Once we start digging for “truths” it may surprise you what you think of yourself and your riding, and what you think OTHERS think of your riding. And above all, what all these “thinks” are doing to your self-image and the quality of your experience with horses.
In just one of the embarrassing stories I tell on myself in Riding Through Thick and Thin (and believe me, there are many), I relate an experience of riding in an arena at a friend’s ranch in preparation for a clinic the next day. To say that I was apprehensive about this clinic might be the understatement of the decade. I saddled up, entered the arena, and began some slow circles on the sillier of my two horses.
Another friend joined me and began circling with us, then she cued her horse into a lope. Without thinking about it too much, I followed suit. We were laughing and talking as we rode and I gave little thought to what I was doing in my effort to just keep up. Quite simply I was lost in the moment. All clinic anxiety dissipated, I was in the zone of joy.
Later, over dinner, my clinic-phobia returned and I voiced my concerns — half joking, half not. The friend hosting us for the weekend looked at me, not bothering to conceal her surprise. “I can’t even believe you’re saying that,” she said. “When I saw you two down at the other end of the arena chasing each other around like puppies i have to admit I felt envious — and a little bit insecure. You’re a much better rider than you think you are.”
As it turns out, sometimes we have no idea of how others see us. Not that it matters, except as a reality check for how we see ourselves. We are so often our own worst critic that for the sake of our self-concept it is important to learn to take an occasional step outside our own awareness and try to see ourselves through the lens of an impartial observer.
If you don’t have an honest — if shocked — friend to offer up some observational insight, it might be worth it to ask for this kind of feedback from someone you can trust to keep it real. It is only through honest self assessment that we can begin to see things as they really are — and not as our hated imagination would have us believe.
Give it a try and let me know what happens. I can’t wait to hear your stories of amazement that will help bury my own . . . and how we can all learn this lesson together!
How do you know what you think you know on a given subject? In the horse world, sometimes the “great truths” handed down from our fellow equestrians, other disciplines, and preceding generations can be real — or the farthest thing from actual truth.
There’s an old saying I have always loved — and have experienced time and time again in interviewing all kinds of “horse people” for both The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horsesand Riding Through Thick and Thin: “Anytime you get three horse people together you will most likely find that they will not be able to agree on anything. However, when one of the three leaves the conversation, the other two will finally agree on one thing: the one who left was definitely wrong.”
I think the most important lesson to draw from this “great truth” is that while it’s important to consult the experts, to educate yourself and to listen to those who have “been there, done that” (do we really want to make all the mistakes ourselves?), it is equally if not more important to use the noggin and inner guidance you were born with to learn how to figure some things out for yourself.
How do you know you’re on the right track? You get quiet on the inside and learn how to really see what you’re seeing, hear what you’re hearing and feel what you’re feeling. With practice, this authentic, on-board guidance system we all are born with (but sometimes needs to be primed and rebooted, if you’re pardon the mix of mechanical and technological metaphor) will indeed help you listen, filter the advice, information and sometimes plain nonsense you encounter — and just know what you need and quite often, what your horse needs from you. Horses are great helpers for finding our authenticity — and discovering our own answers— but our part of the bargain is that we have to learn how to get quiet, use our innate gifts of observation and intuition, and teach ourselves to trust what comes. Give it a try and let me know what happens. I’d wager that every horse person alive has a story about this — I’d love to hear them! Please share them with me on Twitter, Facebook, my website, or email me at email@example.com
I’ve always been fascinated by how people name their horses. Do you choose a name that reflects a personality trait? A physical characteristic? A favorite character or personality? An ironic name? A laudatory predictor?
And, unless you raise a horse from scratch, you may pretty much get stuck with someone else’s quirk. Superstition dictates that we not change a horse’s name. Unless we get a horse whose name doesn’t really fit him. Or if, like me, you come by horse whose name, you later realize, was changed by the person who sold him to you — or a previous owner — are you then obligated to change the name back to the original? Or is that changing it, thus evoking the wrath of the bad luck fairy.
