Last week I spoke about the physical benefits of how yoga can help horseriders. This week I’m going to speak about how yoga can help with the horses behaviour.
What makes yoga more than just an exercise class is the ancient philosophy that it is built from. When you say yoga to most people they just think of really bendy people doing lots of stretches and cool postures. But the word yoga doesn’t just describe the postures, the word for the physical practice of yoga is asana. There are other parts of yoga too and one of them is breath work or pranayama.
Before I get onto that the basic aim of all of this is to bring the person into a state of stillness and awareness that they aren’t affected by the outside worlds input. That they can just be totally at peace with themselves and all around them. This is known in the yoga world as enlightenment.
So the practice of asana is to physically work out the stresses of daily life, the practice of pranayama or breath work is to start to take the mind from the external to the internal.
If you’ve ever attended a yoga class you will have heard a lot of instructions of exhale and inhale. This is because in order to fully get the most from yoga we need to work with and be constantly aware of the breath. Our breath is our key to our inner emotions and once we can work with the breath we can start to work with our emotions.
If you observe your breath when your angry, nervous, upset, calm, happy or excited you’ll see your breath has different types of patterns for each of these emotions. If we consciously bring our breath to our calm pattern we then trigger the brain to release calming hormones through our body and we then come into a state of calm.
This is the ultimate aim for working with our breath, bringing ourself into a state where we are calm and can then move into that space of quietness.
So by emphasising the breath through our asana practice we learn that we can continually bring ourself back to a calm state even when we are pushing our boundaries at certain points. If we learn this we can then place this into practice at other times in our lives.
Starting with when we are around our horses. Horses pick up our emotions, they pick up subtle changes in our heart rate and also breathing rates and respond accordingly. We may not realise how sensitive we our horses are, but if you think about it, when they are in a heard they don’t have time to verbally tell the rest of the herd that a predator as crept up on them and is about to pounce. They have to be able to sense from the rest of the heard what’s happening and react. This means they become very tuned into energy, heart rates and breathing rates.
Many studies have shown that when a riders heart rate increases the horses heart rate increases. They’ve also gone further and proved that when a horse really gets to know it’s owner that if the owners heart rate increases in the next stable it’s heart rate will increase in response.
This is mind blowing! If you put that into reality every emotion you feel your horse senses and reacts. Without you having to say a word or even touch them.
This is made even more complicated when the horse thinks very simply, what I mean by this the horse doesn’t live in a world of emails, social media or news. So when we rock up at the yard stressed because we’ve just received an email from our friend/tutor/boss the horse just reads STRESS, they’re reaction to a trusted person being stressed is “shit there must be something that’s going to hurt me” so they become hyper alert themselves. If we do this regularly, they can then become what I call shut down to it, what I mean is they have recognised this stress response, previously nothing’s happened to kill them and you’ve just continued about your normal routine, so in order to cope they have to put barriers up or ignore this stressed energy. The problem here is once they start ignoring your energy, they start ignoring you. They become de-sensitised to you.
So you get an extreme of two, either super sensitive, alert, spooky feels like your working with a time bomb or asleep, ignorant, not very sensitive, some people would call “lazy” horses.
So how can yoga help this???
Well as I said all the way back at the start by working with your breath you start to unlock your emotions, yoga teaches you the tools to be able to connect with your calm emotion. If you then make a conscious effort to practice this breathing when your around your horse and riding them, you will be in a calm place. This means that the horse doesn’t have to react to your negative energy, they can stay calm and relaxed with you. And if something does spook then you can be a calm influence on them to help them to calm down.
By practicing yoga breath you start to work with your horse rather than against them, they “let you in” more and allow themselves to be at ease.”Lazy” horses become more sensitive and open to new things, “hot” horses calm down.
By you being aware of the emotions your projecting outwards and being able to change them, you can really start to change your relationship with your horse, and any horse that you work with.