Looking for a more balanced life? Join the (very large) club. And the dance between finding it and losing it goes on.

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It's the perfect holiday gift for anyone you know contemplating Midlife Horses! Click on the cover to order now!

This slippery slope is a hot topic for all of us midlifers trying to have it all, do it all and be it all. And when you’re trying to work something as large as a horse into this delicate equation, its enough to keep us all preoccupied with finding the right answer. Perfect balance is out there. We can smell it. And sometimes, we may even touch it.  But not for long. If you are one of the lucky ones to find this snipe, enjoy every precious second of it, by all means. But don’t get too comfortable.

“Balance,” points out our friend, Kathy Taylor, on her  HerdWise blog, is a verb,”something you do, rather than a state of being.”

Huh?

Comparing the work/life balance to a balance board (you know, one of those gizmos with a wheel in the middle and a board across the top on which you stand and try to keep your weight evenly distributed so that the board tilts neither right or left), Taylor stays, “The reality is that there are only very short moments in time when you’re NOT making some adjustment. One second you’re too much to the left, then too much to the right. You’re in constant motion.”

Well so much for getting everything in my life perfectly balanced, once and for all, then moving on to other, greater pursuits. As it turns out, staying reasonably balanced is the greater pursuit. But what’s reasonable? we ask.

Taylor adds that with awareness and constant practice, the ongoing corrections we make to our time and life imbalances will get smaller and more subtle as time goes on. “The more aware you are of when you need to adjust, the less you’ll have to do,” she adds. “And if you don’t practice making small adjustments that will keep you in the middle of the board, then you’ll be stuck making big corrections later that tend to make everyone unhappy.”

Taking this a bit further, I call on my favorite life coach Martha Beck, whose recent post, Balancing Act: The Dance of an Unbalanced Life  on the same subject was still percolating when Kathy’s blog update showed up on our Facebook wall (does anybody think this is a coincidence? I think not!)

We’re nearing that time of year when we look at our life and make those resolutions to do better — or as I like to think of it, the Annual Life Reorganization Summit (the practice formerly known as New Year’s Resolutions). Sometimes annual resolutions to do better and be better stick, sometimes not, but I (and lots of other people,  I think) subscribe to the theory that “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

So Martha tells us (see, the Internet puts you on first name basis with everyone):

“I can tell you with absolute assurance that it is impossible for women to achieve the kind of balance recommended by many well-meaning self-help counselors. I didn’t say such balance is difficult to attain. I didn’t say it’s rare. It’s impossible. Our culture’s definition of what women should be is fundamentally, irreconcilably unbalanced. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the very imbalance of our culture is forcing women to find equilibrium in an entirely new way. ”

She goes on to say (and we already know this to be true. We learned it from our Midlife Horses) that once we “get” that the expectations we’ve been trying to fill are, in fact, impossible, we  find the freedom to start living life “from the inside out.”

“You free yourself to ignore social pressures and begin creating a life that comes from your own deepest desires, hopes, and dreams,” she adds. This, Martha says, is the beginning of “learning to seek guidance by turning inward to the heart, rather than outward to social prescriptions.”

This is the kind of fulfillment our Midlife Horses show us (if you haven’t already seen it, check out our new video about this and hear from some of the women who are living this dream).  I don’t know about you, but whatever I have to do to learn the “dance of imbalance” that gets me to the barn every day,  I’ll do.

And granted, there may be some skinned knees and bumps and bruises to nurse as we practice this dance on our own individual balance boards (each of us has one as unique as we are, but rest assured, they’re all the same special kind of slippery), and I’m sure I’ll fall off completely from time to time.

But I’m taking Kathy and Martha at their wise word(s): Balance is a verb. Practice and constant adjustment on the fly makes it easier to stay nearer the coveted center. And above all, the pursuit of this balance is, in and of itself, “a dance of joyful disequilibrium to be celebrated and embraced” as we find new authenticity and satisfaction by living through our wobbles in a whole new way. (For more on this, check our Martha’s new book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World, available December 27.)

What small adjustments bring you back to center when your life starts to feel wobbly? How does your horse help? What effect does your Midlife Horses have on your personal balancing act? How have you adjusted your personal priorities to work a horse into the mix? We get into this a bit in The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses (Chapter 3: Take the Reins).

I’d love to know what works best for you! Comment here, post to our Facebook page, retweet your favorite rebalancing tip when you see this headline pop up on my Twitter feed, or talk to us via video comment on our YouTube channel. (I’d love to see some GloZell-style comments to these posts pop up on our channel — in format, not content . . . although I challenge you to watch this “tip” post and not laugh your butt off)

Free T-shirt to the first three tipsters!

 

Happy Trails!

 

Is holiday havoc erupting between your eggnog and riding schedules? Give yourself a break! Here’s how to have your eggnog and hold your horses, too.

