Discover yourself though yoga and equine-assisted learning

By Sandy Bell, Chinook Communications at Windhorse Retreat.  SOYA teacher Jo-Ann Bance will be leading the next retreat March 22-23 in Rimbey, AB.
horses_yoga The breeze strokes your face during a seated meditation.  You soften your gaze and slow your breathing, and a horse moves closer to smell your head and hands.  She stands beside you.  Another horse moves into the centre of the circle of people and horses.  She rests quietly with her head down and gently sighs.  The feeling of unity deepens.
This experience is one of the highlights for participants in workshops and retreats that offer a unique blend of yoga and equine-assisted learning.   Weekend workshops are hosted by Windhorse Retreat, west of Rimbey, Alberta and week-long retreats are at Painted Pony Guest Ranch, Costa Rica.  Our yoga partners are Jo-Ann Bance, For Our Inner Yogi, Calgary and Mary Byerly, Panacea de la Montana Yoga Retreat and Spa, Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
“We are excited about hosting the retreats at Painted Pony Guest Ranch.  The combination of people, horses and yoga is magical, especially when set in a tropical paradise of Costa Rica,” says Kay Dodge, owner, Painted Pony Guest Ranch.
The yoga portions of these “Discover You!” experiences are not about doing yoga poses with horses as props.  The horses are full partners or facilitators in horse-human interactions – a foundational belief of equine-assisted wellness.  Our activities with horses are also grounded in the philosophy of natural horsemanship; that is, horses have complex, emotional lives as herd beings.
Horses are gifted and intuitive teachers who give us honest feedback to support our personal development if we are prepared and willing to listen.  The yoga portion of the workshops and retreats aims to enhance our sense of our inner state, so when we move on to activities with horses, we are more open to learning from them.
“We expect the participants to grow with all the positive energy, but for us, it is a positive experience for the horses as well.  Natural horsemanship helps the horses communicate with humans, and our horses were certainly hooked on to the people as well,” says Kay.
The yoga practice is designed for beginners, and when possible takes place outdoors.  The practice is intended to be restorative and rebalancing.
“After a deep connection made with the horses through the equine assisted learning activities, participants easily settle into the yoga practice.  They are asked to pay particular attention to the breath and to bring awareness into the body,” says Jo-Ann Bance, instructor, For Our Inner Yogi.
“Then as we move from the stillness of Savasana, we are invited once more to connect with our equine friends,” says Jo-Ann.
horses winterEnergy flows from person to person to horse as they connect to help each other work through an obstacle course.  The human partners describe trust and patience, and the horse partners rest their heads against kind hands.  The herd is complete.
No horse experience is needed for the equine activities, and safety and well-being for all is paramount.  Sessions with the horses are on the ground in small groups.  The retreats in Costa Rica also offer cultural and spa components, and trail rides into the countryside are tailored to all abilities.
Jo-Ann Bance, a SOYA 200 teacher who is currently upgrading to her SOYA 500 hr certification.  She and Sandy Bell will be hosting workshops at Windhorse Retreat on March 22-23 and April 5-6.  Planning is underway for a week-long retreat in December in Costa Rica.  Space is very limited.  To register text or phone  403-700-7880, or email  For more information visit