Got a splinter in your contentment?

News The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses Women and Horses

One of the projects now on the boards (and as yet to be officially named, but springboarding from the Dust Off Your Dreams Women’s Retreat we had last spring at the Wildcatter Ranch Resort and Spa), is programming (some combination of live events and online/downloadable coursework) geared toward using horses and a series of reflective exercises (including some of those introduced in The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses) to help people in transition to build self-awareness, identify obstacles and solutions, and create a plan for moving forward with authenticity to find the fulfillment they’re looking for.

People ask me all the time exactly how it is that horses, of all things, can help people in this way. For people who haven’t spent much time around horses, it may seem ludicrous that a big “dumb” animal can open such doors to insight in the types of unmounted exercises known as “equine assisted learning (EAL).”

For those who may have heard of equine therapies, including therapeutic riding and equine assisted therapy, their understanding limits this idea to addressing serious physical, mental and emotional challenges. Far different, but in a few ways similar to equine assisted therapy, equine assisted learning is a wonderfully effective tool for developing the self awareness that can help us address any sort of dissatisfaction in our lives — and to help us identify and acquire the tools we need to move forward on whatever brings us joy and contentment — at any age or stage.  “It’s kind of like when you have a splinter, ‘” one friend summarized recently as the distinction became clear to her. “You wouldn’t go to a surgeon to get it removed. You’d go find a mom with a pair of tweezers.”

We’ve decided we want to be that mom with the tweezers.

Pooling the combined wisdom and resources of key members of the Dust Off Your Dreams Retreats team, we want to share what we’re learning to help others get “unstuck” when life shifts happen. And, the more we learn about this process and the results it can yield to shore us up and move us forward through the more ordinary kinds of ennui that besets all of us from time to time —  especially in the face of transition — we’re more convinced than ever of the good horses can do if we’ll just open ourselves to the process.

“True equine therapy occurs when people learn to extend the fundamental principles of horsemanship to the rest of their life,” says Deborah McCormick, PhD, co-author of Horse Sense and the Human Heart and Horses and the Mystical Path. “Horses show us with their behavior how we need to fine-tune in ourselves in order to achieve that balance and internal harmony we’re all looking for.” Deborah, along with her mother, Adele von Rust McCormick, PhD and her late father, Tom McCormick, MD, are the founders of Hacienda Tres Aguilas — The Equine Experience™ and the Institute for Conscious Awareness (ICA), a non-profit organization devoted to human development, advancement and leadership in which they pioneered the use of horses in psychiatric treatment and psychodynamic therapies.

By becoming aware of the basics of herd behavior, and then observing how horses interact with us in a series of non-riding exercises, we see in very concrete terms how we may be getting in our own way without even realizing it. When there’s inconsistency between what we want and how we behave, a horse will make this obvious in very concrete terms. For example, a horse may invade the personal space of someone who struggles with setting and enforcing boundaries; he’ll likely take a much wider circle around someone who is more skilled at holding the line. (When you watch a 1000-pound animal act out what’s going on inside of you, you can’t help but get the point!)  As we learn how to observe and learn from this revealing dynamic, we begin to ask ourselves the important questions:

Why is the horse doing that?

What is my first impulse in response?

How does this interaction (or lack of) mirror other relationships/situations in my life?

From there, we begin to build your toolbox. How you use your tools and what you build from this experience is limited only by the edges of your imagination and your willingness to “go deep” in order to achieve the life satisfaction that may have given you the slip.  If you’d like to know more about this program as it evolves, or if you would like to apply to participate in one of our test groups, please email me at mkfolse@gmail.com.

Lead mare love, no strings attached

Midlife News The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses Women and Horses

So after spending a little time last weekend with family, the  horses, and now sitting here on my porch with my trusty dogs, reflecting on the whole concept of mothers day, mothering, and motherhood, quite easily the mother of all opportunities to become a better person,  I’ve come to a few conclusions.

Across America last Sunday we honored mothers and motherhood in as many different ways as there are mothers to celebrate. (I hope all of them included pie) Let’s face it. Mothering these days is a lot different job than it used to be. Easier in some ways (cell phones make carpools, schedule coordination and on-the-fly redirection of teenagers a whole lot easier); harder in others (have you ever tried to get the undivided attention of a teenager embroiled in a text conversation?). Nevertheless, as a generation, I think we have adapted pretty well.

And, for those of us whose role of “mother” has now moved, as one family therapist once put it, “from management to consultant,” don’t worry. It gets worse.

