Cultivating Connection at Big Sky Yoga Retreats

By Julie Zickovich

I was a little nervous for a weekend of new people and new experiences as I headed to LUXE Cowgirl Yoga at the Double T River Ranch,  a retreat put on by Big Sky Yoga Retreats and Cowgirl Yoga that focuses on women, yoga, and the horse-human connection. I took the backroads from Bozeman up Bridger Canyon noticing that the Bridger mountains had no snow. The first time this year that I had seen them without. Looking up at Saddle Peak and Bridger Bowl I was also reminded of why I was going on this retreat. A loss of a loved one earlier this year, that I need to provide space for now and then. I was pleasantly surprised that the road to Clyde Park is now paved and enjoyed the winding road and stunning Crazy Mountains as I descended into the Shields River Valley.

The Double T River Ranch is nestled right on the Shields River. A vacation rental available for vacations, reunions, and retreats. It features a cozy renovated barn with gourmet kitchen, luxury cabins, ranch house, and a pond with a beckoning dock. I was led to my accommodations, a three-bedroom rustic cabin supplied with luxurious bathrobes and fluffy white towels, built right on the river. Sitting on the covered porch in a rocking chair I soaked in the sound of the river and did some journaling to try and settle into retreat mode. The trail leading to the south of the cabin beckoned me so I took a little walk. In the warm afternoon sun, I came across dragonflies, songbirds, and even some bear scat. Fall was just beginning to show yellow in the cottonwoods. My nerves started to fade, this was going to be a good weekend.

The retreat began with boss mare and owner Margaret Burns Vap giving a general introduction to the weekend followed with a vinyasa flow yoga session. After yoga was a happy hour and dinner. All the food prepared by Margaret’s cook, Kate Huston, was sourced locally and absolutely divine. Each meal was shared at a large square table on the barn’s main floor. A perfect setting for sparking conversation amongst a group of strangers.

Each morning we began with coffee service in our cabins. We then made our way to the barn for more coffee, meditation, and yoga. Margaret put it wonderfully, “I love to drink coffee and meditate.” Mind blown. I had no idea the two could go together. The mornings on the first two mornings of this retreat were cold and rainy. Grounding myself in meditation followed by a yoga practice doing lots of chaturanga warmed the heart and body set the stage for the rest of the day.

After breakfast and making the best of the rainy weather we broke into groups to work with the horses. My group met Margaret in the corral and she led a group of us through groundwork, grooming, and horse massage. In the chilly air, I was in awe of Margaret's work with her horse, Apollo. Showing us how to connect with the horse through few words and hand signals, “intuition,” is the word she used. Intuition that the horses have maintained and we, in our busy lives, lose. We were given a chance to connect with the horses, just as Margaret had done, and before long we each had our own very best friend following us around the pen.

Next came wranglers Molly and Henry Glen. This lovely couple are the perfect yin and yang of Montana tough cowboy and warm teacher. They provided us with horses to ride and taught us all the basics. Before long we were all up on a horse walking around in the purple fall grass. After our horse 101 sessions Henry, Molly, and Margaret took us out on a trail ride to explore the over 100 acres of the ranch. Amongst piles of even more bear scat and next to the now muddy Shields River, Henry shared the history of the valley with stories of Lewis and Clark, John Bozeman, and Sacajawea.

The connection with the horses increased as the weekend passed, as did the connection with ourselves in our morning meditation and yoga practice, and the connection with each other through shared meals, glasses of wine, and evening campfires.

The retreat ended Sunday morning. As we made our way to the barn for morning meditation the sun was out, shining brightly through the aspen grove revealing the Crazy Mountains now deeply covered in snow. As the horses basked in the warm morning sun getting ready to go back to their homes, we ate a delicious brunch. Throughout the weekend, Margaret and her crew had cultivated a safe space and supplied the tools needed to process and tell our stories. Treating ourselves to the extra pastry and refreshing our coffee cups every woman at that square table shared their story. There is something about storytelling that created a connection or maybe it’s the other way around, connection leads to storytelling. Either way listening and telling is powerful to the heart. I left that table with my heart full of gratitude for my experience and for the women I had shared the retreat with. I walked back to my cabin one last time through the Double T River Ranch noticing a little more yellow in the trees and chatting lightheartedly with my cabin mates. I drove home, the way I came, back to the Bridger mountains, back to life, watching the snow-covered Crazy mountains in my rearview mirror already dreaming of another retreat. Argentina maybe…

For information on upcoming yoga retreats, go to Big Sky Yoga Retreats.