When I was a kid and traveled to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic to visit family, I rode horses during the summer. Many of my childhood friends lived on farms—horses were everywhere. Some just wandered around in the fields, and their owners let me pet them and feed them snacks. Both sides of my family live on parts of their islands thick with rivers, hills, and valleys; horseback riding was my favorite way to explore.
But I was born and raised in New York City, where the most common animal is not the mighty steed but the wild subway rat. Yoga, meanwhile, is far more common in NYC than horses. (Stick with me, you’ll see where I’m going with this.) Never in my wildest, Brooklyn-est dreams did I ever think someone would combine the two activities: horse riding and yoga. And yet.
You probably saw that goat yoga trended over the past couple years, as ridiculous but adorable photos of kid goats roaming around downwardly-facing humans, hopping off stretching backs, and nibbling hay near sweaty mats pinged throughout the Internet. If Nataliya Esperson, the founder of OmRide, has anything to say about it, those goats will soon be swapped for horses.
Esperson began riding at a stable in Queens when she was 11 years old. Later, she studied biology and equine science at Rutgers University and joined a mounted patrol group on campus. She even trained wild horses while at school. When I met Esperson, now 26, on a recent Saturday morning in Prospect Park, she explained that being mindful, balanced, and calm during yoga are the same qualities one should have when spending time with horses. They’re sensitive animals, she pointed out.
“If you tense up around a horse, it’ll move away from you; it can feel everything,” said Esperson. “I try to be very mindful when I’m riding and of every movement that I make and how I’m breathing.”
We stretched. We meditated. Soon it was time to meet our horses.
As it turns out, there is already a small sub-culture of horse yoga enthusiasts out there. Still, before arriving at the park that morning, I had bourgeois nightmares dancing in my head. I imagined preternaturally limber yoga zombies, decked out in the latest high-tech workout-wear, tearing my bargain leggings to shreds. And not knowing what exactly horse yoga entailed, I also pictured stretching deeply atop a mighty steed, forever on the verge of falling off, banging to the ground, and emerging battered and bruised.
In real life, there was zero blood. Nonsweaty yoga mats dotted the grass in a verdant clearing surrounded by trees and not far from baseball fields.
Kasia Merrill, who is Esperson’s partner and OmRide’s cofounder, led our session. She was supernice and thoughtful. She guided our small class through a series of poses as the morning sun emerged from behind clouds. And I didn’t feel at all out of place mingling with the two other OmRide attendees. One was a woman roughly 35 years old who also grew up hanging with horses in the Caribbean, and the other was a yoga-newbie guy with a mellow vibe.
Our instructor led us into our class and made sure we were happy with where we were in the sun.
We stretched. We meditated. Soon it was time to meet our horses. Mine was named Cody. He had a sweet personality and a major appetite. He was a beautiful chestnut color, with white markings accenting his hair.
We began with a breathing meditation with our horses. We did this by putting a hand on the horse’s neck or side and matching their breathing. We wanted to connect with them through the breathing and become comfortable being so near the powerful animals. I was moved to be acquainted with Cody in such a peaceful way. He just snorted and sniffed my hair.
Breathing matched, we put on our riding helmets and fed the horses carrots. Cody loved them—maybe a little too much!—and when I ran out, I had to find him handfuls of grass and leaves. His mouth turned green; I was utterly charmed.
Esperson showed us how to mount with the help of a handy tree stump. I relearned how to work the reins, and had to pull back on them to stop Cody from grazing on, well, pretty much everything.
We followed a path across the park. We passed a lake and waved to a pack of kids. I felt like a sweaty queen.
For that half-hour ride, I actually felt serene. Just like after a satisfying yoga session. That’s no small thing these days for residents of NYC—the subway delays alone, while pressed ear to armpit with dozens of strangers, can ruin a person’s day. The riding also proved to be a fairly amazing leg workout. I began to see why Esperson had decided to pair it with yoga.
“It really stretches you out,” she said of the riding. “You have to use your inner thighs and your core, and it also works your back.”
At a stable not far from the park, I dismounted. Scratching Cody’s snout one last time, we said goodbye. I walked back to the G train, practically floating. I was a little sore, but I felt better than I had all week.
Sure, there were no cute goats leaping off my back, but the interaction I had with the horses, especially sweet Cody, felt magical. Settling into a cold train seat, my mind drifted back over the morning. The deep stretching. The calming meditation. Cody’s endless appetite. A few weeks ago I had never heard of horse yoga. Now I might just do it again.
OmRide Horse Yoga
Locations may vary
Thursday, June 28, 7 p.m.
Sunday, July 1, 7 p.m.
Thursday, July 5, 7 p.m.
Saturday, July 7, 10 a.m.
Thursday, July 12, 7 p.m.
Look for yoga and pony sessions for kids starting soon.