What exactly is Equi-Yoga? You may have visions, like I did, of a graceful yogi in down dog on the top of a bareback horse, lounging in circles like a vaulter. It is actually a practice developed by Marty Whittle that combines yoga techniques of body awareness, breath and movement with equestrian training. Whittle found that implementing these yoga based exercises with the movement of a horse will help stretch, strengthen, and balance the rider. So our vision isn’t so far fetched. In Enchantment Equitreks Equi-Yoga program you will begin on the mat, creating a foundation of poses and breath that will be translated into the saddle. As you move to the saddle our horses stand patiently, often breathing and stretching with you, as you begin to find a flow. When you are ready to advance, the horse walks out on a long line as you match your rhythm with the animal. For more advanced riders, the horse is urged into a trot and a true study of balance is achieved.
This unique technique targets many trouble areas, such as the neck, shoulders, arms, seat and legs. By loosening and strengthening these areas, the rider allows the horse to flow through them. By facilitating Ujjayi breathing, new lines of communication form between horse and rider. “It helps you explore your body from the inside out,” explains Whittle. Personally, I found that I often forgot to use my core and compensated by using alternative muscles. For example, after reaching down to my stirrup I would squeeze with my knees and leg to help right my self in the saddle. My horse took the cue to move forward and I would over correct to stop the movement. How many times do equestrians lean down to adjust a stirrup and the horse trots off? My natural reaction is to tense through the saddle and hold my breath, which in turn makes the horse tense. I had to learn to engage my core and regulate my breathing to keep my body relaxed and in control. Through Equi-Yoga I began to understand that communication with my horse can be misconstrued by being unaware of my body.
I also found a deeper understanding of my own yoga practice by testing my balance on a moving mat. Although our horses are well trained to stand as the rider reaches new positions, they can be distracted and take a step. When in a twist the rider may have to adjust to the new position of the horse. There are also moments when the horse will stretch its neck as you lean forward and both of you are working together to reach equilibrium, finding that unspoken partnership. My greatest revelation came when we started the moving portion. As my horse walked at end of the lounge line, my instructor guided me in twists and bends that complemented the animals natural gait and I realized that I am a booty rider! In order to keep my balance I tended to over compensate by sticking my rear end out just a bit and slightly arching my back. This throws my seat forward and legs back in the saddle, which explains my habit of sometimes loosing a stirrup. Even though it was a slight misalignment in my body, it highlighted the affect it had in my riding. When I returned to the mat for my regular yoga sessions I felt my rear end creeping back out. Now that I am aware, I tuck it right back under my pelvis where it belongs.
By adding the equine element to yoga the equestrian will learn to adjust to new situations with breath and suppleness, recognize and adjust the body cues to keep clear communication, and build a deeper connection to your horse. The yogi will challenge balance, develop deeper self awareness while staying cognoscente of out side influences.
For this new and exciting program we are blessed to be working with Nicole Fitzgerald, an experienced yoga teacher who has completed Equi-Yoga training with Marty Whittle. Her enthusiasm for yoga, horses, and Equi-Yoga is contagious. Nicole focuses on making this experience fun, relaxing, and informational for many levels of riders and yoga enthusiasts.
A single day course includes an introductory mat session, an on the horse standing flow, and a walking sequence. However, we believe that a foundation for the practice is best built during an Equi-Yoga Retreat Week. This encompasses multiple mat sessions that reinforce poses and helps work sore muscles, multi standing flows, walking sequences, and the introduction to the trotting positions. We then take this knowledge and apply it while trail riding, such as warming up with your horse and after lunch stretches. The team here at Enchantment Equitreks look forward to sharing this extraordinary and new technique in both the equine and yoga world.