The Horse as Yoga Teacher

This seems to be turning into a series–I keep having other topic ideas, but then there’s a White Horse yoga session and that’s so interesting I want to talk about that instead.

Not just because it’s the new shiny. It’s something new in itself.

I’ve always gravitated toward the idea of the horse as partner rather than sports equipment or Me Human You Animal. As a rider and breeder I go for the horse with a mind of its own–but not the horse who is so self-willed he won’t cooperate with a human at all. I like the one who wants a full-on two-way.

The horse yoga we’ve been doing takes this to a pretty advanced level. We’re in the herd, which is used to a lot of human interaction anyway, and has taken the occasional yoga class fully in stride. There’s always at least one horse who takes a place at front row center, and that’s the one who determines the teacher’s curriculum for the day.

This past week, our usual teacher mares were less prominent. Pandora was more interested in her spring hormones and therefore the stallion up in his seaparte area. Camilla had plenty to say but was saying it around the edges. Tia was curious, Capria focused on the visiting artist who, not being a horse person, was observing from outside.

But our gelding, who is Evil in the sense of excessively bright, extremely curious, and inclined to do things like untie your shoes and mug for your camera

(that’s his nose to the right of his right hock. He’s that flexible. Going for bits of hay on the other side of the fence), decided I Needed Help. I’ve been having back problems, and that morning a ligament in the region of my shoulder blade had gone sproiiinnnggg. He also had a more self-interested agenda, which was to [a] get his butt scratched but [b] get it done in a particular way.

So, I had a large furry  horse butt in my face from the start, except when it was a horse nose. If I tried to turn or do something else, the butt either planted itself against my back or reappeared in my face.

At first I figured he was just itchy. But he was too insistent. He had an Agenda. He was going to stay there until the humans (who in his opinion are quite slow on the uptake) figured it out.

Bear in mind, this is a horse who can figure out how to untie a moderately complicated knot after watching the human tie it. Who, lacking opposable thumbs (and believe me that is a good thing), conducts this operation using his teeth.

How high is his IQ? We figure, from the evidence, that he leaves a bright border collie in the dust.

So. Teacher decided on a free-form class, and also “help Judy do something about that back of hers.” Capria spent a little quality time with her student (and the water barrel).

She’s wearing a fly mask–see-through mesh designed to protect her eyes from flies; she’s sensitive, they get inflamed. Human is wearing hat. The sun gets strong out here in the desert.

Khepera the gelding wanted to team up on this Judy’s back thing. He had a few tweaks of his own: little stiff bits, old injury in the left stifle, itchy shedding of winter coat. I was to work on all this, but gently. Very very gently. Just barely touching.

That was the Big Honking Overarching Lesson of the Day. It’s one we’ve learned to pay attention to often before, with horses in general and this breed thereof in particular. The usual rule for a rider is, “Ask softly. If he doesn’t respond, keep asking more strongly until he does.”

But with the sensitive, highly intelligent ones, the initial asking, even if a whisper, may be too loud. Then getting stronger just compounds the problem. One has to learn, on nonresponse, to ramp the volume down rather than up.

I think you can see where this is going. Life lessons, writing lessons, pretty much anything you may get involved with. All too often when we’re writing or acting or talking, we’ll start off by overstating the case, and when we don’t get the result we want or expect, we escalate instead of tone down. We overwrite when we need to be subtle.

Smart horse is smart. Also, self-interested, because if humans are quieter, he gets less of a headache when he has to deal with them. When I finally got it, he walked off, paused by another student to make sure she got it, too, then went on about his business.

Horses are masters of nuance. If they’re like totally in your face, man, it’s intentional. Even the young ones who are still figuring things out could teach a Byzantine courtier a thing or two about subtlety.

Also, of course, teamwork. What with the herd-animal thing and all.

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About Judith Tarr

Judith Tarr is a writer, a freelance editor and writing mentor, and a lifelong horse person. She lives near Tucson, Arizona, where she raises and trains Lipizzan horses. Her new book, Forgotten Suns, is out now from Book View Cafe. Yes, there are horses in it.
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9 Responses to The Horse as Yoga Teacher

  1. Oh, I can just see this, oh yes. I can even see the expression on K’s face.

  2. joycemocha says:

    I see that stretchy maneuver pretty regularly from the QHs at the barn in turnout…they like nothing better than to get down and angle their heads like that to graze under the fence poles.

  3. Traci C. says:

    And Carrma said, “come stand in the mud” because she knew I hhad a sore foot and the mud would make it feel better. She was doing that as I drove home, too. Smart horse is smart indeed.

  4. Judith Tarr says:

    That stretchy maneuver has its down side. He pulled back fast yesterday and knocked himself out. I had to cancel dinner plans and deal with his very worried mother, who was hovering and fussing, as well as groggy and worry-inducing Evil Gelding. He’s fine today, but oy.

    Sometimes smart horse is TOO smart.

  5. raithen says:

    Can Evil Gelding please prepare a PSA for my girlz and boy about the perils of the stretchty eat under the pipe pen/fence manouever? *eyeroll*

    They’re lucky they’re cute…..

  6. joycemocha says:

    Ugh. That’s what I always worry about with the Stretchy Moves.

    OTOH, it’s pretty impressive to see big ol’ Emmy (nearly 17 hh) doing it.

  7. Judith Tarr says:

    And they say horses are not bendy organisms. They being people to do Serious Studies and write vet manuals.

    My vet has been known to bring students here to see just how bendy a horse can be. Not just getting under fences. Try saddling a horse that is wrapped around you like a large, snuffly pretzel. “Horses’ spines have little lateral flexibility,” say the Very Serious Studies. Someone needs to tell my horse this. Really. And get him to listen.

  8. Estara says:

    “All too often when we’re writing or acting or talking, we’ll start off by overstating the case, and when we don’t get the result we want or expect, we escalate instead of tone down. We overwrite when we need to be subtle.”

    So this. I really have to work harder at this.

  9. joycemocha says:

    Giggle. I wasn’t doing carrot stretches fast enough for Mocha today. She put her nose between her knees and waggled her head at me to tell me to hurry up with the treats!

    I don’t think my horse got the memo on not-so-bendy spine. Especially when she can canter along dragging her nose on the arena floor…with a rider. Feels kind of odd, but very different from dropping-nose-to-buck.

    She *likes* the stretchy stuff I do with her before we work. I get the Stink Eye if I don’t do it. None of this is stuff the Really Serious Studies notices, of course.