Finding the Inner Cowgirl
What could yoga and horsemanship possibly have in common? A skeptic signs up for a double-discipline clinic and learns a new take on riding.
Last fall, when Montana horsewoman Tammy Pate told me about a combined yoga and horsemanship clinic that she and friend Janice Baxter planned in mid-October at The Home Ranch in Clark, Colorado, I was somewhat skeptical.
My doubts weren't prompted by the clinic's horsemanship aspect or Tammy's riding skills. A fine horsewoman, she and husband Curt are successful clinicians, trainers and ranchers.
But horsemanship and yoga?
On the one hand, I've used a 20-minute, yoga-based routine for years to unwind after too many hours at the computer. On the other hand, I've also purchased a yoga-for-dummies-type videotape, hoping to learn more about the ancient discipline. "Boring" doesn't begin to describe my response to the taped instruction; I gave the tape away.
And Tammy wanted me to become a cowgirl "yogini?"
What's a cowgirl yogini? She can be a lot of things, but the bottom line is that she incorporates yoga into her riding program, or vice versa, as Tammy's friend and fellow yoga instructor, Janice, did at The Home Ranch.
A yogini might be a mature horsewoman who is trying to remain limber despite the inevitable toll that aging takes on a person's suppleness, or she might be a ranch wife curious about yoga and wishing to hone her riding skills, as well.
Or, a cowgirl yogini might be a novice horsewoman determined to use all the tools at her disposal, including yoga, to become a better rider.
A yogini can even be a cancer survivor, who, during treatment, discovered the combination of disciplines helped her better focus on her horsemanship programâone of the few things over which she still had control in a world otherwise gone awry.
Sharon Gully, who lives in the Clark area, had attended her first such clinic in May 2006, just as she began chemotherapy. She's done "everything but polo" horseback and now primarily trail rides and enjoys dressage.
"As a horsewoman, the hardest thing to do is focus," says Sharon. "Whatever issues you take to the barn show up in your horsemanship."
As both a medical professional and a cancer patient, Sharon knew exactly the issues she faced, yet described the first clinic she attended as empowering and consciousness-raising.
"It totally took me out of myself and helped me focus on other things," Sharon says. "It helped that, in spite of what I was going through, I had a particular horse problem that I could fix; I had something to work on besides chemo.
"Halfway through the summer, there I wasâriding, bald and sickâbut I just liked myself better, despite the cancer."
And, yes, there are cowboys taking part in the program, as well. Steve Stranahan, who, with wife Ann, owns The Home Ranch, doesn't mind being a minority male in an early morning, primarily female yoga class. He participates alongside Ann and accepts the inevitable ribbing with good humor.
The Stranahans strive to maintain their fitness and horsemanship skills, as well as develop and improve both. The clinic is well-suited for both goals, and the couple found the experience enjoyable and beneficial to their riding.
Home Ranch manager Johnny Fisher said that following Tammy's and Janice's May clinic, the ranch began twice-weekly yoga sessions for guests and staff.
"I do the yoga classes every chance I can," he says. "For me, it's been great. My posture has improved, and during the day I have a little more spring in my step.
"Another thing I learned with yogaâprinciples of pressure, both softness and firmness," he adds. "Yoga's taught me how to be firm softly with horses and without raising a fuss about it. I sure don't think yoga has hurt anything with my horse program."
For the rest of this story, pick up the March 2007 issue of Western Horseman magazine.