Am busy gearing up for our upcoming Cowgirl Yoga retreat, and today was practicing some yoga on horseback. But before I get into that, I have to confess that I am in love with an older man. He’s very experienced and sleek, is patient with my issues, and is a wise soul. He does have warty ears, but I can overlook that. His name is Ollie and he is a 22-year old Tennessee Walking Horse. I won’t go into a lot of detail to spare you non-horsey people, but riding a Tennessee Walker is like riding in a high-end foreign vehicle, whereas riding a quarter horse can often feel like an army Jeep. I was intrigued to learn that their gait is hereditary. How cool is that? Don’t you wish you were born knowing how to look (and feel) smooth??
There are many similarities between practicing yoga and riding a horse, which is how Cowgirl Yoga came about in the first place. Both emphasize breath awareness, and breath is often the first thing to go when we are challenged (i.e., tough yoga pose or feeling scared in the saddle). So we’ve got a checklist of yoga moves to do the minute your butt hits the saddle to help put you in the right frame of mind for riding. Step 1: cultivate breath awareness. Don’t just get on the horse and go; take a few moments to center yourself by closing your eyes, connecting to your breath, and allowing yourself to relax. Your horse will too. When I teach yoga, I start every class with a few minutes of centering quietly to establish the breath and separate this time from the rest of our day. I do the same on horseback.
I just finished a lovely book called She Flies Without Wings – How Horses Touch a Woman’s Soul. Here’s a great quote that backs me up on the breath:
Sitting bareback astride a horse, touching his warm sides along the full length of our legs, feeling movements up the length of our backs and into our heads, sensing in our hands as we hold the reins, we tap into the physical nature of the horse and become aware of our bodies the way a horse is. Increasing our body awareness increases our ability to experience the world sensually.
We can begin with the breathing. When we pause to draw air deeply into the lungs, we lift the diaphragm, open the ribs, and rush oxygen to the spine, into the back of the neck, and along all the extremities. Relaxed, deep breathing is an instant pick-me-up for all our senses because it replenishes every cell. We don’t have to flare our nostrils the way horses do, but we can follow their example of breathing deeply enough to fuel every muscle for movement.
Yeehaw & Namaste.