Yoga for horses? Tucsonan combines techniques to heal hurting horses

Long gone are the days of shipping a horse to the glue factory if he’s injured or hurt.

Gloria with Max/submitted photo

Gloria with Max/submitted photos

We can call Tucsonan Gloria Hester instead.

Hester, 42, has turned her passion into her life’s work by healing horses – and people –with yoga and other techniques.

No, the horses will not hop on a yoga mat and start doing backbends or downward facing dog poses. But they do respond to Hester’s healing, which combines her knowledge of yoga, horses and Hanna Somatics.

Before we delve further into what Hanna Somatics is, let’s check out what it does.

One of her clients, a gelding, could barley move his neck after a traumatic accident 12 years ago. His neck was so bent out of shape that it actually got in the way of his front legs when he tried to walk.

“He, sadly, now seemed to move like a ‘stick horse,’” Hester said. “His owner cared very much for him and hated to see him suffer.

“Not only was his movement impaired, but the light was gone from his eyes and he no longer cared to interact with people.”

Submitted photo

"Horse movements do not look like traditional hatha yoga poses. The word yoga means 'to yoke' or 'unite.' If yoga is a practice of consciousness, (and I believe it is), then in that sense, the horse is definitely practicing 'yoga' in the truest sense of the word."

Enter Hester and friend who gave the horse and owner some Hanna Somatic magic.

“During the session, the horse began to interact more with us, to move more freely and the light came back into his eyes,” she said.

“Afterward, he walked around with his buddies, head low to the ground, swaying his head from side to side, exploring and enjoying the newfound freedom of movement in his head and neck.  He was just enjoying being in his body again.

“His owner cried.  We all did.

“That is one of the things I see time and time again with this work – the ability to just enjoy being in one’s body again – both for horses and humans.”

Developed by the late Thomas Hanna and developed for horses by Hester’s mentor and teacher Eleanor Ciswell Hanna, Hanna Somatics is sensory motor relearning program. Folks – and horses – are taught to let go of patterns that are detrimental to our health and well being.

One is the fight-or-flight response, also known as the “call to action,” such as when a horse lifts his head as someone walks towards it. Hester said a life of this repetitive “call to action” can actually result in a swayback horse.

A number of exercises are also introduced through Hester’s workshops and retreats – some that really make an impression.

One of Hester’s favorite clients is gelding named Spider Man, who went through a retreat with her last year.

She happened to visit Spider Man’s ranch a week after the retreat to work with one of the owners other horses. While Hester and her friends were leaving, Spider Man was in a trailer, waiting to go to a roping event when he got Hester’s attention.

Submitted photo

Gloria’s work today was inspired by two past horses (not pictured): Tiny, a 17-hand-tall walking horse gelding, and her beloved childhood Scout, a pinto pony.

“He turned and looked right at me, and very carefully proceeded to practice his Equine Hanna Somatic movements,” Hester said. “He was looking at me the whole time, as if to say ‘See? I remember. I can do this. And look how good I am at it.’  And he was.

“Spider Man methodically showed us every move he remembered from the week before.

“He is amazing and very intelligent, as they all are.”

Spider Man’s owners, Alonzo and Irene, said they saw a vast difference in him after the retreat. “He is so much more relaxed and into his body after the work. He really seems to enjoy his roping sessions more now. It is like he is dancing.”

Hester added, “The horse has so much to teach us. They respond to every breath we take and the quality of it.”

Born in Alabama, Hester moved southwest two years ago. “I immediately fell in love with Tucson. I especially love the spirit of the horses and the people.”

Her mom is a horse trainer who even rode her Tennessee Walking horse up through her ninth month of pregnancy with Gloria. “It’s a testament to their gentleness – although I know they would not recommend that today.”

Gloria never got into the show ring scene, although she was immersed in it, and instead preferred trail riding in the woods and summers swimming with the horses in the nearby Tennessee River.

