“I’ve never yet went wrong in sizing up a man by the kind of a horse he rode. A good horse always packs a good man, and I’ve always dodged the hombre what had no thought nor liking for his horse or other animals, for I figger that kind of gazabo is best to be left unacquainted with. No good would ever come of the meeting.”
— Will James, Smoky: The Cowhorse
My relationship with Will James began long before I was old enough to judge grammar or syntax — or realized that everything he says about men and their horses goes about double for women. All of this is excused here, because, as my dad explained, Will James is the real deal. He’s a cowboy that, for reasons no one really knows, spent a lot of time writing down the stories he lived, even though technically he could neither read nor write. (He also led a very short and tragic life, but at least he got the horse part right — and he followed his impulse to write about his experiences as a cowboy in a compelling way that no one else did.) For whatever reason, it was very important to Will to tell people about the horses and the cowboys he lived and worked with. Not only that, he wanted to share what he learned, understood and knew from curating these stories.
Will’s judgment of Smokey was spot on — and even though this little cowhorse with the great big heart endured a lot of peril, to have been so well-understood and deeply-loved by a simple cowboy was a gift and example that became the lasting and best part of Will James’ legacy. And now it is also mine. There is so much I want people to know and understand about horses and how much they can teach us. While most cowboys even today will tell you that there is no better teacher than a horse, it takes a little doing to learn to listen, observe, and understand.
Like Will, I have a deep need to share what I’ve learned and observed from the horses and riders and others who cross my path on regular basis (and even more regular when I put some effort into it!). And while, as the old saying goes, when you get three horse people together you’ll never get them all to agree on anything, you can usually get two of them to agree that the third one is wrong, I find these discussions fascinating. And, taking Wills quote above to heart, you can usually tell all you need to about each of the three by checking out what their their horses think of them!
That being said, and as one who has, As Will describes, “a soft spot in my heart” for all kinds of animals (and some would say a soft spot in my head to match!), stories about horses and their humans have always been my hands-down Number 1 heart-eyed-emoji fascination. And just like Will, I can’t not write them down.
What’s your horse story? What have you observed in the people and horses around you that seemed to reflect a far deeper understandings than was otherwise possible? Let me hear from you! Share your story (and photos if you have them!) on Facebook, Twitter, or MelindaFolse.com
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
Still digging out from my exciting weekend at AmerEquine Festival of the Horse at Will Rogers Memorial Complex in Fort Worth, Texas this past weekend, and I have some VERY cool stuff to tell you about in coming posts. But first, I wanted to follow up on a couple of loose ends from our trailering series. (Also, after spending the weekend sharing a booth space with a delightful representative of US Rider, I have some more info about that great program as well!) Thanks so much to all who have sent comments and trailering suggestions and tips. There has been some GREAT info coming in. Scroll back through Trailering Part I and Part II to check these out, and add your own comments or questions. I especially love the practice tips and suggestions–just the kind of info we all need! Thanks again for all who contributed–we appreciate you!!!? I’m very excited to have these tips (already printed them out and put them in my trailer folder), and I’m so happy to share it all with those of you learning or contemplating trailering. Keep those ideas and suggestions coming! Now, part of the trailering equation that can be perplexing is the issue of how much truck do you really need? One good friend who has hauled a lot of miles offers this advice: always get more truck than you think you need. This is good, but first you have to know what you think you need, right? I, of course, am not the one to ask about this. I drive a mini, which, kind of like a Jack Russell terrier, is only big on the inside. In fact, I like to park it backed up to the biggest rig at my barn just to make people laugh. This is going to backfire someday when one of the owners of this trailer comes to hook up. That’s why I leave the keys in it, by the way. Also not a good idea in some locations (so, kids, don’t try this at home.) Nevertheless, I ask you now for any wisdom you have gained in your experience shopping for, purchasing and deciding which truck is the right one for your needs. I know lots of people pull trailers with underpowered vehicles all the time and have never had a problem, but in the interest of safety and our endless search for the best-we-can-do-if-we’re-going-to-do-it-at-all solution, let us hear from you about what you have learned about choosing the right truck. (Send photos to my email and I’ll post them!) I look forward to learning and sharing this crucial 411!
