As equestrians, we know that horses are good for us, and often head to the barn on the most stressful of days. In recent years, that intuition has been supported by a bevy of scientific evidence. By creating a therapeutic environment, horses help people process emotions, build self-awareness, and bolster their confidence.
In response, wellness escapes all over the world are harnessing these benefits to help guests heal, excel, and find harmony with themselves. Some offer life and health coaching, some pull in yoga and mindfulness practices, and others have built an environment that fosters serious self-care. And although most programs can accommodate newbies, some do better than others when it comes to providing an experience that’s fulfilling and fun for more seasoned riders. Here’s a list of our favorite horse-centric wellness getaways for experienced equestrians.
Combine “A-ha” and “Yee-haw”
Equine Gestalt Coach Devon Combs of Beyond the Arena (beyondthearena.com) runs empowering retreats all over the western U.S. Her annual Unbridled Arizona event at Tucson’s White Stallion Ranch is tops for riders looking to pair powerful internal work with excitement in the saddle.
All of Combs’ retreats incorporate group and one-on-one coaching sessions in the round pen and tailored activities such as journaling or creating vision boards. She draws on her love for horses, life coach training, and excellent intuition to guide her clients through processing emotional difficulties and setting new personal and professional goals.
She finds that the work also helps people improve relationships with their own horses back home. By highlighting behaviors such as licking and chewing during the coaching sessions, Combs helps riders notice their own emotions and recognize how they affect horses.
“They’re reminded to be mindful, more present, to just be with their own horse, as opposed to always having to do something when they’re with their horse at home,” says Combs.
Afternoons at the ranch are filled with rides, one-on-one coaching, and self-care (massage, anyone?). And White Stallion Ranch is truly equipped to accommodate riders of all levels. Experienced equestrians get to take canter-heavy trail rides or can try fast-paced arena events such as team penning and barrel racing.
Kindred Spirits’ (www.kindredspiritscr.com) multi-day and week-long retreats are held on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, where jungle meets sea and black-sand beaches. Run by Terry Newton, a certified yoga instructor and energy healer with extensive experience in natural horsemanship methods, the retreats blend asanas, breath work, riding, and more.
For the wellness work, guests have a number of options that integrate horses. Yoga is practiced both on the ground and on horseback, allowing people to build trust bonds and develop physical and mental strength, flexibility, and intuition. Guests also work directly with the equines during energy healing and the herd hangs out at liberty during meditation sessions.
For folks itching to get some riding time, beach rides (swimming included) and jungle treks are part of the package. More advanced riders can select retreat options that involve longer days in the saddle as well as additional liberty work with the horses.
Since Kindred Spirits is based in one of the world’s leading ecotourism destinations, sustainability is central to the experience. Newton teaches and encourages responsible trekking and riding that’s respectful of the local ecosystems as well as the horses. That’s a perspective with some major take-home value.
Challenge Yourself in the Backcountry
Jim and Mary Allen’s Diamond 4 Ranch (diamond4ranch.com) in the Wind River Mountain Range continues the family’s almost century-long tradition of hosting visitors in the Wyoming wilderness. Daughter Jessie has guided hunting and pack trips for years, and recently launched a wellness retreat. Twice each summer, she and several guides lead groups of up to 10 women into the backcountry for an experience that gives them a fresh perspective on what they—and their horses—can do.
The retreats last about a week, with two nights sleeping in ranch cabins and four nights camping in the Winds. Participants spend three to six hours per day in the saddle, often riding actively through rough, rugged country.
In addition, Jessie, a certified yoga instructor, guides sunrise and mid-day asana classes as well as mounted breath work or moving meditations while meandering on easier trails. In between the more structured activities, there are opportunities to hike, fly fish, and, for experienced riders, to hop on bareback for a sunset ride.
Though the retreats can accommodate beginners, Jessie notes that even very experienced equestrians will probably discover a side of horses they wouldn’t encounter in the arena.
“It’s a whole other level to be riding a horse at 12,000 feet in rocky terrain,” she says. “The retreat isn’t just focused on being in an arena feeling the partnership with your horse. You’re out there living it and doing it in challenging terrain, so the adventure part of it has really surprised a lot of women with what the horses are able to do.”
Unplug and Reconnect
Tucked into a forest on the northern shore of Lake Malawi in southeastern Africa, Kande Horse (kandehorse.com) might be the ultimate escape for horse lovers.
At its heart, Kande Horse is a place to take care of yourself while connecting with nature, fellow guests, and the culture of Malawi. Signs along the tree-lined drive literally urge visitors to exhale, and the locally sourced, mostly vegetarian meals are bright with color, prepared with love, and often served family style under the stars.
When the current owners took over the property, they envisioned an escape where people could turn off their phones and let go of the stresses of everyday life. To add to the feel-good vibes, they host yoga retreats throughout the year.
Whether staying in the house or one of the bell tents, guests wake up to the nickers of horses eager for breakfast and get to watch the herd gallop between paddocks and pastures during their ample turn-out time. Rides go out twice per day, and individuals are thoughtfully matched with mounts from the herd of about 15 Thoroughbreds, Thoroughbred-crosses and bush ponies. During yoga retreats, daily rides are interspersed with asana sessions overlooking the pasture.
Guests can expect to ride English and, if experienced, to get in plenty of trots and canters. But it’s the trademark excursion that will wash away the worries of life back home. After a brisk ride through the surrounding woods and a walk through Kande village, horses and riders spill onto the pale gold of Kande beach. There, guests leave saddles and excess clothing with staff, remount bareback, and head into Africa’s third largest lake for a horseback swim.
This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!