Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’ve already done it. And, if you’re like me, you did it for all the wrong reasons. If you’re lucky, it will work out just fine. (Some would say it always does, regardless.) When I bought my horse, Trace, it was the beginning of an amazing journey I wouldn’t take for. But in terms of a wise horse purchase, it wasn’t. Even the purchase of Rio, my goofy little sorrel that makes me smile every single time I look at him, wasn’t quite according to the protocol I now understand as much more solid reasoning when it comes to buying a horse. Still, I love them both and will keep them as long as they’ll let me. This makes them either the luckiest or unluckiest horses on the planet, because of all the things I am, I am NOT a quitter. Usually to my own detriment. Nevertheless, because I do love a challenge (and enjoy having horse issues to research and write about), I keep these founts of learning around for my own education and humbling. So far, this plan seems to be working. But in the spirit of our grandmothers’ wisdom that advises “it’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one” (although I’ve done both with similar results, but that’s another story for another time . . . ), it IS just as easy to fall in love with a good horse as it is an . . .um . . . challenging one. So here’s a little journaling exercise that will help you wrap your mind around the perfect horse for you. Get a sheet of paper (or if you journal regularly, a fresh page) and answer the following questions to build a mental picture of the horse you want. Write as much as you can as fast as you can, the first thing that pops into your head with each question. 1. Mare or gelding? Why? 2. How old? Why? 3. What breed? Why? (If there are several you are drawn to, you can list more than one) 4. Color/size/physical characteristics (try not to fixate too much on looks, but we all have our favorites. Again, if there’s more than one you like, that’s OK. ) 5. Temperament and disposition. How does your horse behave when he’s learning something new? Surprised, Frightened? Frustrated? or Upset? Annoyed? Is he affectionate or all business? 6. What’s on his resume? Training method, level, intensity? Disciplines? Show record? Trail experience? Ranch work? Former owners? What does he like to do best? 7. What’s his story? Former owners, physical issues, past experience that shape who he is, what he likes and dislikes, and what might motivate him to do whatever it is you’d like to do with him. (Note, I always use “he” when I talk about fictitious horses. I don’t know why. Probably because both of mine happen to be geldings. I like mares just fine. Also, I was an English major and the “he” rule was beaten into me at an early age.) SO . . . now that you have thought all the way around and through your own definition of the perfect horse for you RIGHT NOW, here’s a little pre-shopping visualization for you. Imagine this horse you just described grazing in a pasture. (Sorry. Now you really do have to pick a breed and color.) You’re standing just inside the gate, just watching him. He lifts his head and looks at you, then turns and walks straight toward you. He stops right in front of you and you see soft, quiet eyes on you, waiting. You raise your hand and rub his face. He lowers his head. You put the halter on him and lead him back through the gate and into your life. Return to this list and visualization as often as you can. And don’t forget to come back here and tell us about the horse that shows up for you!
This post was originally published by Equisearch.com
Who among us hasn’t enjoyed an enthusiastic nuzzle from a horse we just know is expressing great affection? Or is he? Among many of the trainers and horse folks I’ve crossed paths with, one of the things they snicker about most is people (especially women) who let a horse get all up in their grill thinking it’s affection when in fact it’s just a horse’s way of expressing dominance. This horse, the aptly named “Precious,” (one of the Wildcatter Ranch’s trail string) elevates this kind of boundary invasion to an art form. “What?” You may ask. “No way! My horse really really loves me!” Well, that he may. And sometimes it is a nuzzle of true affection. And sometimes, it is the horse showing you that he has absolutely no respect for your boundaries and/or personal space. This is not a good thing. Disrespect of any kind from a horse, even if it starts small, can grow into something dangerous. How do you know when it’s disrespect and not affection? As with most things with horses, it just takes getting quiet for a moment and asking the irritating question my friend Kathy Taylor of HerdWise always asks in her Equine Assisted Learning sessions, “What do you think?” If you find that a horse, especially a new or unfamiliar horse, consistently gets inside what Clinton Anderson calls “your personal hula hoop,” it’s most likely a sign of disrespect. In fact, one of the very first exercises Clinton teaches in his Fundamentals series is to draw a circle around you (about 4-feet in diameter) in the dirt with the tip of a stick or even the heel of your boot. (Clinton’s famous “Handy Stick” just happens to be exactly the right length for this. Coincidence? I don’t think so!) Now get in the middle of it with your horse outside the circle. That’s your personal “hula hoop” of space. Stand there for a while, and every time this horse tries to come into the circle without being invited, chase him back out. Then ignore him. After he stands quietly outside the circle for a few minutes, walk to him and pet him. The rule is, if you want to get into his space and rub and pet on him and enjoy a good nuzzle, by all means, do so. You can go into his space and you can invite him into your space. But if he barges into your space without being invited, no matter how irresistibly soft his kisses, you need to push him back out and make the kissing your idea.