“My passions are traveling and educating horses and humans to bring more joy and to improve their quality of life while on the earth. Corny but true. It is my hope that this work will create more compassion for ourselves and others.”

Gloria with her horse Bella. She has a second horse, Leo/submitted photo

Gloria with her horse Bella. She has a second horse, Leo

What else does Gloria want readers to know?

Just that there is hope if you (or your horse) have pain in the body. I do not have all the answers, no one does.  But I would want your readers to know that often times pain is the result of involuntary, unconscious patterns of contraction in the body that can be corrected. Limitation of movement and pain do not have to be a constant in your life. Freedom of movement can be.

I have lots of friends that study different disciplines and all of them have something to offer.

Seek out a qualified yoga teacher, body worker or Hanna Somatic Educator.


Hester’s next Equine Hanna Somantics workshop series is Feb 19 to 21 at Rancho La Reforma in Rio Rico. Bring your own horse or ride one of theirs. Hester will also be conducting a pilot study at this series to show how horses benefit humans.

Her next restorative yoga workshops (for humans) are Feb. 18 and Feb. 22, 6 to 9 p.m., also at Rancho La Reforma in Rio Rico.

For more info on workshops, call Irene Ortiz at 377-0774 or Kathy Edds at 275-2689.

Learn more about Gloria at



Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist, performer and Ryngmaster whose dogs gladly do downward facing dog every time she breaks out the yoga mat. Her column appears every Friday on Rynski’s Blogski. Her art, writing and more is at and E-mail

logoWhat do you think?

Have you tried alternative healing on any of your pets?

Are you a fan of yoga and/or Hanna Somatics?

About Rynski

Writer, artist, performer who specializes in the weird, wacky and sometimes creepy. Learn more at
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18 Responses to Yoga for horses? Tucsonan combines techniques to heal hurting horses

  1. radmax says:

    Mornin’ Rynski! Beautiful…great to hear that there are real alternatives to pills and scalpels. This must be some very rewarding work.

    • Rynski says:

      mornin’ radmax –
      thanks! i think it’s beautiful, too. esp. enjoy the success stories. i could also tell by corresponding with gloria she absolutely LOVES what she does. that’s the best kind of work of all, when people are passionate about their jobs. then they don’t even feel like jobs but more like playtime.

    • radmax says:

      As an addendum, we did a job awhile back in the Gardner Canyon area. A dude ranch where the clientele paid a pretty penny to ride and stay in the luxurious accommodations. The best part is that the nightly festivities included recordings of horse sounds; whinneys, neighs and such, which the guests were ‘taught’ by ‘experts’ how to interpret into English! 😉 …sadly, the ranch is closed now…seems they couldn’t find enough sucke…errr, clients to stay afloat.

      • Rynski says:

        oh how coooool!
        sorry to hear the ranch closed. we could have had breakthroughs in research if they kept it up. haha.
        reminds me of the dog collars that are supposed to interpret what the dog’s barking means. hahhahaah.
        i would get a couple but i think i have my dogs down pat:
        sawyer is saying with his bark “i want a treat. rub my belly.”
        phoebe is saying with her bark “bark bark bark.”

  2. leftfield says:

    Good Morning, Comrades.  The Girls are fond of yoga.  Being good communist chickens though, they always get their work done and read their Lenin and Marx before considering self-indulgence.

    Mrs. Leftfield is a fan of yoga.  I went to couple of classes with her and tried it.  Too hard for me.  The room was also a little estrogen-rich for one lone guy; kinda like when my mother sent me to ballet class.  I’ll stick to weights and the treadmill.

    I am curious about the third photo of Gloria.  What is she doing?  I like the bamboo.

    • Rynski says:

      hiya lefty,
      yoga rocks.
      glad to hear the chickens are into yoga. it figures, since they need to be agile to hop on the new roof you installed.
      also impressed to hear you tried a yoga class yourself. “estrogen rich” it is. i’ve been on a couple of yoga retreats and 94 percent of the participants are women. but one of the instructors was male, part of a married couple that headed the retreats, and don’t forget yoga master rodney yee. yoga classes, as would ballet, would be a great place for guys to meet women, however…haha.
      don’t know what gloria is doing in the photo – i can ask her.

