Once Upon A Time, A Horse (Part III: Smoky)

Once Upon A Time, A Horse (Part III: Smoky)

Women and Horses

“I’ve never yet went wrong in sizing up a man by the kind of a horse he rode. A good horse always packs a good man, and I’ve always dodged the hombre what had no thought nor liking for his horse or other animals, for I figger that kind of gazabo is best to be left unacquainted with. No good would ever come of the meeting.”

— Will James, Smoky: The Cowhorse

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My relationship with Will James began long before I was old enough to judge grammar or syntax — or realized that everything he says about men and their horses goes about double for women. All of this is excused here, because, as my dad explained, Will James is the real deal. He’s a cowboy that, for reasons no one really knows, spent a lot of time writing down the stories he lived, even though technically he could neither read nor write. (He also led a very short and tragic life, but at least he got the horse part right — and he followed his impulse to write about his experiences as a cowboy in a compelling way that no one else did.) For whatever reason, it was very important to Will to tell people about the horses and the cowboys he lived and worked with. Not only that, he wanted to share what he learned, understood and knew from curating these stories.

Will’s judgment of Smokey was spot on — and even though this little cowhorse with the great big heart endured a lot of peril, to have been so well-understood and deeply-loved by a simple cowboy was a gift and example that became the lasting and best part of Will James’ legacy. And now it is also mine. There is so much I want people to know and understand about horses and how much they can teach us. While most cowboys even today will tell you that there is no better teacher than a horse, it takes a little doing to learn to listen, observe, and understand.

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Like Will, I have a deep need to share what I’ve learned and observed from the horses and riders and others who cross my path on regular basis (and even more regular when I put some effort into it!). And while, as the old saying goes, when you get three horse people together you’ll never get them all to agree on anything, you can usually get two of them to agree that the third one is wrong, I find these discussions fascinating. And, taking Wills quote above to heart, you can usually tell all you need to about each of the three by checking out what their their horses think of them!

That being said, and as one who has, As Will describes, “a soft spot in my heart” for all kinds of animals (and some would say a soft spot in my head to match!), stories about horses and their humans have always been my hands-down Number 1 heart-eyed-emoji fascination. And just like Will, I can’t not write them down.

What’s your horse story? What have you observed in the people and horses around you that seemed to reflect a far deeper understandings than was otherwise possible? Let me hear from you! Share your story (and photos if you have them!) on Facebook, Twitter, or MelindaFolse.com

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Does this horse make my butt look big?

Does this horse make my butt look big?

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Permanent change to deeply-ingrained body image issues is not only possible, but it may be much easier than we think.

About two years after The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses hit the mark for so many “women of a certain age,” now coming back to owning and/or riding horses, Trafalgar Square Books approached me with a new challenge: now let’s do a book about body image and riding.

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A what?

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.

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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.

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I look forward to hearing from you!

Melinda

Click here to learn more:

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The Seeds of Experience: Midlife Horses

The Seeds of Experience: Midlife Horses

The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses

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.

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com

What the Truck?

What the Truck?

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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!

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Happy Trailering, Part 2-Tight Spaces

Happy Trailering, Part 2-Tight Spaces

Midlife Horses Events News The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses

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!

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com

Happy Trailering, Part 1

Happy Trailering, Part 1

The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses

Is anyone but me getting desperate for a trailer? I love where I keep my horses, and I know everything is just as it should be right now, horse accommodation wise. But I’m feeling kind of arena locked and claustrophobic. If only I had a trailer (and, oh, wait, a big ol’ truck, because I drive a Mini), I could load up and go to the Grasslands — or even a few closer trails — for an afternoon in the great big, rail-less outdoors. And as good as I know this would be for my horses’ minds, I know it would be even better for mine. There’s just something magical about a trail ride for clearing everyone’s mind and recharging your soul. But do you know what worries me about having a trailer? Pulling it. Once before when I was on a serious trailer quest, and again while researching the Trailering chapter for The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, I ran across the same thing time and again. Everyone says how “easy” it is to pull a trailer. They think it’s comforting to tell me “you won’t even know it’s back there!” That, my friends, is precisely what I’m afraid of. For people who have grown up hauling horses, pulling a trailer (and backing it!) is second nature. They honestly don’t know what the big deal is. Or why I’m so wigged out. They scoff at my need for formal instruction (beyond the trailer salesman who offers to “take me out back and show me” how to pull a trailer.) Something tells me this is a skill that can’t be learned in one 30-minute session. I want rules, instruction, safety procedures and practice opportunities. But guess what? If a six-week trailer pulling course is out there (besides truck driver school) I sure haven’t found it. I understand and appreciate that those who have pulled trailers a lot are walking around with knowledge inside them they don’t even know is there. But when trouble shows up, they reach for it and it’s there to help them figure out what to do. On the other hand, if I’m pulling a trailer full of horses and get into trouble (blowout, bad weather, horrible high speed traffic, some jerk cuts me off or stops suddenly without warning) I’d reach for that instinct born of knowledge and experience and come up empty handed. And most likely, hysterical. So as I begin this “happy trailering” series of posts, I invite your participation and response. What are your trailering questions and concerns? What worries you most when you’re pulling a trailer? How did you learn (or how do you plan to learn) to pull a trailer? And for heaven’s sake, if you’re one of those folks who has hauled a lot, please share any insights, tips and wisdom you can put your finger on to help keep the rest of us from becoming road hazards! Here’s to Happy Trailering!

 

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Happy Mother’s Day, Ya’ll!

Happy Mother’s Day, Ya’ll!

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And special props to the lead mare in all of us she’s the keeper of that special instinct we share that helps us:  Smell danger, even when all appears well. Detect any sort of dishonesty, even when delivered with sincerity that fools others. Stop at nothing to get our point across (sometimes just imagining the delivery of a well-timed kick to the ribs as punctuation honors the unflappable guidance our inner lead mare). Defend our young with the ferocity of a grizzly bear, no matter how stupid they’ve been (and then turn around and kick their butts ourselves to make sure they got the point). Forgive purely and completely, and then just go back to grazing. Never hold back on love, affection and commitment to raising our young with everything we know, everything we have and everything we have to give. If you doubt any of this, just find a mare with a young foal, a shady spot a respectful distance away, and pull up a lawn chair. (A cold beverage would be a nice touch.) Watch the interactions between mare and foal. Every flick of an ear, swish of a tail, shift in position means something. At first you may not see it. But keep watching. There is nothing more humbling and inspiring in the world of mothers than watching a mare and foal. It’s the perfect mothering textbook, in my opinion. Tenderness, boundaries, expectations, love, forgiveness, second chances, unflinching devotion, and an occasional swift kick when necessary. So here’s to us, Moms of the world. This is our day. Stop and honor the job we do and take a moment to thank our inner lead mare that shows us the way more often than any of us realize. And now, if you will excuse me, I have some grazing to do. I do believe my herd has arrived with sweet feed.

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Horse Shopping 101

Horse Shopping 101

The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses

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

 

Sweetness? Or Sass?

Sweetness? Or Sass?

Women and Horses

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

Time for Tea?

Time for Tea?

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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!

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com