Saddle Up Your “Someday”

Saddle Up Your “Someday”

Riding Through Thick & Thin

“NO MATTER WHERE YOU GO… THERE YOU ARE.”

This quote actually comes to us from Confucius, the well known Chinese teacher, editor, politician and philosopher who lived between 551 and 479 B.C. It’s also a line from Buckaroo Banzai, the 1984 cult film starring Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Christopher Lloyd, and Jeff Goldblum (Look it up over a bowl of popcorn!). That juxtaposition just makes me giggle. And unless I miss my guess, somewhere Confucius is having a solid chuckle over it as well.

So why do I bring this up? Because when it comes to our weight, body image, and riding our horses to our highest potential, it’s easy to gaze into some far-off future and imagine a leaner, lighter, stronger body—a body worth feeling good about.

“When I get this weight off I’ll show more…”

“When I get in better shape I’ll ride more trails…”

“Once I finally manage to get rid of these wobbly bits I’ll buy some nicer riding clothes…”

You know the thought pattern. We imagine how on that magical ‘someday’ we’ll do things differently and feel differently about the things we do.

 

‘Someday’ has arrived. Think about it. Isn’t today “the tomorrow you dreamed about yesterday?” I remember hearing this line—lifted and twisted slightly from a wonderful old country song recorded by Lefty Frizzell (written by Joe Johnson)—for the first time when I was in high school and just beginning my angst over a body that weighed more than the height/weight charts said it should. Looking back now I realize I was a very, very average size, but the disparity between the number on the scale and the number on the charts made me feel, to put it bluntly, huge. It hampered my riding. It dampened my joy. And worse of all, it kept me from trying events and experiences with my horse I probably would have really enjoyed.

The trouble with letting that slippery someday romp around in your imagination is that it can buck us off in the here and now. Feeling hopeless and captive to any number we allow to define us, we say, “Someday I’ll get a handle on this,” and then more than likely, “Pass the Cheetos.”

All this to say, what if today is the day you get on those scales and see that number for what it is? A number. It doesn’t define you. It doesn’t put you in any category. Above all, it doesn’t have to automatically propel you onto a cycle of self-contempt. What if we recognize this as Someday? Give stinkin’ thinkin’ the boot, let go of whatever provokes our numberphobia and saddle up and ride right on through it.

©Flickr/FiveFurlongs
©Flickr/FiveFurlongs

Ride those trails. Enter those shows. Go ahead and push yourself to ride better, learn all you can, try harder—and reach for those new heights you’ve reserved for your Someday self.

Let’s all agree that it’s time to look squarely into the face of that number that holds our todays and tomorrows captive and take away its power once and for all. Give yourself permission to view that number as information—not indictment—and begin the slow and steady climb toward freedom.

It’s strange how changing the way you look at a number can become the simple shift that can actually spur the change we’ve been seeking all along. Give it a try and let me know what happens. I’m pulling for you.

This post was originally published on horsenetwork.com

 

All Your Body Needs

All Your Body Needs

News Riding Through Thick & Thin

“How might you begin to reframe how you regard your physical being in kinder, gentler terms?”

—Riding Through Thick & Thin

Answering this question can be a new and different game changer in the battle against negative body image. When we start to really think about our body and all it does for us every day — all we can do because of countless split-second miracles firing one after another in rapid succession (and some simultaneously) — it is hard not to realize what we’re taking for granted.

So if you’ve ever caught yourself using words like “buffalo butt,” ” thunder thighs,” “candles,” “tree trunks,” “batwings,” ” muffin top,” ” boulder boobs,” “rollo,” “jelly belly” and other similar insults to your physique, you’ve got some apologizing to do to these fine body parts. To ride a horse takes strength, stamina, and flexibility. Caring for a horse requires even more than that.

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Tossing around bales of hay, unloading sacks of grain, carrying water buckets, mucking stalls, piloting a wheelbarrow loaded with manure and dumping it without mishap, yanking on a lunge line trying thwart a 1000-pound tantrum on the other end, moving fence panels, operating heavy machinery and oh so much more means that as a keeper of horses you are stronger than most and your body deserves not only good conditioning and care (maybe even as thoughtful care as you give your best horse), it also deserves a thank you every now and then — and some nice words used to describe it, even in the privacy of your own mirror.

