So let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that you are over that 20% rule of thumb (that actually has nothing to to with thumbs at all). You know the one. We’re not supposed to weigh (including tack, which for a Western rider can be upwards of 30 pounds) more than 20% of our horse’s body weight.
Now behold the larger riders winning world class events in reining, eventing, even polo. Not to mention the beefy cowboy bulldogers on 15.2-hand quarter horses. Or the ancient Greeks, arguably some of the greatest horsemen of all time, in full armor — or immense Vikings astride sturdy Icelandic ponies, charging into battle. Not one to argue with statistics — and being the very last one on earth to want any horse to be harmed — I still have to ask the obvious question:
What makes a horse able to carry a little more weight?
Polling several key experts, including Dr. Joyce Harman, DVM, who happens to be both saddle fitter and equine vet, the consensus seems to be that what riders need to know when they and their tack top the 20% mark is this: we must take into consideration the horse’s basic build (broad back, sturdy legs, and sound feet), his level of fitness for the job you’re asking him to do (treat him like the athlete he is with specific conditioning regimens, good nutrition and health care, body work including stretches, massage, and chiropractic as needed with careful attention to any soreness or injury), your own level of fitness (see above and do the same for yourself!), and how well you are able to use your own energy to lighten the load (become a student of body mechanics, balance and breathing). Studies using pressure sensitive electronic magic also show that a 250-pound rider with good rider biomechanics can actually feel lighter to a horse than a floppy 120-pounder!
Now if all this education and effort this sounds like a whole lot of trouble, it is. And there is nothing we can do as equestrians of any size that can make a bigger difference in how we ride. Once we begin to educate ourselves on these three important areas, we begin to see our partnership and connection with our horses in a whole new light. Give it some thought and let me hear from you if you’d like to have some good additional resources for this invaluable information (beyond Riding Through Thick and Thin, of course!) — not only are our horses worth this time and effort; so are we!
Still digging out from my exciting weekend at AmerEquine Festival of the Horse at Will Rogers Memorial Complex in Fort Worth, Texas this past weekend, and I have some VERY cool stuff to tell you about in coming posts. But first, I wanted to follow up on a couple of loose ends from our trailering series. (Also, after spending the weekend sharing a booth space with a delightful representative of US Rider, I have some more info about that great program as well!) Thanks so much to all who have sent comments and trailering suggestions and tips. There has been some GREAT info coming in. Scroll back through Trailering Part I and Part II to check these out, and add your own comments or questions. I especially love the practice tips and suggestions–just the kind of info we all need! Thanks again for all who contributed–we appreciate you!!!? I’m very excited to have these tips (already printed them out and put them in my trailer folder), and I’m so happy to share it all with those of you learning or contemplating trailering. Keep those ideas and suggestions coming! Now, part of the trailering equation that can be perplexing is the issue of how much truck do you really need? One good friend who has hauled a lot of miles offers this advice: always get more truck than you think you need. This is good, but first you have to know what you think you need, right? I, of course, am not the one to ask about this. I drive a mini, which, kind of like a Jack Russell terrier, is only big on the inside. In fact, I like to park it backed up to the biggest rig at my barn just to make people laugh. This is going to backfire someday when one of the owners of this trailer comes to hook up. That’s why I leave the keys in it, by the way. Also not a good idea in some locations (so, kids, don’t try this at home.) Nevertheless, I ask you now for any wisdom you have gained in your experience shopping for, purchasing and deciding which truck is the right one for your needs. I know lots of people pull trailers with underpowered vehicles all the time and have never had a problem, but in the interest of safety and our endless search for the best-we-can-do-if-we’re-going-to-do-it-at-all solution, let us hear from you about what you have learned about choosing the right truck. (Send photos to my email and I’ll post them!) I look forward to learning and sharing this crucial 411!
