Morgan, Horses, and Yoga
Evolution Yoga teacher, Morgan Merrihew would neither admit nor deny that her first name comes from the Morgan horse, that noble breed that was to influence the course of horse breeding in the United States and the world. (It is fun to note here that the first ever Morgan horse was bred in Vermont by Justin Morgan in the 1780s.) But she did concede the she had the horse Jones early on in her life.
As a girl growing up in the Adirondacks, she begged her parents for a horse. She pleaded and strategized. Her parents lived on a couple acres, so she made a budget that included the cost of a horse, a barn, feed, saddle, upkeep, veterinary expenses, etc. The neighbor behind her Nanna’s house had two horses: Georgia and Marco. Morgan got her very first job in that barn, shoveling horseshit. She’d spend hours in winter in the barn with those horses, basking in their presence. She could not get enough of it. But her parents never relented. By the time she hit her teenage years, she realized that her horse dream was not going to be realized.
Until eleven years ago, when she came to Vermont to study psychology at Champlain College. She seized the opportunity to volunteer at CHAMP, Champlain Adaptive Mounted Program in South Hero. CHAMP is a therapeutic riding program for children and adults with disabilities. It offers adaptive riding for individuals from the full spectrum of abilities and disabilities.
CHAMP was the perfect outlet for her two great passions: horses and psychology. “Ever time I drove away from CHAMP, I would feel like I was glowing from the inside out. It was so amazing and so easy for me to be there and be present for these folks. In another life, I’d probably have my master’s degrees in social work – this work is like my master’s degree.”
Morgan further describes her experience at CHAMP: “I have seen people go from a wheelchair to the back of a horse. Helping the physically disabled overcome their limits is pretty magical. The presence and strength and horses can give people is incredible. At CHAMP, participants become riders—not patients or clients, or students or handicapped people, they are just riders. Taking the rider label removes so many other things. You’re just a rider; the horse knows you as a rider. The horse doesn’t care if you can speak or not, if you can walk or tie your shoes.”
Yoga affords the same kinds of opportunities for connection. The Sanskrit word yoga translates as union. “Yoga gives you the opportunity to connect to yourself in a therapeutic way.” By learning to let go of limiting thoughts, practitioners (yogis—another label that removes inhibitions), learn to honor and even celebrate their abilities in the moment.
Morgan has been practicing yoga for eight years. “I got confused in college,” she says. “I stopped going and worked downtown, taking classes and then decided to got to the Kripalu Center to get my yoga teaching certification.” Yoga helped her find her calling.
“One night, for fun, I Googled yoga and horse,” she laughs. “I discovered a training in Canada called Galloping Yoga. Whoa, what is this? Whoa? No way.” (I pointed out to her that she’d just said Whoa twice in once sentence as if she was talking to a horse. We both laughed.) Galloping Yoga uses meditation, breath, asana, and intention to help riders follow their intuition. Beyond learning that their horse reflects their own energy – if you are stressed, the horse will feel stress; if you are fearful, the horse will become afraid – riders learn to align their thoughts, feelings, and actions in order to face challenges and realize their truest intentions. Today Morgan is one of only five certified Galloping Yoga teachers in North America.
This April (April 2 – April 30), Morgan will be leading Yoga and Horseback Riding. “I am really excited to be bringing my ideal situation to the forefront. We will be doing four weeks of themed practice in the studio inspired by instinctual horse characteristics. For example, you need to breathe while you’re doing yoga and while you’re riding, or the horse will sense it. We’ll be working on breathing, centering and balancing, present moment awareness, observation, and we’ll work with the psoas and the hips.” The final class will be held at Livery Stables in Hinesburg for a basic riding session to bring the experience full circle.