Try this simple language conversion chart on for size:

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And no, I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to be improving our “wobbly bits” in terms of fitness and health, but ironically, the shortest path to making any changes or improvements we seek is accepting and loving the body we have RIGHT NOW. Once you’ve mended this important internal fence, then making gradual lifestyle changes in terms of fitness and nutrition will likely move you toward your goal on a surer and swifter course than all those name-calling-and-crash-diet strategies you’ve tried in the past.

Give it a try. Aren’t you worth it?

As always, I’d love for you to share your thoughts on FacebookTwitter, or via email.

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com

See Yourself As Your Horse Sees You

See Yourself As Your Horse Sees You

News Riding Through Thick & Thin

Something about being female — and most especially a female rider — sets up a different kind of self-scrutiny than whatever gets loaded into the male circuit board that allows plus-sized cowboys to hop onto quarter horses to cut, rope, rein their way to championship runs without even so much as a second thought about the watermelon-sized gut hanging over an over-cranked belt. We women, on the other hand, can worry ourselves sick over a little extra pudge — and God forbid — a muffin top. To go up a size in jeans is to admit failure or some personal shortcoming we can’t even name. And nowhere is this more true than in the show ring.

Why is this, I ask you? Or, possibly even more important, what can we do to get past it? How can we learn to think differently about our bodies, even if they aren’t the size or shape we want them to be? As long as we’re fit, strong and healthy, do our horses even care?

Jenni, whose story appears in full in Riding Through Thick & Thin is a perfect example, I think of both the kind of garbage we can take on about our bodies — and the exhilaration to be had in overcoming it. Jenni was born into a line of women, her grandmother, specifically, who truly believed “being skinny” was key to any success a woman should aspire to. “I was never tiny enough to meet her expectations,” Jenni writes, adding that some of the things that are conditioned in childhood often stick with us for life.

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After spending most of her childhood and teenage years believing she was “this obese monster who would never achieve anything,” Jenni met Mary, a friend at high school who rode horses. While Jenny really wanted to ride, she was afraid. Not of the riding or the horses, mind you, but that the extra 15 pounds she carried would be just too much. “ I was fearful of how I would look in breeches,” she says, “I was fearful the horse would stumble with me because I was so fat.”

Jenni says she remembers Mary, laughing at her, saying like, “Jenni, the horse weighs a ton. Literally. Get over yourself. You are not fat, and the horse will never care.”

The horse will never care.

“And he didn’t care,” Jenni says. “And you wanna know who else didn’t care? The instructor didn’t care. And all the girls at the barn felt funny in breeches. NOBODY cared how “fat” I was.”

Jenni says that while she may not be Olympic material, she turned out to be a pretty good rider. What’s even more important is that putting her focus on riding helped her break free of the hang-ups she had about her body, once and for all (Take that, Grams!)”

For all the Jenni and Grams stories out there (and believe me, in researching Riding Through Thick & Thin I met plenty of them), the names and details may change, but the body angst is shockingly similar.) In fact, part of why I wrote this book in the first place was to get to the bottom of exactly what drives this kind of body angst. Whether or not our self-criticism — or the criticism of others —has even a pinky toe in reality, we have to wonder what it is that makes us take it on. And how we can set ourselves free.

Spoiler Alert: the first step isn’t losing weight or exorcizing that muffin top. To break this cycle we must first learn to look at our bodies in the light of acceptance —without any judgment or plan for changing anything. Now allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling — without any need to shut it off or to fix it. See yourself — maybe for the first time in your life — with a big, open, kind, and loving heart.

I’d love to know what your horse doesn’t care about! Reach out to me on FacebookTwitter, on my website, or via email. I look forward to hearing from you.

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com

Reading Your Horse—Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Reading Your Horse—Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

News The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses

“If your horse seems to be struggling or uncomfortable or acting out, do some troubleshooting. Pain issues—most often in feet, teeth, and back—are responsible for 80% of horses’ behavioral problems. And often pain and discomfort are related to saddle fit.”

—Riding Through Thick & Thin

I was on the right track, sort of, then I swerved, changed horses and missed the boat completely. Despite this ridiculous mix of metaphor, this is a lesson so worth learning I repeat it to myself often. And if I forget, my horses tend to remind me.

My horse, Trace, is extremely sensitive. And smart. And athletic. So when he started bucking every single time I got on him, I tried one thing after another to make sure it wasn’t a pain issue (right track!).

