Sometimes we do something in our life that is profound and changes us in a small way, or maybe in a grand way. I just returned from one such life-changing adventure, and I can say with confidence that all the women in our group felt the same way.
I have three passions in life: yoga, horseback riding, and photography. I found an amazing retreat in Clyde Park, Montana, that took care of the first two, and if you know me, I'll drag the camera anywhere, which takes care of the third. There's something about being outdoors that just feeds my soul. Going on this retreat was all about the yoga, the horses, and nature. I chose to go late in September so as not to have to worry about mosquitoes, which I hate, knowing I was going to be outside a lot.
Our days started early when the "coffee fairy" came and brewed us a cup so that we could wander to the main building, cup in hand, to meditate. What? Sit still for an unknown length of time and try not to think...are you kidding me? But it works, and it is followed with a mind-awakening body-warming yoga class. We bent, stretched, and vinyasaed our way through class to the smell of bacon or cinnamon wafting up from below where breakfast was being created.
There's nothing like being in a group of woman, sitting around eating and visiting. It's something I've never done before, as I admit to being a shy person. In these situations I usually revert to trying to listen and avoid saying much, but that was not how it worked here. There was always the gentle hum of conversation between people, a conversation I was happy to be a part of.
Fed and ready to go, we broke down into smaller groups to work with the horses. Our wranglers, Molly Gerstung Glenn and Henry Glenn, brought an amazing group of horses for us to work with. The founder of Big Sky Yoga Retreats, Margaret Burns Vap, also had some horses of her own to share. Each group was either riding, lunging (ground work with a horse), or had free time. I love being around horses. Even my horrible allergies, which bring on fits of sneezing and a nose so itchy that I can hardly stand it, don't stop me. The size, strength, and beauty of these animals makes the misery worth it. Even if I can't ride, I want to be around them, brushing, scratching, and massaging. There is so much to do, you don't always need to ride.
Everyone knows what riding entails, but you may not be familiar with lunging, so a quick explanation here: Ground work is magical. You and a horse are enclosed in a round pen with no lead rope; instead, you have just a stick with a flag on the end. You first open your arm, point, and show the horse where to go, raise the flag off the ground, and get the horse to move its hooves. You lead the horse in a circle, and when you want it to change direction, you close the door using your body, point the other way, switch the flag to the other hand, and off it goes. If the process is done right, it's very fluid and graceful, like dancing with the horse. After the horse has done a few laps, drop the flag to the ground and quietly approach your horse. If all went well, the horse will now follow you in what is sometimes called "joining up." Wow, what a feeling. The horse is not following out of fear, but trust, a trust that you both built together.
Free time was all about personal choice. Guests could take another yoga class, a nap, or just some time to think and process. We were given small journals the night we arrived, and we were encouraged to write in them. I relaxed by doing a yoga routine I know by heart on the shore of the little pond. Letting the slight breeze cool the heat of the sun, listening to the birds, and feeling the just barely damp grass under my feet, I let myself get lost in the rhythm of the routine, breath in, breath out, listen, move, and let go.
The opportunity to come to Clyde Park and be a part of what Margaret Burns Vap has created was a true gift. Everyone, no matter the skill level in yoga or with the horses, was welcome. We all learned something about ourselves and were prepared to take this new knowledge away with us. Yeehaw and Namaste.
Finally, please check out the related video created and supported by the Mass General Cancer Center that I have added at the bottom of this page. This same facility is a home for an amazing retreat for women who have been affected by breast cancer. Even if you can't go, you can help Margaret and these ladies out. While I was not part of this retreat (I did the LUXE Cowgirl Yoga Retreat, a gift from my husband), the Cowgirls vs. Cancer retreat is an inspirational aspect of the Clyde Park facility that should be seen.