Nia for Equestrians: A Synchronous Partnership

Randee Fox, pictured right, is a Nia trainer and equestrian educator located in Sammamish, Washington. She is currently creating Nia for Equestrians®. (Photo credit: Chris Sollart)

Dance has been an important element in my life for over 30 years. I dance for self-expression, artistry, release, wellness, joy, and to inspire others. I also dance to be a better equestrian. I practiced African dance before owning my first horse in 1991, after which I soon began to show horses.

On the morning before horse shows I’d dance in my living room to Miriam Makeba music with a strong focus on my center or “hara” and breath – releasing pre-show jitters and tightness. This always left me feeling relaxed, fluid and confident. Then after a good sweat, I’d clean up, put on my show clothes, load my horse in her trailer and head off to the show. My horse would sense the relaxation and presence in my body, and would hook right into my positive energy. Together we’d show at the top of our game and return home with a bundle of ribbons.

This became my ritual. My horses always knew when I had not taken the time to dance. Horses never lie; they sense everything and are wired to be mirrors of our energy, both negative and positive.

In 1997 I became a horsemanship instructor while still studying Afro-Haitian dance. My riding improved even more as I learned to bring energy through my spinal column. At one dance class I noticed an elegant dancer who seemed to be possessed by pleasure. When I introduced myself to her, she handed me two free passes to her Nia classes. Her name was Liz Ganz.

After one Nia class, I was immediately hooked. Nia added awareness, martial arts, healing arts and movement variety to my pre-riding dance ritual. In 2004, I became a Nia instructor and by 2006 had begun to introduce Nia White Belt principles into my riding lessons, encouraging students to come to Nia if they wanted to improve as riders.

Nia for Equestrians® was officially born when one of my Nia students, Sylvia Junt wanted to learn to ride. She signed up for Nia and riding lessons for six weeks. We’d start with Nia class and then use the same focus and intent for riding. This is when I learned that the two practices were synchronous. Students benefitted from more awareness and fluidity, which inspired better movement and a deeper connection with the horse.

I presented Nia For Equestrians® professionally for the first time in 2007 with Horse Trainers Barb Apple and Karen Irland at a three-day Centered Riding and Natural Horsemanship Clinic, presenting Nia every morning before riding. The instructors loved it too.

As Barb Apple, Level 1 Centered Riding Instructor and Natural Horsemanship Clinician, says, " Nia is a great way to get in touch with your personal rhythm. With that awareness you have an even better chance of connecting with your horses rhythm." Karen Irland, Centered Riding Clinician, shared, "From an instructor's perspective, I saw different riders after their Nia class! All of the riders were suppler, moving with their horses better, and really grounded in the saddle. Their bodies were much more free, making it easier for their horses to move well.”

I presented at the The 2011 Northwest Pony Club Conference and at The 2011 American Quarter Horse Region One Championships in Canada. Canadian Nia teachers Victoria Roszko, Dianne Vowles, Sharolyn Wandzura and Jasjit Rai joined me, as did Nia dancer Carla Webb. 

[Boot Scootin’ Nia team in Langley BC at the American Quarter Horse Region One Championships, July 2011. From left, Victoria Roszko, Nia Teacher, Surrey, BC; Dianne Vowles, Nia Teacher, West Vancouver, BC; Randee Fox, Nia Trainer, Sammamish, WA, Carla Webb, Nia dancer, Abbotsford, BC; Sharolyn Wandzura, Nia teacher, Maple Ridge, BC; and Jasjit Rai, Vancouver, BC. Photo by Larri Jo Starkey, courtesy of The Amercian Quarter Horse Association.]

Nia for Equestrians® is a two-fold program. I teach it as a classic Nia class, but with language and moves based in horsemanship and Nia principles. Like classic Nia, every experience allows for adaptability to the rider’s individual needs and abilities. 