Midlife News Women and Horses
It's the perfect holiday gift for anyone you know contemplating Midlife Horses! Click on the cover to order now!

This bit of holiday mercy just in from our friend and trainer, Denise Barrows of Practical Equine Solutions who shares:

“This is a really good newsletter- right along the same lines as what we are doing/promoting.   While it is probably focused toward riders who are already knee deep in a fitness and riding program, it is also good for the not-so-serious riders to hear (I can relay it as, “See? there ARE times when you can take a break from regular riding and planning and stretching! Just not 51 weeks out of the year 🙂

I also appreciate the emphasis here on maintaining hip mobility. This seems to be an issue many of us struggle with. It’s nice to see that so many others are on the same page as we are!”

The fabulous resource Denise connects us with here is equifitt.com. Go there and click on the blue box on the upper right portion of the home page (scroll down to the bottom for the free stuff, but there are some cool things to purchase on the way to the sign up box!) to sign up for their free monthly tips and articles — and then click around this great site to explore the many fitness ideas and opportunities there to fit a variety of needs and interests!

Meanwhile, Denise shares their November newsletter (couldn’t find the link for you, so here it is in all its glory!) that got our attention after our recent Pilates enlightenment.  Enjoy!

EquiFiTTip November 2011: Make the Most of Your Time

© Heather R. Sansom

Forward to a friend, subscription to monthly FiTTips is free.

It’s that busy festive time of year again when many riders find themselves torn: you really want to be at the barn, but there is that office party/social event/crammed holiday schedule and they just have not perfected cloning.

 It can be a time of year when fitting in ‘extra’s like your own fitness plan really fall by the wayside.

Relax.  The beauty of a yearly training plan is that it’s understood there are times of the year when optimal training cannot occur.  In fact, there are times when it shouldn’t- your body needs to recover.  I usually view the month of December as a maintenance only/alternative period of time.  There is no point in fighting it- you need to have the balance of being able to connect with friends and family, and enjoy the general hum and extravagant well-wishing of the major holiday season.

Before you get ready to put on the fuzzy slippers and pour yourself something that warms you, you really do need to know that recovery period does not mean it’s time to slack off completely.  The purpose of a recovery period in your usual training regimen is to help you loosen up a little; to let muscles recover from long periods of use in order to avoid strain, and to let your brain unwind so that you can bring creativity and freshness back to the ways you are thinking about your sport.  Letting yourself sink into a comfortable chair for the season, or run around with elevated blood pressure from shopping and socializing with no time for yourself, do not count as legitimate recovery.

Keep the end goal in mind: going into the New Year, picking up where you left off, having thought about your goals for the new year and ready to give it your best shot.

Total slacking or stressing for a month will not set you up to walk into this picture.

Recovery periods in an athlete training schedule are often referred to as ‘active recovery’.  When you think about the concept applied to your horse, it makes sense.  For example, in the off season (if you compete) you may take him out hacking, or play with gymnastics (if you are a dressage rider) or work on your dressage (if you are a hunter/jumper).  You will generally give your horse some work that is light to him, and a little different from his usual routine.  You’ll bring the fun back in.  If he is injured, you don’t leave him standing in a stall.  You keep him moving.  In some areas, riders just turn their horse out for the winter where he can stay exercised going through snow and up and down hills, but otherwise get a mental break and just be a horse to get re-energized.

You both need a period where your horse’s training is lighter.  This is a good season to do it, and there is a hybrid solution that can help normally busy riders, go through the busy holiday season and still be physically and mentally recovered and ready to pick up where you left off when your normal training seasons begins again.

You do not need to feel torn about not maintaining your training schedule, if you have planned to ride less, or make your rides shorter.   You do need to plan in short segments of activity for yourself to replace the lost riding time.  Luckily, it does not take nearly as long to go for a 20-minute walk as it does to head to the barn and back in an evening: you can fit in the walk AND the holiday party in on the same day.

Short bursts of intentional and fun physical activity will help keep you riding fit when you can’t ride as much or as long.  They will also help reduce stress, build proprioception and neuro-muscular vocabulary (increase your ability to move and follow your horse), and even help you avoid potential strain issues that could be caused by your riding and are typically prevalent in middle-aged and older riders.

It doesn’t really matter what activities you choose in your recovery period as a rider.  However, they should be selected to meet specific goals that help your riding, such as:

 

  1. Maintain bone density and improve ligament strength(impact activities).

Examples:   walking, jogging, kickboxing, aerobics, skiing, snowshoeing, training with weights or bodyweight/resistance tubing

  1. Maintain hip mobility (for following the horse’s motion).

Examples: walking (probably the best one), cross country skiing, snowshoeing, skating, yoga

  1. Build core strength.

Examples: core exercises, martial arts, swimming, dance (jazz, hip hop etc..) pilates, integrated training with exercise tubing

  1. Improve rhythm and connection.

Examples: dance- especially social dancing with a partner, aerobics or other music-driven group classes, ‘mirror’ motion games with a partner

  1. Maintain or build cardio-vascular stamina.

Examples: many of the activities above, as long as your heart rate is elevated for 15-20 minutes.  If you are an Eventer, your cardio training should be twice as long.  Using intervals of more intense activity are the most efficient way to train.  For example, walking on hills or walking the dog with intervals of faster or slower walking; or swimming lengths with fast/slow combinations that you can keep up. 

