Yoga and horsemanship, two practices that support one another
As I am teaching on a yoga and horsemanship course in the Netherland with expert horse trainer Karine Vandenborre, the two of us have been discussing at length the many parallels and connections between the two disciplines.
It is interesting to note that both are very ancient. The earliest texts describing yoga practices, such as the Upanishads and the Buddhist Pāli Canon are around the same age as Xenophon’s “Art of Horsemanship”. However, both disciplines are much more ancient than these written texts, pre-dating written history.
We also noted that while both pursuits were mostly or even exclusively male activities in the past, in the modern world, the gender balance is quite the opposite, with more women practicing both. Indeed, on Karine’s horsefulness courses and our Sati yoga courses, the vast majority of participants are women.
But the most important parallel for us is that both disciplines offer a path of self development through awareness and kindness.
Because both disciplines involve body and mind they also tend to complement one another very well. The ability to stretch beyond our limits (physically, emotionally and mentally) that is often necessary to make us more adept as horsemen and women can be increased through yoga practice, and then readily transferred to our horsemanship. Likewise, the same qualities we aim to foster in the horse (balance, strength and suppleness, energy and calmness) become manifest in ourselves through the practice of yoga. In this way, horse and rider grow and develop together.
Linda Kohanov pointed out that our body is the horse that our mind is riding on and it is true that often, the way we practice yoga is similar to the way we train our horses. This is why Karine’s horsefulness training methods appeal to me so much: they are very similar to the methods we use in Sati yoga to train our body and mind.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of combining horsemanship and Sati yoga practice is that because of their exquisite sensitivity and their willingness to engage with humans and give immediate feedback, horses actually make great mindfulness teachers. They read us like a open book and respond instantly to any change, continuously inviting us to be open, and mindful of our body, feelings and mind.