When Yoga with Horses made its big debut at Wanderlust in Vermont in June, it made for some of the event’s coolest photos.
But as fab as the of pics yoga poses on horseback are, the program isn’t just a photo op or PR stunt. At Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont, where Yoga with Horses retreats are offered periodically, the experience is meant to connect the mindfulness and centeredness of yoga with the more meditative aspects of horseback riding, such as tuning into your own actions and the responses of another living being.
In Stowe that means an introduction to natural horsemanship techniques (a.k.a., horse whispering, or fostering nonverbal communication), a riverside trail ride to a waterfall and yoga poses performed both on and off the horse. Amazingly, no riding experience is necessary. (A helmet is.)
When organizers of Wanderlust picked it up and promoted it, they wrote, “The principles of Yoga and Horsemanship are synonymous. Horses live in a state of natural harmony, acceptance, a world without judgment, and they have a preference for life in a herd that includes both family and non-family members. It is said in the Yoga with Horses community that ‘our saddle blankets are our mats and our studio is the great outdoors.’”
Stowe Mountain isn’t riding solo on the yoga trail. Linda Guanti has been leading horse yoga retreats since 2007, in places as far-flung as Costa Rica (at the holistic equestrian center Equisol, whose calendar includes an “Eat, Pray, Ride” retreat, too). And out west, there’s Cowgirl Yoga in Bozeman, Montana (tag line: “Stretch yourself physically, emotionally and soulfully”) and Tammy Pate’s Equestrian Yoga retreats at the luxe Home Ranch in Colorado.
While bareback asana is a relatively new phenomenon, people in the wellness world have long known what we can learn about ourselves by paying attention to our interactions with horses.
It was more than 20 years ago that Wyatt Webb launched the beloved Equine Experience at Miraval in Tucson. The spa’s program pairs guests with horses that they groom and lead around an arena in order to see how they communicate in (human) relationships and notice patterns of learned behavior that may be working against them. (E.g, Why do you sweet talk people who continually ignore you?)
It’s a concept that’s spread to a less spiritually minded guest ranch nearby. Tanque Verde Ranch’s Harmony with Horses program is designed to offer similar insights via riding—a bonus for anyone who wants to get better in the saddle at the same time she’s getting better at knowing herself. —Ann Abel