The other night I had the good fortune to participate in a two hour groundwork clinic with my horse, Java. What, no riding? That’s what I used to say. It’s taken me years to understand that how we interact with a horse on the ground has a lot to do with how we ride. And that we can improve our riding without being on horseback. Everyone wants to get right on. It’s sort of like heading straight into eka pada galavasana without any prep work (see here for more on that topic).
When I first got Java a year and a half ago, all I wanted to do was ride him. He is a Tennessee Walking Horse, which means that he is gaited. He does a gait called a running walk, which is about as smooth as it gets. It feels like you are gliding. It is sublime yet powerful. Graceful yet strong. Think eka pada galavasana.
Yet we were both sort of nervous nellies. He spooked at everything, I got spooked that he might spook. And we fed off each other. I hardly breathed when I rode him, as much as I wanted to relax and glide. We took a break, and over this last long winter he settled happily into his herd and I experienced a number of life changes that have led to a calmer state. But I still wasn’t sure about Java – were we a good match? Some of that old nervousness came back as I decided this spring that it was worth a try to find out.
And then something magical happened. It’s like we learned how to dance together. I was breathing when I groomed him, when I rode him. We spent quality time together. And then there we were the other night, together for a few hours with no expectation of riding. He let out a big sigh. I got to know him in a very different way. I learned how sensitive, yet grounded he can be. I tuned into his breath. Horse breath – it’s amazing. It’s warm, it’s soft, yet it carries weight. They mean it when they exhale completely, they empty everything out. They don’t care if they blow snot all over – it’s like the best kapalabhati ever. A spooked horse can sometimes freeze and hold its breath for a moment. I can relate to that feeling. When we don’t breathe, we are frozen.
On the ground, I used my breath to give Java cues. He released his when he understood what I wanted. Our breath was like a dance – I truly felt that energy. I almost laughed out loud when the smallest movement and focusing of my energy shifted his. He looked at me with a soft eye as if he was asking: can you please remember to do this in the saddle?
I will never forget the yoga student that years ago said to me, I hate it when yoga teachers tell me to breathe. We take our breath for granted and assume it’s automatic. Yoga taught me that tapping into our best breath requires practice. And Java has reminded me of this lesson.
Yeehaw & Namaste.
Pictured above: Java at last weekend’s LUXE Cowgirl Yoga retreat.