooking.
So, I started journaling my daily routine. Guess how long it took me to figure it out? Three days. It was so obvious; on the days I did yoga before I rode, he was perfect. On the days I skipped it, he was spooky.
Calm rider = calm horse.
I already understood the benefits of yoga for my mind and body, but had never really applied it to my riding. What I discovered when I began to really analyze the parallels and benefits was mind boggling and very exciting! I have to share this, was my first thought.
Let’s start at the beginning. What is Yoga?
Yoga is not a religion, a cult ritual or associated with one religion, although it did originate in India with the Hindus.
Yoga means a union of body, mind and spirit. It is a practical approach to self-discovery and has many benefits for your health- both physical and mental. Yoga increases suppleness, improves flexibility, improves balance, is great for de-stressing/relaxation, develops body awareness, improves focus and decreases fear.
Did you notice how the benefits of yoga are all things you need to be a good rider? Look at them again but with your riding in mind.
Horseback riding and yoga are both isometric exercises- which means they use specific muscles to stay in certain positions, for example, keeping balanced on the horse or in a pose that requires balance.
Both require rhythm- you ride in rhythm with your horse’s movement, you go through a yoga sequence in rhythm with your breath.
Both include mind and body- In riding you think about what you want to do, you tell your body to ask the horse, the horse responds. In yoga it’s the same; you must have the mind/body connection to perform the pose.
Both are gradual processes- You don’t become a great rider overnight. Same with yoga. You must start at the beginning with both, get a foundation and build on it.
Both require practice- Even if you are an occasional rider, you must practice to be effective. To keep that awareness of how your body (and mind) connects to and influences the horse, you have to practice. Same with yoga. Sure, you can do yoga every once-in-a-while but to be flexible and advance in your poses, you must practice.
Both riding and yoga help you become aware of body alignment. You must have your body in the proper alignment to have an effect seat, leg and hand aides. In yoga, your body must be in the proper alignment to correctly perform the pose and sequences.
Correct position is the basic skill riders/yogis must master in order to progress. Unless you correctly position your own body, you cannot influence your horse to use its body correctly. Unless your body is in proper alignment you cannot stick a yoga pose.
Benefits to your Horse
You, the rider, aren’t the only one that will benefit from incorporating yoga into your routine, your horse will too.
Horses only do what we ask them to do. Horses do not know our agenda, or what it means to carry us in balance. The horse only reacts to our actions, our weight and our balance. Therefore the better body and mind control you have the better your horse will respond.
A balanced rider helps balance a horse. Just think about how the slightest change in your balance affects your horse.
A confident, calm rider encourages a timid, green horse.
A rider that feels the rhythm helps establish a horse’s rhythm.
A flexible rider helps a horse with balance.
A strong rider helps support their horse.
A rider with a quiet upper body will not abuse a horse’s mouth.
A rider with a quiet leg will not use it incorrectly and will have more control over gait.
A rider with good body awareness will not interfere with their horse but will enhance the performance.
The Importance of Breathing
Yoga is all about the breath. Deep breathing in unison with body movement.
Tension held anywhere from your jaw to your toes interferes with your ability to communicate clearly with your horse. For example, if you hold breath while riding you will tire easily just as shallow breathing can send the message of fear to a horse and result in a nervous horse.
Deep breathing creates movement through the entire body. It helps you focus, improves concentration, reduces fear and helps you (the rider) find your core, your center of gravity.
Horses breathe in unison with their movement. I’m sure everyone reading this has heard a horse at the canter breathing with each stride.
If a rider becomes aware of their breathing they can center themselves, stay focused and calm.
The video series is for all levels of riders and yogis. Never done yoga? No worries, I will start in a seated position and you will learn each pose gradually over 8 weeks, progressing at your own pace.
Not moving to the next pose until you feel comfortable in the current one. After you feel comfortable you can move your practice into a standing position if you like and then even on your horse!
The ultimate goal will be to add the program (or parts of it) to your riding. Even if it’s just the breathing, you will see the difference.
Are you ready to get started?
Peace, yoga and horses,
The Horse Hippie
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