If looking to learn how to ride, stretch or breathe better, there’s a one-stop barn in Eustis that can have you gaiting in that direction successfully in no time.
Photos: Nicole Hamel
Horses are Cara Blanchard Kilbourne’s passion.
She’s been riding since she was a child and today, she not only competes nationally in dressage, but teaches others the art form by way of a professional training program she developed more than 16 years ago.
“I was in middle school when I decided that horse trainer was what I was going to do with my life and I just kind of dove in head first,” Cara says, explaining that between teaching, competing and showing her horses, she cannot think of anything else she’d rather do.
In 2020, and like all of the world after being suddenly hit by the Coronavirus pandemic, Cara could not teach or show. Looking back now, however, she considers it somewhat of a blessing in disguise because during that time off, several new passions of hers were born.
The first is Ian, a baby boy she and her husband Matt Kilbourne welcomed into the world, and the second is yoga, a technique Cara tried in order to get back in the shape physically after giving birth to Ian.
The third presented itself unexpectedly when things began opening back up and Cara began talking about getting back into showing her horses, that is, until Matt pointed something out that opened her eyes to a whole new world.
“When I started talking about getting back into showing, my husband was like, ‘Are you sure you want to do that? Do you really have fun doing it, because when you are showing, your nerves are through the roof?’” Cara says Matt asked her.
And that is when something just clicked.
“After that, I began thinking about my own experiences. I also began watching my students more closely, and realized just how many equestrians have horse show anxiety. It’s a problem to the point that some riders can’t even perform, and some people forget what they’re doing. It’s bad and it’s crazy when it really should be fun,” Cara says.
With that, she explains why.
“It’s just that everybody works so hard at it. You train, you practice, but yet, we have zero control over what our horses do, like for instance, you wonder if they’re going to get spooked, how they’re going to act, what the weather’s gonna be like, because things like that affect horses’ moods,” she adds.
After that, Matt asked Cara to try something he’d come across on YouTube, and that had been helping him deal with his own stresses – deep breathing; and more specifically, the Wim Hof breathing method.
“Wim Hof is well known for being able to withstand freezing temperatures, but most of all, for his breathwork meditations. He’s been on Joe Rogan, and on other huge podcasts, and even Joe Rogan has said he does the Wim Hof breathing before he goes on stage in front of 30k people, so I began doing it,” Matt says. “I told Cara about it because I thought it might help her like it was helping me, since she was always so stressed before shows, but she was very resistant at first.”
“She basically told me, ‘I don’t need anyone telling me how to breathe,” he adds.
Pretty soon, however, Cara realized that breathing was a big part of the yoga she was already doing, so she gave it a try.
Her only regret is not having discovered it sooner.
“I started doing it and noticed a huge change in my nerves and I convinced my students to do it at horse shows this year and it’s helped them, too,” Cara says. “The most basic exercise only takes five minutes, but it’s really changed our lives, so I thought, you know what? I have to get certified.”
Today, Cara is not only certified as a breathing coach, as a yoga instructor, in Yin Yoga, mediation, mindfulness, Chakra Energy Healing and the Law of Attraction, but she leads classes that combine yoga’s stretching and flexibility exercises, with breathwork, mindfulness, the law of attraction and yes, her horses.
Cara’s yoga studio, Stable Yoga at Cara Blanchard Training, is outside in her barn, alongside her long-time riding companions.
And Cara says her yoga classes may be a little different than the traditional classes people may expect or be used to.
“We’re just hanging in the barn doing yoga and the horses are doing their thing so people may hear some snorting, and other horse noises and sounds, but it’s nice,” Cara explains. “Another thing is I don’t do music with my yoga classes, because we are listening to nature out here in the stables. We’ll hear the trees scraping on the roof, the wind, birds, the horses, whatever goes on outside in nature.”
As for the benefits, Cara says they are everything one may expect from a yoga class and more.
“I feel much stronger from doing yoga, and without straining anything. Also, I personally love the health benefits of breathwork and how much it’s elevated my confidence level.” Cara says, explaining further how it works.
