Reading Your Horse—Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Reading Your Horse—Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

News The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses

“If your horse seems to be struggling or uncomfortable or acting out, do some troubleshooting. Pain issues—most often in feet, teeth, and back—are responsible for 80% of horses’ behavioral problems. And often pain and discomfort are related to saddle fit.”

—Riding Through Thick & Thin

I was on the right track, sort of, then I swerved, changed horses and missed the boat completely. Despite this ridiculous mix of metaphor, this is a lesson so worth learning I repeat it to myself often. And if I forget, my horses tend to remind me.

My horse, Trace, is extremely sensitive. And smart. And athletic. So when he started bucking every single time I got on him, I tried one thing after another to make sure it wasn’t a pain issue (right track!).

I changed saddles—several times. Pads. Feed. Treated for ulcers. Floated his teeth. Cleaned his sheath (well I didn’t but the vet did). Consulted a holistic vet who “strength tested” and then had me treat an old leg injury with an herbal compound and wrap it daily for a month or so. Acupuncture, cold laser and some clicking instrument I still don’t understand by a chiropractor who made barn calls. Cranial sacral therapy. Animal communicators…

As you can see, I looked under every rock for the answer. Trace was so sweet and willing when I was on the ground—I had taught him everything in Clinton Anderson’s DVDs—but every time I got on it became nothing short of a wild west show. I do not like wild west shows in which I am a participant.

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So, deciding it wasn’t pain (here’s the swerve), I moved on to a series of trainers who tried first one thing and then another to “train” this strange and increasingly violent buck out of my little buckaroo. One after the other, they gave up. One blamed me and my lack of skill as a rider (he offered to “trade me something I could ride”). Another quit, deeming Trace “too dangerous  to work with,” and the others just shrugged and said I probably ought to get rid of him and get another horse (detour!).

To say I was discouraged, my confidence shattered and worst of all, truly afraid to get back on that horse, were all understatements. But my gut told me this was a horse worth sticking with (right track!). When we worked and played and learned together on the ground, this was the partnership with a horse people yearned for. I trusted him completely…unless I was on his back.

“You don’t ride your dogs and you still enjoy them,” one friend said, trying to console me. This solution didn’t feel quite right either.

Then came Karl, an old-fashioned trainer with a definite idea of what was wrong. “Take him to the chiropractor,” he said. “He’s in pain.”

I was skeptical and didn’t want to get my hopes up again as I ran up yet another bill—and likely, down another blind alley.

“See this?” Karl said, poking a finger into Trace’s neck up near his poll. Trace’s head shot straight up and his eyes grew white rims. “He’s out [of alignment] right there. See that?” He said, running his hand down Trace’s spine and pressing lightly on either side as he did with thumb and forefinger. The muscles of Trace’s back visibly tensed up. “All this is related to that mess up there in his neck.”

Then, watching Trace move around the round pen, Karl pointed out several things, from how he carried his head to the slight pause before his back right leg landed.

Karl, you see, makes his living reading the signs.

But how, if we’re not Karl, and aside from decades of experience of our own, can we learn to read the signs our horse might be in pain?

First, I think simple awareness of this great truth of horsemanship is huge. If 80% of behavior problems are caused by pain, why wouldn’t we start there?

 

For this we need to have some resources at the ready—a vet, an equine dentist, and yes, a chiropractor (and if either of these folks will be sedating your horse they really should also be vets). Equine massage therapists and cranial sacral therapists can be tremendously helpful if they know what they’re doing. And although saddle fitters who aren’t trying to sell you a saddle are few and far between, I’ve run across some extremely thorough resources in Dr. Joyce Harman, DVM and Susan Harris. Dr. Harman’s books and DVDs on Pain Free Saddle Fit (she has one for English and one for Western) are extremely helpful in assessing how your saddle fits and in evaluating one you’re considering buying. Harris’s DVD and articles on her website are fabulous for understanding how a horse moves and how to assess the movement of your own horse.

When choosing horse care professionals be sure to get references from people you trust who have used these folks before. Other good sources are your vet, trainer, or farrier. But don’t just take their word for it. Read up, ask questions, educate yourself all you can on learning how to listen to what your horse’s behavior might be telling you.

Having a little knowledge—and your own custom-built “A-Team” at the ready—goes a long way toward your own readiness to read the signs your horse is giving you that he’s not comfortable and needs some help from his human. Best of all, this awareness and having a plan will help you nip pain-related behavior problems in the bud and take the short path back to your happy trail!

