We’ve talked about yoga with horses before — a name for doma índia, a method of horse training from South America. This time, though, we’re talking about horseback yoga: performing yoga poses while on horseback, or in the presence of a horse. Let’s take a look at this cool new practice.
The Surprising Secret Behind Horse Yoga
Many of us know yoga poses. They are already difficult enough to do on the ground. Now imagine doing them on horseback. That is, on its most superficial level, what horseback yoga (or simply horse yoga) is.
Horse yoga combines the idea of riding and horses with the philosophy behind yoga into a new, enriching practice. At first this might sound like an unnecessary challenge to something that, to many, is quite difficult already, but there’s far more to it than meets the eye. This practice combines meditation, yoga poses, and horse psychotherapy into a single, fulfilling session.
The power of yoga
Yoga is a lot more than some funny-named poses and magical flexibility. Rather, this ancient practice from India has a whole philosophy behind it. The idea of yoga is to combine physical fitness and mental awareness. This is what is called mindfulness, a field of research that grows every day. In the old philosophy, the healthier the mind, the healthier the body, and vice versa.
Mindfulness is coming back to the Western world, and it’s for a good reason. The stress of modern living and society can take its toll, and mindfulness is a way to balance it out, draining some of the stress and relaxing both body and mind. Yoga, as a practice, becomes more and more popular because of this. It’s also fun and engaging — both very helpful things!
Horseback yoga brings this concept to a new level. Horses are incredibly sensitive, intelligent animals, this is the reason why they are often used to treat PTSD and in horse-assisted psychotherapy. The latter gains more traction with every new study that confirms its benefits, and it’s no wonder. There are clear benefits from using a horse as an aid in therapy.
The role of the horse
But why horse yoga? While yoga itself may be soothing and fulfilling on its own, the horse brings a whole new depth to the experience. At first it might sound like a gimmick, but it couldn’t be furthest from the truth. The idea behind horse yoga is to use the horse as a way to connect — both to the animal, and to yourself.
Like in horse-assisted psychotherapy, the horse offers a grounding presence. During yoga, the practitioner will feel more connected to the animal and its moods. This helps the person also connect to their own body and feelings, seeing where they are different and where they are similar. The first step in horseback yoga sessions is to time your breathing with the horse’s for that reason. It may also help with people who have emotional and psychological issues as well, through working the connection into a state of relaxation and inner awareness.
Thank you to all these cute little horse yogis that joined me tonight!!! Opening up their hearts and sharing their "golden glitter rainbow love" with the horses and each other! ❤️🌈🐴 Who was it that said never to work with kids or animals??? #lovemyjob Thank you @bocariding xxx #bestyogahorsesever Thank you @amandapanda1982 for assisting!!! You are going to be an incredible teacher! And thanks for these cute pics! #yoga #kidsyoga #yogainspiration #teachthemyoung #teachthemwithlove #horseyoga #yogawithhorses #delraybeach #bocaraton #yogaforequestrians #horsesofinstagram #minihorse #paint #palmbeach #yogafun
Many exercises begin on the ground, with meditation and stretches assisted by the horse. Some poses might be performed with the horse for support or aid, from the ground. Others, however, are done on horseback — but that depends on how comfortable the person is with the idea.
More advanced practitioners (and horse riders) will want to do some sitting and standing yoga poses on the saddle. This of course takes trust — both on yourself and on your horse. It’s not every horse that can work with horse yoga, as the animal needs to be gentle and calm. The yogi will perform the poses while someone else holds the horse still on a lead rope, but with some horses this may not even be necessary. While some people practice it with tack, others prefer to do it on bareback.
Of course, as anything involving horses, there is some risk. It takes immense trust on both sides for some of the more advanced poses, as these involve lying on, stretching and even standing on the horse’s back. But with the right horses and supervision, this practice is perfectly safe, even for children.
It isn’t just people interested in the healing and fitness aspects of yoga and love of horses that benefit from this practice, either. For those who already are riders, or enjoy riding, this practice also helps to develop the relationship and openness of rider and horse. Yoga itself is good for riders, but the presence of a horse during it doubles its natural benefits with trust and companionship. People who are ill or have disabilities might also enjoy the trust and connection developed with an animal as big and strong as a horse.
Where to practice
As the practice grows, more places begin to offer it. The La Donaira, in Spain, uses Lusitanos for its horse yoga classes, but there are many retreats across the world already incorporating this practice. Most places that offer horseback yoga today are pretty dedicated to the practice. Some might even offer training for future instructors. If you plan on trying horse yoga, make sure to do somewhere safe, with a certified instructor and horses who are used to it, as with any other sort of exercise or health practice.
So what do you think? Would you practice horse yoga? Do you? Let us know in the comments below!