Finally I've gotten round to writing about my new chapter - incorporating yoga with dressage training. It has taken a few months to develop this because as I went deeper into my yoga practise, a whole new world opened to me. I have spent some time on the fundamental basics of body movement and alignment, explored that within my own dressage training and now am starting to teach with these ideas at the forefront of my mind. So now, I can put all my ideas to paper (or keyboard!) and share the little tips and ideas I get on an almost daily basis when I combine my yoga practise with my dressage training.
I've had huge eye-openers into things like my spinal alignment (I had been holding my spine in the shape I thought it "should" be rather than working with my natural curve), shoulder rotation and the way I hold my arms and hands when I ride, weight distribution in my feet and thinking about how they feel in the stirrups, the importance of the psoas muscles in my torso and their relation to my hip flexors, and how my quads and hamstrings work in relation to my pelvis and knees. One of the biggest things I have learnt, however, is not physical. Yoga has taught me concentration, the feeling of being present, and to how focus on intention rather than effort. For me, these aspects are game changers.
I'll move through the snippets and realisations individually so as not to overload anyone, so will start with today. I recently came back from a little holiday to see my sister in France, so the horses are only just starting to come back into their work routine, as am I with my exercise routine (desperately needed to work off all that delicious french food and wine!). I was super eager to get back to what I was working on before I went away, so I put on one of my favourite Yogi's videos on youtube, which was at a level I would normally be fine at, but I couldn't even get through the first 5 minutes. Weak was an understatement. It felt like all the shoulder and core strength I had developed over the past 6 months was just gone.
In yoga, we are always told to "listen to our body", despite what the ego is shouting at us. So, I did, and I put on a gentler vinyasa flow video with plenty of stretches to start getting the blood flow going again and just unwind my body after being so sedentary from travelling. It worked a treat and I felt lovely and loose afterwards, ready to get back to the proper work in my first yoga class the next evening.
I applied the same thought process to the horses. I popped one of them on the lunge before I got on and she looked almost lame she was so stiff. So I kept her walking for ages on the lunge and did a gentle trot both ways, then I hopped on and just walked her for a few circuits around our property which involves a couple of small hills. I did the same with the others, with the view that all of the walking under saddle with weight on their back would be just enough for their first day, warming their muscles up after being so sedentary for the last few days, like I was. The hills added a bit of flexion and extension into their joints, and warmed up the back even more.
I was just as keen to get the horses working again as we really need to get out competing and I have goals I want to achieve with them, but just getting on and starting work as normal would have only been counterproductive and stressful for them, the same way as the first yoga video felt for me. Having this understanding and empathy for the horse is of utmost importance. Many people would say they would do the same thing, which is great, but how many people stop and think about why a horse is finding a particular movement hard, or think about what they might be feeling in their body? Instead of taking steps back and re-evaluating, we just put more effort in and more pressure on, only for everyone to end up in a sweaty mess with not much else achieved other than a tired horse and a frustrated rider.
If I am doing my practice and find a particular pose difficult, I don't keep pushing it until it gets better, I back off and think "not today" or "its too much for where I am right now in my journey". Otherwise injuries can happen, or because I used my ego, I feel defeated. It's the same with the horses. The advanced movements shouldn't be hard if the foundations and basics are there and correct. As long as we stay true to that, and listen to what the horse's body is telling us and addressing it empathetically and systematically, all the rest will come when the time is right for them and the correct strength and suppleness is there. They have no ego, it is only us that creates such expectations of them to please ourselves.