Is anyone but me getting desperate for a trailer? I love where I keep my horses, and I know everything is just as it should be right now, horse accommodation wise. But I’m feeling kind of arena locked and claustrophobic. If only I had a trailer (and, oh, wait, a big ol’ truck, because I drive a Mini), I could load up and go to the Grasslands — or even a few closer trails — for an afternoon in the great big, rail-less outdoors. And as good as I know this would be for my horses’ minds, I know it would be even better for mine. There’s just something magical about a trail ride for clearing everyone’s mind and recharging your soul. But do you know what worries me about having a trailer? Pulling it. Once before when I was on a serious trailer quest, and again while researching the Trailering chapter for The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, I ran across the same thing time and again. Everyone says how “easy” it is to pull a trailer. They think it’s comforting to tell me “you won’t even know it’s back there!” That, my friends, is precisely what I’m afraid of. For people who have grown up hauling horses, pulling a trailer (and backing it!) is second nature. They honestly don’t know what the big deal is. Or why I’m so wigged out. They scoff at my need for formal instruction (beyond the trailer salesman who offers to “take me out back and show me” how to pull a trailer.) Something tells me this is a skill that can’t be learned in one 30-minute session. I want rules, instruction, safety procedures and practice opportunities. But guess what? If a six-week trailer pulling course is out there (besides truck driver school) I sure haven’t found it. I understand and appreciate that those who have pulled trailers a lot are walking around with knowledge inside them they don’t even know is there. But when trouble shows up, they reach for it and it’s there to help them figure out what to do. On the other hand, if I’m pulling a trailer full of horses and get into trouble (blowout, bad weather, horrible high speed traffic, some jerk cuts me off or stops suddenly without warning) I’d reach for that instinct born of knowledge and experience and come up empty handed. And most likely, hysterical. So as I begin this “happy trailering” series of posts, I invite your participation and response. What are your trailering questions and concerns? What worries you most when you’re pulling a trailer? How did you learn (or how do you plan to learn) to pull a trailer? And for heaven’s sake, if you’re one of those folks who has hauled a lot, please share any insights, tips and wisdom you can put your finger on to help keep the rest of us from becoming road hazards! Here’s to Happy Trailering!
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!
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.
If you answered “Neigh!” to the opening question, you’re right, of course. (You’re also right if you’ve been talking to my horses and the answer is “Nay.”)
However, I’m coming to the understanding that if we’ll let them, horses can say a whole lot more. (Have I gone even weirder on you? Maybe. But probably not.)
We hear a lot about “horse whisperers.” And we’ve had a wonderful opportunity lately to get reacquainted with this concept with Buck Brannaman’s Buck the Movie. (Did anyone else get this one for Christmas?I’m so glad to have my own copy!!)
So in keeping with all this, I’ve been playing around lately with the idea of equine assisted learning and animal communication. My research and interviews for The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses led me to cross paths with lots of these people and dug up enough compelling information to make me want to delve further into these areas. (This, of course, spawned a new idea I can’t wait to tell you about, but it’s still in its incubation, so stay tuned!)
Last week, I enlisted the help of a friend of mine we’ll call Mary. That’s not her real name. If I used her real name in this story there’s a good chance she’ll cease being my friend. And an even better chance that everyone who knows me will then take a much wider circle around me to escape having any conversation we have become blog fodder. So if you know me personally, be advised that what you say can and will be used for the common good in my blog, but I will always protect your privacy. Then if at some point you want to claim the story as your own, we can give you a proper introduction.
Like so many of us, Mary has an affinity for horses that reaches back to her childhood and early adolescence. Then, grown up responsibilities and family rearing took her far away from any thought of horses — except, of course, for the occasional fond flashback whenever the subject of horses came up. She’s very grounded, centered and self-aware, possibly the most balanced human I know. These factors (plus a little curiosity on her part) made her the perfect candidate for one of my favorite journaling exercises in The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses.
So here’s what happened. We went out to where my horses are stabled and I got them both out, along with all their brushes and combs. Then I invited her to pick one and brush him. I assumed she’d pick Rio because of his sweet clownish face and docile demeanor. She admitted to being a little nervous about handling horses because some of her memories, come to think of it, weren’t that fond.