I changed saddles—several times. Pads. Feed. Treated for ulcers. Floated his teeth. Cleaned his sheath (well I didn’t but the vet did). Consulted a holistic vet who “strength tested” and then had me treat an old leg injury with an herbal compound and wrap it daily for a month or so. Acupuncture, cold laser and some clicking instrument I still don’t understand by a chiropractor who made barn calls. Cranial sacral therapy. Animal communicators…

As you can see, I looked under every rock for the answer. Trace was so sweet and willing when I was on the ground—I had taught him everything in Clinton Anderson’s DVDs—but every time I got on it became nothing short of a wild west show. I do not like wild west shows in which I am a participant.

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So, deciding it wasn’t pain (here’s the swerve), I moved on to a series of trainers who tried first one thing and then another to “train” this strange and increasingly violent buck out of my little buckaroo. One after the other, they gave up. One blamed me and my lack of skill as a rider (he offered to “trade me something I could ride”). Another quit, deeming Trace “too dangerous  to work with,” and the others just shrugged and said I probably ought to get rid of him and get another horse (detour!).

To say I was discouraged, my confidence shattered and worst of all, truly afraid to get back on that horse, were all understatements. But my gut told me this was a horse worth sticking with (right track!). When we worked and played and learned together on the ground, this was the partnership with a horse people yearned for. I trusted him completely…unless I was on his back.

“You don’t ride your dogs and you still enjoy them,” one friend said, trying to console me. This solution didn’t feel quite right either.

Then came Karl, an old-fashioned trainer with a definite idea of what was wrong. “Take him to the chiropractor,” he said. “He’s in pain.”

I was skeptical and didn’t want to get my hopes up again as I ran up yet another bill—and likely, down another blind alley.

“See this?” Karl said, poking a finger into Trace’s neck up near his poll. Trace’s head shot straight up and his eyes grew white rims. “He’s out [of alignment] right there. See that?” He said, running his hand down Trace’s spine and pressing lightly on either side as he did with thumb and forefinger. The muscles of Trace’s back visibly tensed up. “All this is related to that mess up there in his neck.”

Then, watching Trace move around the round pen, Karl pointed out several things, from how he carried his head to the slight pause before his back right leg landed.

Karl, you see, makes his living reading the signs.

But how, if we’re not Karl, and aside from decades of experience of our own, can we learn to read the signs our horse might be in pain?

First, I think simple awareness of this great truth of horsemanship is huge. If 80% of behavior problems are caused by pain, why wouldn’t we start there?

 

For this we need to have some resources at the ready—a vet, an equine dentist, and yes, a chiropractor (and if either of these folks will be sedating your horse they really should also be vets). Equine massage therapists and cranial sacral therapists can be tremendously helpful if they know what they’re doing. And although saddle fitters who aren’t trying to sell you a saddle are few and far between, I’ve run across some extremely thorough resources in Dr. Joyce Harman, DVM and Susan Harris. Dr. Harman’s books and DVDs on Pain Free Saddle Fit (she has one for English and one for Western) are extremely helpful in assessing how your saddle fits and in evaluating one you’re considering buying. Harris’s DVD and articles on her website are fabulous for understanding how a horse moves and how to assess the movement of your own horse.

When choosing horse care professionals be sure to get references from people you trust who have used these folks before. Other good sources are your vet, trainer, or farrier. But don’t just take their word for it. Read up, ask questions, educate yourself all you can on learning how to listen to what your horse’s behavior might be telling you.

Having a little knowledge—and your own custom-built “A-Team” at the ready—goes a long way toward your own readiness to read the signs your horse is giving you that he’s not comfortable and needs some help from his human. Best of all, this awareness and having a plan will help you nip pain-related behavior problems in the bud and take the short path back to your happy trail!

This post was previously published on horsenetwork.com

It’s Not What We Have, But What We Do With It That Counts

It’s Not What We Have, But What We Do With It That Counts

News Riding Through Thick & Thin

All jokes aside, it really isn’t as much our size that matters most when we ride; it’s what we do with the body we have that makes all the difference. Once we really understand and accept this, the better we’ll ride, the easier we’ll be on our horses, and the more fun we’ll have on this glorious trail we all share, regardless of our weight or body type.

Melinda Blog 8.5.16

If you’ve ever fallen into the trap of thinking that you will only be able to ride well when you get into those size 6 breeches or Wranglers, I’m here to pull you out with the advice of one of my favorite experts, Coach Daniel Stewart, author of Ride Right, and Pressure Proof Your Riding. “Any body shape can ride to success,” concurs Coach Stewart. “You just have to find your own definition of what success is for you — within reason.”

