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Certified equestrian yoga instructor Kelley Shetter-Ruiz, right, instructed a student about the benefits of yoga in riding. Shetter-Ruiz gives yoga workshops to help riders become more in tune with their own and their horse’s bodies.

Equestrians are discovering the benefits of yoga. They are finding the millennia-old discipline improves their horsemanship as well as physical and mental wellbeing through better balance, flexibility and rhythm with their horses.

Certified yoga instructor Kelley Shetter-Ruiz of Dousman offers instruction to riders to help them become more aware of their bodies, improve posture and positively influence their horses.

“Harmony with your horse starts with your own body awareness,” Shetter-Ruiz said. “How can you expect to connect with your horse if you cannot connect with yourself?”

Through her Carpe Diem Equestrian Training business, Shetter-Ruiz holds Yoga For Equestrians workshops. She takes her workshops to various stables around the state as well as the Midwest Horse Fair, providing instruction to novice and advanced students.

In her workshops, Shetter-Ruiz combines body awareness, balance and alignment, along with building strength as well as flexibility in mind and body. The various poses can develop stronger leaner muscle and stamina.

She also believes yoga can promote kindness, compassion and self-discovery in riders and affect how they influence their horses’ movement and behavior.

“The horse is a mirror image of you,” Shetter-Ruiz said. “If you’re stiff on your right side, your horse will be stiff on the right side.”

Shetter-Ruiz suggests riders don’t often realize how unbalanced they are. Riders striving for balance are advised their dominant sides tend to be tighter and stronger than the less dominant side.

To help riders determine whether they are out of balance, Shetter-Ruiz recommends riders weigh themselves using two scales with one foot on each scale. The scales will register whether the rider places more weight on one side of their body than the other. Riders can also stand in front of a full-length mirror to check for unevenness in the body.

She begins with the fundamentals of proper breathing. 

“Breathing is the manifestation of our lives,” Shetter-Ruiz said. “Too much oxygen in the body makes a person tense. Both yoga and riding integrate breathing and rhythm.”

Correct breathing promotes relaxation, lowers the center of gravity, softens the back and allows flexibility and increases stamina in both rider and horse. Shetter-Ruiz asserts horses are influenced by their riders’ breathing.

“Horses are sensitive,” Shetter-Ruiz said. “They can feel a fly when it lands on them.”

Directing riders to concentrate on using their diaphragms for breathing, Shetter-Ruiz emphasizes rhythmic breathing is the foundation for developing rhythm with a horse.

Located under the rib cage, the diaphragm is attached to the back. By using the diaphragm for inhaling and exhaling instead of the muscles located higher in the rib cage, yoga practitioners exercise their abdominal muscles. Strong abdominal muscles provide better support for the back and spine allowing the rider to have better balance.

“Balance starts with the core.” Shetter-Ruiz said. “Weak abdominal muscles will weaken the back.”

While yoga poses incorporate positions for limbs, the emphasis is placed on developing the body’s core. A person’s core muscles are those located in the torso from the neck and shoulders to the pelvic region. Along with stabilizing the spine, core muscles transfer energy and strength to the limbs.

Believed to have originated in India, yoga traces its start to the sixth and fifth centuries Before the Common Era. It was introduced to the western world in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Derived from the Sanskrit word for “attach, join, harness or yoke,” the discipline is said to have meditative and spiritual dimensions as well as physical.

To arrange for a yoga workshop with Shetter-Ruiz or for more information on her riding instruction service, visit her website at carpediemeqtraining.com.