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.
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
Ok, I admit it. The idea of having tea with my horse made me giggle. After all, the notion of viewing grooming your horse as a Japanese tea ceremony as proposed by Allan J. Hamilton, MD, in his book, Zen Mind, Zen Horse seemed a little over the top at first. After all, I come from a background of “just brush off the part where the saddle goes.” My understanding of grooming got a little more refined watching the folks at Downunder Horsemanship and Hacienda Tres Aguilas, as well as observing the grooming rituals of numerous friends who show. And when researching the Good Horsekeeping chapter of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, I learned scads about what goes in the grooming box/cabinet and what tasks need to be tended to in taking care of a horse’s coat, hooves, mane and tail. That’s not to say I really do all that stuff, but I do try to brush the whole horse now. And pick his feet before and after I ride. And rinse them off with the hose on hot days after a sweaty ride. Some would call this progress, others would say it’s pampering. Welcome to the wide world of horse experts. But Hamilton’s suggestion takes this well-worn topic to a whole new level. As on of his book’s main tenets, Hamilton advises us to practice being present with our horse. Now, granted, this is not new advice, either, but he offers us here a whole new way to get there beyond “check your life baggage outside the barn door.” Hamilton says that the best way to beckon this sacred “in-the-moment” frame of mind is to create a grooming ritual that reconnects you with your horse. “Lay out your grooming tools and always do the same things in the same order,” he advises, taking time to “put all your love and affection for this animal into each stroke of the brush.” Check out Hamilton’s “tea ceremony” video that made
me want to try this:
After watching this video, I went out and gave it a try with Trace, my hypersensitive “why-are-you-touching-me?!?!” horse. He was big-eyed wary at first (probably assuming I was about to put that dreaded saddle on him), but in spite of himself, he began to relax. By the time we got to the soft finishing brush, his head was down, his eyes were closed, and when he heaved the biggest sigh I’ve ever heard from him, so did I. So put your snickers aside, go assemble your grooming tools, and give this “tea ceremony” thing a try. I can’t wait to hear what happens!
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!
Just got back from a morning watching Lisa Ramsey ride in the Fort Worth Stock Show Chisholm Challenge, and of course, it got me to thinking. She took first place in trail (Click here to watch the video!), second in Western Equitation, and a show stopping first in a drill team event, winning against several other teams with a prehistoric themed routine she and Cody-saurus did with others from All Star Equestrian. (Click here to watch this dyno-ride. It’s quite a bit of fun. I’m still not sure how they talked the horses into this . . .) As far as I’m concerned, however (and regardless of what the judges decide), it was a blue ribbon outing all around.
Lisa, you may remember, was featured in the Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses on page 22 as part of Chapter Two, “Why Horses? Why Now? In which we explored the idea of grounded horsemanship—how horses can enrich and enhance your life even if you don’t, can’t or have no desire to ride.
Since being injured in the line of duty as a Fort Worth Police Officer in 2003, Lisa spends almost all of her waking moments confined to a wheelchair. Except, of course, for the time she spends on the back of a horse. Working with All-Star Equestrian in Mansfield Texas, Lisa has found a new sense of freedom, one she never imagined possible, and with steady progress that keeps surprising her and everyone else around her, has found a challenge that keeps her competitive spirit alive and well.
Lisa, who has participated — and won belt buckles — in this event for the past two years, has discovered a new opponent — the one on the inside. “For me the competition has become all about doing just a little better at something than I did on my last ride. Sometimes these are big things that other people notice, and other times it is something only I recognize, but I know was a mark in the win column.”
Though each heat is a judged competition between riders with similar challenges, it’s never about the other riders, Lisa will be the first to tell you. In fact, she notes the progress since last year in all her competition and celebrates these milestones as if they were her own. Each year, the Chisholm Trail Challenge reflects the aggregate of all these little weekly milestones — a celebration that reflects a unique victory for every participant.
When Lisa began therapeutic riding several years ago, she required two sidewalkers on each side who literally held her up on the horse. This, some would have predicted, was about as good as it was likely to get. With no feeling from the chest down, Lisa has great difficulty with even the simplest of bodily maneuvers; lying flat, she can only lift her head and shoulders. When sitting, balance is difficult for her, and sometimes even staying upright in the chair is a challenge in an of itself. (She says she fakes it sometimes by relying on her arm strength and a subtle grip on something stationary to make it look like she’s sitting unassisted.)
But somehow — and some would say, miraculously, Lisa has learned to balance on a horse so well that now she has sidewalkers there if she needs them, now keeping a hand on just her lower legs. Making tight turns, changing directions and negotiating obstacles are, in and of themselves amazing feats, given the circumstances, but she does it — and does it so well she wins competitions and has been invited more than once to do an exhibition to show others what is possible in this arena where miracles are everyday occurrences and possible is just a word.
