FROM FRANTIC TO FOCUSED

Pre-ride YOGA in less than five minutes.

Published August 2016.

Seated Mountain Pose. Take a quick scan of the body and become aware of your breath. Breath through your nose. Inhale, expanding breath into the belly. Exhale deeply. Repeat three times.

We’ve all had that kind of day, racing between work and errands, followed by a fast and furious drive to the barn. We leap out of our cars and tack up our horse in record time. The lesson starts out rushed with a somewhat stiff body, and it never seems to reach what could have been its full potential. It takes us too long to get in sync with our horses, and we waste half our lesson before we can really get to proper work and the fun part. Our horses often feel confused and forced instead of feeling a partnership. So, how do we calm our racing minds and get the most out of our mounted experience? A little yoga may be all we need.

Yoga is a combination of practices dating back several thousand years. It includes breathing exercises, physical poses, mindful awareness, and meditation. It improves strength, flexibility, focus, and control.

These pre-ride exercises combine a short breathing exercise for centering the body and mind, along with several easy physical poses to make the body supple and prepare for a harmonious experience for both horse and rider.

One-minute Mindfulness Exercise

Meditation involves a shift in consciousness, which can be attained either while moving or in stillness. This simple meditation can create an immediate shift in awareness and bring a sense of peacefulness and focus to your ride in only a minute or less. It is based on the Sun Salutation (Surya namaskar), which links the breath with the movement of the arms and can be done seated or standing or even on your horse (provided it is quiet enough). The movement of the arms simulates the upward energy and downward energy that follows our bodies’ natural rhythm.

Take a short scan of your body and look for any tension. Sit quietly and connect to your breathing by slowly inhaling and exhaling. Focus your attention on how it feels to have the air flow through your body. Bring your hands to the sides of your legs, palms facing forward.

On an inhalation, raise your arms overhead slowly bringing the palms to touch above your head. Synchronize your breath and the movement of your arms so that just at the end of the inhalation, the hands come together in prayer. Then, exhaling, draw your hands down through the midline of the body and open them out to the side so the hands are in their original position at the end of the exhale. Move slowly and mindfully so your movement and breath are in unison.

Arms overhead. Inhale and raise your arms overhead, bringing hands together to touch at the end of the inhalation. Synchronize breath with the movement.

This meditation can be performed seated or standing, with the eyes open or closed. But if the eyes are open, be sure to bring your gaze to your hands as they reach overhead, and then follow your hands with your gaze as they come down through the midline of your body.

Seated Spinal Twist Sit tall. Place right hand behind you and left hand on the outer right thigh. Inhale; press into the right hand and grow taller. On the exhale spiral to right. Take five full breaths this way and then switch to the left side; repeat.

Repeat this rhythm for one minute or more if you like. Focus on being present throughout the exercise and coordinating your movement with your breath. Take a moment at the end of the exercise to set a goal for your ride, such as, “My horse and I will move in harmony.” Softly open your eyes and choose one or more of the physical poses shown here depending on what you feel would be most beneficial for you and your horse.

Horses are very emotional beings; they can act as a perfect mirror. By taking the time to pause and observe our breath, we can begin to connect on a deeper level to ourselves as well as our equine partners. Just take a deep breath and look into the eyes of your horse. It’s that simple.

Cat Pose Exhale; tuck tailbone and round back; draw navel towards the spine. Drop chin to chest, widen upper back. Whole spine should be rounded like a cat’s. Move back and forth between cat and cow poses synchronizing with breath.

Seated Outer Hip Opener Sitting tall, place the left ankle on the top of the right knee. Flex the toes of the left foot. Place left hand on the left thigh just above the knee and gently press the knee away. Bend forward at hips. Take five deep breaths; switch sides, repeat.

Goddess Pose Stand with feet 3 feet apart. Point toes out, keep knees bent. Hands on thighs, straighten right arm, press right hand into right thigh, and twist toward the left; bring right shoulder toward left knee. Breathe deeply five times; switch sides.

Crescent Lunge Standing feet together; step left foot back three feet, toes pointed ahead. Bend right knee and raise arms. Knee at right angle, pelvis level, press firmly into back foot. Breathe deeply five times. Return to standing to rest, hands at heart center; pause and breathe.

Jamie Fields is the owner of Ogden’s Mill Yoga in Hartland, Vermont, and a Yoga Alliance RYT 300 teacher. She teaches a mindfulness-based, Vinyasa style of yoga and has been practicing since 1998. Also an experienced eventer, she lives in Vermont with her three dogs, five horses, equestrian daughters Emily and Madlen (the model for the photos), and horse husband, Thatcher Fields.