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.
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
I think we’ve all heard about core strength for quite some time now. And, if you’re like me, your brain just sort of glazes over when you hear any pair of words that gets thrown so much.
But it turns out the secret to to solving most of our physical midlife woes (including that belly thing — where the heck did THAT come from?) lies in finding (not easy) and working correctly (deceptively easy at first) those tiny, deep muscles groups that can make all the difference in the world in how you stand, how you sit, how you move, and of course, how you ride.
As we delve into the mental, emotional and maybe even spiritual aspects of taking action on our midlife dreams at the Dust Off Your Dreams Women’s Retreat, we’ll also take a turn in the barrel with the physical, featuring some Pilates work that will turn this amazing light bulb on for you as it has for so many others. Once you find these little powerhouse muscles, learn what they do and learn how to work them, you’ll be able to add just a few minutes here and a few minutes there (Just dedicate TV commercials for a week to the few simple Pilates exercises you’ll learn and you’ll be AMAZED at the results you you’ll see and feel!)
To lead us in this adventure, I’ve invited Cassandra Thompson of ABSolute Pilates to present a mini workshop in our Saturday line-up of activities. Cassandra is a former dancer and a Stott Certified Pilates Instructor from New York City (I know. But she did buy a horse as soon as she got to Texas. Just recently, she got a pick-up truck. She’s coming around.)
Pulling together the threads of her life experiences: import/export business, entrepreneur, dancer, part-time Pilates instructor, and last but not least, a hip replacement, Cassandra is another woman beckoning to us from the other side of the decision to follow a midlife dream. After loading up her New York life and moving it all to Texas, she opened her own Pilates studio ( inspired by the experience in rehabbing that hip, she now devotes much of her business to helping others learn how to work through physical challenges). After buying her horse, Murphy, Cassandra began to put the pieces together of how the physical challenges of midlife horsemanship can be solved with Pilates.
“I find Pilates fascinating, and the more I teach, the more amazed I get,” Cassandra says. “It is not just a series of exercises — it is a philosophy, it is bio-dynamics, it is restructuring and correcting your body and the way in which you move.”
Click here to read my recent post about these muscles and what they do (and why we should care!)
“In Pilates, we learn how to change from moving from peripherals (arm and leg) to moving from our core. These exercises are very subtle AND very powerful in how they change our internal structure. Pilates corrects issues coming from past injuries and also works to prevent future ones. As the old saying goes, “the more you learn about Pilates, the harder it gets!” Also Pilates is sneaky — the easier the exercise looks, probably the harder it is.
Are you getting the results you are looking for in dealing with people? Do you get frustrated — and more insistent (and sometimes even angry) when you meet with resistance? Do you tend to back off (or lower your expectations) when people ignore or resist your requests or boundaries?
One of the lessons from horses that has impressed me most lately is the concept of pressure. With horses, of course, we’re talking about physical pressure — using body language to make something move that isn’t moving. (This reminds me of the old adage about duct tape and WD-40, but that’s another story for another time)
But with people, the pressure we’re talking about isn’t quite as obvious. We humans tend to deal in emotional pressure: the feelings that get exchanged in a confrontation, for example. When we watch the dynamics of physical pressure demonstrated in the interactions of horses, and then relate it back to the emotional pressure at play in human interactions, it can be quite the lightbulb moment. At least it was for me.
Kathy Taylor, CEO of HerdWise, one of our Horseplay presenters at the upcoming Dust Off Your Dreams Women’s Retreat put the whole pressure thing into perspective for me with a little chart — a few simple rules that seem to apply across the board to horses and people alike. And, after playing with this idea in several personal and business scenarios over the past couple of weeks, I think I’m going to have it laminated and keep it in my sock. Seriously. It works.
“Horses are all about relationship,” Kathy explains. “Their pecking order in the herd depends on whether or not they can use their body language (or pressure) to move the feet of the other horses. It’s just as simple as that. Horses demonstrate this concept for us physically; and, because horses mirror us, once you are aware of this dynamic it’s easy to see that people relate to one another in exactly the same way. The difference is that instead of kicking and biting and laying back our ears, we humans use emotion to create the pressure that we hope will influence the behavior of another. (Well, most people anyway. Some also kick and bite. Trust me on this.)
So here’s the cheat sheet:
If you ask and someone complies, you stop asking (release the pressure)
If you ask and they ignore you, you ask a little louder or in a more direct way (increase the pressure)
If you ask and they resist, you keep the pressure the same.
