SNOHOMISH — Imagine being on all fours, then trying to bring your head to your left foot while it stays planted.
For a bipedal species, only the most flexible may be able to do it.
For steeds, it’s doable with a little practice, some snack enticement and a dash of zen. Move over hot, goat, mimosa and paddle board — yoga has a new accompaniment in equine form.
Yoga for horses is exactly what it sounds like. It’s yoga for horses, with horses.
“I think it’s really important to do these stretch exercises to prevent injuries, lameness and to bond to our horses,” said Hannah Mueller, a veterinarian who leads the monthly sessions offered at Cedarbrook Veterinary Care outside of Snohomish and north of Monroe.
What she offers isn’t the trendy horseback yoga in which people do yoga poses and stretches adjacent to, atop or astride a horse. Her monthly hour-long lessons instruct the careful stretching out of a horse, all 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of its built-to-run muscular body.
It’s as important as stretching for any athlete. Even the non-Russell Wilsons or Sue Birds of the world need flexibility for healthy lives. It is a common part of an office job’s employee manual to prevent all manner of desk-related injury: tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, deteriorating vision. (Whether or not those employees heed the advice is another issue.)
Snohomish County is horse country. According to the United States Department of Agriculture census released recently, there were 3,304 horses and ponies in the area in 2017. That ranks fifth among Washington state counties, behind King, Pierce, Spokane and Yakima. There were also 104 burros, mules and donkeys that year.
Whether they compete, show or clop along a trail, a life spent running and standing means horses need some physical therapy now and then.
As for the fine equines neighing and whinnying at the April 13 horse yoga class, it was a matter of learning better and new methods for several of their owners and riders.
Madison Erickson-Corp and Nicole Erickson from Monroe brought their trail riding horses, Autumn and Minka.
“It was great,” Erickson said. “We were looking for ways to stretch the horses. They’re a bit older and we want to keep them going as long as possible.”
Kathy Sanders of Marysville owns two horses, Snazzy and Tres. She competes in barrel racing, a time trial competition for horseback riders. The races are fast and furious and can strain even animals with generations of running in their genes.
Sanders said she has paid to have the horses chiropractically adjusted. Mueller offers that service, along with many others, at Cedarbrook. Learning a handful of horse yoga stretches lets horse owners and riders tend to the equine muscles a few times a week without professional help.
“It’s one more thing to put in my tool case,” Sanders said after her first horse yoga experience.
Sue Eulau, Sanders’ cousin, returned to horseback riding a few years ago after retiring and came from Bellevue for the training. She worked with Tres, a 22-year-old steed who seemed fine with the movements and touch. Eulau said Tres, who was Sanders’ former competition horse, could feel the strain and relief from the stretches.
Mueller led the handlers through a series of stretches: pulling the front legs out, then back; encouraging the neck to straighten forward, crane to the left, then the right; scratching and “tickling” the belly to get the back straight; and pressing into the top hindquarters to induce the “butt tuck.”
In later sessions, Mueller said she will introduce more advanced moves for handlers and horses who return. The first class costs $50 and $15 for further sessions.
She urged the people in the open air horse arena to be mindful of their own emotions and posture.
“Horses mirror our emotional state,” she said. “… Sometimes we mirror them, too. They get nervous, we get nervous.”
Similar to a regular yoga class, Mueller asked the handlers to take a handful of deep breaths and “scan themselves” for stress and tension.
Stretching down to reach the hooves can put a lot of strain on the back and expose a handler, rider or trainer to equine-induced injury. It wouldn’t take much for a swift kick or even a flick to cause pain.
“Remember to check your tail,” Mueller told her class. “Keep your back nice and straight.”
For horses, the worst-case injury would require surgery. It is costly and takes time cooped up during stall rest.
That time can throw both horse and rider out of sync, Sanders said.
Mueller’s yoga for horses aims to keep that from happening, or limit the length of recovery time. The monthly classes can accommodate up to 10 horses and their handlers. Mueller also offers the training by request at other barns.
Don’t worry, there are no poses that require the person to mirror the steed.
Want to try yoga for horses?
It’s a monthly class that teaches horse handlers, owners and riders how to stretch out their horses to prevent injury. It costs $50 for the first class and $15 for sessions after that. No need to trailer your horse there if you don’t want to or can’t, they have a horse available. Sign up by contacting Cedarbrook Veterinary Care at 360-794-9255 or info@Cedarbrookvet.com.