Week 15: Yoga on Horseback
It's so much more than yoga on horseback though.
I went to Malibu to participate in my first airbnb experience, a session with Natalie (human) and Sophie (horse). There was only one review on airbnb when I signed up for it, but I felt drawn to trying this, especially after my recent fall off Sando.
It didn't disappoint. It was, in fact, one of the most touching and moving experiences in my entire life.
The two horses I ride three or four times a week, Johnny and Sando, are sealed in my heart. They are, however, easily spooked; one is distracted and one is anxious. So I too can become on high alert when I ride them. Instead of settling deeply into myself and connecting to the horse, it's all too easy for me to vacate my body. I can describe this energetically as a rising up sensation, instead of a rooting down.
For those that have no idea what I'm talking about, I can also describe this in a way most of us can relate to: in terms of relationship with another human. For me, riding a horse that easily spooks is like being in a relationship (in the general sense) with someone who is hard to trust. A relationship that, even when things are 'smooth,' you can never fall back upon, and still are on alert for the next undercut.
Again, I do love these two horses and feel extraordinarily privileged to be able to ride them. This is just where they are at right now, and they help me become a better, more sensitive rider because of it. I am also working to become more settled in myself, and this is where I diverge, where I meet this need to settle and to trust in another way than hoping to somehow achieve it by riding these two nuggets.
Continuing with the relationship analogy: when you do enter into a relationship with a deep sense of safety, with a palpable feeling of trust and security, there's often an OMG WHAT factor. As in:
OMG WHAT was I missing?
OMG HOW is this possible?
Even if things aren't perfect, the foundational energy allows for an unfolding that would have been impossible alone or in a distrustful relationship, and it is mind-blowing.
That's what riding Sophie, the therapy horse, was like. This is what being on a horse can feel like? This is what it means to connect to myself and to a horse and to the Earth? I can actually trust a horse this much? It's terrifying, but in a beautiful way.
All horses are able to pick up on subtle energy and then act on it, reflecting the inner landscape of what's within a person (that's why J and S get more nervous when I get nervous that they're nervous). Because of their sensitivity, they also have the capacity to deeply heal. Natalie and Sophie are gifted in this way, and use yoga as a means of equine therapy to help the person navigate, understand, and release stuck patterns and energy.
In her own words, Natalie writes, "The goal of equine therapy is to help you develop your own skills to navigate life on life’s terms. We do this through looking to the horse as a mirror for what is happening on your inside as well as looking to the horse for new perspective and problem-solving capabilities."
This might sound woo-woo, especially to those who have never worked with horses, but it's not. I encourage you to read the full description on their Shakti Ranch page.
As you can see from the picture, I became decently trusting of Sophie. Enough to eventually do a stink bug pose, aka downward dog (and then quickly come down)!
Something interesting came up in my session that did reflect an entrenched subconscious pattern for me. While I was on Sophie at a halt, a horse in a turnout behind us started going nuts. Like, nuts. It didn't stop, and having my back to him piqued my anxiety. Sophie was fine, which was a relief for me, but he was too disruptive for us to focus on our work.
(It is an IMPORTANT lesson that I'm still learning -- when 'disruptive' things happen, they are NOT a separation or annoying distraction from our 'real focus,' but an important indication of something to work on. Even though (or more accuarately, because) they are what frustrate us most, they often point to the heart of something we need to learn, and are true nothern stars.)
Natalie asked me if there was anything in my life mirroring this - whether something was disruptively taking up space in the back of my mind that I was trying to ignore, whether I had a pattern of things happening behind my back, etc. Resounding yes yes yes.
That very same horse, in the same turnout, had been as cool as a cucumber a few days earlier. So calm that another client remarked on how it was as if he was in his own world. In my session, he was whinnying, bucking, galloping. She asked me, "What if we turned around to face and acknowledge him?" I wanted to, and we did. Still alert, but instantly calmed, and he never escalated again.
So in the last couple of weeks I've been working on facing what's bothering me directly, instead of trying to, as usual, ignore it and hope that time will carry it away. I've been reflecting upon why this behind-my-back pattern repeats itself -- after all, I'm the common denominator. I've been wondering what it is I want from the people that do this and why I can't give that same thing to myself. It's interesting, and I have good fodder to work with: answers to my questions that lead to more questions.
Natalie also led me through deep breathwork and movement to stimulate energy points within my body, awaken its wisdom, and move out the old stuff. I had a moment alone with Sophie at the end, and when I thanked her for helping me finally begin to release it, she went right over to a pile of old horse poo on the ground and sniffed it. Ha! Old shit.
This is a bite-size piece of what I took away. I am condensing this experience for the sake of brevity in the hopes on not downplaying it. It gave, and is giving, me the greatest gift: a new way of being, a new way of seeing, an understanding that things don't always have to stay the same -- even deeply entrenched patterns are possible to release, in time. Sophie and Natalie helped me untie the trappings holding them in place.
The panoramic ocean view is a plus. I'm coming back in a few weeks because this is so necessary to continue, especially with riding my two little cheeseballs.
P.S. if you're wondering what equestrian savasana, or final resting pose, can look like (on an unamused Sophie).