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

Horses are all about pressure. Wait. So are people. Come learn the difference this understanding can make in both worlds.

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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 mkfolse@gmail.com, or register online today to claim one of the remaining spots for the weekend that could change Part Two of your life!

Click on the order button to buy this book now! (Free book included with retreat registration)
Want to know more about The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses? Click here to view book trailer!

Where is your moment of midlife clarity hiding? Oh . . .it’s probably somewhere among all the things you used to love.

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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?

Come to the Dust Off Your Dreams Women’s Retreat April 13-15 a the Wildcatter Ranch Resort and Spa and find out!

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.

For more information about this event or to sign up now for the April 13-15 Dust Off Your Dreams Retreat, visit us online at www.dustoffyourdreamsretreats.com or call 1-888-773-8187. (Only 10 spots left and registration deadline is March 15!)

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!

Click on the order button to buy this book now! (Free book included with retreat registration)

Want to know more about The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses? Click here to view book trailer!

This retreat captures the magic of putting a horse in the middle of your life.

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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.

Click on the order button to buy this book now! (Free book included with retreat registration)

 Want to know more about The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses? Click here to view book trailer!

What challenges you?

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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 get a standing ovation at the PBR exhibition featuring All Star Equestrian's therapeutic riding program.

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.

Look for Lisa's remarkable story on Clinton Anderson's Downunder Horsemanship on Fox Sports, airing in March!

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!”

Happy Trails!

What does a horse say? Sometimes, it turns out, it’s the horse doing the whispering.

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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.

Happy Trails!

 

Dressage Today advises groundwork for people to improve effectiveness and protect against injury. I can hear my horse snickering now.

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It's the perfect holiday gift for anyone you know contemplating Midlife Horses! Click on the cover to order now!

This great tip and resource just in from Denise Barrows of Practical Equine solutions:

“This [Dressage Today] article relates directly to what we have been talking about. There is even a part about how the body forgets to use some muscles and overcompensates with others, leading to tightness and strain.  I feel like they are talking about me!”

And me! How about you? What unmounted exercises have you discovered to help build core muscles memory? I don’t know about you, but when we hear how “long periods seated such as at a computer or in a car create imbalanced patterns across the hip joints from muscle and ligament tightness, and lack of use (weakness),” I have to raise my hand in a plea of guilty. I’ve considered replacing my desk chair with a balance ball, but I fear of getting bucked off. (Bad previous experience with one of these unpredictable creatures).

So what do these “imbalanced patterns” mean to our riding — and our life?

Bottom Line: Practice doesn’t always make perfect — perfect practice makes perfect!

According to Heather Sansom, the fitness writer for Dressage Today who wrote this great article, when we have these imbalances it makes us engage our core muscles incorrectly. (And all this time, I thought we just needed to engage our core when we ride. But noooooo . . .turns out we have to find and engage the right muscles in the right way. The plot thickens.)

Apparently there’s a lot more to strengthening our core than just “zipping it up” (although that’s certainly part of it!) Unless we learn to pinpoint and engage these sneaky little deep muscles in the correct way (Denise says she thinks they hide. I agree.), we’re just perpetuating the problems created by the imbalance:  “The rider’s body has less chance of responding correctly when it comes to the ride with imbalances or pre-disposed tendency to incorrect muscle engagement,” Heather writes. She goes on to say that, “lack of correct engagement of stabilizers in the rider’s pelvis can result in issues such as difficulty with leg aids, a collapsing lower back, weakness in lateral movement and even an overactive low back resulting in back strain and pain.”

Ruh Roh. Denise is right about that, too. Now it’s getting personal.

And even worse, Heather’s article goes on to say, these imbalances and weaknesses also create gaps in your neuromuscular communication. She compares this to a cell phone that only gets an intermittent signal and you only hear every other word of the conversation. (Who remembers that Can you hear me now?” commercial for Verizon? Some days, it’s my life.) Depending on the conversation you’re having with your horse, such as “Please don’t kill me now,” you’re probably going to want every single word to come through loud and clear.

So what do you do?