First of all, thanks to all who responded to Trailering, Part 1! As I suspected, there are some great tips and kindred spirits out there, and I am so glad to provide a place and space to make those connections. Keep ’em coming! (And let’s keep these discussion threads going! A funny and unexpectedly related trailering incident happened this past week to my friend and Pilates instructor, Cassandra Thompson. As with many of us, Cassandra was bitten by the “horse bug” many years ago and has made one life transition after another until now this Manhattan Pilates instructor has uprooted her urban life and moved it (along with her 88-year-old father) all the way to Texas. And, having lived in Manhattan for so long, she’s only been driving a car for the past three years! Since coming to Texas (and logging lots of miles behind the wheel traveling between DFW Metroplex Pilates studios before she opened her own), she has bought Murphy, a handsome, charming, and true-to-his breed Connemara pony, a big black truck, and just a few weeks ago, a trailer. So last week, after the long-awaited-and-carefully-shopped-for trailer finally arrived (that’s a whole ‘nother story we’ll circle back to in a later post), she began the tentative process of learning to pull the thing. And, in the particularly harrowing morning she called me to relate, a backing incident that led to a close encounter with a tree (no real harm done . . . a little dab of paint and no one will ever know) made clear to her the need for lots of solitary practice (I think there was maybe a little too much fatherly advice flowing that only served to aggravate the situation) in a controlled, protected and obstacle free space to get the feel and timing of the whole backing and maneuvering skills likely required once you get to where you’re going with your trailer. So for today, I ask, beyond the great “put your hand at the bottom of the wheel and whichever direction your hand goes, so does the back end of the trailer” adage, what other tips, tricks, and experiences can you guys share to help create some good “back-that-thang-up” practice sessions for those learning to maneuver a trailer in tight spaces for the first time? What about turning in narrow city intersections without taking out the entire line of cars you’re supposed to be turning around? These are the issues that keep the trailerphobic among us up at night. We need practice ideas. And maybe some orange cones. Also, as if in answer to my question the other day, I got a link via email to an Equine Network E-zine called, of all things Hitch Up!? . . . an online magazine all about trailer safety, with tons of tips from nationally recognized trainers and clinicians. (Who knew?!!! Click here to subscribe!) Cassandra, by the way, will be one of the ones joining us next weekend as part of my panel discussion in the AmerEquine Festival of the Horse Expo at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth. (We’ll be on the John Justin arena seminar stage Friday 5:30-6:15 and Saturday 1:30-2:15, so please come and tell us about your horse! There will be chocolate, as long as the supply holds out . . . Just sayin’ . . .) Cassandra will be addressing the physical aspects of why riding and working with horses on a regular basis is not only good for our souls, but GREAT for our bodies, especially if we take the time to “set the stage” with core work that reaches deep to benefit all parts of our lives. Or, as she likes to say, “we get strong because we have to be!” The horse side of the Pilates equation is relatively new to Cassandra, and the connections she has made as a former dancer and Stotz Certified Pilates instructor with the physical demands of horsemanship has helped her find that “sweet spot” where passion meets profession.
My object with this appearance is to connect as many people as possible with different kinds of stories and experiences to celebrate (hence the chocolate) all the things that make having a horse in our lives one of the very best things we’ve ever done! I’ll also be in the Equine Network booth in the exhibit hall Friday through Sunday, so please come by and say hi!
Happy Trailering! I look forward to gathering and sharing more great trailering wisdom!
Are you getting the results you are looking for in dealing with people? Do you get frustrated — and more insistent (and sometimes even angry) when you meet with resistance? Do you tend to back off (or lower your expectations) when people ignore or resist your requests or boundaries?
One of the lessons from horses that has impressed me most lately is the concept of pressure. With horses, of course, we’re talking about physical pressure — using body language to make something move that isn’t moving. (This reminds me of the old adage about duct tape and WD-40, but that’s another story for another time)
But with people, the pressure we’re talking about isn’t quite as obvious. We humans tend to deal in emotional pressure: the feelings that get exchanged in a confrontation, for example. When we watch the dynamics of physical pressure demonstrated in the interactions of horses, and then relate it back to the emotional pressure at play in human interactions, it can be quite the lightbulb moment. At least it was for me.
Kathy Taylor, CEO of HerdWise, one of our Horseplay presenters at the upcoming Dust Off Your Dreams Women’s Retreat put the whole pressure thing into perspective for me with a little chart — a few simple rules that seem to apply across the board to horses and people alike. And, after playing with this idea in several personal and business scenarios over the past couple of weeks, I think I’m going to have it laminated and keep it in my sock. Seriously. It works.
