YOGA… on the hoof
As if yoga isn’t hard enough, it’s now being offered on horseback. Katy Pearson took a deep breath and climbed into the saddle…
It was one of those things that seemed like such a good idea at the time. Yoga on horseback: that’s got to be good for a giggle, right? Yet when the moment came to swing myself into the saddle (having not ridden for about 20 years), I was feeling a little, er, daunted. Especially when I was told I wouldn’t need any reins.
I found myself sitting on Barty after being invited to Bowhayes Farm, a pretty retreat in the depths of Devon. Here, international dressage rider Lucinda McAlpine is dedicated to giving her 22 horses a better way of life. All of the horses live outside, without shoes. The paddocks have been reseeded with a herb mixture and have eld shelters (which the horses seldom use) and natural shelter from woodland. As well as advising and advocating natural horse management, Lucinda also runs De-Stressage classes and a Bootique Camp, where horses lead the way to a fitter, happier you.
I was there to experience firsthand what yoga on horseback sessions could do for me. Over the years, I have been a fairly haphazard yoga-goer. I once almost bowled over two fellow yogis when tumbling out of Downward Dog pose (where you are propped up on hands and feet, derrière well in the air) because I thought I could see my friend’s car out of the window.
So, had I considered it logically, I might have thought twice before attempting to do yoga while on the back of a moving horse. That, however, would have been a crying shame, as it was probably the best, most intensive and most rewarding yoga session I have ever done.
Once I was seated on Barty, Lucinda took away the stirrups and reins and told me to hold on to the front of the saddle if I needed to. ‘You’ll soon be letting go of it,’ she smiled. I was led around in a circle with Barty walking slowly. ‘Remember to breathe,’ Lucinda urged. Believe me, it’s so easy to forget to breathe when you are concentrating on not falling off a horse.
One of Barty’s specialities is the way in which he mimics his rider’s problems. Tight lower back? Lucinda will know because Barty will start to tense his back. Tense? Barty will start to walk in a jerky fashion. Within five minutes, Lucinda quickly noted my tendency to carry stress in my shoulders, had spotted my years of ballet training, and informed me that I had a habit of looking down when concentrating. The next 45 minutes were spent with me completing a series of stretches. I was rotating my ankles while circling my arms, making like an airplane with both arms extended while staying in my seat as Barty picked up pace. By the end, I was even doing backbends in the saddle.
Yoga is all about using your core strength. Attempting side stretches while on an animal that is trotting (yes, trotting!) really does make the stomach muscles step it up a gear. For those with back problems, the motion loosens you in a way a standard yoga class simply cannot.
‘People who have been under chiropractors for years with no improvement come on in leaps and bounds after a class here,’ said Lucinda. Indeed, her clients are a devoted lot. One woman makes a six-hour round trip from Essex for just one class every few weeks. And the class is aimed not just at those wanting to loosen up or take yoga to a new level. It’s the ideal way to build up your confidence in the saddle if you’ve had a bad experience or developed bad habits from riding difficult horses.
When I eventually finished the session, I felt years younger. My husband said my neck appeared to have got longer. And I was quietly convinced my legs had somehow lengthened too.
I spent the night at Bowhayes, staying in the B&B attached to the farm. In the morning, I had a few aching muscles but a cooked breakfast later and I was ready to tackle my second session. This time, I was more confident. We flew through the exercises of the previous day and already I could feel the difference in my posture. I even managed to remember to breathe.
I left the farm with an unaccustomed feeling: somewhere between relaxed and revitalised. Horseback yoga: it sounds as if it shouldn’t work, but it does. Just beware the aches. You’ll use muscles you didn’t know you had.
Yoga on Horseback at Bowhayes Farm, Culmstock, Cullompton, Devon EX15 3JY: 01823-680321, www.lucindamcalpine.com
Daily tip from the lady archive
"It is not always she who appears most kindly in her interest who is the safe sharer of sacred (maybe sorrowful) secrets! Charming manners do not always connote sincerity of heart!”The Lady. In Confidence. 4th April, 1918