The answer, surprisingly, is one you’ve seen before (especially if you’re a fan of Clinton Anderson and Downunder Horsemanship as I am): Groundwork. But this time, it’s groundwork for you, not your horse. (Here comes the equine snickering I told you about. After working my horses on the ground for so many miles, they are obviously enjoying this cosmic turn of the tables.) But, just as is is with training our horses, this groundwork pays off big in the long run:

“A rider interested in bringing maximum self-carriage to their ride, avoiding injury and prolonging their riding career should do some ground training,” Heather writes.   “Riding is a sport that can be engaged in right in to senior years, and riders can improve their entire life.  This means that a rider can be improving technically, at an age when their physical preparedness for sport is actually reducing due to the normal aging process which reduces suppleness in ligaments and causes muscle fibre atrophy.  Riders over 40 should definitely be engaging in supplementary exercises to strengthen the muscles that stabilize the pelvis and spine, so that the riding itself does not actually wear your body down.  Most riders want to be able to ride as long in life as they possibly can.”

Weigh in!

Go check out Heather’s groundwork exercises for humans and let us know what you think — or if you have any others we ought to add to our mix. Let’s all go back to Rebecca’s Garanimal workout schedule and add these in–you be the judge of which workout energy level category they go in (walk, trot, canter, gallop), but wherever you put them in your own personal regimen, be sure to plug and play!

We’ll be revisiting this in the near future with some fun posts and activities inspired by my riding group’s work with Cassandra . . . stay tuned. And, as always, please chime in  with the exercises and routines that help you most! Comment here, email me, or post your thoughts on this topic to our Facebook page, Twitter feed or YouTube channel. Misery — and obsession — loves company!

Happy Trails!

Looking for a more balanced life? Join the (very large) club. And the dance between finding it and losing it goes on.

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This slippery slope is a hot topic for all of us midlifers trying to have it all, do it all and be it all. And when you’re trying to work something as large as a horse into this delicate equation, its enough to keep us all preoccupied with finding the right answer. Perfect balance is out there. We can smell it. And sometimes, we may even touch it.  But not for long. If you are one of the lucky ones to find this snipe, enjoy every precious second of it, by all means. But don’t get too comfortable.

“Balance,” points out our friend, Kathy Taylor, on her  HerdWise blog, is a verb,”something you do, rather than a state of being.”

Huh?

Comparing the work/life balance to a balance board (you know, one of those gizmos with a wheel in the middle and a board across the top on which you stand and try to keep your weight evenly distributed so that the board tilts neither right or left), Taylor stays, “The reality is that there are only very short moments in time when you’re NOT making some adjustment. One second you’re too much to the left, then too much to the right. You’re in constant motion.”

Well so much for getting everything in my life perfectly balanced, once and for all, then moving on to other, greater pursuits. As it turns out, staying reasonably balanced is the greater pursuit. But what’s reasonable? we ask.

Taylor adds that with awareness and constant practice, the ongoing corrections we make to our time and life imbalances will get smaller and more subtle as time goes on. “The more aware you are of when you need to adjust, the less you’ll have to do,” she adds. “And if you don’t practice making small adjustments that will keep you in the middle of the board, then you’ll be stuck making big corrections later that tend to make everyone unhappy.”

Taking this a bit further, I call on my favorite life coach Martha Beck, whose recent post, Balancing Act: The Dance of an Unbalanced Life  on the same subject was still percolating when Kathy’s blog update showed up on our Facebook wall (does anybody think this is a coincidence? I think not!)

We’re nearing that time of year when we look at our life and make those resolutions to do better — or as I like to think of it, the Annual Life Reorganization Summit (the practice formerly known as New Year’s Resolutions). Sometimes annual resolutions to do better and be better stick, sometimes not, but I (and lots of other people,  I think) subscribe to the theory that “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

So Martha tells us (see, the Internet puts you on first name basis with everyone):

“I can tell you with absolute assurance that it is impossible for women to achieve the kind of balance recommended by many well-meaning self-help counselors. I didn’t say such balance is difficult to attain. I didn’t say it’s rare. It’s impossible. Our culture’s definition of what women should be is fundamentally, irreconcilably unbalanced. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the very imbalance of our culture is forcing women to find equilibrium in an entirely new way. ”

She goes on to say (and we already know this to be true. We learned it from our Midlife Horses) that once we “get” that the expectations we’ve been trying to fill are, in fact, impossible, we  find the freedom to start living life “from the inside out.”

“You free yourself to ignore social pressures and begin creating a life that comes from your own deepest desires, hopes, and dreams,” she adds. This, Martha says, is the beginning of “learning to seek guidance by turning inward to the heart, rather than outward to social prescriptions.”

