I believe that the reason people are so drawn to horses is simple: being around horses can feel really good. The rhythm of riding, especially when coupled with peaceful natural surroundings, can lull the rider into another world, a welcome retreat from “reality.” Benefiting from the presence of horses does not require riding though, simply being with them can transport us to another realm of possibility, where healing and a return to joy are the normal experience.
When our bodies are uncomfortable it can be difficult to fully enjoy the experience of life. The practice of moving through various postures in yoga is a mode of healing and restoring the body to comfort and ease of motion. Yoga develops the practitioner to transcend the body and experience unity. Sitting quietly can be difficult with the distraction of pain, relieving discomfort allows the mind to settle into the stillness of meditation. It is in this quiet stillness that awareness expands and we find true peace and joy.
When riding, the comfort of the horse is paramount to an experience of harmony and mutually beneficial partnership. Maintaining our horse’s comfort can become a part of our daily practice, much like doing a bit of yoga each day helps our own bodies to function without discomfort. Understanding how yoga works to relieve tension and restore range of motion in our own bodies can help us to work with the horse in a similar fashion. First having the experience in your own body, you can then guide the horse towards a similar experience.
As a yoga instructor I use visual and verbal cues to guide my class through a variety of postures, emphasizing the coordination of movement with breath, so that the flow of the breath is central to the practice. With the horse, I have to develop a relationship in which the horse allows me to physically move the body through a range of motion in a relaxed state. I can use gentle, rhythmic movements to encourage relaxation and release a braced response. As the horse allows me to shape their body I can continuously refine the movements to train the horse for carriage under a rider from the ground up. Regardless of what type of discipline the horse will be doing, learning the basics of dressage is a means of teaching them to carry a rider in a way that will strengthen the body rather than break it down. Training the horse in this way is much like doing yoga with them, guiding their bodies into new and unfamiliar postures that can be challenging but that feel good when they are mastered. When both horse and rider are feeling good, everything else can flow easily.