I’d heard of Julie Goodnight — the internationally respected trainer, clinician, Certified Horsemanship Association Master Instructor, and host of the Horse Master television show — but I’d never attended a clinic.
Curious to learn more about Julie’s methods, I made arrangements to attend her Women’s Yoga & Riding Retreat, held last October at C Lazy U Ranch. The ranch is nestled in the Rocky Mountains just outside of Granby, Colorado.
This retreat is four days long. You can either bring your own horse or ride one of the ranch’s well-trained mounts.
Friday would be an introductory day. We’d go on an orientation ride, hear overviews of the riding clinics and yoga classes, and divide into groups.
On Saturday and Sunday, we’d trail ride, attend riding clinics, and go to a yoga class. We’d end these days with horse talk around the campfire. On Monday, we’d have breakfast, choose our activities, then have lunch and say our goodbyes.
I couldn’t imagine a better schedule. Eagerly, I headed from my home in Ontario, Canada, to the rustic elegance of C Lazy U Ranch.
A Scenic Welcome
At Denver International Airport, I met up with another participant, Carla, to carpool to the ranch. She was easy to spot in her cowboy boots and ear-to-ear grin in anticipation of the weekend.
Weheaded toward the Rocky Mountains on Interstate 70. We turned onto U.S. Route 40, then wound through scenic Berthoud Pass, elevation 11,307 feet.
Just outside of Granby, we the C Lazy U Ranch sign hanging from an arched entrance, the snowcapped Rockies rising in the background.
I entered Ridge Cabin, which is tucked into the hillside overlooking the ranch, to find a fireplace, king-size bed, bathtub, and complimentary bottle of wine.
At lunch, I sat at the end of a large wooden table. To my surprise, I was seated next to Julie Goodnight. If she hadn’t introduced herself, I never would’ve known she was the iconic horsewoman. She’s unpretentious, friendly, and approachable.
I met some of the other 42 participants while enjoying a scrumptious meal, then headed to the barn to get my assigned horse for the weekend.
On the Trail
The stable area was bustling with activity. Head wrangler Bill Fisher, who’s been with the ranch for more than 50 years, matched each rider who didn’t have her own horse to a suitable ranch mount.
Bill presented me with Luke, a large chestnut Quarter Horse. We broke into small groups and embarked on our orientation trail ride. Wrangler Scottie led our ride from the back of a cute palomino.
We crossed a wide bridge over Willow Creek. As we rode uphill, I began to get a better feel for the ranch’s vastness. C Lazy U sits on 8,550 square acres, with control over 11,000 acres.
As part of our orientation, wrangler Scottie pointed out the 12,000-square-foot, heated arena, where our sessions with Julie would take place, as well as the outdoor arena next door, where we’d practice our newfound skills with Twyla Walker-Collins, Julie’s training assistant and business manager.
Then Scottie gave us the signal, and we headed off for a wonderful canter, smiling into the wind.
Back at the barn, we handed off our horses to a wrangler. They’d be untacked and turned loose to wander back to the paddock, where the herd would remain until the final jingle of the day.
The jingle, when all 190 horses are herded over a bridge to their large field, is a big attraction for ranch guests. The sound of hooves clip-clopping over the bridge echoed through the crisp evening air. It’s quite awe-inspiring.
‘It’s About You’
Down at the lodge, I pushed through wooden doors into the bar filled with cowboy décor. Most of our group was already there, glasses of wine in hand, chatting.
I chose an Argentinean malbec and sank into the comfort of the couch as Julie began her welcoming spiel.
“This weekend is all about you,” she began. “We have our schedule for the clinic, but don’t feel the need to attend it all. If you’d rather skip a session to go have a massage at the spa, please do so!”
We broke into four groups in which we’d remain for the duration of the clinic to ensure individualized instruction. Participants thought of group names and conjured spirited cheers.
Dinner time! Wine director Shelby Peterson described the wine pairing for the meal, prepared by executive chef Dennis Kaniger. We were soon enjoying salad, fish, and a delectable osso buco.
Back in the Saddle
After breakfast, my group was scheduled to first go on a trail ride. After we warmed up our horses, Scottie gave the verbal command, “Canter!” Luke moved out like a flash, and we had a great gallop up the hill in the morning air.
We retuned to the ranch andfiled into the indoor arena for our first clinic with Julie.
Julie’s instructions were specific and easy to follow. “Focus on something at the other end of the arena, and steer your horse with nothing but your legs to keep him in a straight line,” she told us. If your horse veers one way or the other, he is not obeying you.”
Luke was extremely responsive to my leg aids. If he began to drift, simple leg pressure would put him back on track.
“When we say put our heels down, it’s not simply an act of pushing your heels towards the ground, but, more importantly, lengthening our spine which ultimately anchors you into the saddle,” continued Julie.
“Yoga is good for this, as it makes you aware of your spine so you can consciously lengthen it.”
Julie’s voice was reassuring and authoritative. “The key to pressure is applying the right amount to motivate change. It’s always best to err on the side of more pressure at first, and then you’ll use less as your horse becomes responsive.”
We returned to the lodge for a delicious lunch of rice with shrimp and lobster accompanied by a selection of salads.
Then we mounted back up and rode over to the outdoor ring to work with Twyla, who takes what we’ve learned to the next level. Her long blond hair flew in the wind as she rode her gorgeous Paint Horse.
A Restful Afternoon
The retreat’s yoga sessions, taught by professional instructor Ellen Mesaros, are geared toward all levels of students.
Ellen teaches Anusara yoga, which is based on the traditional Hatha yoga discipline and is centered on a “celebration of life” philosophy.
As a horse owner, Ellen knows how to apply yoga to horsemanship. She understands the daily challenges riders face.
First, we did yoga poses geared for riders, such as the Warrior Pose, which increases range of motion in the hip joints, and the Downward Dog Pose, which elongates the spine.
Next, Ellen led us in a group meditation. I was completely relaxed. Her soft voice took me to a place where my entire body simply gave in.
As I came out of the yoga class, I saw the wranglers gearing up for the jingle. I positioned myself on the far side of the river to get ready for the thundering hooves over the bridge.
It was perfect.
Sunday morning, our group began with a session with Julie. “Lengthen from the belly button, up,” she advised us. “Be conscious of where your eye is looking, open up your pelvis and concentrate on the golden moments.”
As we rode, some riders had trouble keeping their horses on the rail. “Circling a horse does not gain control, but changing direction does,” Julie told them. “Engaging direction is very meaningful to a horse. Horses do this to each other in the herd naturally.”
We practiced our new skills with Twyla, then had lunch and went to yoga class.
During yoga, Ellen led us in a mantra chant that allowed us to send a safe message to our horses — that we’d look after them. The meditation came easily and peacefully.
I was completely relaxed for the afternoon’s trail ride, which involved numerous water crossings.
Later, we gathered around a large bonfire to get our boots and gloves marked with the C Lazy U brand, a lasting memory of our experience.
The 2015 Yoga & Riding Retreat will be held October 16-19 at C Lazy U Ranch. Julie Goodnight will also hold Ranch Riding Adventures May 14-18 and September 24-28. For more information, go to http://juliegoodnight.com.
As the owner of Clix Photography (www.clixphoto.com), Shawn Hamilton travels worldwide to cover equestrian events. Her images regularly appear in top magazines. She lives with her husband, four children,and five horses on a farm in Ontario,Canada.