To get the most out of your exercise time as a mental break and for proprioception, it is best NOT to multi-task.  Proprioception, or the finetuned control you need as an athlete and a rider, needs to be constantly honed.  Stay focused on what you are doing so that you can give it 100% even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes. 

If you have a busy family holiday season in addition to your riding and other commitments, 5 minutes may be all you have at a time.  

Have fun, and Happy Riding and Training! 

© Heather R. Sansom

Equifitt training draws on multiple sport and fitness disciplines to help riders of all ages and types balance their bodies and reach their riding and fitness goals.  Heather is a certified personal trainer and Level 1 Centered Riding® Instructor.  Equifitt offers online eCoaching, clinics, personal rider programs, and Centered Riding® instruction.

 

www.equifitt.com

Equestrian Fitness Training

“Balanced Training for Better Riding”

Happy Trails!

Aaaaaaack!!! Caught in my own trap! Do you, too, wrestle with midlife fitness challenges?

Midlife News The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses

Bemoaning my fatigue the other day (and blaming it, of course, on this blasted August heat), it occurred to me that the only exercise I was getting these days was a few very short (did I mention that it’s HOT?) rides a week on my horses. As I heard myself start to argue that riding and dealing with horses is a workout in and of itself, I remembered how I debunked this whiny myth (begun, I’m sure by a woman just like me and perpetuated by anyone lacking time or motivation to do anything else but ride) in Chapter Four, “Leg Up!” of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses.

Obviously, I needed to go back and re-read my own book.

So here’s the crux of it, right in the middle of page 57:   “If the only exercise you do is ride, you put yourself at risk for repetitive motion or referred strain injuries in your back, muscles, and joints caused by strength imbalances in your body.”

“So what’s the answer, Ms. Smarty Pants?” I mocked myself.  Who has time for all this? Well, as it turns out, finding time for “baseline conditioning” is one of those things that’s very easy to recommend to others, and STILL hard to make your own silly self do. Sufficiently chastised, I continued reading.

Realizing  that we all have natural strength imbalances in our bodies (Are you stronger on the left or the right? Do you tend to lean a little bit one way or  the other in the saddle? If you’re not sure, watch your horse —  he’ll likely reflect your imbalances with his own!), and how those imbalances can lead to injury, I started thinking (this time in highly personal terms) about how to improve my own conditioning without further taxing my already overstufffed daily schedule.

What can I do (and what will I do) to achieve and maintain that ideal baseline of fitness that will keep me strong, flexible and balanced — with enough stamina to ride well and often — and still have enough energy left over to power through the rest of my day without feeling like a dishrag by dinnertime?

And speaking of dinnertime, I also realized that this fatigue I was feeling was making me too tired and cranky by late afternoon to shop for, prepare and serve nutritious meals for  myself and my family. Succumbing all too often to the lure of the drive-thru, take out, or pick-up of food that is, shall we say, less than ideal in terms of health, my trap was self-perpetuating.

Clearly, I needed the same kind of fitness and nutrition overhaul I so diligently gave my horse. (I’ve always said if someone would measure my food, add the supplements I need, and make sure I get enough turnout, rest and the right kind of exercise, I, too, would look and feel a lot better.)

So I issue this challenge to you, my Midlife Horse friends. Between now and the end of the year (to heck with New Year’s resolutions, let’s do it now!), let’s all agree to start taking care of ourselves like we were our own horses. Let’s head into Fall (will it bring it on faster if we start thinking about it more?) with the intent of getting fit to ride better and have “after five energy” left over  for our families and friends by cleaning up our nutrition, shoring up our baseline conditioning, and correcting our strength imbalances.

Assuming you accept this challenge, as I have, what’s your program going to be? What are your midlife fitness goals? It’s funny to me that being a size 6 is no longer as enticing to me as being able to get on my horse from the ground quickly and without struggle, having enough core strength to stay balanced when my horse starts hopping around like a Texas jackalope, and enough muscle  to apply an irresistible leg cue  in these instances, even after riding for a few hours. See what I mean about how midlife shifts our priorities — along with our waistlines?

