Once we start digging for “truths” it may surprise you what you think of yourself and your riding, and what you think OTHERS think of your riding. And above all, what all these “thinks” are doing to your self-image and the quality of your experience with horses.
In just one of the embarrassing stories I tell on myself in Riding Through Thick and Thin (and believe me, there are many), I relate an experience of riding in an arena at a friend’s ranch in preparation for a clinic the next day. To say that I was apprehensive about this clinic might be the understatement of the decade. I saddled up, entered the arena, and began some slow circles on the sillier of my two horses.
Another friend joined me and began circling with us, then she cued her horse into a lope. Without thinking about it too much, I followed suit. We were laughing and talking as we rode and I gave little thought to what I was doing in my effort to just keep up. Quite simply I was lost in the moment. All clinic anxiety dissipated, I was in the zone of joy.
Later, over dinner, my clinic-phobia returned and I voiced my concerns — half joking, half not. The friend hosting us for the weekend looked at me, not bothering to conceal her surprise. “I can’t even believe you’re saying that,” she said. “When I saw you two down at the other end of the arena chasing each other around like puppies i have to admit I felt envious — and a little bit insecure. You’re a much better rider than you think you are.”
As it turns out, sometimes we have no idea of how others see us. Not that it matters, except as a reality check for how we see ourselves. We are so often our own worst critic that for the sake of our self-concept it is important to learn to take an occasional step outside our own awareness and try to see ourselves through the lens of an impartial observer.
If you don’t have an honest — if shocked — friend to offer up some observational insight, it might be worth it to ask for this kind of feedback from someone you can trust to keep it real. It is only through honest self assessment that we can begin to see things as they really are — and not as our hated imagination would have us believe.
Give it a try and let me know what happens. I can’t wait to hear your stories of amazement that will help bury my own . . . and how we can all learn this lesson together!
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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!
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.
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.
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!”