Or, as Academy Award Winning Actress Goldie Hawn told Oprah Winfrey in a recent installment of Oprah’s Master Class on OWN, “One of the most difficult things, and the most important gifts we can give our adult children is to let go.” Now Goldie, keep in mind, is one of us. Or, as USA Today reports, “Hawn, 59, is happy. And the Oscar-winning comedian, who grew up Jewish but is now a practicing Buddhist, shares her spiritual journey to enlightenment and contentment in her first book, A Lotus Grows in the Mud (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $25.95), written with journalist Wendy Holden.” Goldie is also one of a key group of Boomer women whom we can all probably agree had a hand in inventing reinvention. (We’ll be looking at a few others in this inspiring group. If you know of someone who should be featured in this upcoming series, feel free to add her name to my list!)

I don’t know about you, but this “letting go” thing is harder than it seems. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s more difficult than potty training. More harrowing than pre-teen sleepovers. More daunting than driver education.  The truth is, when you’ve invested two or three decades of single-minded focus on keeping someone safe, happy, and on the path to their highest potential, it’s just damn hard to now just step back and say, “OK . . . well . . . you’re done! Good luck!”

It’s quite frankly enough to wear a good woman out.

So where do we find the strength to “let go?” Where do we look for answers when we are still having a hard time understanding the questions? What do we do when “thinking out of the box” sometimes also means thinking outside the ballpark the box is buried in?

“Get quiet,” advises Deborah McCormick, PhD and co-author of Horse Sense and the Human Heart, Horses and the Mystical Path, and a new one I’m now SO excited to be editing that delves into this subject with solutions that guide us back toward nature, unplugging and learning to listen to our “inner lead mare.”

You may remember Deborah from Chapter two of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses as the one who explained how horses give us a “keen sense of direction, composure and inner strength, teaching you to elevate your desires and increase your capacity to love.”

So apparently, that’s the trick to this “letting go” thing. And once again, it is horses that seem here to show us the way. When we tap into our inner lead mare (the mother of all mothers), we find that “keen sense of direction, composure and inner strength” we’ve been ignoring in our quest to keep mothering until they get it “right.” (According to our terms, not theirs. This can be a BIG difference.)

“When you learn how to love from a place of strength, rather than from a place of fear,” says Rev. Linda McDermott, who led our guided meditations and “quest vs. quilt” discussions at our recent Dust Off Your Dreams Retreat (Look for more on Linda’s Life Patchwork sessions in coming posts), “you learn how to love more authentically, with no strings or expectations attached.”

What? No strings or expectations? Really? Is that even possible after this many years of careful mothering that created, and then knitted, those strings into a corral of safety for our little buckaroos? Our lead mares say “YES!” — and if we can manage to find her an coax her out of our shadows, she’ll be glad to show us the trail.

Wobbly confrontation skills? Practice with a horse!

Midlife News The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses Women and Horses

One of the most popular sessions at last week’s Dust Off Your Dreams Retreat was the “fill your toolbox” session conducted by Denise Barrows of Practical Equine Solutions. Her assistant, you see pictured here, was a wise old horse they call General. And believe me, when those beautiful blue eyes look right through you like you’re not even there, you know you’re going to have to dig much deeper to get his attention. (He’s actually kind of an old fart about this, but that’s what made him so perfect for this exercise. It does help that he’s so handsome!)

Meet General and his co-educator, Denise Barrows. Can your "inner lead mare" move his feet?

So here’s the exercise: gather up your core conviction  (or as Deborah McCormick, PhD, explains in Chapter Two of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses) engage your “inner lead mare.” And calmly but with all the inner force you can muster, walk straight toward the horse, asking him to move out of your space. All you want here is to see the horse recognize and honor your “inner lead mare” — and respond by taking a step back. Eyes and ears on you and a single step is plenty good enough.

This is where little bitty Denise showed the retreat participants how to “get as big as you need to” (and keep at it as long as you have to) to get the result you want. General, who oddly enough is not a therapy horse at all, but “just” one of the 20-something horses in the Wildcatter’s trail string refused to move until each woman got frustrated enough to dig deep enough in her core to find that inner lead mare who, in some cases, made her debut in that afternoon light of awareness (even though she’s been there all along, just waiting to be called!).

This was a fascinating thing to watch, and, judging from an email we received from one of our participants on Wednesday after the retreat, works as well on snarky supervisors in the workplace as it does on obstinate old horses in a dusty roundpen:

“I got to use some of my newfound “horse sense/confidence” already this week! Yesterday I had [a difficult meeting with my supervisor] (details and participant identity omitted for the obvious reason)  . . .She is very stubborn and non-flexible, a lot like Precious. . . I knew she would be rigid to [the change I was suggesting] and have some ridiculous excuse as to why.

So [just like Denise taught us in the calm courage exercise], I did my research and “scoped” out the situation before going in  . . .then, even though she caught me a little off-guard, I was still able to use my body language and just tell her that this is what needs to happen…She kind of huffed and puffed a little…. stomped her foot a couple of times… swatted a few flies, then agreed to [make the requested change] and get back to me next week. I walked away feeling good about [the confrontation] and knowing that it will be okay.”