This post was previously published on horsenetwork.com

Find Your Spot

Find Your Spot

Riding Through Thick & Thin

As we begin to focus more on our rider biomechanics — that is, learning to ride in a more balanced connection with our horse — sooner or later we happen onto a moment when we feel this connection. We are moving as one with the horse, our energy is completely connected with his. I’m not a golfer but from what I hear this is akin to the perfect drive; people who enjoy this sport of immense frustration say that once you experience that feeling you’re hooked — it’s what keeps you coming back after the other times when you want to (or actually do) throw your clubs in the lake. I am a tennis player, so I can equate this “sweet spot” to the moment when everything comes together — footwork, body positioning, swing, speed and power — and that ball comes off the center of your strings and travels just exactly as you intend to the precise target you have chosen. It’s a beautiful thing. And once you experience it, you want more of it.

Riding a horse, which as Riding Through Thick and Thin expert source Susan Harris puts it, “is the only sport I know of where one species sits on top of another,” the challenge of riding well is finding that sweet spot of connection between our horse’s center of balance and our own. Sticking a tentative toe into the world of physics in a consult with Dr. Jacob Barandes of Harvard University Department of Physics, I learned that this has everything to do with not only where our body is on the back of the horse, but our own individual height and weight. Put simply, it’s an individual thing; we each have to find our own spot.

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This is not about how we look when we ride. This is beyond the old “ears, shoulders, hips, heels” body alignment. This is all about how you feel as you move forward with your horse at any gait. When you find it, you’ll know it. And once you find it, you’ll get better and better at finding it again. Eventually, it’s the only place you’ll ride — finding this spot will become as automatic to you as checking your cinch. This simple work of experimentation and tuning in to your horse and your own body can change the way you ride forever. Give it a try the next time you ride and let me know when you find your spot! Reach out to me on FacebookTwitter, my website or by email.

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com

Educate Yourself — Beyond the 20% Rule

Educate Yourself — Beyond the 20% Rule

Riding Through Thick & Thin

So let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that you are over that 20% rule of thumb (that actually has nothing to to with thumbs at all). You know the one. We’re not supposed to weigh (including tack, which for a Western rider can be upwards of 30 pounds) more than 20% of our horse’s body weight.

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Now behold the larger riders winning world class events in reining, eventing, even polo. Not to mention the beefy cowboy bulldogers on 15.2-hand quarter horses. Or the ancient Greeks, arguably some of the greatest horsemen of all time, in full armor — or immense Vikings astride sturdy Icelandic ponies, charging into battle. Not one to argue with statistics — and being the very last one on earth to want any horse to be harmed — I still have to ask the obvious question:

What makes a horse able to carry a little more weight?

Polling several key experts, including Dr. Joyce Harman, DVM, who happens to be both saddle fitter and equine vet, the consensus seems to be that what riders need to know when they and their tack top the 20% mark is this: we must take into consideration the horse’s basic build (broad back, sturdy legs, and sound feet), his level of fitness for the job you’re asking him to do (treat him like the athlete he is with specific conditioning regimens, good nutrition and health care, body work including stretches, massage, and chiropractic as needed with careful attention to any soreness or injury), your own level of fitness (see above and do the same for yourself!), and how well you are able to use your own energy to lighten the load (become a student of body mechanics, balance and breathing). Studies using pressure sensitive electronic magic also show that a 250-pound rider with good rider biomechanics can actually feel lighter to a horse than a floppy 120-pounder!

Now if all this education and effort this sounds like a whole lot of trouble, it is. And there is nothing we can do as equestrians of any size that can make a bigger difference in how we ride. Once we begin to educate ourselves on these three important areas, we begin to see our partnership and connection with our horses in a whole new light. Give it some thought and let me hear from you if you’d like to have some good additional resources for this invaluable information (beyond Riding Through Thick and Thin, of course!) — not only are our horses worth this time and effort; so are we!

Melinda Digital

You can reach out to me on Facebook, Twitter, MelindaFolse.com, or email me at mkfolse@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com

Accept All “Great Truths” Carefully

Accept All “Great Truths” Carefully

Riding Through Thick & Thin The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses Women and Horses

How do you know what you think you know on a given subject? In the horse world, sometimes the “great truths” handed down from our fellow equestrians, other disciplines, and preceding generations can be real — or the farthest thing from actual truth.

There’s an old saying I have always loved — and have experienced time and time again in interviewing all kinds of “horse people” for both The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horsesand Riding Through Thick and Thin: “Anytime you get three horse people together you will most likely find that they will not be able to agree on anything. However, when one of the three leaves the conversation, the other two will finally agree on one thing: the one who left was definitely wrong.”

I think the most important lesson to draw from this “great truth” is that while it’s important to consult the experts, to educate yourself and to listen to those who have “been there, done that” (do we really want to make all the mistakes ourselves?), it is equally if not more important to use the noggin and inner guidance you were born with to learn how to figure some things out for yourself.

