When one thinks of doing yoga, animals aren’t part of the vision. But in Nosara, two women are changing that by introducing yoga poses to horses.
Equisol is Nosara’s first holistic yoga-equestrian retreat, offering experiences where guests learn to integrate horseback riding lessons with the physical and philosophical practice of yoga. The retreat gives guests daily yoga classes to reinforce the lessons learned from horseback riding in nature and vice versa. But it’s not just the guests who can do yoga – the horses do too.
Thanks to a chance meeting with a few equine chiropractors and masseuses (yes these really exist), Equisol learned some therapeutic yoga techniques for horses, such as tail pulling. One stands behind a horse, holds the tail and leans back with all of their weight, stretching the horse’s sacrum and lower back. According to co-owner Heidi Blackman, the horse will actually round its back to further the stretch. Other moves such as stretching the horse’s neck side-to-side or back legs extensions to stretch the hamstrings are also very therapeutic.
It all started when Carrie Anderson, owner of local horseback riding tour company Playa Ponies, began taking Blackman’s yoga classes. They became friendly and when Blackman made the decision to purchase a horse, she turned to Anderson for lessons. Blackman, an accomplished yogini with over 300 hours of teacher training, resonated with Anderson’s natural horsemanship approach – using gentler training techniques instead of teaching through pain and fear, which is believed to create an unhealthy handler-horse relationship. The women found that their areas of expertise not only overlapped in ethics and philosophy, but they also complimented one another, such as with posture and breath work.
According to Blackman, “Usually when you take a deep breath the horse will too because they feel you relaxing.” This gave them the idea to host a blend of yoga and equestrian training retreats. Heidi explains, “Horse are prey species so they have this innate ability to pick up on your emotional state, physical state, mental clarity or intentions…they don’t rely on noise and spoken language, they’re more body language oriented. If you’re really scared and hide it from a horse instead of owning up to your fear, horses see that incongruence and think that it’s a threat. In the wild they see that and want to run away. Yoga really helps with slowing down, re-centering and facing your fears,” Blackman explains.
At first, the duo started with small workshops where they invited international trainers to teach new techniques and skill sets to them with Anderson’s fleet of Criollo horses. The retreats began in November 2013 and were an instant success – one of their January 2015 retreats sold out in 24 hours.
Equisol partners with Finca Austria for accommodations and meals. Guests are paired up with a horse for the week, taking into account guest feedback, experience level and personality. Riders start off doing groundwork with their horses to establish trust and a level of comfort. The group then takes trail rides throughout the area- along the Rio Nosara, around Finca Austria and on Playa Pelada and Guiones. The highlight for most is swimming with their horse in the Rio Nosara or in the ocean at low tide.