Coach Stewart helps us move away from judgment and toward practical solutions that help us make the most of what we do have going for us and mitigate those things that are, well, less than ideal. He even makes a clever comparison between horse breeds and human body types to illustrate how in our horses we accept physical build and attributes of each breed without question (or any sort of bemoaning) — and then we match those attributes to what we ask that horse to do.

As one of our virtual panel of experts in Riding Through Thick and Thin, Coach Stewart tells us, that regardless of our riding goals, developing our own unique set of affirmations around what we do have going for us is what lays the thought groundwork for future success, however we may define it. “We have to train a rider to find whatever is in her that’s positive,” Coach Stewart says, “and then we can build from there.”

So now that you’ve taken that unflinching and self-compassionate look at your body with an honest assessment of what you have to work with, acknowledging any challenges without judgment, it’s time to make a plan to put yourself in a place where you can do the very best you can with all you have and all you are. With this as our new mindset and mantra, we may be both surprised and delighted at what we can achieve! In Riding Through Thick and Thin I offer readers a self-test to help determine exactly where they’ll be beginning this journey to a better body image; CLICK HERE to download this free self-evaluation form to find your own starting point!

I’d love to hear your success stories — and how making this shift in how you think about your body has made a difference in your riding, your outlook, and your overall sense of satisfaction with your body, in or out of the saddle! Reach out to me on FacebookTwitter, my website or by email.

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com

Get Out Of Your Head And Into Your Body

Get Out Of Your Head And Into Your Body

News Riding Through Thick & Thin

“Spending some time learning to separate fact from fiction and truth from ‘mounted mythology’ can make all the difference in our ride.”— Riding Through Thick & Thin.

Do you have a “rider’s body?” You know the one. Long and lanky, legs that can wrap a horse, arms that reach without leaning, flat belly (and chest), strength without bulk, and most likely, a blonde pony tail.

Whatever.

The rest of us spend our riding lives trying to make what we have work, and most likely, bemoaning our short limbs, thick waist, big boobs, or whatever pains us most. To that my Riding Through Thick & Thin experts say, “Snap out of it!”

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“You can’t change short legs, a big frame, a long torso, and so on — it’s the body God gave you,” says Susan Harris in Riding Through Thick and Thin, “And while you can’t change the fundamental shape and conformation of your body, you can learn how to work with your body’s characteristics to maximize your effectiveness in the saddle.”


So what does this mean? I think above all it means that any time spent bemoaning our shape and size is time wasted. Instead of descending down that proverbial rabbit hole, I offer up (with the help of some generous experts) another option. What if we look objectively at our own bodies and spend our energy figuring out how to make the most of what we have? And, if there are things we can do to maximize our capabilities, such as increasing our core strength, amping up our upper body, finding a more secure place of balance, or simply incorporating mindfulness habits to help us “ground, center and grow,” in the words of the late great Sally Swift, this is where we can re-engage our noggins in a more productive direction.

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Namely, this is where we can set some specific, measurable goals, identify the active steps to achieving each one, and give ourselves a deadline for accomplishing each step. And remember, the smaller the steps you can identify, the more doable each endeavor will become.

Set yourself up for success with objective evaluation, deliberate thinking and baby steps that will add up to big results!

I’d love to hear from you! Reach out to me on TwitterFacebook, by email or through my website.

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com

It’s In There, Dorothy

It’s In There, Dorothy

News Riding Through Thick & Thin

“Be open to change, to acceptance, to whatever it takes to learn what is real, authentic, true and right —and let go of all that’s not.” —Riding Through Thick and Thin

This is truly one of the big ideas behind Riding Through Thick and Thin. It’s just so easy to get caught up in what we think others think, what others actually say — and what society deems acceptable . . . and not-so-acceptable. To make peace with our body image and make changes (or not!) for our greatest good, it’s time to pull the plug on this endless loop once and for all.

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Through countless interviews with experts, scholarly and not-so-scholarly articles, scientific journals, and casual conversations with real women facing real struggles over how they feel in the skin their in, here’s what I learned in the process of researching this book:

First, it doesn’t really seem to matter whether we’re talking about a few pounds or a few hundred; the mindset and words used to describe these feelings is shockingly similar — and more often than not, driven by the opinions of others.

Second, to open ourselves to real change in how we think, feel, and talk about our body means turning our focus inward instead of simply internalizing the input from the world around us. It’s time to get quiet and face our body issues squarely, and then do what we need to do to figure out our own best answers.

