It might seem like just another addition to the latest fad of adding animals to a yoga practice.
First came Doga with dogs, then came Goga with goats, and now this.
But there may be more depth and reasoning to horse yoga (equestrian yoga) than meets the eye.
Why horses make good yoga partners
For starters, horses are typically non-judgemental creatures that are particularly good at mirroring a person’s emotional state and behavior.
That makes them particularly good partners if you’re after a transformational experience that can help you shed light on your own patterns, beliefs, and reactions.
Horses are also acutely aware of their surroundings – the sounds, vibrations, and energy.
They can be alert and present, yet calm and settled.
This is a powerful skill we can learn from them.
Horse yoga can deepen your practice in ways you hadn’t thought of before
The overall purpose of yoga is to experience union and connection – within ourselves first and foremost and then with others and the outside world.
With this one key distinction in mind, it’s easy to see how connecting to a horse can help you experience a different facet of this yogic understanding.
It’s also important to note that although we typically think of yoga as a purely physical practice, there are other limbs and practices that encompass the entirety of Classical Yoga.
According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the oldest authoritative texts on Classical Yoga, the Yogic Path is comprised of 8 limbs or stages:
- Yamas – Self-regulating behaviors
- Ahimsa – Non-violence
- Satya – Truthfulness
- Asteya – Even-exchange
- Aparigraha – Non-attachment
- Brahmacharya – Non-excess
- Niyamas – Personal observances
- Saucha – Cleanliness
- Santosha – Contentment
- Tapas – Self-discipline
- Svadhyaya – Self-study
- Ishvara Pranidhana – Surrender
- Asana – mindful body movement & meditational postures
- Pranayama – regulation of your vital energy via the breath
- Pratyahara – Turning the senses inward
- Dharana – Holding one-pointed focus
- Dhyana – Deep meditation
- Samadhi – Union & Transcendence of your limitations
Believe it or not, practicing yoga with a horse can actually help you address many of these yogic points:
- By connecting with the horse in a non-exploitative, peaceful way you’re experiencing Ahimsa.
- Horses don’t lie or have ulterior motives so they teach you how to be true in the moment too. (Satya)
- The entire premise of horse yoga is based on an exchange between you and your horse and when done properly, this exchange is balanced and pure. (Aparigraha)
- Being near a horse helps you appreciate cleanliness a lot more, right? (Have you ever been around horse dung?) (Saucha)
- Horses teach you to experience appreciation and contentment in the moment. (Santosha)
- It can be intimidating and daunting to connect with a horse let alone saddle up and practice poses on it! Tapas is all about growth and discipline in the midst of the uncomfortable.
- Because they are so good at mirroring, horses can teach you a lot about yourself, your reactions, your attitudes, and your behaviors. (Svadhyaya)
- Because it can be intimidating to approach a horse, especially if you don’t have much previous experience, a good amount of surrender will be required. Horse yoga isn’t about controlling the horse or the situation as much as it is about experiencing the moment with detachment. (Ishvara Pranidhana)
- Asana practice looks different on horseback – there’s much more focus on the breath and arm movements and also balancing poses on the horse’s back.
- A very important aspect of connecting your energy to the horse’s energy is breathing. It can be a very powerful experience to be in silence with the horse. To touch it and breathe with it. It can be very purifying. (Pranayama)
- Horse yoga requires your full awareness and attention. You’ve got to be aware of the horse’s state and their response to you along with managing your own experience. This requires a one-pointed focus. (Dharana)
Additional horse yoga benefits
Another benefit of horse yoga is that it teaches you how to be more assertive and confident, and that’s something many of us care to master.
Horses, like dogs, crave connection, leadership, and trust.
We must proceed with calm confidence when managing and directing them.
Horse yoga is similar to a therapeutic practice called horse therapy or equine-assisted therapy.
This kind of therapy involves both a therapist and a horse specialist and centers around supervised interactions between a person and the horse.
The goal of horse therapy is to help a person develop certain skills like confidence, assertiveness, self-control, problem-solving capacity, and accountability. (1)
Studies indicate that possible benefits of horse therapy include: (1)
- Emotional awareness
- Stress resilience
- Impulse control
- Interpersonal relationships
How it benefits the horse, too
And while there are clearly many benefits that horse yoga can offer us, it’s not a one-way street.
Horses are also benefitted too.
Don’t forget that horses are very muscular creatures.
That means they also experience muscle soreness and tension.
Asanas performed correctly on the horse’s back serve as a massage for them.
And who doesn’t like a tension-relieving massage, right?