Horses Outside the Box

I’ve mentioned before that I’m an alternative-horse-activities skeptic. Or at least an agnostic. The Spirituality of Horses(tm) stuff (with special! specific! equipment! just $49.95 each!) does not win me over. I tend to shudder a bit and move on.

So when the boarder started taking Horse-Assisted Yoga, I figured, well, stretching and balance and breathing and all that are  good things, but not for me, you know?

Then a class happened at my farm, because boarder needed to work with the horse she’s riding, and she wanted a ridden session, which was basically a riding lesson. And it wasn’t what I expected at all. Not just that it was, yes, basically a really good riding lesson, but the horse was seriously into it. And I mean seriously. Doing the breathing, taking the postures with the humans. Getting all mellow and blinky and like, cool, man.

So last week we had a foregathering of writers here, not entirely facetiously called Camp Lipizzan: combination writers’ retreat, mini-sf con, and horse camp. We’ve been doing riding/groundwork/horse communication lessons for some time now, and we did them again. But this time we added a yoga class.

Yoga in the horse herd. Breathing and stretching while the horses looked on and, one by one, weighed in with opinions. What they did determined the directions the instructor took with us (and them). Sometimes it was about the horses:

Sometimes it was about the people (and curious horses):

And sometimes everybody got in on it:

Note that the horse had the same leg up as we did (as far as her anatomy allowed), and was helping one of the students with her balance. A minute or two before, she had been behind me (that’s me on the right), giving me something to lean against while I figured out where all my bits were.

It was an experience even for the instructor, who hadn’t tried this in a full herd before–it needs to be a well-established herd of very people-focused horses, who won’t forget about human frailty and get into a spat and hurt somebody. Kind of a Do Not Try This At Home Unless Home Is a Breeding Farm With Really Well-Socialized Horses In Solid Family Groups.

In which case, this can (safely and wonderfully) happen:

That’s a human completely wrapped in horses. For a horse person, a kind of heaven–though with the thought in the back of the mind: “Crikey! I’m wrapped in half-ton herbivores!

Participants noted that as long as humans were acting like horses (moving and circling and stretching and being quiet), the horses were in and out and happily participating. As soon as they started talking, the horses wandered off. Monkey chatter was of no interest.

It was a remarkable morning for all concerned–experienced yoga students, instructor, newbies, horse people, non-horse people, and horses, too. Everybody was awesomely quiet and calm, which considering that the wind was gusting so strongly we sometimes could barely keep our feet, was impressive. Horses do not, as a rule, like wind. At All. But here they were, chillin’ as if the air had been perfectly calm.

So OK, now I’m a convert. I still can’t keep the words straight. Prana, maya, Downward-Facing Dog? Uhhh. But breathing and bending and balance, and horses doing it all with and around me? Oh Yeah. It’s done on horseback, too, and I found I already do quite a bit of it thanks to my regular lessons and the fact that the horses want me to do things like breathe and be calm when I ride.

I’ll be doing this again. All indications are that the horses are completely in favor.

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Horses Outside the Box — 15 Comments

  1. Must. Win. Lottery.

    I really loved the reports of this. One thing I used to do with a certain upset horses was to just stand and breathe deeply. Eventually, they’ll take a deep breath too and release tension. *Then* you can start to ride.

    (A well-ridden horse will do this as a matter of fact, often at the mounting block or within the first few rounds walking, a tense horse might never do it while riden.)

  2. I do horsey Pilates-type stretches with Mocha before I ride, and she is very much into them. They’re dynamic stretches and there’s a couple that she clearly enjoys and craves doing (involving neck muscles, which seriously affect how she moves her forelegs. She binds up in the neck and using pressure and massage before helps her loosen up).

    When I’m stretching her forelegs, she’ll drop her nose and press it into my neck and match her breathing to mine.

    Very cool stuff.

  3. I was one of those campers (that would be me, the old bat with the hat in the pictures Estara linked) participating in this experience. I had no idea what to expect, as yoga in my experience has been lying on a mat on the floor, wearing yoga clothes.

    Here, we had shoes on and stood around in the pleasantly cool shade of Dancing Horse Farm, as Jenny led us easily into the exercises–simple stretches and poses. Our quiet seemed to attract the animals’ curiosity as much as our relative stillness–what are the monkeys doing now? They aren’t leaping around, waving their skinny digits and gibbering, like usual. Why, they’re acting like . . . a herd! Hey, I can do herd!

    So there I am, doing a modified Downward Facing Dog, with my butt waving in the wind, I turn my head–and a silvery gray young mare is muzzle down, looking interestedly into my face. I straight up, and a gelding has catfooted up, and leans against me, wanting his rump scritched.

    Moving on soundless cat feet, horses fill our yoga circle, each one coming up to gently nuzzle or lean or just be. We interacted with them with touch and pet and rub, no words; it was a herd bonding experience. And all the rest of the day, we and the horses were in mellow moods.

  4. “I’ve mentioned before that I’m an alternative-horse-activities skeptic. Or at least an agnostic.”

    Okay, this made me smile and say out loud “Oh really?!” Given the form and results of our work together over the past couple of years, I must beg to differ! Glad you enjoyed the yoga … can’t get too much balance or breath!

  5. But–but–it’s weird! And off the wall! And–and–

    Yeah. I know. So are horses.

    Resistance is futile.

    Joyce, we tried Pilates quite a few years back with a different trainer, very desultorily, and that’s exactly what would happen. I thought it was really cool.

    Estara, thanks so much for posting the links! I was late with my post (and fairly braindead) so missed putting them in. They do present a much broader picture of what was happening. Also, you can see how windy it was. We were swaying in the gusts.

    Sherwood: Lovely perspective. The horses’ ability to ghost here and there was a revelation, wasn’t it? They’re big animals, but they can move amazingly silently.

  6. Major envy here. The process reminds me of my interactions with one of our younger cats when I do my yoga practice. She curls up on, under, beside, through the spaces my body creates, rolls on her back, stretches when I do, wants to perch on whatever body part is uppermost. (Then, of course, she must attack the evil monster lurking beneath the yoga mat and we have a Conversation about that!)

  7. So. Much. Fun! This sounds absolutely wonderful.

    The Horse Masters group (think: Pony Club for adults) I belong to is doing a Yoga for riders some time this winter. Very curious.

  8. Smiling broadly and seriously envious — I’ve been copy editing the next SF book to go up, and you were having fun!

    Horse camp is SO on my list of tings to do someday! Judy, I am scheduled for Tucson December 23-30.

  9. You guys all need to come and join us. Seriously. The herd would love it.

    Kathi: Making a note. 🙂 I’ll be in GV for part of it, but at DHF, too. Come and meet the ponies!

  10. *smirk* I’m with Stacey on this one -methinks the lady doth protest too much :). But she can protest all she wants, because the ponies know the truth.

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