I have a problem most would envy: My career and my hobby are intertwined.
As an equine journalist, I have the opportunity to work with some of the best horsemen, and travel to ranches and cowboy events around the country that, if it weren’t for my profession, I’d never have access or attend.
The downfall, especially in the eyes of friends and family, is that my personal vacations seem to always become working vacations. That’s partly because my precious personal time is often spent attending brandings, ranch rodeos, Western antiques shows, horsemanship clinics or cowboy festivals. I may physically be out of the office, sans computer, and out of cellular phone and wireless Internet range, but that doesn’t stop my mind from thinking, “That person or horse would make a great story."
Next thing I know, I’ve purchased a notebook and tape recorder, and am doing an interview. No wonder I have a collection of dime-store tape recorders in my desk drawer. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do and wouldn’t trade it for any other job, but sometimes an editor does need a break to recharge those creative juices.
This spring, I finally found the one trip that totally disconnected me mentally and physically from my work and spiritually empowered me to be a better person, writer and horsewoman. The only problem: I was sent there on assignment and to do research.
In the September issue of Western Horseman, we kicked off a new, four-part series with cowgirl clinician Tammy Pate. The bulk of the planning and interviewing for that series occurred this past May at the Home Ranch in Clark, Colorado, where Tammy and her friend Janice Baxter were conducting their yoga-horsemanship clinic. I attended the clinic to learn more about Tammy and her horsemanship philosophies, as well as experience firsthand her techniques.
I approached this trip as I would any other business trip: Be present in the moment, be professional and positive, be curious, work efficiently, learn everything possible and take good notes.
I’d never met Tammy or Janice in person, but from the moment I arrived at the Home Ranch, I felt as though I’d found my cowgirl soul mates. So much for that work strategy—this clinic, by nature, captures your mind and body, and leads you on a self-discovery rooted in health and horsemanship. You’ll leave with strength, confidence and mental clarity.
Held each spring and fall, the women’s equestrian yoga retreat at the Home Ranch attracts a diverse group of horse-crazy women from around the country. They come for various reasons, including to relax, bond with other female friends and family, overcome a horseback fear and to improve their horsemanship skills, balance, focus and health. One woman told me she came to get away from the pressures of career and family, and to not have to do dishes for a week!
The guest list for the clinic I attended listed 13 women, including myself, Tammy and Janice. The women hailed from California, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia. Most were experienced horsewoman, between the ages of 40 and 70. Although you could bring your own horse, every participant chose to ride a horse from the ranch’s remuda. The Home Ranch offers more than a nose-to-tail guest ranch. The ranch is known for providing good horses and actually taking time to teach guests how to ride well and actually make a difference in a horse’s training that particular day. My horse, Macuma, handled well and had just enough spirit—and stubbornness—to keep things fun and challenging.
The six-day clinic typically begins each day with a yoga session led by Janice, followed by riding sessions guide by Tammy in the afternoon. Janice, a Florida yoga instructor and social worker, starts each yoga session with each member of the group sharing aloud an affirmation, or goal, for the day. An affirmation might be a deep aspiration to reach out and find the divine, to connect with your horse, ride without fear or to simply bask in the glory of the day. An avid goal-setter, this exercise came easily to me, but I needed Janice’s guidance to phrase my affirmation correctly, so that it was believable and achievable. “I, Jennifer Denison, am confident that today I’ll find mental clarity and a new level of creativity.”
I’d never practiced the ancient art of yoga, but I found the poses easily adaptable to my body, type, strength, skill level and degree of flexibility. What amazed me more is how much concentration the exercises required. For the first time, I wasn’t thinking about that long to-do list in my room or what I was going to write. As a result, I left the session feeling rejuvenated and ready for anything that might happen during the day.
Once the group was warmed up and focused, we returned to our cabins for a quick clothes change, and were off to the barn to ride. Throughout the week, the riding sessions last two to four hours and combined arena and cattle work with trail rides. Many of the poses and breathing exercises we practiced in yoga transferred to being in the saddle, ultimately promoting lightness, balance and awareness.
Tammy completely believes you can do anything you want with your horse if you just slow down, find your center and communicate clearly to the horse. Yoga is the key to connecting on a deep level with your horse, because it helps you find your center, relax and be present in the moment, and to see things clearly, from the horse’s perspective. Yoga is also about “pushing the edge” of your and your horse’s comfort zones to build confidence.
Another part of the week is basking in the peaceful accommodations, pampering and cuisine that’s part of the Home Ranch experience. Nestled in the pristine ranch country outside Steamboat Springs, Colorado, the ranch boasts Relais & Chateaux resort status. Owners Steve and Ann Stranahan skimp on nothing for their guests, yet offer a warm, unpretentious environment humble ranch people can appreciate. Cabins are equipped with whirlpools, and clinic tuition includes a massage and all your meals, each exquisitely prepared and presented by the staff’s resident chefs. The only thing you have to do during the week is relax and ride.
For more information on the Home Ranch yoga clinics, visit homeranch.com.