Finally, sometimes this may mean taking others’ observations to heart and making lifestyle changes that will lead to improved health and fitness. Or it may mean (lovingly) telling them to go jump in the nearest lake.

It’s only when we learn to reach for our own deep truths that we can begin to sift what’s real from what’s not. It’s in there, Dorothy — and it has been all along. Go inside and find it.

And let me know when you do! Reach out to me on TwitterFacebook, my website, or by email. I look forward to hearing from you!

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com

Find Your Spot

Find Your Spot

Riding Through Thick & Thin

As we begin to focus more on our rider biomechanics — that is, learning to ride in a more balanced connection with our horse — sooner or later we happen onto a moment when we feel this connection. We are moving as one with the horse, our energy is completely connected with his. I’m not a golfer but from what I hear this is akin to the perfect drive; people who enjoy this sport of immense frustration say that once you experience that feeling you’re hooked — it’s what keeps you coming back after the other times when you want to (or actually do) throw your clubs in the lake. I am a tennis player, so I can equate this “sweet spot” to the moment when everything comes together — footwork, body positioning, swing, speed and power — and that ball comes off the center of your strings and travels just exactly as you intend to the precise target you have chosen. It’s a beautiful thing. And once you experience it, you want more of it.

Riding a horse, which as Riding Through Thick and Thin expert source Susan Harris puts it, “is the only sport I know of where one species sits on top of another,” the challenge of riding well is finding that sweet spot of connection between our horse’s center of balance and our own. Sticking a tentative toe into the world of physics in a consult with Dr. Jacob Barandes of Harvard University Department of Physics, I learned that this has everything to do with not only where our body is on the back of the horse, but our own individual height and weight. Put simply, it’s an individual thing; we each have to find our own spot.

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This is not about how we look when we ride. This is beyond the old “ears, shoulders, hips, heels” body alignment. This is all about how you feel as you move forward with your horse at any gait. When you find it, you’ll know it. And once you find it, you’ll get better and better at finding it again. Eventually, it’s the only place you’ll ride — finding this spot will become as automatic to you as checking your cinch. This simple work of experimentation and tuning in to your horse and your own body can change the way you ride forever. Give it a try the next time you ride and let me know when you find your spot! Reach out to me on FacebookTwitter, my website or by email.

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com

Educate Yourself — Beyond the 20% Rule

Educate Yourself — Beyond the 20% Rule

Riding Through Thick & Thin

So let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that you are over that 20% rule of thumb (that actually has nothing to to with thumbs at all). You know the one. We’re not supposed to weigh (including tack, which for a Western rider can be upwards of 30 pounds) more than 20% of our horse’s body weight.

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Now behold the larger riders winning world class events in reining, eventing, even polo. Not to mention the beefy cowboy bulldogers on 15.2-hand quarter horses. Or the ancient Greeks, arguably some of the greatest horsemen of all time, in full armor — or immense Vikings astride sturdy Icelandic ponies, charging into battle. Not one to argue with statistics — and being the very last one on earth to want any horse to be harmed — I still have to ask the obvious question:

What makes a horse able to carry a little more weight?

Polling several key experts, including Dr. Joyce Harman, DVM, who happens to be both saddle fitter and equine vet, the consensus seems to be that what riders need to know when they and their tack top the 20% mark is this: we must take into consideration the horse’s basic build (broad back, sturdy legs, and sound feet), his level of fitness for the job you’re asking him to do (treat him like the athlete he is with specific conditioning regimens, good nutrition and health care, body work including stretches, massage, and chiropractic as needed with careful attention to any soreness or injury), your own level of fitness (see above and do the same for yourself!), and how well you are able to use your own energy to lighten the load (become a student of body mechanics, balance and breathing). Studies using pressure sensitive electronic magic also show that a 250-pound rider with good rider biomechanics can actually feel lighter to a horse than a floppy 120-pounder!

Now if all this education and effort this sounds like a whole lot of trouble, it is. And there is nothing we can do as equestrians of any size that can make a bigger difference in how we ride. Once we begin to educate ourselves on these three important areas, we begin to see our partnership and connection with our horses in a whole new light. Give it some thought and let me hear from you if you’d like to have some good additional resources for this invaluable information (beyond Riding Through Thick and Thin, of course!) — not only are our horses worth this time and effort; so are we!

Melinda Digital

You can reach out to me on Facebook, Twitter, MelindaFolse.com, or email me at mkfolse@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com