Horse help for “heavy” lifting — and leverage on life baggage

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I heard an interesting story yesterday that’s too good not to share. It came to me by way of Jennifer Fulton, a trainer and riding instructor in Aledo, Texas, who spends a lot of her time and professional energy working with women on the Midlife Horses trail.

We were discussing our upcoming panel discussion at the AmerEquine Festival of the Horse next weekend, and she told me about one of her students, a 60-year old woman who came to her about three years ago and wanted to learn how to ride.

“This woman had no confidence at all,” Jennifer relates. “Her posture, her body language, her whole demeanor was downcast. She was carrying a lot of “life baggage” and it was clearly weighing her down. And, in the beginning, her horse even tripped a lot!” But for some reason this woman was drawn to horses, and Jennifer noticed something in her spirit that seemed to be asking for a chance to break free of all that downward energy. So slowly but surely, Jennifer told me, the woman has literally lifted herself up by riding and spending time with her horse. “Her posture is now completely straight,” Jennifer says, beaming, “She’ll look you in the eye, and she never would do that before. I’ve watched her confidence is blossom — and it shows in everything she does — and even in how her horse carries himself now, as well.” Jennifer smiles. “You know, this is why I do what I do. I love to say to her, ‘Just look what you can do! Just look at what your horse can do!”

I don’t know about you, but this story gives me goosebumps — and it is the perfect example of how our midlife horses can help us get “unstuck” in whatever transition we’re facing — and break free of whatever may have been dragging us down for who knows how long — right here in the middles of our lives. And as one of my guest panelists at our upcoming AmerEquine presentation, Jennifer has plenty more to share where that one came from. Come learn more about the transformation in confidence horses can bring — and share your own story of what changes your horse has brought about in you! We’ll be on the John Justin Arena Seminar Stage Friday 5:30 – 6:15 and Saturday 1:30-2:15, and in the Equine Network booth in the exhibit hall all weekend (stop by and say Hi!)

And meanwhile, what in your life builds that kind of uplifting confidence? When you’re facing a transition, what do you need in order to move joyfully forward? How do you prepare yourself to meet challenges and melt obstacles? How do you honor your own uniqueness at every stage of life?

These are among the topics brewing as we plan future events and programming to follow the Dust Off Your Dreams retreat. We’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas, comments and suggestions. The dynamic team we’ve assembled is ready, willing, and able to move forward to our next stage — and we’ve even rounded up a few horses to help bring about the awareness and insight to make the goosebump-inducing difference you’ve been longing for.

Let us hear from you! Comment here, e-mail me privately at mkfolse@gmail.com, join our Facebook community, or follow me on Twitter, and we’ll be sure to keep you in the loop for upcoming events and programs!

Met Jennifer’s newest horse on Saturday. He’s a noodle. Literally.

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You just haven’t lived until you’ve met a faux horse constructed of a swim noodle to help dressage riders develop feel for how their posture affects their horse’s alignment. I do wish I had thought to take a picture of SiMoN™ (he even has a brand), but you can find out more about this unique breed of pony at another of my new favorite resources, Dressage, Naturally, a site hosted by Karen Rohlf  that bridges classical dressage and natural horsemanship. I know. It kind of  sounds like a conflict of interest at first, but truly, it works. Check it out!

How did I come by this spectacular bit of information? I went out to visit Ironstar Farms in Aledo, Texas last Saturday at the invitation of Jennifer Fulton who hosts a little women’s horsemanship group there several times a year. These are the kinds of groups that feed the midlife soul, and if you’re not in one, get one. Seriously. Getting together online as we do in our Midlife Horses Facebook community is good, but gathering periodically in person with a group of  midlife horse friends to eat great food (chocolate is a staple here), drink wine (or in this case, Mimosas) and talk about our horses is a true delight! Here we can talk to our collective hearts’ content about what we want to do next with our horses, what frustrates us, and those tiny but monumental victories that only other midlife horsewomen truly understand. (Have you ever tried to share the elation of a perfect canter departure with a non horse friend or family member? It just doesn’t work. No matter how much they love you, how happy they are that you’re happy, and how interested they are trying to be, they just don’t get it.)

So on Saturday we met for one of these gatherings and Jennifer shared with us a couple of Karen’s video presentations. (You have to subscribe to view these, but there’s also lots of great free content on this site, and the video series is WELL worth the membership. Also, Karen’s free newsletter is archived, so there’s a lot of great stuff there, as well.) My favorite takeaway from these presentations had to do with the way we ask our horses to do things. (As my mom always said, “sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it that makes the difference in the reaction you get.) Karen’s advice here (and I did write down these first letters as a sort of acronym to remind me) is:

1. Get Silent before you ask for something new. If you’re like me, and your mind tends to chatter, it can be hard for your horse to realize you’ve even asked for anything at all.

2. On that same note, be sure you have your horse’s Attention before  making your request. That’s because as fascinating as we think we are, our horse may actually be tuning us out.

3. Then you phrase your request in the form of a Question, such as “Are you ready to canter now?” Often, with my horse, Trace, the answer will be “Um, no,” and that presents a different sort of issue, but it does offer me a milder course of action than when I force it first and ask questions later.

4. The next thing to do, Rohlf says, is Listen for the answer. (Or in my case, the eye roll) There again, this step gives you a chance to deal with any resistance early and in its mildest expression.

5. Finally, you need to give Feedback. (Such as “Yes! That’s it! Good Boy!!!” or “No, that was a good try, but not quite it. Let’s practice it again.” Or,  in my case, “Nope, not even close.  Let’s keep working on this until you either give me an honest try or one of us dies.”

 

After telling us more about Karen’s work and showing us her book and DVD that outlines her Dressage, Naturally program step by step, (book also available on Karen’s dressagenaturally.net website) Jennifer then brought out her new horse, “SiMoN” After that, the place pretty much turned into a bowling alley. I will say two more things about SiMoN and then I promise to leave it alone. First, it is incredible how much this mental picture helps keep you straight in the saddle and mindful of your posture and hip and shoulder alignment. I didn’t even “get on” this fine blue steed with the wooden handles sticking straight up out of his withers, but the next time I rode my own horses I realized the power of having this picture in your head, both of the handles coming straight up out of his withers and how any shift in your seat or shoulders affects his alignment. The second thing is, if you do purchase one of these noodle horses, you might want to consider “riding” it only in the privacy of  your own  home. Preferably when your family is away. I’m not kidding. As profound a teacher as SiMoN really is, I can’t begin to describe the visual. To a casual observer, especially those uninitiated to the subtleties of dressage, it’s mental picture  you will probably never be able to live down.

 

But for the rest of us (especially those of u s who have recently come to understand that “dressage is crack,”  as Jennifer is known for saying to her students), SiMoN and creator Karen Rohlf have sent us off on a new quest. Go check out Dressage, Naturally and let me know what you think! And if you DO purchase a SiMoN, please tell us what you learn!

Saddle Up! Your Midlife Horse is Waiting!

Happy Trails!