Do you know how to summon your inner lead mare? Test your ability to project your energy from your core by practicing it with a horse (any horse will do!) . . . and even if this doesn’t work as well as you’d like at first, the more you practice, the quicker and easier it is to get her to come when you call her (and stay happily grazing in the background until the next time you need her! [If you’re curious about this exercise, check out Chapter Two of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses and my interviews with Deborah McCormick of The Institute of Conscious Awareness at Tres Aguilas Ranch just outside San Antonio, Texas (I also highly recommend their retreats as a next step for anyone wanting to go deeper in these concepts and explore specific issues and goals), as well as the McCormicks’ two books, Horse Sense and the Human Heart and Horses and the Mystical Path)

Try it and share what happens! Comment here, on our Facebook community, Twitter, show us on YouTube (believe me, I wish the camera had been running when I tried this at my first retreat — it had to be hysterical the way that horse looked at me and ignored me like I wasn’t even there. But it got better. And it would have been fun to see the progression!) I can’t wait to see how practicing this exercise with a horse impacts your interactions and effectiveness in other areas of your life.

Click on the order button to buy this book now!

Meet Maximo, the horse that nosed me under the midlife bus.

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When I went to the Equine Experience retreat at  Hacienda Tres Aguilas near San Antonio Texas, I had no idea what to expect. I had just bought a horse the summer before, we were still getting along pretty well at that point, but something about this new relationship in my life compelled me to want to learn more.

This retreat, as its literature explained, was hosted by the three “eagles,”  Doctors Tom, Adele, Deborah McCormick, who wrote two of my favorite horse books, Horse Sense and the Human Heart (Health Communications, 1997), and Horses and the Mystical Path (New World Library, 2004).

 

I discovered this opportunity quite by accident (if there is such a thing, which, increasingly, I’m starting to doubt). According to their course literature, passed on to me by a freind who knew I enjoyed delving into such matters, the McCormicks were trained in “Psychoanalytic and Jungian Psychology with an expertise in Object Relations Theory and mysticism.” I had no idea what all that meant, but it sounded pretty serious. I was intrigued.

My intrigue grew with the fact that they had traveled the world studying with an impressive list of greats in both psychology AND horsemanship, including the Celtic traditions of horsemanship. This last part REALLY  got my attention.  Folding what they had learned about horses and humans into this retreat, the Drs. McCormick called upon their championship Peruvian horses to help participants “explore the transcending connection between horses and people.”  The Equine Experience Retreat (which, by the way, is still held several times each year at their beautiful Texas Hill Country ranch)  promised  “a place to find inner peace, growth, and creativity.”

 

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been looking for that stuff for most of my adult life. Sign me up!

 

 

So I naively packed my riding boots and clothes (not understanding that this was not going to be a riding experience at all) and headed off to the Hill Country to hunt for that elusive “still place in my  heart”  the McCormicks promised would help me learn to connect with the “heart and rhythms of nature.” Especially, I hoped, with the heart and rhythm of my increasingly agitated horse, Trace.

 

Even then I realized on some level that it was my own escalating agitation and stress that was coming back at me through the misbehavior of my horse. He was simply mirroring what was going on inside me, but it would be a while before I learned about that. (Chapter 10, to be exact, of my new book,  The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, a somewhat errant chronicle of this journey. At this point, we are still in Chapter 1, headed toward Chapter 2 where a Peruvian horse named Maximo escorted me to the trailhead of my midlife horses journey.

 

If you're ripe for a comeuppance, this is just the guy to make that happen. (The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses)

 

Here’s a book excerpt to describe how it all unfolded:

 

“The day before, an aging Peruvian horse named Maximo had demonstrated for the group how he could use his buddy sourness to play my overactive nurturing instinct like a cheap fiddle. Then, as I later tried to lead him “with authority,” he plain-old ignored my pace and used each turn as opportunity to graze, oblivious to my “authoritative” yanks on the lead rope. “Max sees that you have no boundaries,” Deborah McCormick, Ph.D.,  explained to me and to the group. The message resonated with issues I had dealt with time and again in my life, without resolution.”

 

Do you cringe when people say how “nice”  you are? Do you habitually sacrifice your own needs (or wants) to accomodate the needs (and wants) of others? Then maybe it’s time for your midlife horses!

 

“Horses see us for who we are on the inside,” agree many of the popular “horse whisperers” of today (who are parroting, by the way, the grandaddy of them all, Tom Dorrance.). The bottom line for those of us who have chosen midlife horses as a journey to rediscover who the heck we are? Watch the behavior of the horses you interact with very closely. The inner reality is closer  than it appears.

 

Happy Trails!