rider hugging horse

The Spirit of the Horse : Inspiration from the Equine | By Cathy Woods

Last Updated: June 20, 2023By

Humans are attracted to horses for a variety of reasons — perhaps for their sheer beauty or a fondness for their soulfulness — while others admire their wild and strong spirit. Some like to ride, others prefer the training aspect, while some extract great joy by just watching them or being in their presence. Many have a passion for these great beings who share our planet.

People are embracing mindfulness and the many modalities that cultivate it. One of those paths is through the way of the horse.

As a lifelong yogini and horsewoman, I find it natural to apply yogic principles to my time with horses, such as slowing down, body breathing and energy awareness to name a few. I thoroughly enjoy sharing the parallels between yoga and horsemanship with fellow horse lovers.

Through yoga, we aim to practice unity, which is the meaning of the word yoga; to yoke or to unite. This is a great concept in theory, but it’s not always easy to put unity consciousness into practice. Sharing space with horses can give us that opportunity. In yogic teachings, it’s believed that prana (life-force energy) flows through all of creation, interconnecting us on a deeper level. When mindfully spending time with horses, we can tangibly experience unity as we connect on a heart level with another sentient being.

Equines can be great teachers if we truly listen; I call them creature-teachers. They operate from a place of authenticity and see us in our pure and genuine form; they see our essence self, and they know the energy behind our words.

Horses live in the present; as yogis, we aspire to do the same, but horses are indeed the masters of living in this way. “A horse takes every step into the present moment, take that step with him,” Paul Striberry, author of Conscious Riding, says.

Horses are known to mirror our energy back to us; they can show us our imbalances and what energy we’re bringing to our lives — centered, calm, collected and grounded or nervous, fragmented, fearful and scattered — so we can course-correct accordingly.

yoga for riders

Every time we pick up a horse’s lead line or reins, we transmit energy to our equine partner. Every time we come into their space bubble, we share energy; it’s helpful to understand what energy we’re bringing not only to our horsemanship but to our lives.

My favorite saying is, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” If you’re timid around horses, you’re likely timid in other life situations, too. If you are dominant or overconfident with horses, you may see that theme elsewhere in your life, along with many other ways of being that horses can show us.

Horses will indeed call us out on our stuff and help us come to know ourselves more deeply. Sometimes, as humans, we try to mask what’s going on, but the horse will simply not allow this. If we are going to interact with them fruitfully and positively, they require us to honor ourselves by showing up authentically. In my book, Yoga for Riders, I say, “You can’t lie to a horse or a highly attuned human.

At my Body, Mind, Equine retreats, I have several participants lead the same horse around the arena, one at a time. It’s always interesting torider hugging horse at retreat see how the horse reacts differently to different handlers, responding to their unique energy. Sometimes, these shifts are obvious, and other times quite subtle, such as the horse’s body language, how slow or fast the horse walks or how confident he/she feels in that person’s presence.

Other exercises include breathing with horses, which is calming and connecting for horses and humans. Another is mindful equine grooming and mounted meditation in motion; these are done in silence as we step into the non-verbal world of the horse and become keenly aware of all our senses, experiencing the present moment fully.

There are always many teachable moments when interacting with horses.

In yoga and horsemanship, there’s no endgame; we continue to learn and expand as perpetual students of the Earth school.

As a longtime horsewoman, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this point; though horses are mystical and amazing creatures, bringing a spiritual or yogic approach to horsemanship does not negate good horsemanship. It’s paramount to apply safe practices when interacting with these large, powerful beings — safety first for the horse and human. If you’re thinking about exploring yourself through the world of the horse, be certain you’re doing so with a qualified equine professional.

May the totem of Equus bring you on new journeys and teach you to ride in new directions, awakening and discovering your full potential, freedom and power. May the Spirit of the horse enliven your Spirit!

Writer + Facilitator

Originally published in Summer + Fall 2023 issue of Colorado YOGA + life.

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