Prac­tic­ing yoga can en­hance your abil­ity to ride and help you be­come a bet­ter part­ner for your horse

EQUUS - - Contents - By Sylvia K. Vi­tazkova, PhD, CYT Sylvia K. Vi­tazkova, PhD, is a cer­ti­fied yoga teacher and con­ser­va­tion bi­ol­o­gist. A life­long horse­woman con­cen­trat­ing on clas­si­cal dres­sage and event­ing, Vi­tazkova lives near Ocala, Florida, and leads InBodied Liv­ing & Co

Dres­sage for peo­ple

Idid my dres­sage to­day! Uh, I meant yoga….” So said one of the rid­ers who takes yoga lessons from me, happy to share that she had “schooled” be­tween her weekly ses­sions. She had in­ad­ver­tently and in­tu­itively made the con­nec­tion that yoga is dres­sage for peo­ple: Just as dres­sage helps en­hance strength, sup­ple­ness, fo­cus and re­spon­sive­ness in horses, with yoga we can learn to ex­e­cute im­pres­sive feats of ath­leti­cism and bal­ance.

Yoga can make any dis­ci­pline eas­ier and safer for rid­ers. Younger peo­ple may main­tain nat­u­ral strength and sup­ple­ness more eas­ily than older rid­ers do, but of­ten they can ben­e­fit from deeper work. Yoga can also off­set some of the stiff­ness and loss of strength that nat­u­rally comes with age. Prac­tic­ing yoga reg­u­larly is a way to en­hance your abil­ity to ride well and be­come a bet­ter part­ner for your horse.

Sci­en­tific stud­ies have doc­u­mented nu­mer­ous health ben­e­fits of reg­u­lar yoga prac­tice. Al­most ev­ery pose re­quires core strength, which in turn re­leases the lower back yet also sta­bi­lizes it. Reg­u­lar yoga prac­tice en­hances di­ges­tion and hor­monal bal­ance. Yoga also can de­crease stress and anx­i­ety, in­crease fo­cus and pos­si­bly re­lieve in­som­nia and de­pres­sion. The con­cen­tra­tion that one prac­tices on the mat when do­ing a com­plex bal­anc­ing pose trans­lates to fo­cus that can be use­ful in other sit­u­a­tions, such as re­mem­ber­ing your dres­sage test in the arena or count­ing strides be­tween fences. With all of these ben­e­fits, why don’t more rid­ers prac­tice yoga? I of­ten hear one of these two ex­cuses from those who re­sist: “I can’t do yoga, be­cause I can’t even touch my toes” and “Yoga is bor­ing, and I want a real work­out.” If a rider can­not touch his or her toes, there’s no time to lose in rem­e­dy­ing the sit­u­a­tion. The flex­i­bil­ity re­quired to move with a horse re­quires a rider’s back be pli­able and mo­bile. And if a tum­ble oc­curs, which is al­most in­evitable through our years of rid­ing, tighter mus­cles, ten­dons and lig­a­ments will tear more eas­ily.

Rid­ers who think that yoga is bor­ing are of­ten the adren­a­line junkies who love a good gal­lop and jump­ing course. But think of how these ac­tiv­i­ties can be en­hanced with a flex­i­ble, strong body and a fo­cused, at­ten­tive mind in both horse and rider. Once they get on the mat, many first-time yoga stu­dents are amazed at how dif­fi­cult it is to ex­e­cute the move­ments. Even if they can in­tel­lec­tu­ally grasp what the in­struc­tor is ask­ing--for ex­am­ple, si­mul­ta­ne­ously en­gag­ing the core and let­ting go of the gluteals---they find it hard to ac­tu­ally do it be­cause they are not used to con­trol­ling their bod­ies with such sub­tlety and pre­ci­sion.

Yoga is a tool for healthy liv­ing. Wouldn’t we all want to still be mov­ing grace­fully and hap­pily rid­ing our horses when we’re 80?

The con­cen­tra­tion that one prac­tices on the yoga mat trans­lates to fo­cus that can be use­ful in other sit­u­a­tions.

EM­POW­ER­ING: Sylvia K. Vi­tazkova, shown here with her horse Lady Delilah, has stud­ied yoga in Mysore, In­dia.

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