With a horse in the riding arena, the student (experienced rider or not) learns to connect to their body first – through sensation – then to the horse. Horses sense when we are present in our bodies and then relax and hand the leadership role to us. From this positive self-relationship, we start with ground "play" – a series of playful and energetic exercises with the horse and music. Riding, if desired, comes later. Through rhythmic timing and by positively directing our energy, Nia gives us tools for subtle energetic physical and mental cuing that a horse can synch up with and learn to read when we're on the ground and in the saddle. This is when we truly begin to create a lovely and magical partnership with a horse. 

[Randee Fox leads a Boot Scootin’ Nia experience in Langley, BC at the American Quarter Hore Rgion One Campionships, July 2011. Pictured also are Canadian Nia Teachers Sharolyn Wandzura and Jasjit Rai. Photo by Larri Jo Starkey, courtesy of The Amercan Quarter Horse Association.]

Quotes from students and riding instructors:

“Thank you so much for sharing Nia with us at the Barb Apple clinic. It is truly an amazing 'exercise' and warmed up my body and gave me more range of motion which was very, very helpful in my riding. It was fun and didn't feel like I picture exercise, but it had the same results. I am sure that my horse appreciated me doing Nia before I rode, as I was flexible when I got on him! Thank you so much for introducing me to Nia.” -Marty Sullivan, Equestrian, Woodinville, WA

“I recently participated in Randee's Nia class at our horse clinic. She geared her movements as well as her comments to horses and riding, and I found it really added to the experience. Normally I do not care for these types of classes, but with the addition of the focus on equestrian information and fun, I really enjoyed the time. I believe adding the 'personal touch' to the classes really can make a difference in enhancing the experience as well as in adding to the learning.” -Bobbie Matt, Equestrian and Karate Instructor, Bonney Lake, WA

"Doing Nia before riding is truly beneficial to me as a rider and to my horse. It loosens and opens my body and mind so that I can truly communicate with my horse better. Nia clears a path throughout my being so I am more in tune to my body and what it's telling my horse." -Sheila Trapold, Equestrian, Portland, OR

“I feel that the Nia classes that Randee Fox taught helped me stretch my muscles, prepare my mind, center my balance, and waken up my energy so I would be better prepared for riding. I know that I rode better as my mind was cleared and warmed up. I could feel and sense the movements of my horse better.” -Ann Hoy, Equestrian, Camas, WA

Thank you so much for the Nia classes you taught! They were a great warm up for riding and getting in touch with rhythm and body movement! I loved the emphasis on going with the movement, extending yourself and not experiencing pain. The movements felt easy but it was amazing how quickly the body warmed up. I enjoyed how much the movement transferred to riding. I loved the combination of toned but limber muscles. Nia felt amazing!" -Marilyn Reichenberger, Registered Nurse

“After the clinic, I purchased three of the Nia CDs, put them on my iPod and now use them when I am giving riding lessons. I have begun to show students how to work at liberty... with their horse and to 'dance' with their horses on the ground to the Velvet CD. It is so much fun. For me, it gave my whole body a great warm up and the most striking thing is when you offered us a chance to keep our movements 'close to our body' and not have to create so much motion that made me think of using less to ask our horses to do more. I loved it!" -Cathy Mahon, Centered Riding Instructor, Vancouver, WA

[Randee Fox, Canadian Nia teachers and Nia dancers surround horse trainer Mark Bolender and Sir Rugged Chex, aka “Checkers” as they negotiate a difficult trail pattern. Photo by Larri Jo Starkey, courtesy of The Amercan Quarter Horse Association.]

About Randee Fox:

Randee Fox, a Nia trainer and equestrian educator, is currently creating Nia for Equestrians® for Nia teachers – a specialty application that Nia teachers will be able to add to their teaching repertoire to teach Nia to equestrians. The course will include blending the principles of riding with Nia’s White Belt Principles and hands-on work with horses so that the teacher understands movement with a horse. To learn more about Randee and Nia for Equestrians®, go to