This post was originally published by Equisearch.com
Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’ve already done it. And, if you’re like me, you did it for all the wrong reasons. If you’re lucky, it will work out just fine. (Some would say it always does, regardless.) When I bought my horse, Trace, it was the beginning of an amazing journey I wouldn’t take for. But in terms of a wise horse purchase, it wasn’t. Even the purchase of Rio, my goofy little sorrel that makes me smile every single time I look at him, wasn’t quite according to the protocol I now understand as much more solid reasoning when it comes to buying a horse. Still, I love them both and will keep them as long as they’ll let me. This makes them either the luckiest or unluckiest horses on the planet, because of all the things I am, I am NOT a quitter. Usually to my own detriment. Nevertheless, because I do love a challenge (and enjoy having horse issues to research and write about), I keep these founts of learning around for my own education and humbling. So far, this plan seems to be working. But in the spirit of our grandmothers’ wisdom that advises “it’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one” (although I’ve done both with similar results, but that’s another story for another time . . . ), it IS just as easy to fall in love with a good horse as it is an . . .um . . . challenging one. So here’s a little journaling exercise that will help you wrap your mind around the perfect horse for you. Get a sheet of paper (or if you journal regularly, a fresh page) and answer the following questions to build a mental picture of the horse you want. Write as much as you can as fast as you can, the first thing that pops into your head with each question. 1. Mare or gelding? Why? 2. How old? Why? 3. What breed? Why? (If there are several you are drawn to, you can list more than one) 4. Color/size/physical characteristics (try not to fixate too much on looks, but we all have our favorites. Again, if there’s more than one you like, that’s OK. ) 5. Temperament and disposition. How does your horse behave when he’s learning something new? Surprised, Frightened? Frustrated? or Upset? Annoyed? Is he affectionate or all business? 6. What’s on his resume? Training method, level, intensity? Disciplines? Show record? Trail experience? Ranch work? Former owners? What does he like to do best? 7. What’s his story? Former owners, physical issues, past experience that shape who he is, what he likes and dislikes, and what might motivate him to do whatever it is you’d like to do with him. (Note, I always use “he” when I talk about fictitious horses. I don’t know why. Probably because both of mine happen to be geldings. I like mares just fine. Also, I was an English major and the “he” rule was beaten into me at an early age.) SO . . . now that you have thought all the way around and through your own definition of the perfect horse for you RIGHT NOW, here’s a little pre-shopping visualization for you. Imagine this horse you just described grazing in a pasture. (Sorry. Now you really do have to pick a breed and color.) You’re standing just inside the gate, just watching him. He lifts his head and looks at you, then turns and walks straight toward you. He stops right in front of you and you see soft, quiet eyes on you, waiting. You raise your hand and rub his face. He lowers his head. You put the halter on him and lead him back through the gate and into your life. Return to this list and visualization as often as you can. And don’t forget to come back here and tell us about the horse that shows up for you!
This post was originally published by Equisearch.com
Who among us hasn’t enjoyed an enthusiastic nuzzle from a horse we just know is expressing great affection? Or is he? Among many of the trainers and horse folks I’ve crossed paths with, one of the things they snicker about most is people (especially women) who let a horse get all up in their grill thinking it’s affection when in fact it’s just a horse’s way of expressing dominance. This horse, the aptly named “Precious,” (one of the Wildcatter Ranch’s trail string) elevates this kind of boundary invasion to an art form. “What?” You may ask. “No way! My horse really really loves me!” Well, that he may. And sometimes it is a nuzzle of true affection. And sometimes, it is the horse showing you that he has absolutely no respect for your boundaries and/or personal space. This is not a good thing. Disrespect of any kind from a horse, even if it starts small, can grow into something dangerous. How do you know when it’s disrespect and not affection? As with most things with horses, it just takes getting quiet for a moment and asking the irritating question my friend Kathy Taylor of HerdWise always asks in her Equine Assisted Learning sessions, “What do you think?” If you find that a horse, especially a new or unfamiliar horse, consistently gets inside what Clinton Anderson calls “your personal hula hoop,” it’s most likely a sign of disrespect. In fact, one of the very first exercises Clinton teaches in his Fundamentals series is to draw a circle around you (about 4-feet in diameter) in the dirt with the tip of a stick or even the heel of your boot. (Clinton’s famous “Handy Stick” just happens to be exactly the right length for this. Coincidence? I don’t think so!) Now get in the middle of it with your horse outside the circle. That’s your personal “hula hoop” of space. Stand there for a while, and every time this horse tries to come into the circle without being invited, chase him back out. Then ignore him. After he stands quietly outside the circle for a few minutes, walk to him and pet him. The rule is, if you want to get into his space and rub and pet on him and enjoy a good nuzzle, by all means, do so. You can go into his space and you can invite him into your space. But if he barges into your space without being invited, no matter how irresistibly soft his kisses, you need to push him back out and make the kissing your idea.