“Horses are all about relationship,” Kathy explains. “Their pecking order in the herd depends on whether or not they can use their body language (or pressure) to move the feet of the other horses. It’s just as simple as that. Horses demonstrate this concept for us physically; and, because horses mirror us, once you are aware of this dynamic it’s easy to see that people relate to one another in exactly the same way. The difference is that instead of kicking and biting and laying back our ears, we humans use emotion to create the pressure that we hope will influence the behavior of another. (Well, most people anyway. Some also kick and bite. Trust me on this.)
So here’s the cheat sheet:
If you ask and someone complies, you stop asking (release the pressure)
If you ask and they ignore you, you ask a little louder or in a more direct way (increase the pressure)
If you ask and they resist, you keep the pressure the same.
This last one is much harder than it sounds.
“Sometimes the tough part is recognizing the difference between ignoring and resisting,” Kathy says. “And, while it’s human nature to want to increase the pressure when someone resists, that only escalates the emotions at play between you toward anger and fear, which are both ultimately destructive to the relationship. If you can manage to step back from your own emotions when you meet with resistance and just keep the pressure (and the boundary) exactly the same, it will change the nature of your interaction.”
“Does it make people any more likely to do what you want them to?” I couldn’t help but ask.
This is where Kathy laughs at my desire for the golden lasso. I hate confrontation more than spiders.
“Sometimes yes, and sometimes no,” she says. “But it does keep the confrontation from escalating into conflict that does more harm than good to the relationship.”
Want to know more about what horses can teach us about improving relationships as we move more in the direction of our goals and dreams? Want to hear Kathy’s story of how she combined what she loves with what she always wanted to do to create an award-winning business venture?
Join us for the Dust Off Your Dreams Women’s Retreat at the Wildcatter Ranch Resort and Spa in Graham, Texas March 13-15. But hurry — registration ends March 15 (Yep, that’s this coming Thursday, but the retreat’s still more than a month away.) and there are 10 spots left. Call us at 1-888-773-8187, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or register online today to claim one of the remaining spots for the weekend that could change Part Two of your life!
Want to know more about The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses? Click here to view book trailer!
For some of us, clarity on our midlife dream can be gradual. For others, like Wildcatter Ranch Owner and General Manager Anne Street Skipper, clarity comes in a single moment.
“I remember it very well,” she told me one day as we talked through the idea and concepts behind the Dust Off Your Dreams Retreats. “It was just before my 20th high school reunion. I was going through some old photos and scrapbooks, and suddenly I realized “that girl” I used to be was gone and I had no idea where she went. ‘What happened to that girl?’ I wondered ‘And what happened to all those things she wanted to do . . . someday?” That was the beginning, I think, of a serious change in direction for me.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Ten years later, the doors of the Wildcatter Ranch Resort and Spa opened for business, bringing together Anne’s love for the theatre (Anne’s a career actress); her love and desire to do something good for the Graham, Texas community where she was born and raised (Anne’s a direct descendant of one of Graham’s founding families); and her love for the hospitality industry (in addition to a bachelor’s degree in humanities and religion, Anne holds special certifications in hospitality management and tourism from Penn State, Texas Hotel and Lodging Association, and Texas Travel Industry Association).
So how did Anne get from that single moment of clarity to the dazzling expression of her Wildcatter dream?
We’ll start Friday evening with a panel discussion in which each presenter will share the moment of clarity that changed the course of her life. Then on Saturday, we’ll enter a series of carefully designed mini workshops to help you rediscover the dreams of “that girl” you used to be. Calling upon the wisdom of horses, the Dust Off Your Dreams Retreat will help you re-examine all those things you’ve always loved and wanted to do . . .”someday,” clarify your dream through the lens of where you are now, identify and remove obstacles, and craft your first concrete action steps toward its most joyful (and realistic) expression of all you meant to be.
The retreat is all-inclusive (except alcohol, but it is available if you’re so inclined), including legendary Wildcatter accommodations and amenities, award winning cuisine, and a Saturday night dinner, campfire (with s’mores!) and music by Elizabeth Wills to create an experience you’ll never forget.
What are you waiting for? Those dreams don’t dust themselves, you know — and like Anne, when you go back and re-examine all the things you used to love in the light of where you are now, you may be amazed at the unexpected joy you could call into Part Two of your life. Register today and make one of those last remaining spots in the Dust Off Your Dreams Retreats your first step toward your moment of clarity!
Want to know more about The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses? Click here to view book trailer!
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.
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!