Yoga means union, and riding is the ultimate union between human and horse. Yoga includes physical postures (asana), breathing exercises (pranayama), and meditation. The purpose of practicing yoga is to quiet the mind in order to reach samadhi, or a blissful state of peace. Imagine if every ride with your horse could be blissful. The key to achieving a harmonious union with your horse lies in the practice of yoga. Here are three ways practicing yoga can help your riding and your relationship with your horse:
Horses are always present in the moment. Our human minds tend to wander, ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Horses live only in the present moment, and our interactions with horses are more pleasant and productive when we focus on the present moment, as well. Practicing yoga enables you to let go of worries, insecurities, anger, sadness, and other distractions that keep the mind hopping from one thought to the next and never simply being present in the moment. A regular yoga practice strengthens your focus and enables you to be present in each moment. Your horse can tell if you’re distracted, and a distracted leader is a bad leader, which means your horse won’t trust you unless you’re 100% present and focused.
Horses want to feel safe, and if you as their leader aren’t relaxed, they’re not going to feel safe. Horses are experts at reading body language and energy, so if you’re not relaxed, centered, and calm, your horse will likely feel on edge because of it and will be more prone to spooking and other fear-based behavior. If you, on the other hand, are relaxed, your horse will also be relaxed and know that there is nothing to worry about. Practicing yoga teaches you how to relax your mind and body. There are specific breathing exercises you can do to achieve a relaxed state. When you take responsibility for your emotional state and ensure you’re acting from a positive place when you’re with your horse, your horse will notice and appreciate that positivity and relaxation from you as its leader.
Because horses are intensely present, they are also hyper-aware – of their environment and everyone and everything around them. In order for your horse to trust you as its leader, you also need to be hyper-aware. Presence and awareness go hand-in-hand. Once you’re able to quiet your mind and become present, you will then also become keenly aware of your environment. Horses are aware of not only their physical surroundings, but also of the emotional states of other horses and humans around them. This awareness has served to help horses survive. In the wild, as soon as one horse sensed danger, that sensation would spread through the entire herd in an instant so the herd could flee the threat. Horses can sense energy and intention. Your awareness can help you keep you and your horse safe by enabling you to recognize potentially dangerous situations and people. Your awareness can help you hear that deer in the woods that your horse probably already heard, and will then enable you to relax so your horse can relax and understand that it’s just a deer, not some horse monster that’s coming to get him. If you’re distracted, on the phone, daydreaming, your horse will know that you’re not aware of the environment and will try to take over the role of leader in order to keep itself safe. Yoga helps you develop awareness of your body and mind, your mental and emotional states, and everything around you. This awareness enables you to be an effective and trustworthy leader for your horse. If you’re aware and present, you’ll also be more likely to pick up on how your horse is feeling – is he nervous, relaxed, tired, in pain? Being aware and mindful of your horse on this level enables you to understand his behavior better.
Yoga is not just a physical workout. Yoga is about journeying within oneself to knock down all of the barriers to quieting the mind. If you approach your horse from a relaxed and centered state, your horse will have more confidence in you as its leader, which will translate to more harmonious interactions on the ground and under saddle. So if you’re looking to deepen your relationship with your horse, give yoga a try. Your horse will thank you.