The Writer

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Nia and Horses ®: A Synchronous Partnership

By Randee Fox  

Randee Fox, pictured left, is a Nia educator and equestrian educator located in Sammamish,  Washington. She isa created Nia and Horses and 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. 

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. 

Boot Scootin' Nia!

Randee Fox leads a Boot Scootin’ Nia experience in Langley, BC at the American Quarter Horse Region One Campionships, 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.]

Quotes from students and riding instructors:
“Practicing Nia helps me take my body and my mind
from controlled and tense to huge and open.
From that expanded state, I can then moderate
 into the subtleties required for the most effective
communication with my horse” -- Lynn Elston, Level II Centered Riding Coach
“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

Some favorite published horse-related stories written by Randee Fox:
Awareness of Thinking: Sensing Perception
By: Debbie Rosas, Julianne Corey, Randee Fox  |  September 30, 2011 from Nia's International Website  

Nia Education
For this month's continuing education focus, Awareness of Thinking, we're excited to feature the following masterful voices from the worldwide Nia community. Read on to hear what they have to say about developing body literacy and self-knowing, by exploring perception in The Body's Way.

Debbie Rosas, Nia Co-Creator, says:

In our society, “thinking” seems to get a lot of attention. The whole idea of what it means to process information and perceive what is going on is limited to the brain, while the rest of the body remains left out. I believe the world needs us to think in different and better ways, to engage the body and consider its natural intelligence. Now more than ever, I see students and teachers using Nia to unite the sensory body with the thinking brain. Every Nia class supports this union through the Seven Cycles.
Cycle One is all about setting the focus, which helps students consciously connect with one concept or body part to place their attention on as they dance. The focus initiates the Nia in-body experience and creates a map for students to personally follow to get to know their body – in their own way, in their own time. Next, in Cycle Two, everybody steps in by walking toward the front of the room together or making some other kind of symbolic motion. This helps calm and quiet the mind. Distractions are left behind to ensure students are fully present in the "now." Stepping in also helps people tap in emotionally to their experience.
Cycle Three is dedicated to warming up, and guides students to look inward and to sense the 13 main joints of the body, which are designed to move energy. Attention is placed on sensing comfort, pleasure and ease while playing with the three planes of movement: high, middle and low. Releasing the spine, hip joints and knees, students guide their bodies to move close to the ground and back up to standing. Cycle Four is where students "get moving." They expand their ranges of motion, moving in place and around the room. Structured choreography and freedance (unstructured movement) are their tools. This enables students to break free from movement habits, to experiment with creativity and "non-thinking" in a tradition sense.
Cycle Five is the cool-down. This cycle is where movements become slower and less intense, in preparation for moving down to the floor. Cycle Six consists of FloorPlay. Students creatively use the floor and gravity to improve strength, flexibility, mobility, agility and stability. Cycle Seven is devoted to formally stepping out. This concludes the entire Nia experience. Students focus on the healing benefits they received, the renewed sense of health and well-being.
As Nia Teacher Michele Kaye explains, "I was so addicted to being in my head, to thinking, that it wasn't until I had taken several [Nia] classes that I actually connected with sensation and joy." Nia student Teresa McDonald shares, "I’m... learning to appreciate my body as it is, rather than having so much self-loathing and trying to beat it into submission."
Nia Teacher Tracy Stamper says, "Nia is an intricately woven, impressively scientific, awesomely artistic, brilliantly comprehensive (though simple and accessible) path to physical fitness – though physical fitness is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what Nia has to offer. The potential to transform the landscape of body, emotions, mind, and spirit through Nia is vast and ever expansive."
Nia continues to teach me the importance of following The Body’s Way through the seven cycles. I believe this practice will help us learn from what we think, do and say by feeling and sensing. I know through the stories of others that it is eliminating pain and disharmony, creating love and pleasure, and fostering and a more compassionate world.

Julianne Corey, Nia Black Belt Teacher / Next Generation Trainer / MFA, says:

Awareness of Thinking might seem like a funny title for a Nia educational topic, since it is entirely possible to spend whole days completely unaware of thoughts and how they affect us both physically and emotionally.
I live in Boston, a hub of academia. Here, thoughts are currency, and it is the brain that is held in the highest regard. I teach Nia at highly regarded “thinking institutions” such as MIT and Harvard, and I am often amazed at how many people I encounter who express a need to “get out of their head” for a little while. The thing about the brain is that it wants to be kept busy. Have you ever tried to turn off, or to “stop thinking?” Not so easy, is it?