This last one is much harder than it sounds.
“Sometimes the tough part is recognizing the difference between ignoring and resisting,” Kathy says. “And, while it’s human nature to want to increase the pressure when someone resists, that only escalates the emotions at play between you toward anger and fear, which are both ultimately destructive to the relationship. If you can manage to step back from your own emotions when you meet with resistance and just keep the pressure (and the boundary) exactly the same, it will change the nature of your interaction.”
“Does it make people any more likely to do what you want them to?” I couldn’t help but ask.
This is where Kathy laughs at my desire for the golden lasso. I hate confrontation more than spiders.
“Sometimes yes, and sometimes no,” she says. “But it does keep the confrontation from escalating into conflict that does more harm than good to the relationship.”
Want to know more about what horses can teach us about improving relationships as we move more in the direction of our goals and dreams? Want to hear Kathy’s story of how she combined what she loves with what she always wanted to do to create an award-winning business venture?
Join us for the Dust Off Your Dreams Women’s Retreat at the Wildcatter Ranch Resort and Spa in Graham, Texas March 13-15. But hurry — registration ends March 15 (Yep, that’s this coming Thursday, but the retreat’s still more than a month away.) and there are 10 spots left. Call us at 1-888-773-8187, email email@example.com, or register online today to claim one of the remaining spots for the weekend that could change Part Two of your life!
Want to know more about The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses? Click here to view book trailer!
For some of us, clarity on our midlife dream can be gradual. For others, like Wildcatter Ranch Owner and General Manager Anne Street Skipper, clarity comes in a single moment.
“I remember it very well,” she told me one day as we talked through the idea and concepts behind the Dust Off Your Dreams Retreats. “It was just before my 20th high school reunion. I was going through some old photos and scrapbooks, and suddenly I realized “that girl” I used to be was gone and I had no idea where she went. ‘What happened to that girl?’ I wondered ‘And what happened to all those things she wanted to do . . . someday?” That was the beginning, I think, of a serious change in direction for me.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Ten years later, the doors of the Wildcatter Ranch Resort and Spa opened for business, bringing together Anne’s love for the theatre (Anne’s a career actress); her love and desire to do something good for the Graham, Texas community where she was born and raised (Anne’s a direct descendant of one of Graham’s founding families); and her love for the hospitality industry (in addition to a bachelor’s degree in humanities and religion, Anne holds special certifications in hospitality management and tourism from Penn State, Texas Hotel and Lodging Association, and Texas Travel Industry Association).
So how did Anne get from that single moment of clarity to the dazzling expression of her Wildcatter dream?
We’ll start Friday evening with a panel discussion in which each presenter will share the moment of clarity that changed the course of her life. Then on Saturday, we’ll enter a series of carefully designed mini workshops to help you rediscover the dreams of “that girl” you used to be. Calling upon the wisdom of horses, the Dust Off Your Dreams Retreat will help you re-examine all those things you’ve always loved and wanted to do . . .”someday,” clarify your dream through the lens of where you are now, identify and remove obstacles, and craft your first concrete action steps toward its most joyful (and realistic) expression of all you meant to be.
The retreat is all-inclusive (except alcohol, but it is available if you’re so inclined), including legendary Wildcatter accommodations and amenities, award winning cuisine, and a Saturday night dinner, campfire (with s’mores!) and music by Elizabeth Wills to create an experience you’ll never forget.
What are you waiting for? Those dreams don’t dust themselves, you know — and like Anne, when you go back and re-examine all the things you used to love in the light of where you are now, you may be amazed at the unexpected joy you could call into Part Two of your life. Register today and make one of those last remaining spots in the Dust Off Your Dreams Retreats your first step toward your moment of clarity!
Want to know more about The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses? Click here to view book trailer!
After decades of paying for piano lessons, dance recitals, sports camps, summer camps, tuition, cars (and insurance!), prom dresses, and homecoming mums, isn’t it your turn?
Isn’t it about time to invest some of that hard earned money in your own future? And if not now, when?
At Dust Off Your Dreams Retreats, we think midlife is the perfect time to say, “YES!” to those “someday” dreams for one reason and one reason only. You’re worth it — and so are your dreams.
