With the 2020 we’re all having, the idea of escaping to a beautiful ranch to find peace, balance, and strength through riding and yoga practice sounds pretty darn appealing. Cathy Woods, author of the new book YOGA FOR RIDERS, is the founder and leader of Body, Mind, Equine™ retreats, which in typical years occur at a number of fabulous locations all over the country. We caught up with Cathy following the release of YOGA FOR RIDERS and asked for her to share what a typical first day at one of her retreats is like…so we can all close our eyes, block out the news, and pretend we are there…
6:00 am: I’m usually rising and shining by the crack of dawn. I don’t mind this—I’m a morning person. I have the best energy and clarity first thing. Before I begin my day of retreat leading, and after a good, bold coffee, I like to spend a little personal time, getting collected. This helps me prepare for my day. I become still and centered and take inner inventory—I check-in with myself. I move into a brief meditation, typically beginning with some deep breathing, energizing and oxygenating my system, followed by a few moments of gratitude. Then, I simply allow myself time for non-doing as a counterbalance to my day ahead, which is filled with doing. If time permits, I may proceed with a little movement, but not necessarily yoga postures per se—just intuitive movements that feel good and help move energy to my muscles, joints, and organs. I view this time as a type of groundwork for myself. As retreat leader, it is very important that I am leading from a good, clear, centered place (much like a leadership role when working with horses). Since energy is palpable, everyone in the group (as well as the horses) will consciously or subconsciously pick up on my vibe, which could alter the experience in a variety of ways. I like to be sure that I’m in the best space possible for everyone’s benefit.
After this, my assistant and I go over the logistics of the day to be sure we are on the same page.
7:00 am: I meet the retreat guests for breakfast. I love breakfast! And at some of the luxury guest ranches, the meals are to die for! This is challenging when breakfast is before yoga class, as yoga and a super-full belly don’t mix. If the schedule allows, sometimes we just have some fruit and juice before yoga, then eat a hearty breakfast after, but each venue is different and we have to go with flow.
Many ranches do their “daily jingle” in the mornings: They bring in the herd of horses, sometimes 200 head, from the overnight pasture. This is one of the best parts of the day—for the guests and for me! We watch the wranglers gather the horses and get to stand fairly close as the herd comes by. It’s an exhilarating and amazing way to start the day—you can just feel the raw horsepower. It’s also a learning moment as we have a chance to observe energy, horse body language, and herd dynamics.
8:00 am: We convene on the yoga mat. I lead everyone in a centering meditation and set our intention for the day. It could be something like: “Drop expectations” or “Practice present-moment awareness.” After meditation, I lead a yoga class, which includes good stretches for riders, then conclude with a deep, guided relaxation. This is followed by a workshop topic, such as “The Parallels of Yoga and Horsemanship,” or “What Makes a Good Rider” or “Breathwork.”
10:00 am: Retreat guests get paired with their horses. The wranglers usually handle this, but I am always nearby, keeping a close watch on everyone and available to answer any questions. As guests lead their horses into the arena, I instruct them to maintain the same centered, relaxed energy we established in the yoga session. For the next couple of hours, I lead the arena portion of Body, Mind, Equine. This includes exercises on the ground and in the saddle to help students become more aware, mindful equestrians by applying yoga principles to their horsemanship. My program assistant is always in the arena as well so participants feel comfortable having more eyes and hands on deck.
12:00 pm: Lunch time! We’ve all usually worked up quite an appetite. I may be small but I love to eat—mealtimes are not only for sustenance but for enjoying each other and socializing, too.
1:30 pm: After lunch we all take a little break. I use this time to recharge. By this time, I’ve led a yoga class, workshop, and arena time, and I’ve done lots of talking and expelled lots of energy. I need a little renewal to be good to go for the rest of the day.
My break always includes silent time. I am also a big fan of power naps, so I may set an alarm and get in a 20-minute rest, or at very least, slip into Savasana (a form of deep relaxation done in yoga).
Afterward, I have another debriefing session with my assistant. We evaluate how the early part of the day went and discuss anything that needs to be addressed.
3:00 pm: We all meet up and get ready to ride out on the trails for a couple of hours. Before we gather our horses, I lead a short meditation to collect us again as a group and continue to help maintain our yogic energy for the ride.
Even though the trail ride is fun for me, I’m still working. The wranglers lead the ride, and I am mounted and in the line-up, but I continue to interweave the teachings for mindful riding into our trail time. Along the way, I point out things like symmetry in the saddle and horse body language, and provide reminders to breathe fully. Sometimes, if we take a break, I encourage some dialogue or lead a few stretches to keep the retreat vibe going and keep everyone connected.
5:00 pm: Time to clean up, put on some cowgirl duds and meet up for happy hour! At home I live in either yoga or barn clothes, so I really enjoy breaking out a pretty skirt and boots and spiffing up a bit. The guests seem to like this opportunity, too. Light libations are enjoyed as we relax after a full day of retreat and ranch activities. It’s nice to see everyone kick back.
6:00 pm: Dinner time! I think it’s safe to say that food is a big part of the retreat experience, not only for me but for the guests, as well. However, I’m still on as retreat leader. While we await our entrees, I usually facilitate a, “What was the highlight of your day?” discussion. We go around the table and everyone gets a turn to speak. Sharing is a big part of being on a retreat with a group. I just love hearing about everyone’s day: Some might have had some sort of breakthrough; others may have had a meaningful moment with their horses. This casual conversation keeps me plugged into how everyone is doing. I make mental note if someone seems to be struggling with an aspect of the program or needs extra attention. Although I am chilling and having a good time, I am always present and making sure that the experience stays positive for attendees.
7:30 pm: Depending on the venue, we might gather around a campfire or listen to live music in the evening. Again, this is a sweet time, and from my perspective, it’s very fulfilling to see everybody connecting, letting their hair down, and forming friendships.
9:00 pm: Before bed, I have yet another pow-wow with my assistant about how the day went. Sometimes we have projects to work on, from creating slideshows to other special surprises we have lined up for the guests. Though I’m not much of a night person, this is usually the only time we have to work on these little extras.
10:00 pm: At the latest, this is when I’m heading to bed. I’ve never been one for late nights and cherish a good night’s sleep. When possible, I’ve been known to duck out by nine o’clock. I feel it’s my job to be restored and at my best for the whole of the program.
One of my biggest joys at a Body, Mind, Equine retreat is to see the vast improvements in everyone’s overall horsemanship: the boosted confidence levels, the application of new skills, and the participants really honing the practice of mindfulness. When the retreat is complete, I am usually exhausted (in a good way), yet exhilarated. I leave with many great memories and feeling fulfilled. I could not imagine having a better “job”—there’s a lot to be said for loving the life you live!
Learn more about how yoga principles can benefit your horsemanship in YOGA FOR RIDERS by Cathy Woods, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.
CLICK HERE for more information or to order.
For more information about Cathy Woods and her Body, Mind, Equine Retreats, CLICK HERE.
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