I often remind the “brainy folks” who surround me that perceiving a solution to a problem or exercise requires the recruitment of multiple organs. Real perception arrives when we are receptive to information that is delivered through more than just our thinking brain.
As a writer of fiction, I have learned that I can’t always “think” my way through a story. Any innovator – from scientist to artist to accountant – will tell you, the best ideas often come when we get out of our “thinking” mode and allow ourselves entry into a “being” mode of simply experiencing life.
I like to call the shower “my office” simply because of how many times I’ve been in there, enjoying the sensations of the warm water and a good scrub on my skin, when the plot of one of my stories has moved itself forward. The minty scent of the shampoo seems to suggest resolutions I’d never considered while hunched over my desk.

How is it that this phenomena works? Since I fancy myself as a writer, let’s look at this strictly from the language point of view. According to Merriam Webster online, thinking is, “the action of using one’s mind to produce thoughts.” Sort of limited, don’t you agree? Moving on then. “Awareness” is defined as, “having or showing realization, perception, or knowledge.” The term “aware” is described as, “imply(ing) vigilance in observing or alertness in drawing inferences from what one experiences.”
Perception is explained as, “awareness of the elements of environment through physical sensation” or “physical sensation interpreted in the light of experience.” These latter definitions offer clues about the nature of how our brains process sensory information not simply as pure data. Through awareness we draw inferences, and with perception we interpret the data our environment (both external and internal) provides us with, via physical sensation, in light of experience.

Perhaps more eloquently asserted on Wikipedia, perception is defined as, “the process of attaining awareness or understanding of the environment by organizing and interpreting sensory information. That is all fine and good. We can choose to be receptive to being perceptive, versus relegating ourselves to a big, busy head that just happens to have a body attached to it. But then, how do we put perception into action and furthermore, what do we do with that brain that demands stimulation?

Well, I show up at a Nia class and I give my brain something to chew on: precision, movement and patterns. Finding the rhythm in the music allows my brain to keep track, to do its job, to be happy! Meanwhile, my body gets to sense the sounds of the instruments, the solidity of the floor against my feet, the way the fabric of my clothing brushes my skin. All of this is equally valuable information that helps me understand my environment, interpret what is going on around me, and make choices through awareness of the ultimate raw data: the now moment.
Julianne’s tips on perception:
  • When you notice a shift in mood, such as the arrival of anxiousness or restlessness, bring your awareness to your thoughts. What is your brain busy with? Could your thoughts be redirected? Could you consider more or different data to “reframe” your experience?
  • If you’re struggling over something you just can’t “figure out,” take a walk and let sensation be your guide. Activate your instinct by stimulating your senses. Follow the colors, images, sounds and smells of your external environment that please or intrigue you.
  • Just like kids and dogs, brains love to be active! Stimulate your neurons by challenging yourself to learn new patterns of movement in a Nia class.

Randee Fox, Black Belt Nia Teacher / Next Generation Trainer, says:

