Riding, horses, barns, pastures. Sitting trot, Swedish oxers, shoulder-ins, collection. For the past 30 years, in varying degrees, horses have ruled my world. Cleaning stalls, riding out, summer shows, trail rides. I have read about their care and attended camps, seminars, clinics and shows. I’ve watched movies that ro-manticized riding, and I’ve even had the opportunity to ride with an Olympian.
There was never time in my life to add any other hobbies because I thought that all of my free time needed to be funneled toward my horses and riding. Until very recently, that is, when I made some time—just two hours per week—to add another activity to my life: I began to practice yoga. And I have been continually surprised at how this form of exercise has actually enhanced my riding and my experience with my horses.
In my first class I learned that my years of riding and barn time had given me great balance, impressive upper-body strength and strong leg muscles. I also learned that my “good seat” had resulted in “tight hips,” and my posture was not as wonderful as I thought. But even as the yoga classes helped to make my body more supple, balanced and strong, I was learning a much larger lesson: gratitude.
I really love my horses. They have nicknames, they get presents on their birthdays, and they are extremely well cared for and loved. But when you really think about it, what we ask of them is a little crazy. I make them stand still while they get shots, haircuts, hoof trims, shoes nailed to their feet and dewormers pushed into their mouths. Then I attach a saddle to their backs, buckle straps to their faces and push metal into their mouths, only to climb onto their backs and expect to be carried around at my whims. I might ask them to walk, trot, canter, cross water, hop over logs, jump obstacles, gallop fields and then walk quietly again.
My yoga teacher encourages us at the end of every class to have gratitude for our practice, and I quickly realized that this concept was lacking from my riding. As a kid I was always so grateful to have the chance to groom any horse, grateful when I was allowed to ride my favorite schooling horse, grateful to my parents for paying for and driving me to my lessons, grateful to clean stalls, grateful for basically anything to do with horses.
But years later, with my own barn and horses, too much of this had become routine. I had to be reminded to look upon my time with horses with gratitude. Now, I try not to rush through my barn chores, instead taking the time to interact and enjoy the company of my curious horses, even when the “company” makes my task take twice as long. I have infinitely more patience when faced with a new or difficult challenge, such as teaching my baby to load into a trailer or body-clipping my latest rescue.
But, most of all, I genuinely feel gratitude while in the saddle. My horses have now become accustomed to me dismounting, giving their heads a hugging squeeze and quietly saying, “Thanks for the ride.”
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #456, September 2015.