This post was originally published by Equisearch.com
If a riding instructor has ever told you to “look where you want the horse to go” I submit to you that it goes much deeper than that. When your mind is clear and certain of exactly what you want your horse to do, it makes an unbelievable difference in his willingness to do it. Why is that?
“If you want it enough, there’s always a way; if you don’t, there’s always an excuse.”
Ian Francis, by way of Clinton Anderson
While this quote comes to us originally from legendary Aussie Horseman Ian Francis, I heard it delivered again last Monday by none other than Ian’s most famous protegee, Clinton Anderson, as he completed filming my friend Lisa Ramsey’s amazing against-all-odds progress in her riding goals. The show will air first on Clinton’s Downunder Horsemanship show on?Fox Sports?in June. (I’ll give you a heads-up when we get a date! You won’t want to miss this one!)
Fort Worth Police Officer Lisa Ramsey discusses her riding goals with Clinton Anderson for upcoming Downunder Horsemanship show on Fox Sports.
You may remember Lisa’s story from The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses. Nine years ago Lisa, a Fort Worth Police Officer, was shot in the line of duty and paralyzed from the chest down. Then, six long years after that bullet confined Lisa to a wheelchair, she found freedom in an unexpected place: on the back of a horse. At first, it was slow go. For Lisa, balance is tough, even sitting up in the chair. When she began her weekly rides at All Star Equestrian in Mansfield, she required four sidewalkers to physically hold her in place on the horse. She could only go in straight lines, and every stop was a struggle not to topple over. But Lisa’s determination and a lifelong love of horses wouldn’t take no for an answer. Slowly, her balance improved. After a time, she began to negotiate turns. And then, when they asked her if she’d like to compete in the Fort Worth Stock Show’s annual Chisholm Challenge, she didn’t hesitate. She won her first belt buckle that year and another one every year since. When I first met Lisa, she had just begun therapeutic riding at All Star. I had just helped Clinton complete his second book, Lessons Well Learned, and was staying on for a while to write, among many other projects, articles to help grow his newly revamped No Worries Journal quarterly magazine. After just one conversation with Lisa, I knew this was a story that needed to be told. Clinton agreed. Lisa’s courage and determination in the face of obstacles we can’t even imagine sets the bar high for anyone who has ever been tempted to whine or make excuses for not doing something they want to do. No goal is too large or too small, Lisa will be the first to tell you; you just have to have them. And, every time you reach one, it’s time to set another (after the happy dance, of course!). Lisa now rides with just two sidewalkers, each with only a protective hand lightly resting on her foot. Lisa’s next goal? You’ll just have to watch the show to find out! But meanwhile, take a look back at what you’ve accomplished on your own horsemanship journey. Celebrate where you are now because you wanted it enough to find a way. Now look forward. What’s next for you? Are you going to find a way?
This post was originally published by Equisearch.com
So first, what happens when we shed? We cast off what we no longer need to protect us. I think this applies equally well to horsehair, clutter, and that wobbly layer of winter sponginess that, for me, usually comes from too much warm, squishy comfort food.
Oddly, this is the time of year when one type of shedding inevitably leads to another. Looking for my shorts and walking shoes (at the insistence of a twirling Golden retriever who has finally guilted me into a walk) led me to pull the winter stuff from my closet and start making decisions about what I really want to keep enough to warrant the effort of packing it away.
