If the stress of the holidays is leaving your decked halls lacking a little fa-la-la this month, you’ll need a little joy.  Two of Travaasa’s program offerings, Equine Encounters and Horseback Riding Experience, can help improve your ability to connect, de-stress and feel joy.

“Horses are a reflection of who we are,” says Keith Moon, Travaasa Austin’s Equine Manager. “They hold up a mirror to us to tell us about ourselves.”  Keith describes a typical Encounter where the Equine team teaches guests how to integrate with the horses to become a part of the herd.   During a class, guests will interact with the whole herd, select, halter and groom a specific horse, and then lead that horse through an exercise.

Our Equine Encounters helps individuals, couples, and work teams focus on interpreting non-verbal communication cues, learn to understand and control energy exchanges and discover how to clearly communicate desires.  Studies show that over 75% of communication between humans is non-verbal and takes place on a subconscious level.  So learning how to relate to horses, whose non-verbal communication skills have evolved through the ages, can provide amazing insight.

These insights can translate to the family or work “herd” and help us understand that humans and horses aren’t so very different.  “I think horses are better than a best friend,” says Jodie James, World Champion Calf Roper and Travaasa Riding Instructor. “You can tell him everything and he’ll just listen and can keep it secret.”  Jodie gets a huge smile as he describes how connected he feels with his horse. “I still remember the joy the first time I saddled up at 5:30 am in a 5000 cattle round-up.  It was just you, the horse, the sky…  everything you’d ask the horse to do, he’d do, almost before you asked, like he could read your mind.”

The Travaasa Horseback Riding Experience is different than your typical trail ride where they may put you on a horse and not tell you anything more than to just put one leg on each side.  “They look at it like a job.  For me, it’s my life,” says Jodie.  “I teach people how to have a great experience with a horse.  They are so sensitive that they can feel your heartbeat through the saddle.  We teach you how to communicate with them to make you feel confident and in control.  This helps you relax and this transfers to the horse.”

Keith agrees, “I remember the first time I felt in sync with a horse.  It is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle to help him understand what I was asking and execute a maneuver.  I never get tired of that feeling.”

Jolynn Pi’imauna is Travaasa Hana’s Equine Lead.  She leads rides along the ocean on the spectacular Hana Coast. Jolynn comes from a long line of Paniolos (Hawaiian Cowboys) and has been working with horses for over 20 years.  “A couple of months ago, I had a woman who couldn’t see too well come for a ride with me.  She was really scared, so I had her ride Lucky. He took really good care of her and she was so happy that she cried at the end of the ride.  I’ve seen a lot of grouchy people show up for a ride and they leave happy, with an experience they’ll never forget.”

Each horse has a unique personality and place in the herd depending on his or her level of confidence and assumed role – much like family members.  Some are bossy, like Annie, the Austin lead mare, or lack confidence, like Jasper who needs support to perform his best.   Jolynn selected Lucky for her guest because she knew that he had the confidence to be the leader and take care of her safety.  This is an important, transferrable life lesson as well, because if we seek comfort or security from the wrong people, we end up disappointed.

So whether you visit Heavenly Hana and go for an amazing ride along the cliffs, or come to Austin and join up with a horse during the Equine Encounters, you’ll leave feeling more energized and more in tune.  “The moment we connect with the horse, we are connecting with ourselves,” says Keith Moon.  “That’s joy.”