    • Rynski says:

      hi again lefty -just got response from gloria regarding third photo:

      This photo was taken during photos for a workshop.It is a mudra that acknowledges higher wisdom. 

      mundras are hand gestures that are used in healing.   

      • leftfield says:

        Thanks, Ryn.  I appreciate the effort.  It just looked like something more than a random gesture or pose.

  3. Andrew Ulanowski says:

    great topic Ryn. I had heard about this before. I think I could applaud anyone who has this much compassion for another being. I like your interpretation of Sawyer and Phoebe’s barks!
    Alternative or whatever you might call it . . . if it heals a body then it’s a healing method.
    I think yoga is awesome! I mostly weightlift but I incorporate a little yoga for core strengthening.

    • Rynski says:

      hey andrew – thanks!
      love your take on healing – and yes, i, too, give kudos and applause to those who are so full of compassion. gloria is gorgeous to the core.
      glad you, too, dig yoga. i also add it to weightlifting regime for core strength and flexibility. the weight training def. enhances some of the poses, too. i remember doing a plank pose with variations with a partner at retreat – and she said ‘hey, do my back muscles look like that when i do that, too???’ if you add weight training they will! haha.

      • Andrew Ulanowski says:

        see, i never thought of adding weight to my yoga exercises. my core exercises are pretty gnarly as it is, i don’t know if i want to go adding weight 🙂

      • Rynski says:

        no, no – i didn’t mean add weights to yoga practice – hahahhaha – just add weight training as part of excercise plan. some would think yoga alone gets the same type of muscle definition weight training can –
        i think adding weight to yoga would make ME fall over in those highly balanced poses! and i have enough challenge with yoga when two dogs hog the mats (have to put out three mats so everyone gets one – but they still like mine best…) hahah
        ps for a real treat, tie a 25 lb dumbbell to your feet in a handstand…

      • Andrew Ulanowski says:

        Oh, sorry, hahaha, i see what you mean. the weight training does add the definition, speaking of which, I haven’t done mine yet today . . . I have a rotation of weightlifting and gravity exercises with a little yoga woven in. Plank. (I don’t know what the yoga name is but: Back Extensions)
        i can do a handstand but adding 25 lbs would make it impossible for me, I think. at least for awhile.

  4. radmax says:

    Commie chickens! Hahaha! Red bandannas would be a striking, message sending touch. Got names for ’em? I bet most are Rhode Island  Reds. You are the best humored, bomb throwin’ Trotskyite I’ve ever had the pleasure to be acquainted with. 😉

    • radmax says:

      I can picture little Leon and V.I. keeping a close eye on Jojo, same for Che with little Fidel…I bet Mao and Karl are constantly squawking at one another.

  5. Ferraribubba says:

    My Old Man was a lover of fine horse flesh, both at the track and at the dinner table. Being raised in a 1st generation German household, horse was a cheap, nutritious meat that was served on a semi-regular basis.
    (He always told me that when he would go to the track and he’d lose his azz betting on them, they were just getting even with him.)
    In my younger days, I must admit that I’ve eaten Seabiscuit a few times, and to me, it tasted a whole lot like buffalo meat. Red, not much fat, and makes a great bowl of chili.
    In fact, if it were to be known, I won most of my Chili Cookoff Championchips using Buff meat. That goes for the Queen Mary Cookoff (the Transvestite bar in Garden Grove) , and the Fred’s Arena Cookoff right here in the Old Pueblo, plus the Annual TNI Chili Festival at Park & Irvington, held in conjunction with the Tucson Rodeo.

  6. Donna Stovall says:

    I am no longer a skeptic.

  7. Candace says:

    This is an awesome idea for these horses. So many have had to be put doen this could have very well helped them.

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