Meet Yogo Coach and IH Member – Meg Jackson

Meet Intelligent Horsemanship Member Laura Elliott

Autumn 2021 Magazine – pg.10

Meg Jackson lives in Swindon. She is a Yoga Teacher, works in PR and Communications for the Bristol charity, Horse World and is the founder of Real Life Yoga.

Community’ is an over-used word these days, but there is something so genuine about the generosity, kindness, and support that’s out there within this amazing group of like-minded people.

Did you have a horsey childhood?

When I was around 2 years old my Mum made the mistake of letting me have a ride on a pony at the church fete. Apparently I then insisted on spending the whole day going from pony to queue, to pony to queue…  So five years later when she found herself losing hours of her life sitting outside a riding school. Every Sunday afternoon, watching this real-life Thelwell drawing come to life, she really only had herself to blame.

I was incredibly fortunate in that we lived in a village where, at the local livery yard. There were a bunch of people who had never had the heart to sell their first pony. So over the following years I had a succession of ponies on loan; as I grew out of one I found that I’d grown ‘into’ another! It was the perfect scenario. My parents could never have afforded to take on the financial burden of buying my own.

Sadly when I hit my late teenage years I made the fatal mistake of thinking that boys were better than ponies… So my affections wavered for a few years. After leaving University I went back to having the occasional lesson. It wasn’t until joining the PR and Communications Team for the Brooke (a charity which works to improve the welfare of working equines overseas) in 2000 that the pony-mad genes really kicked in again. And they’ve never switched off.

Do you have your own horse?

Despite never really ending the lamentable cries of “but I NEED my own pony” to anyone who will listen, I still don’t have one. However, since moving to Swindon in January 2020 I’ve been so lucky to have weekly lessons at Overdale Equestrian Centre with brilliant Ride With Your Mind Accredited Coach Karin Major.

There I’ve also fallen in love with a 15.2hh Arab mare called Tillie. This new obsession is fairly radical for me. I was a confirmed cob-lover prior to her. Tthe hairier, chunkier, and more chilled-out the better, as far as I was concerned. Yet here I am totally besotted with one of the most sensitive, opinionated, demonstrative (and, it must be said, beautiful) horses I’ve ever met. It’s safe to say that every single moment with Tillie is a learning opportunity for me. From how I’m breathing, to where my gaze is, through to which bum-cheek I’ve unintentionally clenched. She really is remarkable.

As well as having my own little yoga business I also work in PR and Communications for HorseWorld. An equine rescue and rehabilitation charity in Bristol. So on the days when I’m in the office I can also get my horsey-fix by wandering out and stroking a nose or two of the hundred (or so) equines we have on site at any one time.

When did you first hear about Kelly Marks and IH?

You know how people say that they can remember where they were when pivotal, world-changing events happened, like when JFK was shot? I can remember exactly where I was when I first read ‘The Man Who Listens to Horses’.

I was working a summer job during school holidays as receptionist for a local radio station. It was BTI (Before The Internet) so after I had organised stationery, stacked notepads, and dusted plastic plants. I was left to read and read and read. I finished ‘The Horse Whisperer’ in around a week, and was absolutely fascinated by the fact that there was a REAL LIFE human out there who had these mystical powers, so it was inevitable that I went straight out to the bookshop and bought Monty’s story.

It was devoured in just a few days. If I thought that ‘The Horse Whisperer’ had been amazing, now I was totally overwhelmed.

During those years when I had ponies on loan I was surrounded by adults who “Knew What They Were Doing With Horses”. Whilst some were fantastic sources of inspiration and guidance, I also watched women (who were, I now realise, fighting their own inner demons) physically fighting their horses; kicking them in the ribs when they wouldn’t stand still for grooming, or twitching their lips when they were terrified by clipping. I had first-hand experience of using various yard equipment to force petrified horses into horseboxes, and ponies being beaten with whips to ‘show them who was boss’.  Hitting, shouting, swearing were all acceptable ways of treating their ‘beloved’ animals.

So, when Monty’s story came into my life it felt like the biggest light-bulb in the world had been lit up over my teenage head! But I never would have dreamt it was something I could actually do.

Just when my Mum thought her days of sitting freezing cold whilst I went and satisfied my insatiable appetite for all things equestrian were over, she found herself coming with me to any demo that was remotely accessible and patiently listening to me as I went on and on about Monty, and Kelly, and Pie, and Join-up…

Have you been on any IH courses?

When I was working for the Brooke, I was given the opportunity to participate in one of Kelly’s Foundation Courses. I think I almost exploded with joy. Suffice to say the experience was everything (and more) than I thought it would be. Actually, it changed my life.

I’ve done the foundation course twice, Horse Psychology, Feeding and Nutrition, Horse as an Athlete, and Leading and Loading.

