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Maintaining Yourself & Your Horsemanship Amidst a Pandemic

Tips for Equestrians

By Cathy Woods, Author of Yoga for Riders


@cathywoodsyoga on Facebook & Instagram

As lives around the globe are impacted by Covid-19, for equestrians, this means we have altered how we normally spend time with our equine companions and horse friends.

As a long-time yogi, equine enthusiast, author of Yoga for Riders, and creator of Body, Mind, Equine, I’d like to share some tips and thoughts from a yogic perspective – hopefully being of support during this unusual time.

Dealing with cancellations of events, from trail-rides to shows to competitions, lessons, and clinics, we are processing how we feel about our plans being derailed. It’s perfectly natural to grieve the loss of these things we enjoy and are a big part of our lives. However, we don’t want to make long-term friends with this grief and allow it to lead to a permanent state of strife. Horse-people are resilient and resourceful, with the ability to situationally-adapt—we do all of the time in our horsemanship!

Some things are beyond our control ­­­­­­– our current situation is a good reminder of this. The best we can do is navigate unexpected change with as much grace as we can muster. In yoga, we aim to bring gracefulness into yoga postures, even when they feel difficult. We can apply this metaphor to life when we find ourselves in challenging life-postures.

Nothing is permanent; life is dynamic—go with the flow.  A life-lesson contemplated in yogic philosophy is all things are impermanent. Not to downplay this tragic, pandemic event, and possibly one of biggest hardships of our time, but it will pass. Life may not resume exactly the same, but isn’t that the nature of life? One thing we can count on is things change. Life is ever moving and shifting, much like horsemanship. We fare better when we go with the flow, rather than fighting the current.

Present moment awareness is a benefit of yoga and meditation. It reduces anxiety about all the projections and what if’s, allowing us to fully experience what we’re doing and not miss the moments. “Every step a horse takes, he takes into the present—take that step with him.” (Striberry, Paul. Conscious Riding, 2016). Horses can be one of our best teachers; they’re not in the pasture processing what might happen next. They are happily in the moment. Staying present better manages our energy. A method to anchor in the now is by connecting with breath and bodily sensations when our minds wander and chatter excessively.

An attitude of gratitude goes a long way. Though being faced with challenges, there are still joyful moments; focus on what’s right with your life, not what’s wrong with it. Embracing an attitude of gratitude can be powerful!

Maintaining an outlook of acceptance with yourself, others and the world around can be nurturing. But, don’t confuse acceptance with complacency – work on what you can, and from where you are. Be creative about new ways to stay connected to horsemanship, wellness, and being supportive.

Suggestions to stay plugged into your horsemanship and well-being:

  • If you have access to your horse, you might enjoy something I include at retreats called Mindful Grooming. While listening to soothing music, remain silent, fully experiencing the act of grooming­­ ­­– taking care of another being, breathing deeply, heart-connecting and relaxing.
  • Yoga postures (and physical fitness in general) can help you stay strong and flexible so when you get back to riding you are fit and ready to go.
  • Take time to be still. You don’t have to be a master at meditation to benefit from a few moments of stillness to recharge and renew. Simply, five-minutes of closed eyes, focusing on slow deep breathing can be like hitting the reset button for your mind and your nervous system. Each time your mind wanders from the breath gently point it back. When done, integrate back into your day in a new, softer rhythm.
  • Again, if you have access to your horse, but are unable to trailer off and ride, there are simple, safe yoga poses for riders on horseback which maintain balance, strength, focus, and symmetry. (You’ll find these in my soon to be published book, along with equestrian postures on the mat.)
  • We live in a time where we can connect via many internet platforms. There is an abundance of on-line learning modules and tips about every aspect of horsemanship imaginable.  Researching and learning can be a productive use of on-line time.
  • Social media offers connection with other equestrians—from social groups to instructional. Sharing pictures and stories with like-minded friends can be enjoyable.
  • Utilizing time to clean tack or organize your barn offers a feeling of accomplishment and productivity.
  • View horse/barn chores as an opportunity to add healthy structure to your day.

Remember, though you are a horseman/woman, it’s not Who you are. In yogic teachings we say, “The Authentic-Self is beyond the self-image.” It can be useful to look at the bigger picture—we are not really our titles, our stories or our stuff. For those who love to ride and spend time with horses, there is no substitute, but perhaps you can re-frame this period as an opportunity to take care of yourself, body, mind and spirit. Be gentle with yourself. And don’t forget, you are a resilient and resourceful horseperson—you’ve got this!

Peace, Happy Trails & Namaste

~ Cathy Woods 

Stay connected! #EQUITANAUSA