Open for Fitness: How Do You Do Yoga on a Horse? We Found Out at Turtle Bay Resort’s HorSea Yoga
Katrina was thrilled about this mane event. Stacey thought it was going to be a nightmare. Read on to see how everything turned out.
Editor’s Note: Stacey and Katrina are at vastly different fitness levels (and ages) but both enjoy working out. We thought it’d be fun for the two of them to try new or interesting workouts together each month. This month, they tried HorSea Yoga at Turtle Bay Resort.
WHAT IT IS
Repeat after us: Horse yoga is not the same as goat yoga. The trendy (and adorable) practice of doing yoga with goats is more of a photo op than spiritual practice. Horse yoga, on the other hand, is meant to help you increase awareness of your body by how it responds to another being to which you form a connection. Classes are normally offered at 7:30 a.m.; we went for a private late-morning session instead.
HOW WE FELT: BEFORE
Katrina: Everybody already knows I’m not a fan of yoga. But I figured we’d be doing pretty simple poses that I could handle. I’ve loved horses since I was a kid in small-town Canada and it’s been years since I’ve ridden one so I couldn’t wait to hop on.
Stacey: Horses are very beautiful, from afar. Once you get close, their heads are ginormous and scary. You can’t tell if they’re like “hay girl, hay” or gonna bite you. But a relaxing, ocean-view drive to the North Shore calmed me down a little.
We arrived at the stables just as a group was coming back from a trail ride. Vera-Marie Lee, a certified equine specialist and program director of Hawai‘i Equine-Assisted Services, gave us some background on the horses—there are 30!—briefed us on the experience and offered us helmets. She told us that doing poses on the horses feels like a massage to them. She warned that since it was a surprisingly windy day on the North Shore, the horses may move around a bit more and we could head to the barn if we’d prefer. Hell no, we said. Give us that majestic ocean view, wind and rain be damned.
Katrina: Vera assigned me to Mia, a gorgeous white horse who was gnawing on tree bark. We spent about five minutes getting to know our horses, petting them and trying to feel their breathing rhythm. Mia began lipping my hands and hips, which scared me a little (please don’t bite!), and moving her head closer to mine. I backed off, thinking I was bothering her, but Vera said that meant she wanted more attention. It took a minute before I realized she was being friendly. I couldn’t really feel her breathing, though.
Stacey: Vera asked us of our personal feelings about horses. Of course, Katrina and Katie gave their “horses are amazing, we love everything about them” spiel. I said, “they’re big, and their poops are big.” So, she assigned me to Rio—the calmer horse who wasn’t playful and looked at me like, “annnnd?” He did have a beautiful gingerbread brown coat, and when I felt for his breathing, he didn’t budge. But I was barely touching him (out of terror).
Stacey: I did start to warm up to Rio. And, when we started doing basic yoga poses like mountain pose while touching and connecting with the horse, I started feeling namaste-ish. But, we were still on the ground. I was NOT ready to mount up.
Katrina: I was, so Vera worked with me on the next poses atop Mia. But first, she adjusted my stirrups and made sure I was sitting in the proper position—shoulders, hips and ankles in alignment, toes to the sky. I felt my posture improve immediately. The first move, pigeon pose, required me to cross one leg up over Mia’s mane and lean forward. Vera says that riding horses can make your hips tight, which mine already are, so it felt really good to stretch ’em out. This move tested balance and trust—Mia kept walking back and forth, first facing the ocean and then walking around the other side of the tree she was tied to. I had to be in tune with her body as well as mine so I wouldn’t lose my balance. Thankfully, she stayed still while I stretched each side.
Then Vera told me to lean back and place my palms, facing outward, on Mia’s rear, lift my chest up and close my eyes. I still couldn’t really feel Mia breathing, but it took a lot of trust again to stay steady and focus on her small movements, while my eyes were closed, in case I needed to readjust. She almost made me hit my head on a branch.
Stacey: After seeing how comfortable and happy Katrina was on Mia, I was ready to take my relationship with Rio to the next level. Once I got on, I started striking poses. Pigeon, windmills (rotating our arms in full circles forward and backward) and triangle moves (locking hands and leaning toward one side) were quite fun and easy. But when Vera instructed me to reach for Rio’s ears, that was a magical moment. I felt calm and connected to him. Rio remained stable.
Katrina: Before we hopped off, we learned our horses’ stories. Mia is 6 years old and Vera’s personal horse that she rides around the property. They can live to 40, so that’s why Mia was so playful—she’s just a kiddo! Rio, on the other hand, is 19 and has a rodeo background. Back on solid ground, we gave them a little more love and then checked out the barn, learned how horses can be used for therapy and what else the stables offer (such as Pony Picasso, where you can use nontoxic paints on the horses, and team building).
Stacey: Rio was middle age! Like me. And he had some wild stories from his haydays. Like me. Knowing about Rio helped me understand his mannerisms and his personality. This was by far my favorite part. I didn’t want to leave him.
SEE ALSO: F45 Training Kāhala
HOW WE FELT: AFTER
Stacey: I wish we did more poses. Yeah, roll your eyes. I deserve it. I was the girl who cried horse. But we had questions about the origin, process and goals of horse yoga, and I took awhile to feel comfortable with Rio. Plus, Vera acted as both horse-wrangler and yoga instructor—she usually has another instructor with her—so our yoga time got cut short. I don’t know if they introduce the horses to the yogis earlier during normal classes, but I would highly suggest that. And Vera was right: This experience wasn’t just about doing yoga; it was about organically connecting with your horse while unwinding and taking in positive energy. To me, being able to do this, during my daily grind, was worth a million bucks.
Katrina: It was a good stretch and a nice getaway from urban Honolulu, but I also wish we had completed a full class. This, coming from someone who doesn’t like yoga. Vera said some people will get on the horse bareback (we were on saddles) and in bikinis—I wonder how that would change the experience and if I’d have a closer connection to the horse with more of our bodies touching. I wished we could’ve gone for a ride after!
The Stables at Turtle Bay Resort, 57-091 Kamehameha Highway, Kahuku, (808) 293-6020, turtlebayresort.com
Learn more about Hawaii Equine-Assisted Services at hawaiiequineassistedservices.com
Classes are $89 per person; private lessons are $175
One-hour classes take place at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; reserve your spot online