So she went straight to Trace. Go figure. His head was stuck way up in the air in what Clinton would definitely classify as his “unsure zone.” In fact, I could almost just see the whites of his eyes. Not a good thing, and I can tell you if she had made a sudden move or sneezed loudly he probably would have come unglued.
I watched as they sized each other up, noting as I did the gentleness of how she brushed him. She didn’t talk; just brushed. Pretty soon his head started to come out of the clouds and the softness returned to his eyes.
“You know, I thought I would choose that one,” she said, pointing to Rio, “but for some reason I feel more drawn to this one.” She patted Trace gently on the neck. His head shot straight up, the wary look returning. We laughed. “He does scare me a little, though, so I’m not sure why I’m choosing him.”
Don’t I know that feeling? I thought to myself. Trace, you may remember, is my first midlife horse, the one that came to me from the group of milling geldings when I wasn’t even looking for a horse. The one who has tried my patience to the cellular level and my soul even more, and yet for some reason, I just can’t give up on him. And, in all fairness, it’s been worth it.
The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses came from a perfect storm of my struggles with Trace, my resulting introduction to Downunder Horsemanship, and then all the Midlife Horse stories I heard and got to write about when I worked for Clinton Anderson. Seeing the difference finding my best solutions made in my own midlife horses journey — and from what I learned and observed firsthand as Clinton’s head writer as I helped him write his best selling Lessons Well Learned and dozens of articles and training tips — I knew I wanted to share what I learned with others as desperate for this information as I was starting out. All because of a persnickerty horse.
For all my trials created at the hooves of this horse, he’s made me a better rider, a more aware rider, and a person who has had to learn (with a lot of help) how to walk through fear to find that “calm courage” Martha Beck describes, and this has helped me in many aspects of my life, on and off the horse.
Every horse has something special to teach us — and I now believe that when you open yourself, on whatever level you choose, to midlife horses, the horse that appears in our life (and believe me, you’ll know it when it happens) is the one sent to teach us something we need to know to heal ourselves of whatever is still bugging us here in the halftime of our lives.
So, going back to Mary, after she was finished brushing Trace and combing his mane, we dragged a chair into the pen and she sat down with her journal to do the “Awaken Your Horse Sense” exercise (found on page 15 of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses). I left the two of them alone (but occasionally peeked, once to see Trace rolling, once to see him walk up to her and nibble at her pen and the edges of her journal and her sleeve. (I should probably stop giving him carrots.)
Then, hearing Mary laughing out loud, I looked just in time to see her walking across the pen — and Trace prancing along beside her, head protectively curved around in front of her, looking at her square on. I wish I had been quick enough to get a picture of this for you, because it was profound to me even before I heard the story behind it.
Here’s what Mary had to say afterward: “I started writing, just mundane journaling stuff . . . you know, trying to get started just by writing anything that came into my mind, just like the exercise instructs,” she said. At that point Trace was totally ignoring me. Sniffing the ground, facing the opposite direction. I kept writing, just this and that, observations, what I thought of this exercise, random thoughts about journaling. Then he dropped to his knees and rolled in the dirt. That was kind of funny, so I chuckled a little bit and he got up and walked toward me. I went back to journaling my observations and he turned away and walked to the far end of the pen.
“Then some stuff started coming to me that was a little more personal, engaging my emotions and some internal questioning. He then turned and walked straight toward me, coming to stop with his head right in front of my notebook. What’s he doing? I thought. I wasn’t afraid, but looking back on that now I can’t imagine why I wasn’t. Then he started nibbling at my pen. Does he think it’s a carrot? I wondered, remembering that Melinda said he likes carrots. I noticed how big his teeth were, but again, without any fear. He was clearly playing with me.
“I tried to ignore him and continue writing, wanting to finish writing the thought I had before he came over to me. He nibbled the edges of my pages and then a singe word came into my mind: “Play!!!” I wrote this word, including the three exclamation points, and he then dragged his nose right across where I was writing, leaving a big smudge. I laughed out loud. This horse is telling me to play! I thought.