So let’s hear from you. What’s your horse’s name? How was he/she named and by whom? Did you change it or bow to superstition? If your horse is registered, were you happy with the choices proffered by your papers, or did you go with the “barn name” so you could call him whatever you want to? Are you looking for the right horse name? Take a look at this post from Five Star Ranch for some prompts, guidelines and interesting associations. Reach out to me here, on Twitter, Facebook ,or on my website.
No pressure, but whatever you choose, remember that you could be saddling future owners with your cleverness!
I don’t know about you, but now that I am definitely well into middle-age, I find myself thinking about that “bucket list” that seems more like something I used to hear my parents say they were checking off. Then I came across an article in Horse and Rider called “44 horsey things to do before you die.” Before I die? Whoa! I’m just getting the legal pad out to make my bucket list!
And then something shifted. As I read through this list, I realized that while they were all worthy entries, many of them didn’t fit me as a rider. With one hand reining in my escalating anxiety and the other gripping my pen, I began my own list―but instead of listing all the horsey things to do before I die, I decided to list the horsey things I’ve already been able to do. When I considered that just ten years ago I barely allowed myself to dream of owning a horse, the memories began to unfold of all that has happened and changed in my life since that 1000-lb lesson in abundance (as in be very careful what you wish for) arrived in my life. Because of this added horsepower, everything around me and within me opened up in ways “awe inspiring” doesn’t begin to touch.
So as I made my retroactive horsey bucket list, my bucket overflowed with gratitude for all the people, experiences and hard-earned wisdom these generous and wise teachers have brought into my life. So much has happened because of that single moment when I said “yes!” to a horse. And in reflecting on all that has happened, I can’t help but wonder what else may add itself to my list as I continue to follow where these horsey things lead. I like this a lot better than thinking about dying.
Seven of my horsey experience favorites — and their life takeaways include:
Open yourself to unexpected beauty. “Horse camping” on the 35,000 acre LBJ Grasslands — where a two-hour ride turned into an 8-our odyssey, but I didn’t care because of the surreal “pinch me I must be dreaming” beauty of this experience. Takeaway: If you open yourself to new experiences, you never know what unforeseen beauty may await
Be willing to do something badly. Ranch sorting — where my horse had a much better idea of what to do than I did, but we managed to live through the experience and even sort a few cows. There was also a reining clinic that was both an ugly and wonderful opportunity to push some edges I didn’t even know I had. Takeaway: You don’t have to be good at something for it to be fun; being willing to suck a little bit means you get to try something new. People can be surprisingly kind and helpful to someone who is trying to learn.
Get bucked off and then get back on. This is where the big girl panties come in handy — and where pain is relative to the experience, and working through it has its own surprises. Takeaway: The reward of the ride is greater than the pain of hitting the ground every once in a while.
Experience an exceptional pairing of physical and mental fatigue— where physical fatigue was only exceeded by mind blowing information overload. Takeaway: I’m stronger than I thought I was, more capable than I realized, and my innate curiosity and thirst for learning is a gift that keeps on giving.
Immerse yourself in learning. Working for and traveling with Clinton Anderson and the Downunder Horsemanship team, ask all the questions I wanted to, and then shape the answers into training tips, articles, newsletters and a book, Clinton Anderson’s Lessons Well Learned was the horsey learning experience of a lifetime. Ditto the time I spent with the Drs. McCormick at Hacienda Tres Aguilas and the Institute for Conscious Awareness. Takeaway: Opportunities come along — and may be fleeting — but if you can manage to grab them and give them all you’ve got, the doors they may open are unimaginable.
Share what you’ve learned. Pitching and writing “The Smart Women’s Guide to Midlife Horses” based on my observations, conversations and experiences, both while working with Downunder Horsemanship and with my own experiences, struggles and insights with my own two midlife horses. “Riding Through Thick and Thin” was an opportunity to draw from a lifetime of body insecurity and self-help study, delve deeper and meld with expert advice from the horse and rider arenas to create a new toolkit for riders and non-riders alike that could be a body image game changer, in and out of the saddle. Takeaway: Everything you experience holds a gift, both for you and for those you are able to share it with.