When it comes to the topic of the mind and how we interpret information, I immediately think of Anais Nin who said, “It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.” Or my mind recalls the words of Marcel Proust when he stated, “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
It was Tom Robbins who wrote, “One has not only an ability to perceive the world but also an ability to alter one's perception of it; more simply, one can change things by the manner in which one looks at them.”
I was inspired to contemplate these words as I was leaving a horse ranch the other day. Two large, iridescent, blue-black ravens sat perched, looking down on me from the overhead ranch sign. The sight of them took my breath away. I stopped and took in their dark presence against the deep blue sky. The three of us held gazes for a few moments in mutual curiosity. I looked down to get my camera, but they flew off. I imagined them to be saying, "You are on the right track, now goodbye!"
Intrigued, I set out to learn more. According to Norse legend, the raven is symbolic of the mind, thought and wisdom. Odin, The Raven God, was accompanied by two ravens: Hugin, who represented the power of thought and active search for information, and Mugin, who represented the mind and its ability to intuit meaning rather than hunt for it.
Ravens have historically represented healing and transformation, messengers and holders of secrets, cultural heroes, tricksters, creators of earth and even creators of humans. Scientists say that they are highly intelligent and have the largest brains of any bird species. Ravens are problem-solvers, playful, curious about shiny objects, and mimic sounds from their environment including human speech.
I believe the sighting was a positive symbol for me, especially since I was contemplating perception. From observing them to trying to ‘capture them’ in photos to me seeking more information, they became a personally meaningful.
As a Nia teacher I have been trained to both think analytically and alter my perception. I think analytically while preparing to teach a routine, by comprehensively studying music and choreography. I listen and dance to the music, and analyze moves before I present to a class. This can take weeks or even months.
I also alter my perception, through a Nia concept called “Life as Art.” I have learned to utilize and transform split-second thoughts and sensations into pure inspiration. This allows me to relax and teach with a quiet mind, and opens the door for me to spontaneously, consciously and freely “think in pictures.” I am then able to produce an atmosphere for creativity, curiosity, fascination, play, physical conditioning and personal transformation.
Randee’s tips on perception:
  • While waiting in the supermarket line or in heavy traffic, find something (or someone) interesting to look at.
  • Listen to sounds as if you have never heard them to experience the moment in a different light.
  • While doing boring or “mindless” work like washing dishes or mowing the lawn, view the task as “making art.”
  • Slow down and take in the colors and textures in your environment.
  • During a Nia class, dance in a different part of the room for a new view and perspective.

Some favorite Blog writings: 

Short Shadows

By Randee Fox 

I'm lead by my short shadow

From a waxing Gibbous moon lantern
Along the lighted path
To the upper pasture tonight.

I stop with upward gaze
Basking in the overhead beam.
Then realize that short shadows during the day
Must wait many weeks
With the sun sitting 2 hands low at high noon
In the southern winter northwest sky.

1000 pound silhouettes pace the fence line
Anticipating the open gate
And dash through as if in a race
Then leap the stream
On their way to the lower pasture
And their yellow lighted barn.

I let each one in
One at a time
To their warm and dry freshly bedded stall
With a pile of sweet orchard grass in the corner
And a scoop of rolled grain.

Munch-munch munching the hay
The rhythmic sound lulls me
Into the filly's stall.
As I stroke her elegant neck
My fingers are lost in her wooly coat
And she stops eating to inspect my boot.

I bid each one goodnight by name
As if they are my children
And slide the heavy barn doors closed
With braced legs and both arms.

As I head to the yellow lighted house
My short shadow now follows me
Like a friend.

My dog barks and a distant dog answers
Sharing a secret language.

I taste the scent of a rugged winter
Burning pine wood in cold night air.

Between the sky and earth
When time stands still
This gentle nightime ritual
This act of love
Of bringing in the horses.


By Randee Fox

My dogs and I went on our search for beachglass again - something I do every time I walk the low tide out here at Magnolia Beach, Vashon Island.

Consciously lifting my feet higher than normal as we hike over barnacles, worn stones and abandoned crab shells. My search for the human made clear and colored jewels is a thought provoking pasttime.

Catching the sunlight a tiny shard of glistening calls out. I stop, reach down and pick it up inspecting it's age by running my fingers over its edges. Smooth and worn. Once a part of something larger - a thick, roundly jagged clear piece, perhaps the bottom of an old milk bottle? My childhood memory is stirred. The running engine of the milk truck as I lay in bed. The sound of glass chiming against metal as our milkman removed the empty bottles and placed fresh full cold milk bottles in the rack on our porch before dawn.

Lots of green in all shades. Dark green, maybe from a wine bottle? Light green, an old coke bottle? Thin clear, maybe a shard from a window pane? Or a boat's windshield? Brown. A medicine bottle or new beer bottle? And as us beach glass connoisseurs know, the rarest of all, the coveted blue glass not much used any longer and something I am lucky to find maybe once a year.

Worn cloudy in spots from tides in and out, in and out, being rolled across beach stones, thrown against the sea bottom, filed down, by razor sharp barnacles in winter's storm surf and then, sanded smooth and safe by it's original family, sand. Bit by bit, tiny particles breaking off becoming sand once again.

As I wander I ponder this simple yet complex cycle. Glass is hot molten sand cleaned and purified then blown or molded into shapes. Beach glass, tossed off a boat or abandoned by a careless consumer is returning home, slowly, over time, becoming sand, once again.

So here I have it. A perfect metaphor of the cycle of life in the enjoyable search for beach glass with my dogs.