So what is the price of getting your life unstuck, launching your “someday” dreams and setting your course for a bold new ride into Part Two of your life? The Dust Off Your Dreams Retreat is, on purpose, a high-end experience that packs months (and for some of us, years!) of insights and revelations and action-producing experiences into a single weekend. We’ve designed it carefully — and placed it the venue we believe will make the critical difference in how you absorb and put to use the information presented and every insight gained — to become that sweet spot in your life you will look back on as the “moment of clarity” that made the difference you’ve been longing for all your life.
And, when you break it down, we’ve packed an incredible amount of value into this half-price pilot weekend — and yet, even when we go to full price next fall, we’ll still be offering added value with prices closely aligned to other equine assisted retreats out there. So I guess the bottom line here is, yes, it is expensive — AND worth every penny and more in terms of what you’ll get out of it. To do this thing right is costly, and everyone involved is taking a risk to provide both the content and the venue we know will create the priceless experience that will infuse new life into the cherished old dreams of every participant.
Do I need to say it again? You are worth it. And so are your dreams. Register today for the weekend that will empower you to turn those “someday” dreams to exhilarating reality for Part Two of your life.
Get all the details and sign up at www.dustoffyourdreamsretreats.com. The registration deadline is coming fast and space is limited (only 12 spots left!), so grab a friend (it’s an even better rate if you bring a friend) and sign up today. For more information or to sign up by phone with your credit card (we use PayPal on the site, but you do not need a PayPal account to use this secure payment service; just click on the credit card icons and follow the prompts), please feel free to give us a call at 1-888-773-8187.
Want to know more about The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses? Click here to view book trailer!
Here’s a little background on the Dust Off Your Dreams Women’s Retreat you won’t find on its website.
The premise is built on what we on the Midlife Horses journey already know happens when you put a horse in the middle of your life. We know very well how the issues that get called front and center — and all the wonderful breakthroughs that happen with the help of our equine teachers — lead to opening doors to a whole new, unstuck sort of life and awareness. So I and a few like-minded friends began to wonder, what if we could distill this Midlife Horses experience somehow and make its most valuable lessons and insights available to other women—the ones who won’t be traveling the midlife horse trail for whatever reason—and offer the same kinds of breakthrough thinking that will help them change Part Two of their lives in many of the same ways our horses have changed ours? What if we could open these mystical doors for them in a single weekend?
The presenters for this event will help bring to light the primary facets of the Midlife Horses journey, along with specific tools, resources, and strategies you can use to transform this weekend of insight into the concrete first steps of your own journey to making your midlife dreams a reality. And, although this special weekend of experiences calls upon the wisdom of horses, no riding or horse experience is required.
Picture this. At the top of the bluff there sits s a glass-walled pavilion that offers up a panoramic view of the surrounding Texas terrain. This is where the meditations and Pilates will be. There is also a fire pit right there for our after-dinner gathering on Saturday night. And I’ve heard talk of S’mores. I’m just sayin’ . . . I really don’t think it can get much better than this as a place to attach new wings to our midlife dreams. (And for those so inclined, there will also be opportunity to test my theory that 14-Hands cabernet is the perfect s’more pairing.)
The Dust Off Your Dreams Women’t Retreat is a perfect storm of the right people, the right ideas and the right intent coming together to produce the amazing, life-changing content and setting that has become the brain trust now known as the Dust off Your Dreams Retreat at the Wildcatter Ranch Resort and Spa. We’ve set the half-price pilot for this program for April 1 3-15 (Register by March 15 to get this special rate!), and we welcome all women age 35-65 (horse crazy or not!) to come join the fun and life-changing introspection that this pivotal weekend in a spectacular setting promises each and everyone in attendance.
Get all the details and sign up at www.dustoffyourdreamsretreats.com. The registration deadline is coming fast and space is limited, so grab a friend (it’s an even better rate if you bring a friend) and sign up today. For more information or to sign up by phone with your credit card (we use PayPal on the site, but you do not need a PayPal account to use this secure payment service; just click on the credit card icons and follow the prompts), please feel free to give us a call at 1-888-773-8187.
Want to know more about The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses? Click here to view book trailer!
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.
“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!
“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
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:
Maintain bone density and improve ligament strength(impact activities).
Examples: walking, jogging, kickboxing, aerobics, skiing, snowshoeing, training with weights or bodyweight/resistance tubing
Maintain hip mobility (for following the horse’s motion).
Examples: walking (probably the best one), cross country skiing, snowshoeing, skating, yoga
Build core strength.
Examples: core exercises, martial arts, swimming, dance (jazz, hip hop etc..) pilates, integrated training with exercise tubing
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
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.
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.