Find the right help. In retraining a horse that everyone else had long since given up on — where painstakingly slow, steady and deliberate progress yielded results beyond what anyone could have imagined. Takeaway: Listen to your heart, show up, slow down and move forward one step at a time to scale impossible mountains and discover unspeakable beauty where you least expected it.
How about you? Is a horse on your bucket list? Has a horse already supplied more joy than any bucket list can hold? I’d love to hear from you. Reach out to me here, on Twitter, Facebook or my website.
If you, like me, have joined the Fitbit™ craze and are challenging yourself daily to get those 10,000 steps (and are mystified at how MANY steps it takes to hit that mark consistently!), you may also be wondering how to calculate those steps — and the workout settings to use when you’re riding.
Now I do admit that I giggled a little the first time my wrist buzzed with the 10,000-step woohoo . . . during a long trot on Trace. I patted him and thanked him and gladly took credit for HIS steps, thinking that perhaps I was working hard enough to merit at least partial credit.
So when I found this great post by Susan Friedland Smith on her wonderful Saddle Seeks Horse blog, I was at once disappointed and encouraged by her bit of delving that helps clarify how we can use our Fitbits, ride our horses, and still get an accurate picture of how we’re doing when it comes to our fitness seeking goals.
I do encourage you to read the whole post (and a big shout out to Susan for doing this work for all of us!) but the upshot is that when we put the thing in workout mode, we can more easily see that a vigorous ride burns as many calories (and uses as many muscles, if not more!) than many popular gym workouts (Susan compares a vigorous, but fairly routine riding lesson to the calorie burn in her spin class).
The bigger issue with using Fitbit when riding is the step count. The challenge is figuring out how to subtract the right number of steps for the duration of a ride, and then go back to regular human step counting for the rest of our day. Susan says that she discovered that if we select “Workout” (which is technically horseback riding) and then the category of “Driving” from the drop down list on the exercise menu of various workouts, it gives a pretty accurate assessment of calorie burn during a ride. For the record, I do agree with Susan that a few minor coding tweaks would make Fitbit sales skyrocket in the horse world (are you listening, Fitbit execs???): “If the developers had foresight enough to know that equestrians would want to use a Fitbit for horseback riding to track fitness data, why not make a few coding tweaks so that when horseback riding is entered, it will deduct the step count during the timeframe in which the exercise took place?”
I also agree that none of these concerns or adjustments take away the the practical fun of using my Fitbit to keep myself moving toward my overall fitness goals. With this technology and Susan’s advice, (assuming we can remember to do it) we can tweak our settings, tap a button at the beginnings and ends of our rides, and actually get to count our rides as part of our exercise regimen. By being able to gauge the intensity of each ride as part of our “workout” (And understanding that we do need to do make sure to do other work to balance the riding muscle groups to prevent imbalance and overuse injuries), we can now give ourselves credit (and kiss our horses) for what is likely a major contributor to our overall fitness regimen.
As we all learn more about this great tracking device and discover more ways to tweak and use its features in ways that apply specifically to riding and barn chores, let’s share them here and start a groundswell that just might get the attention of those Fitbit and bring about the programming we need most!
Comment here, email me, or add your comment to Facebook, Twitter, or my website, and tell us how you use your Fitbit to track your progress toward your riding fitness goals!
Long before rescuing OTBs was cool, this story of an unsuspecting Bold Ruler filly stole my heart and broke it and gave it back again as I stayed riveted to page after page of Barbara van Tuyl’s novel that became what is now referred to as “The Bonnie Books.” For reasons I still don’t understand I connected with this story on such a deep level that I still think about it and its characters from time to time. Julie Jefferson was all I ever wanted to be. She was brave, compassionate, wise behind her years — and willing to do whatever it took to protect and care for this endearing horse.