Still, she keeps striving for more. A former collegiate athlete and lifelong competitor, Lisa’s challenge is achieving some sort of personal best every single time she rides. And at the end of the ride, after she celebrates, she, as any driven athlete does, sets her next goal: What can get just a little better the next time out?
Cody, the handsome Haflinger horse she rides, is a kindred sprit, one she describes as “laid back until it’s time to go into the ring, then he’s all business, ready to go out there and do his job.” Cody, like Lisa, is a serious minded competitor who relishes challenge — and gently rises to it every time they enter the ring: “He hates being third or fourth to go out, Lisa adds, “he has to be first. “
Lisa and Cody are quite the team to observe — earning a standing ovation at the May 2010 PBR exhibition they participated in and will be featured in an upcoming episode of Clinton Anderson’s Downunder Horsemanship show on Fox Sports, to be aired in March. (Watch this space for details!) In fact, Clinton’s crew was there today, filming the event and doing a follow up interview that brought home to me just how far Lisa has come with her Midlife Horse experience that began just before our first conversation in 2009 when she was starting her rediscovery of how much she enjoyed the company of horses.
When you set your feet on the Midlife Horses trail, there’s just no telling where it may lead. And that, I think, is half the fun.
So what challenges you? What obstacles are blocking your personal Midlife Horses trail — and what will take to remove them? What resources do you need to clear the way to your own joy that comes from being in the company of horses?
Let us hear from you! It’s that time of year to get a renewed grip on that joy and inner sense of purpose that attracted us to this experience in the first place, and there’s no better way to remember it than a good conversation with kindred spirits. Post your thoughts below as a comment, on our Facebook page, Twitter, or share a video of you enjoying your horse on our YouTube channel!
Whatever your challenge, large or small, just figure out that first next step is the key to getting there. Let’s all gather up our courage this year and, with a bow to St. Nike, “Just Do It!”
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!
Here’s something that came in via email (posted here with permission because I think this is a big issue that might stir up some great conversation and insights, either here or in our Facebook community! I’d love to hear what you guys have to say — and so would she!
Here’s the issue (identity and confidentiality protected, but the facts are common to many of us!).
“I am weighing the possibilities of horse ownership, and it appears that the biggest obstacle for me is the way my husband feels about my dream of paying off our house, selling, and moving to a place out in the country were I can keep my midlife horse on our property. He finds the whole thing stressful and overwhelming, not only because of all of the work involved, but because of the cost of another house and of horse ownership in general. I am an idealist and feel we could do it if we try. What do you think is the best way to handle this skeptical husband issue? I know it’s a loaded question. I guess I just need a pep talk.”
So reaching out to all you wonderful Midlife Horses pep talkers out there, it’s time for us to rally here and help this woman think this issue all the way through. Her challenge is to figure out what’s most important to her and what will make the most sense to her — throughout her whole life, not just the horsey part.. Anyone want to weigh in with some navigational tips for this sticky issue? Any fellas out there have something to say?
I totally get both sides of this issue — and to some extent, I live it myself. I adore the community I belong to at the Fort Worth Horseshoe Club and am thrilled with the great care my horses get there. I can’t say enough nice things about the wonderful friends I’ve met there, the good horse company we share, and the joy of having such a beautiful place to go (especially when i need a quick escape!) to immerse myself in the horse world. (If you haven’t seen it yet, click here to check out my new video on this topic!) HOWEVER, I also would dearly love to walk out my back door in the morning, cup of coffee in hand, and say hello to Trace and Rio before I start my day (or talk to any humans). I’d love to be able to watch them in the pasture behind my imaginary house and just hang with them sometimes with no agenda or timeline. AND YET, I also love NOT having to muck stalls, haul shavings, dispose of manure, fix fences, mow, brush hog, plow, scrub troughs.( I have a hard enough time staying ahead of the rolling dustbunnies in my dining room and running the occasional mop over my perpetually grody kitchen floor.) With my work schedule and busy family life, I can’t imagine adding another full-time job to an already overflowing plate. It just might take the fun out of the whole thing.
Thoughts, insights, advice, or observations from any of you out there on either side of this sticky fence? Let us hear from you! (Free Rio T-shirt to first three posters!). Post your comments here, on our Facebook page (and while you’re there, give us a “like” if you haven’t already! ) Or retweet your support and ideas whenever you see this pop up on my Twitter feed, or share a video that illustrates your point on our YouTube channel.