Then, once on the trail, the very act of exposing my wobbly bits to the bright light of day evoked a vow to make sure I schedule SOME kind of real exercise into every day. And to stop and buy some of the fresh fruits and veggies I see “cropping up” in those farmers markets I’ve been driving past.
The best shedding metaphor, however, came (as most insights do) from the horses. Watching them in the pasture, each in various stages of molting, I’m in reminded of the serious jolt of joy we all get in every spring uncovering. As the winter woollies come off our horses, don’t we all get excited to see that sleek shininess that lies beneath the fluff? Doesn’t it fill us with anticipation of summer rides, sunny days and that intoxicating aromatherapy blend of horse sweat, green grass and fly spray?
As Rio pranced away from me this morning (all itchy spots well-scratched), he left the last remains of his winter coat behind (stuck mostly to me and the sorrel haze covering the ground around me), he had a new lightness I hope is contagious. Yes, we’re both still fat and sassy from too many bad weather days in a row, but I couldn’t help but notice how much the gleam of his coppery coat looked a brand new penny.
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to finish cleaning out that closet, get more serious with my hit-or-miss exercise routines, and eat more vegetables. For one thing, I’m curious about what might be under my winter layer (I’ve been doing a LOT of Pilates this winter!); for another, its only when you shed what keeps you comfortable that you uncover your own shininess. Our sunny days ahead are filled with the promise of that new penny out there. Let’s vow to enjoy single one of them! Happy Shedding!!!
This post was originally published by Equisearch.com
One of the projects now on the boards (and as yet to be officially named, but springboarding from the Dust Off Your Dreams Women’s Retreat we had last spring at the Wildcatter Ranch Resort and Spa), is programming (some combination of live events and online/downloadable coursework) geared toward using horses and a series of reflective exercises (including some of those introduced in The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses) to help people in transition to build self-awareness, identify obstacles and solutions, and create a plan for moving forward with authenticity to find the fulfillment they’re looking for.
People ask me all the time exactly how it is that horses, of all things, can help people in this way. For people who haven’t spent much time around horses, it may seem ludicrous that a big “dumb” animal can open such doors to insight in the types of unmounted exercises known as “equine assisted learning (EAL).”
For those who may have heard of equine therapies, including therapeutic riding and equine assisted therapy, their understanding limits this idea to addressing serious physical, mental and emotional challenges. Far different, but in a few ways similar to equine assisted therapy, equine assisted learning is a wonderfully effective tool for developing the self awareness that can help us address any sort of dissatisfaction in our lives — and to help us identify and acquire the tools we need to move forward on whatever brings us joy and contentment — at any age or stage. “It’s kind of like when you have a splinter, ‘” one friend summarized recently as the distinction became clear to her. “You wouldn’t go to a surgeon to get it removed. You’d go find a mom with a pair of tweezers.”
We’ve decided we want to be that mom with the tweezers.
Pooling the combined wisdom and resources of key members of the Dust Off Your Dreams Retreats team, we want to share what we’re learning to help others get “unstuck” when life shifts happen. And, the more we learn about this process and the results it can yield to shore us up and move us forward through the more ordinary kinds of ennui that besets all of us from time to time — especially in the face of transition — we’re more convinced than ever of the good horses can do if we’ll just open ourselves to the process.
“True equine therapy occurs when people learn to extend the fundamental principles of horsemanship to the rest of their life,” says Deborah McCormick, PhD, co-author of Horse Sense and the Human Heart and Horses and the Mystical Path. “Horses show us with their behavior how we need to fine-tune in ourselves in order to achieve that balance and internal harmony we’re all looking for.” Deborah, along with her mother, Adele von Rust McCormick, PhD and her late father, Tom McCormick, MD, are the founders of Hacienda Tres Aguilas — The Equine Experience™ and the Institute for Conscious Awareness (ICA), a non-profit organization devoted to human development, advancement and leadership in which they pioneered the use of horses in psychiatric treatment and psychodynamic therapies.
