Mind Body Horse: Achieving Alignment Through Yoga

If a life can have a narrative, the throughline of Carrie Fraser’s story is one of alignment. Emotionally, physically, and spiritually, her life has been an education in finding that balance. She started Mind Body Horse to share what she has learned on the crooked path that has been her life so far.

At 27, Fraser found herself sitting in her therapist’s office not sure what to do. She had two young children (now teenagers). On some level, she knew that she needed to leave her husband. How could she be a single mother, keep a career going, and keep riding?

Getting to ride at all was not always a given for Fraser. “I would beg, borrow, or steal to ride,” the now 39 year old says. “I grew up in a non-horsey family. I wasn’t given the opportunity to take consistent lessons and develop a foundation as a rider, let alone compete.” And as Fraser would discover over the course of her life, without a foundation, nothing is stable.

“It was very obvious that I needed to leave my marriage,” Fraser recalls. “But I was ungrounded, unclear, confused, completely turned around. I didn’t trust myself.” These hallmarks of a toxic relationship affected every area of her life, including riding. “I was competing, but it wasn’t going well. I think the horse could feel the instability in my life and in my body, and he didn’t like it,” she says. “I wasn’t my best self, I wasn’t present, my body was completely off all the time.”

Previously, yoga helped her maintain the balance. Fraser began practicing in college, and it has remained a consistent part of her life since. Though she worked hard practicing yoga, the results weren’t showing up. The alignment, even on the mundane physical level, wasn’t sticking.

That’s when she realized that in a physical way, her body was twisting her away from what she avoided looking at. Both her horse and her yoga mat reflected back to her what she avoided: that she needed to make some major overhauls of her life, beginning with leaving her marriage, if she wanted to achieve the alignment she sought.

1. A healthy top line* allows your horse to use his body effectively, build correct musculature, and protect from injury or strain. The Cat Yoga pose helps build YOUR top line and improves your overall way of going, health and wellness.

*Diagrams adapted from the Happy Horse Training Program, a holistic approach to equitation, combining correct riding, dressage and horse training with holistic horse care and management. Intelligent and practical advice that puts the horse first. For more information, visit www.happy-horse-training.com.

“With yoga, you practice alignment and over time, this alignment starts to seep into every part of your life. The areas that are out of alignment become very obvious,” Fraser says. 

Yoga became the glue to keep herself together while she transitioned herself and her children out of her marriage and into a new life. Yoga helped her learn to let go of everything she twisted herself to hold together–husband, horse, habits–that were not serving her.

“Yoga has taught me to trust myself. To trust my gut instincts, listen to my body and to feel truth,” she says.

2. rider biomechanics and yoga – the Plank Yoga pose makes your abs work in a targeted and lengthened position versus a shortened position and also engages your stabilizers, Increases abdominal tone (allowing you to keep your horse off the forehand), and helps improve stability in your waist, giving your horse a stable framework to mold himself around*

*Diagrams adapted from the Happy Horse Training Program, a holistic approach to equitation, combining correct riding, dressage and horse training with holistic horse care and management. Intelligent and practical advice that puts the horse first. For more information, visit www.happy-horse-training.com.

Enter Mind Body Horse, the business she started with Courtney Mulica. They knew that other people could benefit from everything they had learned, and created a program that equestrians (always busy) could practice from anywhere, whenever they needed it, to strengthen their connection with their horses and their own minds and bodies.

In many ways, yoga and riding are natural partners. Horses are so sensitive to stress and mood that learning to be present and mindful is beneficial to equestrians in any discipline. “Horses provide immediate, non-verbal feedback,” she says. “They act as a kind of mirror for their rider. Whatever you bring to the ring is reflected back to you by your horse.  If you are nervous, ungrounded, not present, not clear, you will most likely confuse your horse. As a rider, we need to know what our goal is, where our attention is and what our intention is.”

3. What does this pose do for a rider’s position? It supples the hip joint so that your leg can stay back, strengthens the rear thigh of the leg that is lunging forward so it can support your position, and allows for correct core engagement*.

*Diagrams adapted from the Happy Horse Training Program, a holistic approach to equitation, combining correct riding, dressage and horse training with holistic horse care and management. Intelligent and practical advice that puts the horse first. For more information, visit www.happy-horse-training.com.

The awareness of one’s body that yoga cultivates is key to the way riders use their bodies to communicate with the horse, who rely on our movements and postures to know what we are telling them. Yoga also helps riders develop the focus and attention that they need to bring their best to the saddle.

Yoga has seemingly countless benefits for equestrians, but among the most important are body awareness, healthy joints, focus, responsibility for one’s own balance, gratitude for the experience, physical balance, feel, and strength.

“All the discs in your back participate in absorbing the motion of your horse as you ride,” Fraser says. “If you have tension anywhere in your torso, you will have insufficient movement in your spine. Yoga will help relieve tension, supple the muscles along your spine, and work your core in a very specific way.”

At Mind Body Horse, Fraser uses yoga as a tool to make riders feel better, starting with a little stretch and a little strength, and a little breath. “Breathe,” she says. “Your horse will thank you.”

The yoga practice of Mind Body Horse is meant to help riders navigate a chaotic warm up ring or overcome competition jitters with simple breathing exercises, as well as reduce overall inflammation and joint stiffness and increase flexibility and core strength. 

Alignment with the horse is key to success. “If you are not in balance – mind, body, and heart – to move with the horse’s rhythms, your partnership will suffer,” Fraser says.

For Fraser, her life is aligned now. She rides in an eventing program with a trainer she trusts on her heart horse, Beau. “He thinks he’s a lap dog,” she says. “He’s super brave and social.” Her daughters, now 13 and 14, ride too. “The time my daughters and I spend together at lessons, clinics, events, trail rides, is priceless. In a world where raising teenage girls is scarier than ever, our equestrian life has graced us with a plethora of opportunities to grow together.”