“What we control with our breath is our nervous system, which is turn, controls our digestive system, which is why when we get anxious, we get an upset stomach,” Cara says. “Our CO2 (carbon dioxide) is cut off when we are anxious because we breathe quicker, so while we’re getting more oxygen, we’re not getting as much carbon dioxide to our bloodstream and we need our vascular system dilated, which is where CO2 comes in. It helps with our digestive system, so that’s why they say your stomach is in knots because everything is all connected.”
According to information on wimhofmethod.com, the breathing technique is first and foremost premised on inhaling deeply and exhaling without any use of force. Additionally, the benefits of the Wim Hof’s breathing exercises include stress reduction, faster recovery from physical exertion, better sleep, improved sports performance, enhanced creativity, more focus on mental clarity, and the reduced symptoms of diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, asthma, sarcoidosis, vasculitis, and several autoimmune diseases.
“I think it’s fascinating,” Cara adds.
She also uses the breathwork and law of attraction training for her dressage students.
“For instance, people constantly think about all the bad things that could happen with horses, like if they are going to get spooked, about them bucking, things like that, but what if instead, we focus on, ‘What do we want it to look like and feel like?’” Cara says. “If we focus on the perfect circle, on the perfect halt, or envision riding safely and peacefully, things like that, we can make it come true as best as possible. It helps calm any fears.”
Two of Cara’s yoga students: Dawn Fauvet from Umatilla, and her daughter Brianna Furtes from Eustis, are loving the entire experience.
“I have a long history of some unfortunate traumatic events and suffer from stress and anxiety, but Cara’s class and the breathwork she’s teaching us, has done a lot for me, as far as dealing with that on a regular basis,” Brianna says. “I’ve also had some physical injuries, but the yoga helps stretch my muscles using easy movements, and the best part of it all, is that it’s outside with the horses all around us in the stables. I’ve been around horses all my life and just love it.”
Dawn has anxiety and has ridden in the past. She has been thinking about getting back into it, but hasn’t completely gotten over her fears following a horseback riding accident she was involved in about 20 years ago.
Dawn says she hopes that being around the horses and practicing the breathwork Cara teaches, will allow her to regain her confidence and ride again one day.
For now however, her goal is better sleep.
Cara’s yoga favs and more:
- Favorite pose: Warrior 1
- Hardest pose: Crow pose
- Best stretch: Child’s pose
- Best leg stretch: Happy Baby
- Best poses for breathwork: Easy pose and Savasana
“I had never heard of breathwork, but it is amazing. In fact, after the first time trying it, I didn’t feel anxious about anything; it was probably the most relaxed I’ve been in so long,” Dawn says, adding that she has issues sleeping, so she’s eager to see if the breathwork will help her relax and fall back to sleep when she wakes up in the middle of the night.
“I feel taking these classes has been a really, really interesting experience. From the minute I stepped foot on the property, it felt so tranquil there, and Cara’s personality is calming.”
But Cara’s students are not the only ones benefitting.
“I own eight horses, four are part of my dressage riding school, the others are my personal and retired horses. My barn is slowly on its way to becoming a retirement home for my 4-legged kids,” Cara says on Facebook, adding that, “Instead, it’s now a yoga studio.”
Cara offers dressage training classes during the week and on Sundays and selected Tuesday nights, she offers the Stable Yoga classes. Soon, she will also be offering pre-recorded online courses.
Through that, she hopes to continue making a difference by helping riders and people just looking for more balance in their lives.
Cara says if you would have asked her five years ago, what she’d be doing, yoga probably wouldn’t have been a mention, nor would breathwork. Now, like her horses and riding, she can’t imagine life without them.
“I can say I’ve never been happier. I’ve enjoyed seeing how this transforms people almost immediately, and recently, many of the training lesson spots I’ve filled have all been riders who have anxiety, so it’s really been rewarding to be able to help them,” Cara says.
For more information about classes, dates, and times, visit CaraBlanchard.com or search Stable Yoga at Cara Blanchard Training on Facebook or Instagram.