Melinda Blog 4.22.16

How do you know you’re on the right track? You get quiet on the inside and learn how to really see what you’re seeing, hear what you’re hearing and feel what you’re feeling. With practice, this authentic, on-board guidance system we all are born with (but sometimes needs to be primed and rebooted, if you’re pardon the mix of mechanical and technological metaphor) will indeed help you listen, filter the advice, information and sometimes plain nonsense you encounter — and just know what you need and quite often, what your horse needs from you. Horses are great helpers for finding our authenticity — and discovering our own answers— but our part of the bargain is that we have to learn how to get quiet, use our innate gifts of observation and intuition, and teach ourselves to trust what comes. Give it a try and let me know what happens. I’d wager that every horse person alive has a story about this — I’d love to hear them! Please share them with me on Twitter, Facebook, my website, or email me at mkfolse@gmail.com

Melinda Blog 4.22.16 Final 2

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com

A Horse by Any Other Name?

A Horse by Any Other Name?

News

I’ve always been fascinated by how people name their horses. Do you choose a name that reflects a personality trait? A physical characteristic? A favorite character or personality? An ironic name? A laudatory predictor?

Melinda Blog 4.8.16 2

And, unless you raise a horse from scratch, you may pretty much get stuck with someone else’s quirk. Superstition dictates that we not change a horse’s name. Unless we get a horse whose name doesn’t really fit him. Or if, like me, you come by horse whose name, you later realize, was changed by the person who sold him to you — or a previous owner — are you then obligated to change the name back to the original? Or is that changing it, thus evoking the wrath of the bad luck fairy.

So let’s hear from you. What’s your horse’s name? How was he/she named and by whom? Did you change it or bow to superstition? If your horse is registered, were you happy with the choices proffered by your papers, or did you go with the “barn name” so you could call him whatever you want to? Are you looking for the right horse name? Take a look at this post from Five Star Ranch for some prompts, guidelines and interesting associations. Reach out to me here, on Twitter, Facebook ,or on my website.

No pressure, but whatever you choose, remember that you could be saddling future owners with your cleverness!

Horse Name

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com

Kick The Bucket!

Kick The Bucket!

Midlife Women and Horses

I don’t know about you, but now that I am definitely well into middle-age, I find myself thinking about that “bucket list” that seems more like something I used to hear my parents say they were checking off. Then I came across an article in Horse and Rider called “44 horsey things to do before you die.” Before I die? Whoa! I’m just getting the legal pad out to make my bucket list!

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And then something shifted. As I read through this list, I realized that while they were all worthy entries, many of them didn’t fit me as a rider. With one hand reining in my escalating anxiety and the other gripping my pen, I began my own list―but instead of listing all the horsey things to do before I die, I decided to list the horsey things I’ve already been able to do. When I considered that just ten years ago I barely allowed myself to dream of owning a horse, the memories began to unfold of all that has happened and changed in my life since that 1000-lb lesson in abundance (as in be very careful what you wish for) arrived in my life. Because of this added horsepower, everything around me and within me opened up in ways “awe inspiring” doesn’t begin to touch.

So as I made my retroactive horsey bucket list, my bucket overflowed with gratitude for all the people, experiences and hard-earned wisdom these generous and wise teachers have brought into my life. So much has happened because of that single moment when I said “yes!” to a horse. And in reflecting on all that has happened, I can’t help but wonder what else may add itself to my list as I continue to follow where these horsey things lead. I like this a lot better than thinking about dying.

Seven of my horsey experience favorites — and their life takeaways include:

Open yourself to unexpected beauty. “Horse camping” on the 35,000 acre LBJ Grasslands — where a two-hour ride turned into an 8-our odyssey, but I didn’t care because of the surreal “pinch me I must be dreaming” beauty of this experience. Takeaway: If you open yourself to new experiences, you never know what unforeseen beauty may await

Be willing to do something badly. Ranch sorting — where my horse had a much better idea of what to do than I did, but we managed to live through the experience and even sort a few cows. There was also a reining clinic that was both an ugly and wonderful opportunity to push some edges I didn’t even know I had. Takeaway: You don’t have to be good at something for it to be fun; being willing to suck a little bit means you get to try something new. People can be surprisingly kind and helpful to someone who is trying to learn.

Get bucked off and then get back on. This is where the big girl panties come in handy — and where pain is relative to the experience, and working through it has its own surprises. Takeaway: The reward of the ride is greater than the pain of hitting the ground every once in a while.

Experience an exceptional pairing of physical and mental fatigue— where physical fatigue was only exceeded by mind blowing information overload. Takeaway: I’m stronger than I thought I was, more capable than I realized, and my innate curiosity and thirst for learning is a gift that keeps on giving.

