Dances With Horses

How musicality and dance make a better equestrian

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  • Written by
    Diane E.

The power of living in the present moment as a pathway to inner peace and wellness is touted by spiritual gurus and teachers globally—a practice that is challenging for most people in the hectic pace of the modern world. Fortunately, there are soul-nurturing outlets such as the arts, meditation, sports, nature and the human/animal bond that unconsciously beckon one to pause and settle into a centered state of presence. When you enhance that state of being with a mind/body connection that activates your physical core (the solar plexus and root chakras in particular), you experience an ethereal connection to life.

As an equestrian, I have a great appreciation for awe-inspiring and rich moments that are borne of being physically and spiritually grounded “in the now” with horses. I have also long marveled at dancers and the apparent similarities they share with my fellow equestrians and me—such as a celebration of beauty, athleticism, balance, rhythm and being one with the music as a rider is one with a horse.

Palos Verdes resident Karen Sarmast is a testament to the parallels of dancing and horseback riding; she has been passionate about both since childhood. Karen’s parents had an affinity for ballroom dancing when she was growing up, so it is not surprising that her first dance recital was at age 3. This led to numerous years of jazz dancing and cheerleading.

“My mother is from a strong Korean/Chinese culture of dance and music, and she always enjoyed watching me dance,” she says. Karen’s German father encouraged her participation in gymnastics and, on their Illinois ranch, instilled in her the love of horses.  

Western trail riding eventually shifted to competing in English equitation horse shows until she landed at UCLA with a fine arts scholarship. In Los Angeles Karen continued to dance, but her new path in life required her to put her love for horses on hold. A college education, marriage and children were her focus for many years, until she recently got back in the saddle with the addition of a new family member: a Grand Prix jumping horse named Crossing Blue, imported from Germany and a special tribute to her late father.

“I love to express the passion of movement. Dancing is a form of relaxation and an expression of freedom, and for me riding horses is the same. It is so wonderful to be riding again,” says Karen.

Family history is repeating itself. Karen has inspired an appreciation for dance and horses in her 11-year-old daughter, Sharlena, who also has been dancing since she was 3 years old (tap and ballet).

“When she was a baby, she could not sit still when music was playing,” Karen explains. “Her feet and hands were constantly moving. She is a natural dancer.”  
With the arrival of Crossing Blue, Sharlena also started taking horseback riding lessons and is preparing for a busy summer of dance and horse competitions. At her young age, she too appreciates the correlation of the horse and dance worlds.

“To dance without mistakes and to ride a horse without falling off, I have to balance—and my hands, feet and body must have a certain form,” Sharlena says. “When I ride and I am on the dance floor, I get excited and it makes my heart happy.”

Whether it is the wind in the trees and the sound of hoofbeats for an equestrian or a classical musical masterpiece for a dancer, these respective passions manifest a sense of bliss that is rooted in grace and mindfulness.