Every second Thursday, Willaway Farm offers “Yoga, Horses and Tea,” and it’s a combination that hits the spot with older adults.
At Yoga, Horses and Tea, participants get an explanation on horse behaviour and how horses communicate, said Susan Allan, who purchased the farm near Almonte in 2004, where the motto is “Where there is a will, there is a way!”
“A lot of seniors have more memories of horses than we do in the current day,” said Allan, 54. “They have a draw to them, and all kinds of stories. It makes them feel happy to be near a horse. They get that excited feeling and feel alive. Being in the presence of horses is huge.”
Just touching the horses and stretching and breathing gives them a connection to their past, she said. “It’s also a very social thing. Many come with a friend, and often make new friends.”
After the introduction, they do exercises outside of a pen with two or more horses. “We provide chairs and some just do chair yoga,” she said. “Many people get a lot out of doing yoga in the country and don’t even need to go near the horses. Some go into the ring and do exercises next to the horses. Each horse has a handler. We also customize workshops and courses for seniors of any age, helping them become comfortable around horses, learning more about these wonderful partners and themselves. It is something everyone can benefit from in some personal way.”
Many participants at Yoga, Horses and Tea do yoga beside the horse and have no interest in getting on. “One client took the Connect and Prepare to Ride course twice, then Yoga, Horses and Tea, and she is now taking straight yoga at the farm to improve her balance and posture, useful in her daily life as well as if she ever gets on a horse again.”
Some people don’t qualify for more typical therapeutic riding, but want the opportunity to be on a horse. “We have people with replaced body parts like hips and knees and no prior experience, and so require assistance to mount or lead the horse. We have people who will help them get on, using a higher mounting block and side walk with them, giving them the confidence they need.”
Helen Howe, 69, came to Willaway “and said she didn’t know why the horses called to her, they just did.” Helen took the Connect and Prepare to Ride course; she requires a higher mounting block and assistance, and is continuing on with her lessons. “She is absolutely loving it, and is able to do grooming and exercises on and beside the horse.”
Diana Smith, 75, “was quite terrified but very determined.”
“We didn’t know if she’d even get into the ring with a horse at first. She now feels like a new woman. Both women say that being with a big live animal and learning how to touch and lead them — to really connect with them — has made a world of difference in their confidence outside of the farm.”
Pam Clements, 61, was awaiting heart surgery and came for a Yoga, Horses and Tea session before going to the hospital. “We did it so that when she was in her sterile hospital room she could close her eyes and bring back the feeling of how good she felt,” said Allan. “She loved lying by her horse, hearing him chewing and being able to bring in all the senses of nature, the smell of the grass, the sound of the birds, and feeling calm with the yoga breathing.”
Another woman going through cancer treatment also came for support from the horses. She left describing it as, “I never would have thought that horses and that experience would have been so profound. I benefitted greatly from it.”
A lifelong rider, as well as third generation realtor, Allan loves bringing the wisdom of horses to people of all abilities and needs. She is pleased to have hosted the Lanark County Therapeutic Riding Program, which provides individuals with a holistic approach to therapy, rehabilitation, recreation and the opportunity to experience freedom and movement astride a horse.
She completed her yoga teachers’ training a year-and-a-half ago, as well as achieving her FEEL (Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning) certification, and is a member of the Equine Facilitated Wellness Canada group.
Among her staff, certified riding coach Gillian Phillips is also in the middle of her yoga training, and Cristina Pilon is a registered yoga instructor. Shelley Gvozdanovic, the farm manager, and Shannon Woolner are well-qualified horse handlers.
“About four years ago, I started to do various equine-facilitated workshops and brought in a yoga instructor to do parts of the workshops,” said Allan. “I saw how valuable the yoga was for people of all ages, including two women over 70.”
She said while some older people are afraid of horses, they are drawn to them and may have had a horse experience in their past. She offers Connect and Prepare to Ride to help people become comfortable with horses.
“People have family members involved in horses and want to understand more,” she said. “They may have had an unpleasant experience, or it can be a bucket list desire. We give two-hour lessons, six of them in a row, and most people take it twice.”
They learn how to be safe around horses, how to lead them, groom them respectfully and tack them up to ride. They do connecting exercises beside the horses, and poses to help them stretch. “They take their experiential learning into their bodies and can feel their experience in their bodies long after it is over.”
Allan describes her stable as “more middle-aged” focused than those that attract a lot of teenagers. “We’re non-competitive and quite wellness-based.” They also do private parties for Yoga, Horses and Tea.
“I love, love, love, doing this work,” she said. “The horses love it too! Even the ones who aren’t taking part come to the fence and do the breathing in line with the person. It’s very neat.”
For more information view www.willawayfarm.com, call 613-2577707 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.