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Horse Illustrated

Your Equestrian Wellness & Fitness Journey

Body, Mind, Equine retreat participant at C Lazy U Ranch in Granby, Colo., experiencing connection. Photo by C Lazy U Ranch

The start of a new year is the perfect time to reassess our wellness regimens as equestrians, as well as determine how we’d like our horsemanship to look in the new year. It can be easy to buy into the media-driven version of what fitness, wellness, and horsemanship should look like, but it’s important and enriching to create your own experience by listening to your inner voice.

Make Your Equestrian Wellness & Fitness Plan Own

Many things fall under the umbrella of wellness and horsemanship; this looks different for each of us and it transforms as we move into different phases.

It’s natural and wise to modify both as you and your horse change. Gauging and adjusting needs and lifestyle to your current situation is a tool for living well and staying healthy and happy.

As a long-time yogini (woman dedicated to yogic practices and tradition) and horsewoman, I’ve always looked at my horsemanship and wellness as interconnected; the two reflect each other. We can’t expect our horses to be the only ones to stay physically, mentally, and emotionally sound, yet not work on ourselves. We are better for our equines when we are wholly healthy.

Breathing with horses at Cathy Woods’ Body, Mind, Equine clinic. Photo by Carol Engan Borrelli

As my horses and I have grown older, the ways we partner have changed and so have our wellness practices. What kept me fit at age 20 is different than what I now require in my mid-50s. Long gone are the days of staying up late and eating whatever I wanted; I’ve modified my fitness routine and have also redefined how I spend time with my horses.

Long gone are also the days of arduous backcountry trail rides and pack trips. We’ve modified to short, easy retirement rides and lots of quality time at the barn. Often, we spend languid grooming sessions and omit riding altogether.

Time for Change

Just because we did something for some time does not mean we have to do it forever. A wise person does not cling to what once was; this is an important life lesson if we are to live the flow of grace. Change is the one thing we can count on!

Maybe you used to be a jogger but now walking feels better. Or you may have been a hard-core weight trainer, but currently find yoga more suitable. In your horsemanship, it’s perfectly fine to have once been a competitive eventer, but you’ve discovered that liberty work or another discipline is more fitting.

It’s all about dialing in to inner knowing, becoming clear on what’s in your best interest and for the good of your horse. Often when we don’t, it’s counterproductive; it can be easier to get injured or to injure your horse, or make mistakes based on poor judgment, basing our choices on what we used to do.

Author Cathy Woods getting still, dialing in, reflecting and getting clear. Photo by Kortney Kinkaid – Harlequin Photography

It’s important to pay attention when it’s time to modify. Perhaps your horse is showing physical signs of being unable to work in the manner he used to, or you’re both no longer enjoying riding as you once did—it could be that it’s become too physically, mentally, or emotionally challenging. These and other signals can be indicators that an adjustment is in order.

Rather than viewing change as a loss, reframe the idea from something negative into something exciting and interesting, identifying new pathways forward. It can be pleasant, liberating, and empowering to personalize your wellness and your horsemanship.

How to Get Started

Spend some quiet time and honestly reflect on what you want and need to be doing at this time. Analyze if you’re participating in certain types of wellness and/or equestrian activities because you enjoy them and they work for you, or if it’s due to peer pressure or keeping up with the latest trend.

Determine what works for you now. It can be helpful to write a list or journal about how you’d like your wellness regime and your time with horses to look.

Identify practical and proactive steps to achieve your new goals.

Be realistic and don’t set the bar too high or get attached to expectations, but rather move enthusiastically toward your goals with a gracious attitude of acceptance.

Find a support network of others with similar interests.

Take your first steps in this new direction. Begin by researching or dipping a toe into these new waters to see what you think.

Try Something New

Maybe you no longer wish to or are unable to ride but you still enjoy owning horses. Open up to new and fulfilling ways to partner with your horse, such as mindful grooming sessions or in-hand work.

It’s not only about the ride—doing and non-doing are equally as important. Photo by Carol Engan Borrelli

If the season has come that you no longer own horses but still enjoy being around them, you can volunteer at a local rescue or explore the field of equine-assisted therapy.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to try yoga, but you’re not quite ready to jump into an in-person class, so you dabble with some online sessions first.

Personal Equestrian Fitness & Wellness Plan

Create a three-column list: Body, Mind & Spirit. Under each column, list activities that support how to best care for each aspect of your being, and do at least one from each column every day.

Here’s a sample list:

Taking care of the horse’s body and mind is not so different from taking care of the your own body and mind; it’s all about fine-tuning and adapting. It’s OK to permit yourself to adjust, otherwise you’ll be going against the current. Remember this quote/metaphor: “Ride your horse in the direction he’s going.”

There’s no endgame to personal growth or horsemanship. Here’s to curating your own experience to thrive in the new year!

This article about equestrian wellness and fitness appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Cathy Woods

Cathy Woods is the author of Yoga For Riders and the creator of Body, Mind, Equine. She offers retreats, clinics and presentations for equestrians, around the country and internationally.

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