Horse Yoga Evolves

PookaGarland_bvcWe live in a fantasy novel around here. Not always the part with the unicorns and the flowers. Mostly the one with stablehands and pitchforks and bread that needs baking. Once in a while some grimdark. And around just about every corner, a good dose of the Weird.

We thought we were starting horse yoga here because a human then in residence needed to loosen up some tightness to ride a horse better. We were quickly disabused of that when one of the horses marched up and took charge.

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She likes Warrior. And Chanting. And Stories. She’s our Story Horse. She’s telling our human teacher all about it in this photo.

That isn’t what Horse-Assisted Yoga is everywhere else that we know of. That’s about the humans using horses for the humans’ purposes. Pretty much the way humans in general use the world and its animals. The size, cooperative nature, and fundamental calm of the well-adjusted horse makes her a wonderful therapy animal and yoga mat/teacher/studio.

But that’s the real world. Our fantasy novel does it differently.

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We do this for ourselves, of course. It’s peaceful mostly. Gentle postures. Breathing. Eyes open and shoes on the feet–we’re in the herd with large animals who are not always Tame Lions. Some meditation, walking and standing. Good yoga things in good, if modified, yoga ways.

But it’s really for the horses.

We’re the White herd here. There’s the Brown one elsewhere, which is a more accidental grouping, with unrelated horses connected by their owners’ friendship and professional associations. The White herd is more of a family affair. We introduce its members to newcomers as, “That one’s the mother of that one, and those two are sisters, and that’s the other one’s aunt, and the one up there is this one’s brother, and…”

There’s a stallion. Mares. Several geldings who play different roles: herd wrangler, buddy horse, Night Patrol. They don’t all live in the same spaces at the same times, but they’re a closely constructed and interrelated ecology. A herd.

Yoga makes the herd happy and calm. They’ll be mellow and peaceful and drifty all day after the humans have left. They love the breathing and the chanting. Sometimes they’ll do the poses, or hold space, or practice their arts of herd geometry in and around and through the humans. As often as not they’ll teach the class, gently moving the human teacher aside and taking over the lesson.

Yoga makes sense to a horse. It’s breathing and movement and being quiet inside. Things that humans in general are not all that good at. When they make the effort, to a horse, it seems as if they’re trying to be more like horses.

It gets weird. Talk about something specific, and horse comes over and answers in horse, with body language and expression. They have remarkably large vocabularies, in which words for meals and food figure prominently, along with their names.

But “story”? “Warrior”? Talk about what they want us to know and they come purposefully over and touch us or stand by us. Change the subject or wander off it, the way monkeys tend to do, and off they wander, sometimes with a sarcastic expression around the ears.

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And then there was the most recent morning, in which a conversation was proceeding about tarot, arcana, and the meanings of cards, and stallion let it be known with movement in response to the words and relaxation and nose in the hand and deep sigh that yes, he is all the Knights. At once. And it’s a great deal of work. But he is up to it. If the mares would just let him be.

Horses are not supposed to comprehend abstractions. They’re animals. That’s a human prerogative.

Right?

Right?

It’s a good thing we know we’re in a fantasy novel.

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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 Horse Yoga Evolves

  1. RickK says:

    I looked for “weird”, but only found a strong example about what we are learning about the mental capacities of humans and other animals that are intelligent enough to have unique personalities.

    The latest take on an old adage is that 40% of the human brain is always busy, but the other 60% isn’t goofing off, but just performing functions we’re only starting to understand. The 40% keeps us alive and provides computing power when asked. Even “autonomous” functions require chemical email from the brain from time to time during the day.

    Yoga, oriental martial arts, and PET scanners show how certain activities “light up” parts of both halves of the brain with certain activity. That “underused” 60% is not only mass storage of every second of our lives, but also serves as backup to damaged areas in the other half, plus provides a slow-but-effective facility for individuals to craft their own new “instincts”.

    A brain scan of a “new” horse in the herd will look much different once it has been acclimated and accepted. Horses love pleasant relations in a tightly-knit herd as the next best thing to food itself. 🙂

    Different breeds of horses (or dogs, or pods of dolphins) show specific distributions of all sorts of mental traits. Lippizans have been raised almost as a cloistered religious order with lots (relatively speaking) of chapter houses. They recognize even a strange new Lipp as a member of their order, even if some can’t stand each other until “Mother Superior” lead mare straightens them out. This is the goal of any herd of horses, but some breeds iron relations out faster, and with usually less permanent trauma.

    That’s why Lippizans have “nodding” relations with some breeds that have a lot of Spanish warmblood, or Arabian in them. They’re seen as distant relatives who are aristocrats in their own homelands, but just dress in funny colors (anything not white), and have some odd, but no doubt meaningful customs of their own. Just a little out of place in pristine alpine meadows, but make for good guests.

    Throw horses like that into a general field of random horses at a boarding stable (or misassign one among your own herds), and they separate out like oil and water in a salad dressing. The “cool horses” gravitate towards each other, and become even “cooler” once some mare assumes dominance. Individual horses of other breeds may become associate members if they behave politely. The “cool herd” and the “street herd” then come to a mutual understanding that ignoring each other is the most peaceful routine to be desired.

    Not bad for a “dumb animal”. I’ll be the Asian horsepeople, living with horses the way we live with dogs, have lots of “amazing” stories that are ho-hum to them.

    BTW, before I finish my ramble, I read a recent theory that humans and wolves mutually civilized each other about 300,000 yeas ago by recognizing a family-based structure, the ability to coexist unless in direct competition for apex herbivores on the food chain, and added benefits to both when they teamed up. Humans quickly decided it was easier to breed “domestic wolves” than to go through the painstaking diplomacy of dealing with sovereign wolf packs.

    Who knows what we’ll have to show after another 280,000 years of daily domestic contact with horses? But it just shows we don’t know a lot about “intelligence”, even our own, than we guessed we did.

    Thanks for these stories from the realm of the Phat White Ponies. 🙂

    • Lippizans have been raised almost as a cloistered religious order with lots (relatively speaking) of chapter houses. They recognize even a strange new Lipp as a member of their order, even if some can’t stand each other until “Mother Superior” lead mare straightens them out.

      I love this.

  2. I am going to come to horse camp someday. Seriously, that day can’t get here soon enough. Even though it won’t be very soon. Sigh.

  3. It always amazes me that everybody but Mr. Stallion can be out and about in the corral, yet during yoga there is a peaceful sense of co-existence, the watchfulness is all about not accidentally getting two tons of horse on your toes, and not about being booted over the fence, or bitten on the butt.

    • Judith Tarr says:

      That is very true. The horses are careful of the humans in the midst of them, and pay attention to where they are and how fragile they are. It’s partly their nature, as peoplecentric animals bred for centuries to focus on humans, and partly lifelong training in “humans are squishy, do not damage them.”

      The experienced horse people watch out for the less experienced, and make sure the horses don’t forget and run over somebody. It’s all done very carefully and with close attention to the risks.

      Which is why this can’t be done in most barn situations. It needs an established herd of very attentive, mindful, well-socialized horses, supervised by experienced staff who know the horses well (as here, where most of them were either born here or have been here for years or decades–boarders and transients stay in their own spaces for their and others’ safety). Otherwise, as with the Brown herd, the interaction is safer with one or two horses at a time in a controlled space.

  4. Yoga and horses are such an amazing combination that just by reading this, I feel myself more centered and relaxed.