This post was originally published by Equisearch.com
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.
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.
And may I just say, Go Jane! Here is someone who invented reinvention, sounded the first siren call for midlife fitness (and in so doing revolutionized the fitness industry. Remember those snazzy leg warmers? Did anyone else buy her first Workout and “feel the burn” prompted by her voice coming from a vinyl LP?), and is STILL showing us all that the way to extend our vitality through midlife and beyond by staying active, getting fit, and working within our limitations (she’s 73, had a hip replacement, knee replacement and is still out there working out every day. That sure let’s the air out of my excuses!) Jane says the message of her work in the fitness industry is and has always has been “It’s never too late.” Doesn’t that resonate well with what we’re doing here with our Midlife Horses? Yay, us!
Jane told Matt (Do you like how I’m suddenly on first name basis with these two?) that after doing a lot of research on the role of exercise and aging to write her new book, Prime Time (It’s about about making the most of all your life. See the connection?), she confirmed what she always suspected: staying physically fit and active is the number one ingredient in staying mentally sharp as well. “As we age,” Jane explained, our brain actually shrinks (Oh no! where will we put all this stuff we’re learning?), and regular exercise actually postpones and slows down this natural process.
So we talk about getting fit to ride — and how riding keeps us motivated and fit (Check out our new Video about How Midlife Horses help our Fitness!), and the question is, where are you on this trail? What are you doing these days on your Midlife Horses Fitness Quest? It’s getting colder, food is getting heavier and squishier, the Holidays are approaching, making finding time to exercise and the motivation to ride when it’s cold and yucky outside in increasingly low supply.
So let’s shore each other up with a few ideas for keeping our fitness up and our brains from shrinking . . . you’ve heard all about my Pilates escapades. And if you go back to my September posts, you can learn about and even download Rebecca’s Garanimals Workout plan!) Now let’s hear some of your fitness war stories. Misery loves company — and so does motivation! Post your workout regimen here as a comment, take it to our Facebook community or re-tweet what exercise option you do when it’s too cold and wet to ride (I don’t know about you, but I can do one of those things, but not both. Call me a baby, tbut there it is.) Share your favorite exercise moves on our YouTube channel and let’s start building a library of winter workout ideas!
At first, I wondered what I would talk about with this crowd, a group more accustomed to hosting style shows, politicos, and noted experts in something or other as their speakers. I’m no expert, but I have written about a lot of interesting things and people, so I decided to go with that. In the mix, of course, I got to talk about the creation of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, and all the unexpectedly synchronistic ideas, people and experiences that came together to result in this book.
One interesting thing I’m discovering in almost every group I speak to (formally and informally), is that while many are intrigued by the idea of Midlife Horses, they also relate to the metaphorical side of this book — and there’s always a handful whose eyes light up with the easily recognizable glow of old “horse dreams,” and I’m pretty sure they go home with the full intention of, as Koelle Simpson puts it, “bringing a little equine energy into their lives.”
Ok, this is just plain funny. If you remember that old Hans Christian Anderson fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” (and I’ll just bet you do) . . . and if you’ve ever spent any time in or around a corporate setting, you’ve most likely seen firsthand the condition some business analysts call “CEO Disease.”
This is a rampant condition where no one in the workplace is willing, for fear of reprimand, political fallout, or worse, job loss, to confront an ineffective or counterproductive leader. Instead, they just follow along, doing their tasks as assigned, and at the same time, each doing his or her part in letting the company drift from its core purpose.
I have been fascinated in recent conversations with HerdWise CEO Kathy Taylor about how equine assisted learning can reveal the dynamics of work teams, uncover surprising blocks to productive relationships that hinder corporate leaders, and even demonstrate in an unforgettable way how different leadership styles are needed to meet the needs of the team and the objective of the task at hand. By mimicking the energy of a leader, horses mirror workplace dynamics in graphic, unforgettable and often, humorous ways.
But by far the funniest and most telling thing I ever saw was this video of a CEO “leading” his team in their effort to get Kathy’s therapy horse, Roxy, over a pole in the center of a pen. This is especially funny if you know that Roxy has no qualms about walking over that pole. It’s a task she often does easily and willingly. But she clearly sees though this guy and no amount of “leading” — or coaxing or cajoling (and I believe there might have even been a trail mix bar bribe involved) will get Roxy over that pole.
Watch also how his team follows him around and defers to his ineffective antics. One lady gives a half-hearted attempt to support his effort by trying to block Roxy from leaving, and she even tries to reinforce his instruction by pointing the way they want Roxy to go. This is clearly a work team accustomed to following its leader, even when what he’s doing is not accomplishing the team’s overall goal.
Thoughts, anyone? Humorous narration? Funniest narrative comment gets a free t-shirt!
