One of my closest friends is a yoga instructor. While I have yet to venture deeply into the yoga lifestyle, I absolutely know the health benefits and the impact it has had on her life. Last summer she had the opportunity to attend an incredible and unique yoga retreat in Stowe, Vermont. She is now leading the retreat this year and I invited her to write a post about it so that we could share it with you, my awesome readers. Enjoy!

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GUEST POST by Tracy Leigh Campbell

As an avid yogini I am always happy to share my love of yoga to anyone who will listen. I first experienced yoga many years when I wandered into a power yoga class. I became hooked on the blending of breath and movement through dynamic and challenging flows. I was never a very sporty gal, so for the first time in my life, I felt athletic and powerful. Yoga had connected me to my muscles in a way that I had never experienced before. It quieted my mind, which was usually racing and if offered me a version of spirituality that made sense to me. Over the years, this love of yoga continued and I eventually completed my Vinyasa teacher training, first stepping onto my mat as a teacher in 2011.

Needless to say, it pleases me to no end to see the growing popularity of yoga. More and more people are getting hip to the powers of a yoga practice not just as a means of relaxation and mediation but as an athletic practice and/or a compliment to any kind of physical training. With this growing popularity comes new styles, branches and hybrids of the practice: hot yoga, yogalates, jock yoga, acroyoga, aerial yoga, laughter yoga, naked yoga (!), etc, etc. And just when I thought I had heard it all, I was invited to participate in a weekend retreat for yoga teachers, featuring a program called Yoga with Horses. Colour me intrigued!!

With great excitement, I rolled up my mat, packed my lulus and hit the road for beautiful Stowe, Vermont. For anyone who has not experienced Vermont – put it on your list. Rolling green hills, fresh air – you can almost hear Julie Andrews singing in the background! (The real life Von Trapp family from The Sound of Music built their homestead in Stowe because it reminded them of their native Austria.) Stowe village is quaint and charming and bursting with artisans.

The retreat centre, Stowe Mountain Ranch, is everything you’d expect from a ranch: rustic and pastoral, set atop of a hill with the mountain range as a backdrop.  Four beautiful horses grazing while the two resident dogs play. The owner, Gerry Scott, is a character all of his own and if you want to know anything about Stowe history – look no further! The ranch offers family-style living with rooms on 3 levels, shared bathrooms, a large dining room, indoor sauna and outdoor hot tub on the deck for relaxing and star gazing. The spacious yoga room faces the barns and hills with large windows to let in lots of natural light and for the colder months, there’s a cozy fireplace to keep you warm. The property also has an authentic teepee for those wanting a more outdoorsy spot to sleep!

yoga with horses 3Ok let’s get to the part that you are all curious about: Yoga with Horses! If you’ve never been around horses, they are impressive, large, beautiful creatures with gentle spirits. To begin, Gerry first took us out to meet the horses. We got to know them by feeding them carrots, petting them and looking into their big brown eyes. We brushed them and were given a quick lesson on how to approach them and lead them.  After that Gerry took us on a hike with the horses through the Von Trapp hills. Sometimes we were hiking alongside the horses, sometimes we were leading the horses and sometimes we were riding the horses (one had a saddle, the others were bare back, which is a very different experience). This allowed us to relax and get comfortable with them. On top of that, it was also a wonderful hike through the hills and forest. Once back we had lunch and those wanting to experience yoga postures on the horse headed out to the field!

yoga with horses 2Cherie, a gorgeous chestnut horse was gentle and lovely…and gigantic but I was eager to experience this unique concept, so in the words of Gerry (lovingly known around town as the Stowe Cowboy): “Cowgirl, up!” With one hand on Cherie’s neck and one foot on Gerry’s knee, I swung up on to Cherie’s broad back. Once you are up there, you are very aware of just how big horses are! Gerry tells everyone to take a moment and “just be” with the horse. Give her a rub, connect and really feel her. From there, its a “choose-your-own-adventure” – some people do simple things such a star pose or twisting one arm to the opposite side of the horse. Some lie back in rabbit pose or flip onto their stomachs for bow pose. Others try downward dog or fish pose. One fella stood fully upright in mountain pose with his arms reaching up to the sky – it was beautiful. To make sure everyone is safe, there are “spotters” on either side of the horse. And to make sure the horse is safe, Gerry is there. It’s a really interesting experience to feel this amazing creature beneath you and to breathe with her and connect your energy. It becomes an unspoken conversation between you and the horse. And that’s the special part of this program that can’t really be described – it needs to be experienced to understand it. Afterwards, what struck me most was not that I did yoga postures on a horse but that I connected with this magnificent being. In order to do postures on a living animal you need to centre yourself – for balance of both body and mind and as you breath you really do feel the horse breathe with you, move with you. It’s wild.

Another wonderful aspect of this retreat centre, is that not to far away is another wonderful hiking spot through the woods to an amazing, natural waterfall where you can swim or relax on the rocks surrounded by nature. And I cannot speak of this retreat without mentioning the amazing food! Now when I was there, we were a group of 18 yoga teachers so the menu of course had to accommodate the usual diet of yogis: vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, etc etc and unfortunately usually that means taste-free! But much to my surprise, the food was fantastic! Everything that Chef Tess made was delicious, flavourful and filling! And we never had the same thing twice – from delicious smoothies to scrumptious salads to mouth watering curries – it was all amazing!

By the end of this wonderful retreat I had made some new friends, experienced an unforgettable equine connection, ate some of the best food of my life and soaked up the beauty that is Vermont. And because it was such a wonderful experience, naturally I have chosen Stowe Mountain Ranch as the destination for my upcoming yoga retreat!

If you would like to experience the unique Yoga With Horses program, join me for my Stowe Mountain Yoga Retreat July 2-5th, 2015.

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