“So I got up from my chair and just started walking, He came right up beside me and sort of wrapped his head and neck around me, kind of like a protective hug and he was prancing and looking me right in the eye.
“I immediately understood that the message from this horse was that I need to play more. I do a lot of fun things, but it’s all with structure and purpose and intended outcome. I never just play. I’m not sure I even remember how. So I guess he was trying to show me. Here in this pen with this horse, I laughed out loud with no idea of where we were going or what we were trying to do. It was the pure joy that comes from pure play.”
So, midlife sisters, I challenge you now: Go get that journal and find a horse (preferably one you don’t know, but you can do it with your own horse if you’d rather). And, with the owner’s permission, of course, go sit with that horse and just write, as fast as you can, anything that comes to mind for as long as you can make yourself sit there. (10 minutes is a good start. As is three pages of full sized notebook paper. Whatever gets you to sit there and just write. Don’t try to direct, connect or analyze the thoughts that come to you as you sit there. Just write. It may take you a while to get going, as it did Mary. But do what she did and just write EXACTLY what you’re thinking. Even if it’s “I think this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life.” Just keep writing your thoughts. You may be surprised at what bubbles up.
And if you’re willing, post your most surprising thoughts here, on our Facebook page, Twitter, or YouTube. (As one animal communicator explained, pay special attention to the random thoughts that don’t seem to have anything to do with anything. The ones that don’t make any sense at all at first are often the deepest and most profound revelations, once you dig into them deeply enough.) If you’d prefer to be anonymous, but still want to share something amazing, please just email your story to me and I promise a cloak of invisibility around what you have to share.
I can’t wait to read more stories like Mary’s — and with your help, to make people aware of the magic than can come from journaling with a horse.
I’ve heard (but I can’t remember where) that the E-reader was the most received gift this holiday season. And yes, great competition now abounds to the tried-and-true Kindle (now with its new Fire incarnation), and these puppies are all getting more affordable, easier to use and, offering us the options of searchable content and a way to bookmark and clip the ideas, thoughts and sections we want to remember from what we read, may just keep the margins of print books free of scrawled notes that mean little to anyone but us (Does anyone beside me read non-fiction with a pencil in one hand and a highlighter in the other?)
So what does this cultural phenomenon have to do with The Smart Guide to Midlife Horses? Everything, apparently. Here’s what our publisher had to say that made me do the holiday happy dance:
“Melinda Folse’s bestseller THE SMART WOMAN’S GUIDE TO MIDLIFE HORSES is surely ushering in a new generation of horse-related books. Her book’s appeal to the readers of ebooks—considered by some to be the future of book publishing—is apparent as sales in digital format have skyrocketed! We are thrilled that the book’s message and content translates so well across multiple platforms, print and digital. Melinda’s book is one of the first of its kind to offer great educational content, along with great stories and a few laughs, in a format suitable for the midlife woman on the move.”
So, speaking from one cultural phenomenon (Boomer women and their Midlife Horses) to another (the proliferation of e-readers) all I have to say is WooHoooooooo! And of course, thank you to all who purchased my book this year — in its print or digital format (I’ve heard several people say they bought it both ways because it’s faster to find specific information and resources with the searchable feature of the e-book, but they still prefer the print version to sit and read).
If you’d like to purchase The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses for your new Kindle, click here. Got a different E-reader? No worries, as our friend Clinton Anderson would say. Click here to purchase The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses in other e-book formats.
And speaking of Clinton, while you’re there, be sure to check out Clinton Anderson’s Lessons Well Learned, also now available in e-book formats! Getting to co-write this book with Clinton was one of the best assignments a horse crazy aspiring author could ever hope for — and Clinton’s stories and experiences with horses and people are as fascinating and enlightening as they are entertaining!
So . . . now what? As this fabulous year draws to a close, I’m catching my breath a bit, getting more content loaded on my newly revamped website, and planning a 2012 blog calendar filled with tips, resources, ideas and insights to help make 2012 your Year of the (Midlife) Horse.
