My Yoga & Horsemanship Retreat here at the ranch was more amazing than I ever could have imagined!  I have done quite a few clinics integrating yoga, and a handful of retreat-style weekends, but this was my first one here at the ranch where I live and work.  I had VERY high expectations!  There was so much information I wanted to cover, so many exercises and trail rides I had planned, and an ultimate goal to send everyone home with open hearts, new ideas and a sense of relaxation & accomplishment.

The retreat started with any & every wall you can imagine.  My first retreat I planned I had to cancel when I broke my collar bone, then last year I tried again and canceled a month out when I only had 2 ladies signed up.  Now this year there was a wedding planned (short notice to us) the same weekend as the retreat in Montana for one of my husband’s best friends, EHV-1 virus outbreak, one participant with a lame horse, another with shoulder surgery, yet another with a new diagnosis of spinal fracture, and the list went on & on, more than once I said to myself, ‘I need to cancel this dang thing again!’  But luckily I didn’t cancel!!  It was one of the most amazing weekends of my life!!

Friday afternoon participants started showing up, we had a yoga instructor Danae from California, and ladies from New York, Massachusetts, Colorado, and New Mexico (my Texan dropped out L).  We took some time on Friday to get to know our horses since many of them were new to the riders for the weekend.  We did some arena work talking about relaxation and allowing & encouraging movement in your joints as your horse walks, we touched on cadence (the rhythm of the horse’s feet), and remembering to breathe.  When I felt that everyone was starting to demonstrate the concepts we went for a short ride up the valley, and back.  We un-tacked our horses & headed back to the lodge for some dinner.  Where we really got to know each other a little better, and worried about two of our ladies who we knew would be late but hadn’t arrived yet, and would now be driving the rocky dirt road in the dark.  At 10 pm Karen Hardy (from Santa Fe Stables, a VERY good friend of mine who brought some of her string for my out-of-state participants to ride) and I headed off the mountain in a mini-search & if need-be rescue.  Luckily when we got to the bottom gate we could see lights coming across Cow Creek, so we waited & sure enough it was a full-sized truck and trailer!  We opened & closed the gates for our Colorado gals & got their horses settled in at the barn, then drug them back to the lodge to settle in for the night….sunrise yoga was just a few short hours of sleep away!

Morning came early on Saturday, a little coffee & tea wasn’t enough to help us brave the 40 degree temperatures outside, so we laid out our mats on the hardwood floor of the lodge, and before long we were stripping off layers as Danae had us all warmed-up & awake!  We fed some horses, fed ourselves, and packed our saddle bags with lunch & lots of drinks, then headed out to pack our horses for the day.  After a game of musical saddles, (just kidding, but there were a few changes to make for rider comfort!) we hit the trail.  We climbed over 3,000 feet in elevation and covered just under 10 miles (although I often wonder because 10 miles on the flats never seems as far as the up, over & downs we battle here on the ranch).  As we dropped into Colo Largo canyon we tied up our horses for a late lunch in the grass and laughed a bunch!  Back on our horses, down the canyon over many a strip of old barbed wire, around and back home again.  I was riding a young Appaloosa gelding who had filled his brain with the day’s activities & lessons and had some trouble holding himself together on the way home, so there were a few hold ups as he & I had discussions about which side of which tree we would be passing.  We were gone a little over five hours total…just enough to get warmed up right?

We headed back to the lodge and many participants had individual massages, I on the other hand had to feed our dozen hounds and fill water troughs since my husband headed out to that wedding in Montana!  Danae lead some stretching yoga in the grass of the side yard of the lodge.  It was interesting to hear who was sore where, but all in all spirits were high & no one (except maybe that Appy) had pushed themselves past their limit.  We had the most awesome portabella mushroom sandwiches for dinner with an amazing salad, and chocolate cake for desert!  YUM!!  As more people came and went for their massages we talked & laughed even more.  An interesting change came throughout the day, our first day anxieties & expectations had been thrown to the wind, guards were down and everyone was smiling.  Nothing like a day in the saddle to put your life in perspective!

We ended the evening with some gentle yoga and a guided meditative yoga, relaxed & calm many of us headed straight to bed from there, but a couple chose to stay & giggle some more (at the bottom of the stairs…oops!  Sorry!)

The next morning we ate some breakfast & saddled up with our yoga mats tied to the backs of our saddles.  We rode up to Sunset Ridge for some spectacular views despite the haze from both local & Arizona wild-fires.  The wind picked up a little, but we did the most amazing & inspiring yoga session up on that ridge!  The horses stood tied, no pawing, calling or pulling…the calm tone of the group wasn’t just for the humans.

After our balancing yoga we had soup & salad on the ridge and tons more conversation, a few tears as emotions were displaced with serenity.  We took our group shot before jumping on our horses again for a scenic trail around the ridge & back down to the barn.  At which point we had a few riders who were about cooked (and that Appy too!) and a couple who were ready to cover some ground, so we split up.  Someone went to snag that first massage spot of the afternoon, and a couple ladies wanted to try their hand at loping in the corral where they were a bit more confined.  I was able to individually answer some questions, and ride a few of the horses I didn’t know.  That was an amazing eye opener for me!  Something I often do in a lesson situation is jump on your horse (if you don’t mind!) but there often isn’t time for me to do that in a clinic.  Making the time on Sunday afternoon helped me pinpoint why one of the ladies was so braced in her stirrups, and what another woman was feeling when her horse brought her energy up.  It was great to see them ride their horses in my saddle & be able to describe some of what could make their ride easier, not to mention I got to ride some beautiful horses!!  Including the tallest I’ve ever been on at 17.2 hands!

We headed back to the lodge for another awesome meal, relaxing talk and review of our awesome photos from the weekend!  It became apparent to me during our evening conversation that completing this book I’ve started, AND helping to design a light-weight saddle that encourages neutral pelvic position are priorities I need to continue to work toward!  Seeing the differences earlier in the day between riders in their own saddles & riders in my saddle stressed again how important saddle fit to both horse AND rider are!

We managed to end the evening with that same sense of calm that had come over the group by Saturday evening.  The next morning that sense of calm continued, our 7am yoga turned into 7am tea & coffee in our pj’s, gentle conversation & just enjoyment of the company of new friends with SO much in common.  The morning was warmer & we had waited long enough that we headed outside for morning yoga in the grass as the sun rose over the ridge.  There were quite a few giggles as Danae & the uneven terrain of the yard challenged us.  We ate yet again and headed to the barn for our final chat.

We each took a horse in halter & lead out to the field where we created a horse circle.  Of all the exercises I had planned for the weekend, this was not one of them!  I have never facilitated a Horse Circle before, but just felt that it was what we needed to close the magical weekend we had experienced together, and when Miss Nancy from Colorado thanked me for teaching from my gut I knew I had done the right thing!  We took turns talking about the weekend, what we had learned & what we were grateful for.  The horses were amazing, so calm standing so near each other (many of whom did not know each other).  Then one by one each of us stood in the middle of the circle with our horse, soaking in the love, attention and ‘hug’ from the group.  Each one of us showed our strengths over the course of the weekend, everyone had something important to share, and everyone had something important to learn.  We said our goodbyes to our new forever friends, 2-legged and 4-legged alike and slowly pair by pair our amazing group of strong, beautiful, intelligent women dispersed back into the very different worlds we had come from, hopefully bringing with us a new sense of calm confident leadership in the knowledge that we are good, we are doing good, and our horses the divine beings that they are do good for us inside and out.

This all-inclusive retreat is scheduled for the first week of June 2012, next year it will be 5 days instead of 3, because it just wasn’t enough!!  Hope you can join us!