This is the kind of fulfillment our Midlife Horses show us (if you haven’t already seen it, check out our new video about this and hear from some of the women who are living this dream).  I don’t know about you, but whatever I have to do to learn the “dance of imbalance” that gets me to the barn every day,  I’ll do.

And granted, there may be some skinned knees and bumps and bruises to nurse as we practice this dance on our own individual balance boards (each of us has one as unique as we are, but rest assured, they’re all the same special kind of slippery), and I’m sure I’ll fall off completely from time to time.

But I’m taking Kathy and Martha at their wise word(s): Balance is a verb. Practice and constant adjustment on the fly makes it easier to stay nearer the coveted center. And above all, the pursuit of this balance is, in and of itself, “a dance of joyful disequilibrium to be celebrated and embraced” as we find new authenticity and satisfaction by living through our wobbles in a whole new way. (For more on this, check our Martha’s new book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World, available December 27.)

What small adjustments bring you back to center when your life starts to feel wobbly? How does your horse help? What effect does your Midlife Horses have on your personal balancing act? How have you adjusted your personal priorities to work a horse into the mix? We get into this a bit in The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses (Chapter 3: Take the Reins).

I’d love to know what works best for you! Comment here, post to our Facebook page, retweet your favorite rebalancing tip when you see this headline pop up on my Twitter feed, or talk to us via video comment on our YouTube channel. (I’d love to see some GloZell-style comments to these posts pop up on our channel — in format, not content . . . although I challenge you to watch this “tip” post and not laugh your butt off)

Free T-shirt to the first three tipsters!

 

Happy Trails!

 

Is holiday havoc erupting between your eggnog and riding schedules? Give yourself a break! Here’s how to have your eggnog and hold your horses, too.

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This bit of holiday mercy just in from our friend and trainer, Denise Barrows of Practical Equine Solutions who shares:

“This is a really good newsletter- right along the same lines as what we are doing/promoting.   While it is probably focused toward riders who are already knee deep in a fitness and riding program, it is also good for the not-so-serious riders to hear (I can relay it as, “See? there ARE times when you can take a break from regular riding and planning and stretching! Just not 51 weeks out of the year 🙂

I also appreciate the emphasis here on maintaining hip mobility. This seems to be an issue many of us struggle with. It’s nice to see that so many others are on the same page as we are!”

The fabulous resource Denise connects us with here is equifitt.com. Go there and click on the blue box on the upper right portion of the home page (scroll down to the bottom for the free stuff, but there are some cool things to purchase on the way to the sign up box!) to sign up for their free monthly tips and articles — and then click around this great site to explore the many fitness ideas and opportunities there to fit a variety of needs and interests!

Meanwhile, Denise shares their November newsletter (couldn’t find the link for you, so here it is in all its glory!) that got our attention after our recent Pilates enlightenment.  Enjoy!

EquiFiTTip November 2011: Make the Most of Your Time

© Heather R. Sansom

Forward to a friend, subscription to monthly FiTTips is free.

It’s that busy festive time of year again when many riders find themselves torn: you really want to be at the barn, but there is that office party/social event/crammed holiday schedule and they just have not perfected cloning.

 It can be a time of year when fitting in ‘extra’s like your own fitness plan really fall by the wayside.

Relax.  The beauty of a yearly training plan is that it’s understood there are times of the year when optimal training cannot occur.  In fact, there are times when it shouldn’t- your body needs to recover.  I usually view the month of December as a maintenance only/alternative period of time.  There is no point in fighting it- you need to have the balance of being able to connect with friends and family, and enjoy the general hum and extravagant well-wishing of the major holiday season.

Before you get ready to put on the fuzzy slippers and pour yourself something that warms you, you really do need to know that recovery period does not mean it’s time to slack off completely.  The purpose of a recovery period in your usual training regimen is to help you loosen up a little; to let muscles recover from long periods of use in order to avoid strain, and to let your brain unwind so that you can bring creativity and freshness back to the ways you are thinking about your sport.  Letting yourself sink into a comfortable chair for the season, or run around with elevated blood pressure from shopping and socializing with no time for yourself, do not count as legitimate recovery.

Keep the end goal in mind: going into the New Year, picking up where you left off, having thought about your goals for the new year and ready to give it your best shot.

Total slacking or stressing for a month will not set you up to walk into this picture.

