Learn How to do Horse Yoga: Part II
By Angela Nunez
Last Month I posted a beginner horse yoga video titled Learn How to do Horse Yoga, a Marriage of Heart and Soul. If you have now begun to get comfortable doing some beginner seated yoga poses with your horse, you can challenge yourself and increase your confidence and trust in your relationship with your horse by adding in slightly more difficult poses. To learn more about the Thin Line Bareback Pad I use in this video click here.
A great exercise to warm up the spine is cat-cow, in which you inhale and arch the spine then exhale and round the spine. Begin by making your way from seated onto all fours (tabletop), bringing your hands onto your horse’s withers and your knees on his back (avoid placing your knees directly on his spine). As best as you can, place your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Inhale and lift your tailbone towards the sky, drop your belly, reach your chest forward, rotate your upper arms outward, and lift your gaze. As you exhale, tuck your tailbone, pull your belly in, engaging your core to press all of the air out, drop your gaze towards your navel and round your spine. Repeat five to seven times, or as many times as you feel your body needs, always matching your movement to your breath. If you feel really balanced in your tabletop, you can try lifting one leg and the opposite hand at the same time, reaching the leg back and the arm forward, keeping a steady gaze down on your horse’s withers to keep length through your spine. Keep your core engaged to keep your hips level. From here you can then bend the knee and reach around to grab the foot or ankle, pressing the foot upward and into the hand.
After practicing cat-cow, it’s a good idea to go into child’s pose to allow the hips and shoulders to relax and to allow the nervous system to calm down in case any adrenaline was released during the practice of cat-cow. You can rest one cheek on your horse’s withers as you sink your hips back towards your heels and reach your arms forward on your horse’s neck. Take a few breaths resting on one cheek, then switch sides and take another few slow, deep breaths. Return to sitting, then inhale and lie all the way back onto your horse’s hindquarters, reaching your arms back, then exhale to sit up and reach all the way forward, reaching your hands towards your horse’s ears. Keep the lower leg still as you move through these sit-ups. Repeat 5 to 10 times, increasing the number of repetitions as you build your core strength. Core strength is important in riding, regardless of your discipline, as well as in your yoga practice. The stronger your core is, the better your balance will be, the lighter you’ll be able to sit on your horse’s back, and the easier inversions will become in your yoga practice.
Staff and Forward Seated Pose
Next carefully turn around so that you’re sitting backwards on your horse. Extend both legs straight out in front of you to rest on your horse’s hindquarters. Sit up tall, reaching up through the crown of the head and resting your hands by your hips to help you find your balance in Staff Pose, or Dandasana. From here you can then begin to fold forward as you exhale and reach your hands towards your feet. If you’re not able to reach your feet without over-rounding your spine, use a strap around your feet instead. Pull your bellybutton in towards your spine to create more space for you to fold forward. After staying in seated forward fold, or Uttanasana, for a few breaths, slowly return to sitting upright and bring your legs to hang on either side of your horse, still facing backwards. Bring your right leg up and across your horse’s hips, keeping the right foot flexed to protect the knee. Sit up tall, and if you feel like you want more of a stretch through your right hip, fold forward as you exhale. Stay for a few breaths and then repeat on the left side.
Turn around to face forward on your horse. Place the soles of your feet on either side of his withers and place your hands behind you on your horse’s hips with your fingers facing your seat. On an inhale, use your core to lift your hips up towards the sky, coming into Reverse Tabletop. If it feels okay on your neck, allow your head to drop back, still pressing your hips upward. After a few breaths here, slowly release the hips down on an exhale. Reverse Tabletop is a great core strengthener and shoulder stretch, and will also feel good for your horse on his shoulders and hips.
Finally, lie all the way down on your back, bringing your palms to face upward and totally relaxing your entire body for savasana. Close your eyes. Quiet your mind. You can let go of the breath or match your breathing to your horse’s breathing. Stay as long as you’d like. When you’re ready to come out of savasana, deepen your breath, bring small movement back to your body, wiggling your fingers and toes, then circling your wrists and ankles. Come back up to sitting when you’re ready, and thank your horse, sending him love and gratitude.