Today I was invited to attend a yoga class by a friend — neat idea, she sponsored a class for her birthday and invited friends to help her celebrate.
I haven’t taken a yoga class for probably a decade but I thought this was a great opportunity to socialize and, at the very least, stretch. Now I think I’m going to have to find a class a bit closer because, not only did I feel so much better after, but I could see how much it would help my riding. Here are a few ways that I saw how what we practiced in the studio could apply to the saddle.
It’s all about the breathing
Breathing is such an important component of both riding and yoga. It’s surprisingly easy to forget that. In fact, many riders hold their breath when they get tense. Horses do too. When I first got Freedom I swear he would hold his breath and than take funny gasps of air when he ran low.
Focusing on your breathing keeps you relaxed and centered but it also imparts those same feelings to your horse. Breathing together helps develop your partnership. I use breathing when I give Freedom massages. When I breathe slowly it seems to calm him and help him release.
When riding, your breathing can help your horse relax. Think of that the next time your horse seems anxious or spooks. Don’t let your breathing become rapid and shallow and see how your horse responds.
Yoga and riding require that you live in the moment. That often takes some practice. Yoga helps riders develop an inner calm by focusing on breathing; that focus that is essential to good horsemanship.
Balance comes from your core strength
Yoga poses are a great way to identify your weaknesses — which side is stronger, where muscles are not strong enough — and to build your core strength. As a rider you need to support your own body to be in balance with your horse. It’s all too easy to collapse through your core and confuse it with relaxation.
Horses and riders also typically are asymmetrical — stronger on one side, weaker or stiffer on the other. Do you and your horse share the same asymmetry? Balancing your own body is an important way to help keep your horse straight and balanced.
On a practical level, being stronger and more balanced also helps you ride more effectively and may even save you from a few unscheduled dismounts.
If you’re not supple, how can your horse be?
Many of the movements that we ask our horses to perform encourage suppleness and flexibility — lateral movements free up the shoulders and engage the hindquarters, jumping stretches out the back, and counter canter reduces stiffness. To work with your horse and support him in those efforts, you need to bring the same softness, flexibility and suppleness to your riding.
I went into the class today feeling stiff and creaky. I left feeling relaxed, stretched and bendable. I found the hip flexor and lower back stretches to be particularly beneficial as I know those are areas where I get tight.
Now, if it would only warm up enough to make riding a possibility, I could see if it made a difference!
Of course fitting one more thing into an already busy schedule can be daunting. There aren’t all that many days when I can fit a 2-hour yoga practice into my schedule. Thank goodness for YouTube. Here’s a session aimed at equestrians that’s less than a half hour (especially if you fast forward through the introduction).