Just got back in from a two hour ride that turned into four — and grueling trot-a-thon on Trace and a bend-o-rama on Rio that has my core muscles quivering like Santa’s legendary bowlful of jello. You just never realize the need for well-developed core strength until you’ve trotted around in circles for two hours on a snippy horse, followed by another hour and a half on my passive aggressive sweetie pie that much prefers leaning to bending, whose cantering is more like a ride on Six Flags Over Texas’ Runnaway Mine Train than the slow, easy circles of my dreams.
Hobbling back to the cool comfort of my twirly desk chair, I just decided to go back and re-read Chapter Four, “Leg Up!” of my recently released book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses . When I was writing the book, I realized through countless conversations with other women like me that one of the biggest challenges to midlife horsemanship is getting and staying fit to ride. Not only does this kind of conditioning make sense for improving our overall health and wellbeing, but when it comes to riding and working with our horses, it is crucial to be strong enough to be effective, keep ourselves safe, have a good time, and above all, keep coming back for more!
And, perfectly timed with today’s epiphany, there was a nice reference to this chapter on Rebecca’s TSB Riding Adventures July 27 blog post, titled “The Working Rider’s Workout,” as she prepares for a Wyoming Ranch ride (Yee Haww, Becca! You go, girl! I just learned the other day that dressage is like crack–more on that later– and I can’t wait to see if Becca finds the same is true about chasing cows!) Let’s stay tuned to this one and see how it comes out!)
Any others of you out there have a neat destination ride planned this year? Let us hear from you! We love to be inspired — and sometimes, live vicariously. Also, look for my upcoming post on some great fall rides I just learned about from a new friend who has personally done them all and can give us some great inside information on a surprising “trail culture” cropping up out there for trail enthusiasts across the nation.
And, as for getting that “core of jello” I’m sporting these days a little more solidified so I can be more effective in future trot-a-thons and bend-o-ramas, stay tuned for more info and exercises as I go back this coming month and revisit (and actually consistently DO) all those great core building exercises I tucked into Chapter Four of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses. Anyone out there want to do them with me? Anybody up for a little spirited “core building competition?”
Let me hear from you!
What’s up with this change in my body structure that, number one, confirms I have entered that “certain age” and, number two, means twiggy legs and flappy triceps can’t be too far behind? Is this cruel reshaping really necessary? Unavoidable?
“NO!” Say the experts I consulted to build Chapter Four of my new book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses. This chapter , entitled “Leg Up!” deals with the specific conditioning required to be effective with a horse — and, incidentally, could quite easily put us int he best shape of our lives.
The nice thing about this “exercise program” is that our horse chores are such necessary tasks we often don’t realize what a workout we’re getting. With a little awareness and a tiny bit of tweaking of our “horsekeeping” routines, we can be on the road to rock-star fitness without even realizing it. (This reminds me of a stretch of time when I was desensitizing Trace to the saddle by throwing it on him 100 times a day. If he hadn’t gotten bored with it and given up his goofiness, I could have had an upper body like Wonder Woman!)
And beyond the obvious fitness benefits that ride the coattails of barn chores like tossing bales, toting water buckets and mucking stalls, guess what else is packed quietly into this sneaky midlife fitness regimen?
Check out these Chapter Four factoids:
An hour of trotting burns 400-600 calories (in your body, not the horse’s!)
Mounting a horse uses every single muscle in your hips and legs
Just sitting on a horse simulates an extended squat, constantly working quads, hamstrings, abductors and aductors — simultaneously!
(I didn’t see any stats on how many calories sitting on a bucking horse burns— not to mention yanking him in circles until we’re both a bit dizzy— but I know it has given me jaw muscles like a pit bull. Probably not a good thing.)
So with all this fitness in mind, I’m off to the barn to ramp up my routine (in what they’re calling the second hottest Texas summer on record. I try not to pay attention to the counters, but I think I heard this is the 16th straight day of 100+ degree heat.) Maybe copious sweating will help right these upside-down shorts.
So . . .Fitness after 50? Just another gift we receive at the hooves of our midlife horses! I’ve included in the book a number of ideas for making the most of this built-in (if a little unwitting) fitness program, from specific exercises I discovered to interesting ways of combating this disturbing “flab phenomenon.” I’ve shared what I found to get motivated enough to reap yet another surprising benefit of the midlife horse experience. Now it’s your turn.
I know I didn’t even scratch the surface of good ideas in this area. What’s your horse fitness strategy? If you have any good fitness amping tips, suggestions or strategies, please share them with the growing Smart Womans Guide to Midlife Horses Community! Just post a comment in reply either here on this blog, on our Facebook page, or via Twitter or LinkedIn. And, if you have a photo or video of some good horse-related fitness routines or strategies, send them to me and I’ll post them on Flickr or our You Tube channel! Camera phones welcome! It’s all about helping each other keep it right side up!