Yoga on Horseback Is Real and You Can Try It in Spain
If you're looking to kick up your yoga practice, try perfecting camel pose, or ustrasana. On horseback.
If that's not enough of a challenge, you can try tree, or eagle, or standing split pose—still while balancing on a beautiful Lusitano stud.
Surprisingly, horseback yoga is hardly a new phenomenon. But it’s long been limited to private practice or taught only at dedicated retreats in not-quite-luxe places. Now it’s offered by the Valencia-born equestrian and yoga pro Laura García at La Donaira, one of Spain’s most beautiful new eco-resorts, with eight plush suites in an old farmhouse that’s two hours northwest of Marbella, on the edge of the dreamy Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. Rooms start at $280, and everything but the activities is included; an hourlong session will run you about $65 per person. (Book by e-mail, right here.)
In other words, it's now possible to dabble in the practice of horseback yoga without giving up the reins on your entire vacation—if you’ve got the guts to try.
But Manuel Rosell, La Donaira’s chief executive officer, says bringing the practice to his property was no easy feat. “It took a year and a half to find a teacher who wasn’t a bullshitter,” he told Bloomberg, explaining that he’s happy to take his time to find any product for his property—be it an organic mattress topper or an excursion provider—if that’s what it takes to achieve a perfect guest experience. “You need to see the feeling between the instructor and the horses. And the connection with clients, too. People don’t have knowledge about this combination.”
For most hotels, hiring a horseback yoga instructor and a horse whisperer is out of the question—no matter the per-room price tag—but at La Donaira, it makes perfect sense. The property has a strong equestrian focus, with 70 purebred Lusitano studs that roam freely on 600 acres; Rosell jokingly calls these rare relatives of the Andalusian stallion “the Formula One of horses,” though they’re less recognized and not as commonly bred. He claims that they’re the first horses that man ever put a saddle on, making them good companions and easily trainable. At La Donaira, they’re not just yoga partners—they’re also used as show horses and in rotation farming practices. As soon as next spring, they’ll also be the centerpiece of a new program for kids with Down Syndrome.
The property also grows or raises almost all the food it serves and offers such amenities as forest bathing. It stands out among the droves of resorts that espouse a commitment to local ingredient sourcing and wellness, horseback yoga or not.
But according to Rosell, the equine practice has become a selling point for corporate retreats and—oddly enough—middle-aged Scandinavian women, who take weeklong breaks (solo or among girlfriends) to indulge in a healthy, spouse-free getaway. “We’re an exotic destination but still in Europe,” he explained.
Not all participants of horseback yoga need to be yoga experts. In fact, the practice can be adapted for total yoga newbies. Laura García, La Donaira’s 32-year-old instructor, focuses on a strain of yoga called Kundalini, which can just as easily consist of traditional asanas as hourlong chanting and meditation sessions. Compared with, say, the fast-moving Vinyasa practice, Kundalini lends itself well to those who are looking to relax and melt away stress. (If you hate the idea of chanting, though, García will happily customize sessions to your particular needs—she’s also trained in Hatha, Bikram, Ashtanga, and yoga for children.)
Weary beginners might practice horseback yoga without ever actually mounting the animal, but García says that she encourages all guests to maximize their time on the horse. Even if you have zero experience in either riding or yoga, she says, you can spend half of an hourlong class on horseback and still feel within your comfort zone.
Still, she tends to start guests off easy, having yogis connect their breathing to the horse’s and then using the animal for stability while doing balance poses on the ground. Sitting or lying postures are the easiest to tackle on bareback. And while getting into a dancer or tree pose is difficult, it's not unheard of—though García will one-up those with a headstand on horseback, if you ask her to. (Consider that your ultimate challenge, dear yogi.)
As for safety, Rosell and García insist it’s not a concern. La Donaira employs a horse whisperer to work with the foals and fillys from the moment they’re born, ensuring that they’re comfortable with humans in every capacity. Garcia also clarifies that horseback yoga “is not a question of domination, it is a magical connection with an animal that’s bigger than you.”
Ultimately, says Rosell, horseback yoga is less about a thrill and more about connecting with nature. “Whatever level you’re at [with your yoga practice], the relation you have when you’re in silence with the horse, when you breathe together and touch the animal… it’s amazing.”