By becoming aware of the basics of herd behavior, and then observing how horses interact with us in a series of non-riding exercises, we see in very concrete terms how we may be getting in our own way without even realizing it. When there’s inconsistency between what we want and how we behave, a horse will make this obvious in very concrete terms. For example, a horse may invade the personal space of someone who struggles with setting and enforcing boundaries; he’ll likely take a much wider circle around someone who is more skilled at holding the line. (When you watch a 1000-pound animal act out what’s going on inside of you, you can’t help but get the point!) As we learn how to observe and learn from this revealing dynamic, we begin to ask ourselves the important questions:
Why is the horse doing that?
What is my first impulse in response?
How does this interaction (or lack of) mirror other relationships/situations in my life?
From there, we begin to build your toolbox. How you use your tools and what you build from this experience is limited only by the edges of your imagination and your willingness to “go deep” in order to achieve the life satisfaction that may have given you the slip. If you’d like to know more about this program as it evolves, or if you would like to apply to participate in one of our test groups, please email me at email@example.com.
I’m not normally a person who attends plays I’ve never heard of, featuring actors I don’t know. But when a text from my friend, Linda, said, “Do you want to go see “God of Carnage” at the Dallas Theatre Center Friday night? I watched myself reply, “YES!”
Seriously?!?!? Without even asking what that could possibly be about? (I usually try to avoid any sort of carnage as entertainment, but I was just recently on a bus for a week with lots of teenagers, so a quiet theatre and adult company sounded pretty good.) And even now that I’ve seen this oddly enlightening play by Yasmina Reza, I really couldn’t begin to describe it — except to say it struck some very familiar chords. And, strangely enough, it relates quite directly (as I’m finding that most things do), to the revelations we gain through our interactions with midlife horses.
Like horses, this play puts people in an environment chock full of assumptions, and then peels back each of those assumptions to reveal the fragility of human nature. Working with horses sometimes confronts us with circumstances that challenge what we think we know to reveal the unvarnished truth.
As “God of Carnage” demonstrated (and any horse worth his salt will teach you), when our ego-created “bubble of reality” collapses, everything comes down to basic needs, desires and protective instincts. That’s when you drill right to the heart of who you are and what you need, courtesy of your half-ton teacher (who may or may not be horse-laughing at your arrogance as he invites you to check your ego at the barn door.)
“If you don’t reconcile with these things every once in a while, you’re bound to get a very nasty smack in the face,” says “God of Carnage” director Joel Ferrell in his Playbill interview (Joel most likely doesn’t know he could be a horse trainer and clinician if this Director thing doesn’t suit him). Ferrell says he wanted people to leave this play with the understanding of how close to that edge we all live, all the time. “At any moment — after a meeting with your boss, a near accident, or the subway gets stuck— anyone can be reduced to his or her five-year-old self.” (I immediately thought of trying to get Rio to lope in the round pen without dropping his shoulder. Except that usually, five-year-olds don’t yet know how to string that many four-letter words together.)
Ferrell suggests that real redemption and real knowledge can only come if you are willing to look at everything stripped down, without pretense. “I think what is hardest about finding a sense of peace or connecting with a higher power in the modern world,” he says, “is the ‘bubble world’ we have fabricated that appears to serve all our needs.”
In “God of Carnage,” Ferrell says that playwright Yasmina Reza speaks to change and redemption and the real human condition in its most vulnerable of places. “ I don’t know of anything as accessible that also feels as smart and dangerous as her work,” he says. Clearly Joel has not spent much time with horses.
Which bring me (at last) to my point.
The lessons brought to us by our midlife horses are universal. We get this vital information from our horses because our love and interest in horses makes us receptive to this mode of delivery. We can, however, come by this information in other ways; we just have to find something that speaks as directly to our heart. And often, as I just experienced, once a horse opens a particular door for you, we as midlife searchers find echoes of these lessons in other venues (in this case the Dallas Theatre Center) that adds texture, depth and context.
So here’s the question. What lessons from your midlife horse have you discovered in other formats and venues so far removed, yet so parallel, you just have to say, “WOW.”