I loved this story because it so plays into our “diamond in the rough” fantasies about difficult horses. For me, it also inspired patience beyond words with a horse that everyone who watched our struggles chimed in with a collective exasperated, “Give up, already!”. But a gruff old trainer emerged just in the nick of time and together, over a year of slow and painstaking retraining, we redeemed this diamond of mine and proved a lot of naysayers wrong.
We didn’t win any races, but we won the sense of accomplishment that can only come from solving a serious horse problem and coming out of it with a shiny, shorty prize you knew was in there all along.
Do you have a diamond in the rough horse story? How did you know? What did to redeem your own chunk of coal? Let me hear from you! Share your story (and photos if you have them!) on Facebook, Twitter, or MelindaFolse.com
Writers often like to ponder (sometimes as a procrastination device!) both the unsuspecting origins of whatever we’re working on at the time AND sifting through current experiences for hints of what may be next. The truth is we can look all we want to — we usually have no idea what is currently shaping our future work; part of the mystery we all live with is how projects unfold — and from where. You just never know which ones will surprise you by working out well — and which certain “home runs” end up dragging, dejected, back into the dugout to lick their strike-out wounds. Realizing that there is a finite number of books each of us can write in our lifetime, we have to ask as we begin each one, why should this be one of them?
After I finished and lived with The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, which was one of those unexpected out-of-the park experiences that still mystifies me, I really didn’t know what I would be writing about next. Then a call from my publisher piqued my curiosity about whether I would be able to come up with a way to write about body image and riding horses in such a way as to help people think, feel, and behave differently around how riders feel about their own bodies — and how that affects the way the ride.
Fast forward a few years to the release of my new book, Riding Through Thick & Thin. This was a topic I was familiar enough with to write about, having struggled with the same 20-30 pounds for most of my life — and a ridiculous amount of self doubt that rode along with it. In remembering those rides — as a young teen, as a 20-something, and as now as a 50-something — I know firsthand how this special connection with a horse evokes empowerment and freedom that can drown self-doubt in a sea of exhilaration. As I delved into my research, talked to experts and women of all kinds, shapes and sizes, something else became apparent. This topic transcends horses and riding into a much bigger arena — however, the horse world offers up to may solid metaphors to ignore.
So with that in mind, I invite you to ride along with me for a while on this journey, whether you’re a rider, like horses, or are just curious about how getting #bodypositive will help you banish your own self doubts and rediscover the joy of whatever thrills you!
Several things intrigued me here. A cursory review of “load” research told me that a floppy 120-pounder could actually feel heavier to a horse than a fit, well-balanced 200-something. A little further investigation revealed that being fit in this sense has nothing to do with size-6 jeans. Rather, it requires an integrated approach to fitness that unites stamina, strength and flexibility (affectionately dubbed the “holy trinity of rider fitness”).
Another interesting factor that popped up right away is how women are conditioned from birth to compare their bodies to others. In a bizarre combination of cultural brainwashing that condones fat shaming with overactive inner critics, many, if not most women internalize the message (whether there is any reality to it or not) that they’re not thin enough, tall enough, leggy enough or whatever-else-enough for whatever we aspire to.
This silliness has done a lot of damage to women’s self-esteem around the planet, including mine, and that just makes me mad. Taking this whole conundrum into the arena of riding and working with horses — the ultimate authenticity enforcers — it makes no sense at all. And yet, this emotionally crippling condition is reaching epidemic proportions, with many women either giving up or overcorrecting in the form of eating disorders.
As an admitted self-help junkie, and one who has similarly struggled, I couldn’t refuse the opportunity for another deep exploration that would crisscross experts in many different fields, in and out of the horse world, to come up with some useful information and maybe even a few missing answers. Mostly I wanted to develop an arsenal of tools that could help all who struggle with these issues to find their way out of this black hole of self doubt and into the joy we’re meant to have riding horses.
Challenge, however, came quickly on the heels of intrigue. What could I possibly find to say about all this that hasn’t been said before? How in the world would I find and approach people to ask them the important questions about this sensitive topic? Who would help me?