Want to come along? Subscribe to this blog (comments always welcome!), shoot me an email, join our Facebook community, give us a Tweet, or share on our YouTube channel when something interesting happens or occurs to you on the Midlife Horses trail. Above all, please feel free to share your victories, challenges, questions and observations with the diverse online community we’re gathering here. It’s your life, Part Two! With Horsepower!
“This [Dressage Today] article relates directly to what we have been talking about. There is even a part about how the body forgets to use some muscles and overcompensates with others, leading to tightness and strain. I feel like they are talking about me!”
And me! How about you? What unmounted exercises have you discovered to help build core muscles memory? I don’t know about you, but when we hear how “long periods seated such as at a computer or in a car create imbalanced patterns across the hip joints from muscle and ligament tightness, and lack of use (weakness),” I have to raise my hand in a plea of guilty. I’ve considered replacing my desk chair with a balance ball, but I fear of getting bucked off. (Bad previous experience with one of these unpredictable creatures).
So what do these “imbalanced patterns” mean to our riding — and our life?
Bottom Line: Practice doesn’t always make perfect — perfect practice makes perfect!
According to Heather Sansom, the fitness writer for Dressage Today who wrote this great article, when we have these imbalances it makes us engage our core muscles incorrectly. (And all this time, I thought we just needed to engage our core when we ride. But noooooo . . .turns out we have to find and engage the right muscles in the right way. The plot thickens.)
Apparently there’s a lot more to strengthening our core than just “zipping it up” (although that’s certainly part of it!) Unless we learn to pinpoint and engage these sneaky little deep muscles in the correct way (Denise says she thinks they hide. I agree.), we’re just perpetuating the problems created by the imbalance: “The rider’s body has less chance of responding correctly when it comes to the ride with imbalances or pre-disposed tendency to incorrect muscle engagement,” Heather writes. She goes on to say that, “lack of correct engagement of stabilizers in the rider’s pelvis can result in issues such as difficulty with leg aids, a collapsing lower back, weakness in lateral movement and even an overactive low back resulting in back strain and pain.”
Ruh Roh. Denise is right about that, too. Now it’s getting personal.
And even worse, Heather’s article goes on to say, these imbalances and weaknesses also create gaps in your neuromuscular communication. She compares this to a cell phone that only gets an intermittent signal and you only hear every other word of the conversation. (Who remembers that Can you hear me now?” commercial for Verizon? Some days, it’s my life.) Depending on the conversation you’re having with your horse, such as “Please don’t kill me now,” you’re probably going to want every single word to come through loud and clear.
So what do you do?
The answer, surprisingly, is one you’ve seen before (especially if you’re a fan of Clinton Anderson and Downunder Horsemanship as I am): Groundwork. But this time, it’s groundwork for you, not your horse. (Here comes the equine snickering I told you about. After working my horses on the ground for so many miles, they are obviously enjoying this cosmic turn of the tables.) But, just as is is with training our horses, this groundwork pays off big in the long run:
“A rider interested in bringing maximum self-carriage to their ride, avoiding injury and prolonging their riding career should do some ground training,” Heather writes. “Riding is a sport that can be engaged in right in to senior years, and riders can improve their entire life. This means that a rider can be improving technically, at an age when their physical preparedness for sport is actually reducing due to the normal aging process which reduces suppleness in ligaments and causes muscle fibre atrophy. Riders over 40 should definitely be engaging in supplementary exercises to strengthen the muscles that stabilize the pelvis and spine, so that the riding itself does not actually wear your body down. Most riders want to be able to ride as long in life as they possibly can.”
Go check out Heather’s groundwork exercises for humans and let us know what you think — or if you have any others we ought to add to our mix. Let’s all go back to Rebecca’s Garanimal workout schedule and add these in–you be the judge of which workout energy level category they go in (walk, trot, canter, gallop), but wherever you put them in your own personal regimen, be sure to plug and play!
We’ll be revisiting this in the near future with some fun posts and activities inspired by my riding group’s work with Cassandra . . . stay tuned. And, as always, please chime in with the exercises and routines that help you most! Comment here, email me, or post your thoughts on this topic to our Facebook page, Twitter feed or YouTube channel. Misery — and obsession — loves company!