“Deep work” in Pilates — and the astounding results it brings — makes “pain” well worth the gain.

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This came in last week via email (posted with permission—thanks Cassandra!) in response to my post about my morning-after-Pilates misery. Now, before we even get started, as you’ll see below, Cassandra did ask me to stop whining and describing the consequence of this “deep work” by the less than flattering term, “pain.”

So. . . As I search my brain (and the Internet) for a better word to describe what stopped me from being able to sit or stand without whimpering for two full days, I’ll just footnote here that once this unmentionable feeling passed, I did feel stronger and more in control of those tiny, deep, elusive muscles. (Once you locate them you tend become obsessed with the “zip up” exercise – or at least I have.) In the immortal words of Max on CBS TV’s “Two Broke Girls” sitcom, “I want both more and less of it — and I am obsessed with it!”

And, I’ll also have to tell you that, playing with these muscles while riding last week, I discovered the AMAZING difference they can make in communicating with my horse (even when he has his hoofs stuffed in his ears in “La la la I can’t hear you” fashion.)

After a great conversation with Cassandra about all this  — and I’ve invited her to be a guest on our blog to tell us more about this amazing (if a little bit gut wrenching, in the most literal sense) exercise form — I share now her insights on the connection between Pilates and riding and midlife horses. (She’s actually one of us!) Cassandra firmly believes that Pilates is key to putting Midlife Horses success within reach for all of us —  with benefits that reach far beyond the saddle.

Cassandra writes:

“I must speak to you as I can not believe that you are the woman I wanted to contact for half a year! First of all, I have ordered your book…second of all I am definitely a Midlife horsewoman…having left New York 2 ½ years ago to finally have my dream of owning a horse come true. And Pilates has been immeasurably helpful in this journey to overcome all the adult “stuff” such as fear, lack of confidence and just not having grown up on a horse. And may I add a hip replacement…

“Two corrections however. We do like to keep pain to a minimum in Pilates. Deep work in muscles yes, but we try to avoid crippling you!  The other is that Pilates is not just for “high level” riders. The others in the class you mention have been doing Pilates for awhile, and it has helped several of them be successful in overcoming obstacles to their riding and increase their enjoyment even more.”

Stay tuned for more vital info from Cassandra about incorporating Piliates into your Midlife Horses fitness regimen. Meanwhile, pony up! I invite you to share your own Midlife Horses fitness insights, ideas, strategies, and any secrets you’ve discovered on your Midlife Horses journey. Post your comments here, email me (especially if you’d like to remain anonymous but nevertheless have something important to add to this conversation!), post on Facebook, show us your favorite moves on YouTube, or Tweet your best midlife horses fitness tip when this header pops up on my Twitter feed! And, if you haven’t seen it yet, click here to check out our new video about how our Midlife Horses keep us fit.

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!

 

Jana’s vet told her to treat her horse just like she treats her husband. What could THAT possibly mean?

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If there’s one thing certain in the great big horse world, it’s that there are plenty of people around to tell you what to do. Some of them will be right. Some won’t. And, while what this vet was advising did, in a somewhat quirky way, apply to correcting what Clinton Anderson would call “tiptoeing around” her horse from this normally strong and assertive woman,  this is not necessarily the kind of thing you’ll find in horsemanship textbooks.

 

Or will you?

 

The truth is, there are many different ways of presenting the same information. And, since everyone hears and processes information differently, what strikes a chord with one person may fall flat with another. That’s why you have to learn, above all, the way you learn this horsemanship thing best — and then go find the people and information that resonate with your understanding, ability, personality and learning style.

 

Where do you find your best answers? How do you locate the people who can help you learn whatever you need to learn on this spectacular midlife trail? In addition to the wagonload of resources and suggestions  you’ll find in the back of my new book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses,  be sure to check out Chapter 11, “Picking Up the Correct Lead.”  (In case the cleverness of this title escapes you, this chapter has nothing at all to do with cantering — and everything to do with finding the advice and instruction that works best for you.) No matter where  you are on this journey, the key to successful midlife horsemanship is finding those riding buddies, instructors and clinicians that meet your needs and have your best interests at heart.

Did the vet’s somewhat wonky advice work for Jana? ”

“Well,” she reported to him at his next visit, ” I did what you said. I took my stick home and when my husband started to ignore me, I stepped right in front of him and spanked the ground with my stick. And you know what? He’s not speaking to me!”

Saddle Up! Your Midlife Horse is Waiting!

The vet, nonplussed, just looked at her. (If only I had a picture of the look on his face) Sometimes even good advice — and the best of intentions — can backfire. The good news here is I’m about 80% sure Jana was pulling his leg.

 

What’s the craziest advice you’ve ever received that actually made sense to you, changed your thinking, and got a result you’ve been looking for?

Free Saddle Up Your Midlife Horses! t-shirt to the first three responders!

 

Happy Trails!

“The horse is a mirror to your soul. Sometimes you might not like what you see. Sometimes you will.” Buck Brannaman

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by Melinda Folse (formerly Melinda Folse Kaitcer) Order it now at www.horseandriderbooks.com!

What a profound statement from Dan “Buck” Brannaman in the riveting documentary, “Buck,” now showing in theaters everywhere (learn  more at www.buckthefilm.com) . Go see it and reply to this post with your favorite quote! Free “Saddle Up Your Midlife Horses” t-shirt to the first five who respond!

What is most interesting to me about this statement from this celebrated “horse whisperer” is that, in the midlife horse experience we often completely miss this gift of pure gold.  It’s so easy to blame the horse when things don’t go as we hoped in this relationship. We deny what our horse’s  behavior may be telling us about who we are on the inside. Or, paraphrasing Buck and before him, Ray Hunt, and before him, Tom Dorrance, “horse problems” almost always turn out to be horses with “people problems.”

That invaluable reflection from our ponies, girlfriends, is the essence of what we can learn from our midlife horses. And, whether we like it or want to admit it or not, you can’t fool them or change their opinion. Horses just call ’em as they see ’em . . . and it’s up to us to figure out what changes we need to make so we’ll like what they see in us!

What did my horse, Trace, tell me? (I’m not sure why I’m sharing this, but it does give context to my struggles, documented for all the world to see in my recent book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses.)  That I have an innate tendency to overthink, overachieve and overreact. That I am something of  a control freak and get upset when I can’t have my own way. That I am sensitive to others’ feelings and emotions, need a certain amount of sincere, positive feedback, and am happiest when I have a job to do or something new to learn. I don’t like being pushed around. There’s a certain amount of disrespect I’ll put up with from people if  I like them, but enough’s enough. And bullies bring out the  crazy in me.

Fortunately, my second horse, Rio,  shows me a sweeter, gentler reflection (if a little headstrong): I like to have fun, I’m sweet and committed (sometimes overcommitted) to doing the right thing, loyal as a dog, and my quirky personality gives me a knack for making people laugh — especially when things start to get too serious.

 

What does your midlife horse tell you? Don’t have a midlife horse, but wondering what’s going on in your inner landscape — and outward relationships? Get yourself one of these swishy-tailed mirrors and you won’t be wondering for long!

The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses by Melinda Folse (formerly Melinda Folse Kaitcer)

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Happy Trails!

Saddle Up! Your Midlife Horse is Waiting!