Let’s share our best ideas and explore in greater detail some of the resources I included in Chapter Four (and any others you may know about that I missed)! We’ll call it the Midlife Horses Fitness Challenge. If you’re in, post your top three fitness goals on our Facebook fan page and how you intend to “measure” your success. (Creativity welcome here —remember, midlife gives us the right to change the rules whenever we feel like it! As are “before” pictures and video demos  . . .fitness challenges love company) And, if you’ll email me (mkfolse@gmail.com) your mailing address and t-shirt size, there’s a free Midlife Horses t-shirt in it for you, in addition to a new level of fitness that will free you once and for all from the self-perpetuating midlife fitness trap.

 

Happy Trails!

 

 

 

Met Jennifer’s newest horse on Saturday. He’s a noodle. Literally.

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You just haven’t lived until you’ve met a faux horse constructed of a swim noodle to help dressage riders develop feel for how their posture affects their horse’s alignment. I do wish I had thought to take a picture of SiMoN™ (he even has a brand), but you can find out more about this unique breed of pony at another of my new favorite resources, Dressage, Naturally, a site hosted by Karen Rohlf  that bridges classical dressage and natural horsemanship. I know. It kind of  sounds like a conflict of interest at first, but truly, it works. Check it out!

How did I come by this spectacular bit of information? I went out to visit Ironstar Farms in Aledo, Texas last Saturday at the invitation of Jennifer Fulton who hosts a little women’s horsemanship group there several times a year. These are the kinds of groups that feed the midlife soul, and if you’re not in one, get one. Seriously. Getting together online as we do in our Midlife Horses Facebook community is good, but gathering periodically in person with a group of  midlife horse friends to eat great food (chocolate is a staple here), drink wine (or in this case, Mimosas) and talk about our horses is a true delight! Here we can talk to our collective hearts’ content about what we want to do next with our horses, what frustrates us, and those tiny but monumental victories that only other midlife horsewomen truly understand. (Have you ever tried to share the elation of a perfect canter departure with a non horse friend or family member? It just doesn’t work. No matter how much they love you, how happy they are that you’re happy, and how interested they are trying to be, they just don’t get it.)

So on Saturday we met for one of these gatherings and Jennifer shared with us a couple of Karen’s video presentations. (You have to subscribe to view these, but there’s also lots of great free content on this site, and the video series is WELL worth the membership. Also, Karen’s free newsletter is archived, so there’s a lot of great stuff there, as well.) My favorite takeaway from these presentations had to do with the way we ask our horses to do things. (As my mom always said, “sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it that makes the difference in the reaction you get.) Karen’s advice here (and I did write down these first letters as a sort of acronym to remind me) is:

1. Get Silent before you ask for something new. If you’re like me, and your mind tends to chatter, it can be hard for your horse to realize you’ve even asked for anything at all.

2. On that same note, be sure you have your horse’s Attention before  making your request. That’s because as fascinating as we think we are, our horse may actually be tuning us out.

3. Then you phrase your request in the form of a Question, such as “Are you ready to canter now?” Often, with my horse, Trace, the answer will be “Um, no,” and that presents a different sort of issue, but it does offer me a milder course of action than when I force it first and ask questions later.

4. The next thing to do, Rohlf says, is Listen for the answer. (Or in my case, the eye roll) There again, this step gives you a chance to deal with any resistance early and in its mildest expression.

5. Finally, you need to give Feedback. (Such as “Yes! That’s it! Good Boy!!!” or “No, that was a good try, but not quite it. Let’s practice it again.” Or,  in my case, “Nope, not even close.  Let’s keep working on this until you either give me an honest try or one of us dies.”

 

After telling us more about Karen’s work and showing us her book and DVD that outlines her Dressage, Naturally program step by step, (book also available on Karen’s dressagenaturally.net website) Jennifer then brought out her new horse, “SiMoN” After that, the place pretty much turned into a bowling alley. I will say two more things about SiMoN and then I promise to leave it alone. First, it is incredible how much this mental picture helps keep you straight in the saddle and mindful of your posture and hip and shoulder alignment. I didn’t even “get on” this fine blue steed with the wooden handles sticking straight up out of his withers, but the next time I rode my own horses I realized the power of having this picture in your head, both of the handles coming straight up out of his withers and how any shift in your seat or shoulders affects his alignment. The second thing is, if you do purchase one of these noodle horses, you might want to consider “riding” it only in the privacy of  your own  home. Preferably when your family is away. I’m not kidding. As profound a teacher as SiMoN really is, I can’t begin to describe the visual. To a casual observer, especially those uninitiated to the subtleties of dressage, it’s mental picture  you will probably never be able to live down.

 

But for the rest of us (especially those of u s who have recently come to understand that “dressage is crack,”  as Jennifer is known for saying to her students), SiMoN and creator Karen Rohlf have sent us off on a new quest. Go check out Dressage, Naturally and let me know what you think! And if you DO purchase a SiMoN, please tell us what you learn!

Saddle Up! Your Midlife Horse is Waiting!

Happy Trails!