The outpouring of support was amazing. From experts inside and outside the horse world to psychologists and nutritionists; from trainers (both horse and human) to all kinds of women — riders at every level, from all over the world — stories, information, advice and insight infused this project. As I explored, gathered, curated, and organized this information, and with the help of many key others including my deeply committed Trafalgar Square editors, we wrestled this torrent of support into an ironically hefty book filled with, yes, some new ideas, insights, and combinations of strategies I’m proud to present as Riding Through Thick and Thin.
This book is hot off the press, and I’m excited to hear what resonates, what further questions arise, and how we can make this information most useful to those who have been searching for it. In this space I’ll be unpacking some of these ideas a little further (there’s more to my stockpile than can possibly be contained in a single book and I’d love to share it!), so please post your comments, questions, and requests, and I’ll do my very best to supply any additional information you need. Message me on Facebook, Twitter, or via email.
My first book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses opens with my going with my father to pick out a horse for his new place, a gentleman’s ranch inside the city limits where he could have his roses and keep the city life too. It was a compromise between my mom and dad that seemed to make sense for the next stage of their lives. I was devastated at the loss of the Hico ranch, but glad they found a place with stellar horse pens, fences and a barn with a studio where my dad could paint. Somewhere about that time the bottom fell out of my own life — a second divorce and career wobbliness that had me questioning who i was and what i was even supposed to be doing. Climbing on the back of a horse was the first step toward answering those questions. It changed my direction, my focus and my understanding of what I am meant to write about. This connection with horses, I discovered, touches literally everything important in life. By plumbing these experiences I would have new light to shed to help others who struggle, whether horseback or not.
And, as it turned out, this midlife awakening was not unusual, especially for women looking down the barrel of the second half of life. I am among the last of the Baby Boomers, the little girls who grew up in simpler times, many of whom had or always wanted a horse. Little girls who chose Breyers over Barbies were all grown up — and most of their children were grown, too — and many of them were circling back to horses to find new answers to some of their oldest questions.
Look back at your own empowering experiences and look for their seeds. You may be surprised where you find them, and the new reflections this retroactive mental search evokes.
Turn conditioning obstacles into opportunities with just a little more focus on revelry and elbow grease.
Let’s join Cynthia Foley, who points out in Benefits of Barn Work (Horse Journal) in a new battle cry in this quest for a better body image “I know I’m fit. I know I could weigh less, especially as I battle middle age, but I have strength and endurance. Have you ever seen a non-horse person try to gracefully put a saddle on a horse’s back, especially a Western saddle? It’s not pretty.”
Or as I like to say (borrowed from my friend’s daughter, cleaned up a bit for the sake of propriety)
Forget Skinny. Get strong!
And oddly enough, those barn chores we’re all going to do anyway offer up some strategies, if only we teach ourselves to take advantage of these little bits of strength training handed so graciously to us by our horses. When I started thinking about all the things we do every day for our horses that are physical, from the moment we arrive at the barn until the moment we leave, and then started thinking about the muscle groups involved (or that could be involved with a little focused effort, such as engaging the abs before every single thing we do) here’s a list of possible stable workout staples:
Park and walk briskly to the horse pens (warm up)
Gather, load, unload and hoist several flakes of hay per horse over the fence. (Abs, arms and shoulders.)
Pick stalls, shovel soiled shavings into a wheelbarrow, lift (engage your abs and use your legs!) and push said wheelbarrow to designated dumping spot. (Shoulders, arms, abs, back, quads, calves, glutes — and if you remember to take big deep steps that resemble as much as possible a walking lunge, psoas.)
Lift, carry, dump, scrub and refill water buckets, two reps per horse. (Arms shoulders, lats, back, abs.)
Put everything away, get the hay out of your hair, walk back to the car. (Cool down)
Sound like a workout? It should. As you go about your barn chores today, think about the muscles you’re using in each one. Focus on these muscles, engage your core, and breathe out upon every exertion, and see what you can do to add a little extra conditioning mileage into every step.
This post was originally published on Equisearch.com