What’s the most valuable thing for you about being an IH Member?

‘Community’ is an over-used word these days… But there is something so genuine about the generosity, kindness, and support that’s out there within this amazing group of like-minded people. I love that I can jump into the Facebook group and ask a question without fear of judgement or criticism…

I think I’ve come away from every single course I’ve done with at least one or two new friends. There’s an instant connection that comes about when you meet someone else who just ‘gets it’. Plus the quality of the coaching on the courses always blows me away; the nurturing environment they create in which everyone can find the confidence to try something new, or ask a question, or challenge a long-held belief, is amazing.

Tell us about Real Life Yoga

I began practicing yoga almost twenty years ago – purely to get arms like Madonna. Yeah. Not for spiritual enlightenment. Or inner peace. Or even because I wanted to be a better person.  I wanted Madge’s biceps and I had heard somewhere that she got them through a thing called ‘Ashtanga Yoga’.

So I went. And I hated it.

I thought I was going to die in my first Downward Dog.  And trying to stand on one leg was so frustrating I wanted to punch someone.

But I kept going.

And so yoga and I began this long, sometimes dysfunctional relationship. We have had our differences but despite our emotional rollercoaster, yoga and I decided to make it official. In 2007 I qualified as a yoga teacher. Since then I’ve taught internationally, working with all sorts of people. From those who have never attempted anything yogic, to folks who can become a human pretzel at the drop of a yoga mat.

But these days I’m angry about yoga for different reasons.

And it’s not because I hate back bending (even though I still do). I’ve been increasingly p*ssed off with the portrayal of ‘yoga’ as something you can only do if you’re female, skinny, dressed totally in Lycra, standing on a beach/in front of a sunset/next to a temple and love eating nothing but kale. The promotion of these images does nothing but fuel perceptions that only a certain type of person can do yoga.

I also became more and more aware that the qualities I had previously seen as holding me back from being a kick-arse teacher were actually things that made me a kick-arse teacher. I’m NOT naturally bendy, so every pose I can do I’ve had to really work for. I don’t think my feet have any intention of ever going anywhere near the back of my head. Neither do I have 2 hours every day to spend on a yoga mat. I really like drinking wine and singing power ballads, and I don’t want to change my name to Moonflower.

I’m very much a real person, trying to incorporate yoga’s amazing teachings and practices into her real life. Finding out how I can be happier and healthier, and I figured that there are probably a few more people like me out there too. So that’s why I created Real Life Yoga. A movement to help real people bring a little (or a lot) of yoga into their real lives.

Are there any parallels between what you teach in yoga and horsemanship?

Oh so many! In my head there’s a huge Venn Diagram of yoga and Intelligent Horsemanship. The skills we learn in one are absolutely integral to the other. Whilst having long hamstrings may not help your join-up… Knowing how deep you are breathing (or if you’re not), where your right arm is in relation to the rest of your body, if you’re clenching your jaw, are all things that you can start to learn on a yoga mat.

When you watch Kelly (or any of the amazing I.H trainers at work) you’ll see that they are in the midst of a mindfulness practice. They’re not distracted by thoughts of whether or not the cat needs worming… Or if Dave was being passive-aggressive with yesterday’s email… they are in this moment. And that’s the first fundamental step in so many yoga practices; can you be here, in this moment?

What is your proudest achievement?

Oh goodness. This is when I get all British and frightfully bashful. Around ten years ago I left the UK to be the Resident Yoga Teacher at a luxury health and fitness resort in the Caribbean. I didn’t know anyone there. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for, and just took myself off and did it. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life; from highest highs to feeling incredibly low…. But taking that step into the unknown is something I’ve never regretted doing. It also gave me the courage to create Real Life Yoga. Through which I’ve had the privilege of teaching and meeting some brilliant people.

What is the next goal or dream you are working towards?

I am fascinated by that I.H/Yoga Venn Diagram so would love to delve more into it. I think there is a realisation amongst us horsey-folk that we can do so much to improve our relationship with our horse, both on a practical level (e.g. more body awareness helps with more effective riding position) and emotional level (e.g. going straight to the yard to clip your nervous horse after having a heated debated with Customer Services in Sainsbury’s may not end well).

What are your other interests or hobbies, besides horses and yoga?

I’d say that I enjoy running and HIIT but that’s a lie. I enjoy it when I’ve stopped and know that I don’t have to go out and do it again for at least 24 hours. I also enjoy wine and chocolate; ideally consuming both whilst propped up in front of Ru Paul’s Drag Race or Gardener’s World. (What can I say? I have eclectic tastes!) Before The Pandemonium hit, I also loved going to see live music in really small venues. Particularly an artist called Frank Turner whose fans know all the words, and any gig involves A LOT of jumping up and down in very close proximity to people who will become your temporary best friends.

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