Immerse yourself in learning. Working for and traveling with Clinton Anderson and the Downunder Horsemanship team, ask all the questions I wanted to, and then shape the answers into training tips, articles, newsletters and a book, Clinton Anderson’s Lessons Well Learned was the horsey learning experience of a lifetime. Ditto the time I spent with the Drs. McCormick at Hacienda Tres Aguilas and the Institute for Conscious Awareness. Takeaway: Opportunities come along — and may be fleeting — but if you can manage to grab them and give them all you’ve got, the doors they may open are unimaginable.

Share what you’ve learned. Pitching and writing “The Smart Women’s Guide to Midlife Horses” based on my observations, conversations and experiences, both while working with Downunder Horsemanship and with my own experiences, struggles and insights with my own two midlife horses. “Riding Through Thick and Thin” was an opportunity to draw from a lifetime of body insecurity and self-help study, delve deeper and meld with expert advice from the horse and rider arenas to create a new toolkit for riders and non-riders alike that could be a body image game changer, in and out of the saddle. Takeaway: Everything you experience holds a gift, both for you and for those you are able to share it with.

Melinda Bucket Blog

Find the right help. In retraining a horse that everyone else had long since given up on — where painstakingly slow, steady and deliberate progress yielded results beyond what anyone could have imagined. Takeaway: Listen to your heart, show up, slow down and move forward one step at a time to scale impossible mountains and discover unspeakable beauty where you least expected it.

How about you? Is a horse on your bucket list? Has a horse already supplied more joy than any bucket list can hold? I’d love to hear from you. Reach out to me here, on Twitter, Facebook or my website.

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com

Does this horse make my butt look big?

Does this horse make my butt look big?

News

Permanent change to deeply-ingrained body image issues is not only possible, but it may be much easier than we think.

About two years after The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses hit the mark for so many “women of a certain age,” now coming back to owning and/or riding horses, Trafalgar Square Books approached me with a new challenge: now let’s do a book about body image and riding.

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A what?

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.

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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.

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I look forward to hearing from you!

Melinda

Click here to learn more:

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This post was originally published by Equisearch.com

The Seeds of Experience: Midlife Horses

The Seeds of Experience: Midlife Horses

The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses

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.

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com

Celebrating Strength—and Commitment to Horsecare

Celebrating Strength—and Commitment to Horsecare

News Riding Through Thick & Thin

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! 

Melinda Celebrating Strength 1

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:

  1. Park and walk briskly to the horse pens (warm up)
  2. Gather, load, unload and hoist several flakes of hay per horse over the fence. (Abs, arms and shoulders.)
  3.  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.)
  4. Lift, carry, dump, scrub and refill water buckets, two reps per horse. (Arms shoulders, lats, back, abs.)
  5. Put everything away, get the hay out of your hair, walk back to the car. (Cool down)
Melinda Celebrating Strength 2

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
photo from http://blackmtnranch.com/
On Finding Perspective

On Finding Perspective

Riding Through Thick & Thin

“ Once  you remove the fear of examining your own feelings about your body and the role you are playing in allowing those feelings to sabotage your joy, you’re on the right trail.”

~ Riding Through Thick & Thin

When it comes to perceptions about our own body, it’s no secret these are mighty influences on how we feel and how we think we look to others. And what’s even more important to consider is how we consciously and unconsciously may be allowing others to influence what we think of our own bodies.

Here’s the truth, though. We often don’t have a very clear idea at all of where we are on the scale of things. We may think we are much larger or much smaller than we actually are. We may be spending so much time and energy bemoaning what’s wrong with our body that we’re completely missing what’s right — or what could be right with a little focused effort. In order to get to our best ride — through life or on the back of a horse — we have to first get real about how we’re built, the shape we’re in, and what our thoughts about our body are really saying.

In a recent study, conducted by Refinery29,  80% of millennial women avoid activities because they’re self-conscious about their bodies. Of the three things causing women the greatest amount of anxiety, going to the beach was a solid frontrunner — thereby launching a resulting #takebackthebeach campaign.

While these women are taking back the beach, I invite you to remember back to the time when having a bikini body meant nothing to you.  When all you wanted from your body was to have fun, and participating in fitness activities carried the sole purpose of getting strong enough to enjoy your favorite activity was your only driver.

Now look at your body again right now through that lens. Ignore the lumps, bulges, and jiggles that normally strap you into the emotional roller coaster and just. Really. Look. For just this one moment, interrupt your current relationship to your body as well as your body’s relationship to the outside world, and objectively consider your body’s strengths. What activity have you put on the back burner because of body anxiety? What would you love to get strong enough to do? What is one step toward that goal you can take right now?

I want to hear from you. Tell me what it might take for you to to have more fun, do more of what you can do, and get strong enough to enjoy it even more. Share your thoughts on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments section. I look forward to hearing from you!