Namaste-neigh? Welcome to horse yoga

  • Angela Nuñez has pioneered a new activity, which combines both her passions of horses and yoga, to create ‘horse yoga’.

    The American, based in Viginia, USA, got into riding when she was three-years-old.

    “My mother has been an equestrian her whole life, and as soon as I could, she had me riding bareback on trails,” explains Angela, who has practised yoga for the past 10 years.

    The move into horse yoga came about after the yoga studio where Angela took lessons launched a photo competition.

    “The competition was to see who could come up with the best yoga-based photo and whichever image got the most like on Facebook, won the person behind the picture free yoga classes,” says Angela. “So I thought ‘why not give it a go on my horse?’, and that’s how it all started — I won the competition too!”

    With the help of her Appaloosa, Snowy, Angela started exploring new poses.

    “Snowy loved it,” laughs Angela of her 11-year-old that she has owned since he was a foal. “I started trying yoga flows on him and it was like giving him a massage — it triggers their relaxation reflex.”

    Angela explains that she got a helper to hold Snowy when she first started yoga on him.

    “Just to be on the safe side, somebody held him initially and then gradually we got to the point where we could go it alone. I had him in a rope halter and rein and I’d throw the rope over his neck, and now I’m down to just a neck rope, which I probably don’t need — Snowy much prefers having less equipment and no help. I think it took more time for me to get used to the concept than it did for Snowy!”

    According to Angela, Snowy, with whom she also enjoys hunting and is about to embark on their first endurance competition, used to be a bit of a “clown”.

    “He likes to make people laugh and when he was younger he was spooky, but he’s solid now.”

    Snowy and Angela out hunting with the Warrenton in Virginia

    Such is the growing success of Angela’s new exercise, she has just secured a new farm from which to run her horse yoga business.

    “I will be taking boarders [liveries] next spring and aim to have a grand opening welcoming horse yoga clients in June.”

    What are the benefits?

    “Snowy holds tension in his withers and shoulders due to conformation faults,” explains Angela. “So I do the downward dog pose on him, which means I apply pressure through my palms onto the affected areas — he licks, chews, yawns and lowers his head as I go, which are all signs of relaxation.

    “I also perform poses over his hip area, which helps him lengthen through his spine and widen his hips. It definitely helps develop a strong bond between horse and rider as it improves trust and not to mention your balance!”

    Continued below…

    Advice for those starting out

    Angela shares some top tips if you want to give horse yoga a try:

    • “It’s fun to try, but be safe — I always wear a riding helmet while doing horse yoga
    • “Keep your horse’s comfort in mind — if it looks like he’s not enjoying it, stop immediately”
    • “Be careful where you perform your poses on your horse — never put pressure directly on boney areas such as the spine”
    • “Horses that are in good condition tend to enjoy it — if your horse is comfy to ride bareback, this is usually a good indicator of whether they are a suitable type to try horse yoga on”
    • “I always use a bareback pad as it helps give some protection to the horse”
    • “Get someone to hold your horse to start with — it will take time for them to understand what is going on”
    • “When I teach horse yoga to someone for the first few times, I always just do 45 minutes to an hour of seated poses and breathing exercises to give both horse and rider a nice introduction”

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