Recovery periods in an athlete training schedule are often referred to as ‘active recovery’.  When you think about the concept applied to your horse, it makes sense.  For example, in the off season (if you compete) you may take him out hacking, or play with gymnastics (if you are a dressage rider) or work on your dressage (if you are a hunter/jumper).  You will generally give your horse some work that is light to him, and a little different from his usual routine.  You’ll bring the fun back in.  If he is injured, you don’t leave him standing in a stall.  You keep him moving.  In some areas, riders just turn their horse out for the winter where he can stay exercised going through snow and up and down hills, but otherwise get a mental break and just be a horse to get re-energized.

You both need a period where your horse’s training is lighter.  This is a good season to do it, and there is a hybrid solution that can help normally busy riders, go through the busy holiday season and still be physically and mentally recovered and ready to pick up where you left off when your normal training seasons begins again.

You do not need to feel torn about not maintaining your training schedule, if you have planned to ride less, or make your rides shorter.   You do need to plan in short segments of activity for yourself to replace the lost riding time.  Luckily, it does not take nearly as long to go for a 20-minute walk as it does to head to the barn and back in an evening: you can fit in the walk AND the holiday party in on the same day.

Short bursts of intentional and fun physical activity will help keep you riding fit when you can’t ride as much or as long.  They will also help reduce stress, build proprioception and neuro-muscular vocabulary (increase your ability to move and follow your horse), and even help you avoid potential strain issues that could be caused by your riding and are typically prevalent in middle-aged and older riders.

It doesn’t really matter what activities you choose in your recovery period as a rider.  However, they should be selected to meet specific goals that help your riding, such as:

 

  1. Maintain bone density and improve ligament strength(impact activities).

Examples:   walking, jogging, kickboxing, aerobics, skiing, snowshoeing, training with weights or bodyweight/resistance tubing

  1. Maintain hip mobility (for following the horse’s motion).

Examples: walking (probably the best one), cross country skiing, snowshoeing, skating, yoga

  1. Build core strength.

Examples: core exercises, martial arts, swimming, dance (jazz, hip hop etc..) pilates, integrated training with exercise tubing

  1. Improve rhythm and connection.

Examples: dance- especially social dancing with a partner, aerobics or other music-driven group classes, ‘mirror’ motion games with a partner

  1. Maintain or build cardio-vascular stamina.

Examples: many of the activities above, as long as your heart rate is elevated for 15-20 minutes.  If you are an Eventer, your cardio training should be twice as long.  Using intervals of more intense activity are the most efficient way to train.  For example, walking on hills or walking the dog with intervals of faster or slower walking; or swimming lengths with fast/slow combinations that you can keep up. 

To get the most out of your exercise time as a mental break and for proprioception, it is best NOT to multi-task.  Proprioception, or the finetuned control you need as an athlete and a rider, needs to be constantly honed.  Stay focused on what you are doing so that you can give it 100% even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes. 

If you have a busy family holiday season in addition to your riding and other commitments, 5 minutes may be all you have at a time.  

Have fun, and Happy Riding and Training! 

© Heather R. Sansom

Equifitt training draws on multiple sport and fitness disciplines to help riders of all ages and types balance their bodies and reach their riding and fitness goals.  Heather is a certified personal trainer and Level 1 Centered Riding® Instructor.  Equifitt offers online eCoaching, clinics, personal rider programs, and Centered Riding® instruction.

 

www.equifitt.com

Equestrian Fitness Training

“Balanced Training for Better Riding”

Happy Trails!

Rally point! This woman needs a horsekeeping pro con list. Post your board vs. home preference and why.

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Here’s something that came in via email (posted here with permission because I think this is a big issue that might stir up some great conversation and insights, either here or in our Facebook community! I’d love to hear what you guys have to say — and so would she!

Here’s the issue (identity and confidentiality protected, but the facts are common to many of us!).

She writes:

“I am weighing the possibilities of horse ownership, and it appears that the biggest obstacle for me is the way my husband feels about my dream of paying off our house, selling, and moving to a place out in the country were I can keep my midlife horse on our property.  He finds the whole thing stressful and overwhelming, not only because of all of the work involved, but because of the cost of another house and of horse ownership in general.  I am an idealist and feel we could do it if we try. What do you think is the best way to handle this skeptical husband issue?  I know it’s a loaded question.  I guess I just need a pep talk.”

So reaching out to all you wonderful Midlife Horses pep talkers out there, it’s time for us to rally here and help this woman think this issue all the way through. Her challenge is to figure out what’s most important to her and what will make the most sense to her — throughout her whole life, not just the horsey part.. Anyone want to weigh in with some navigational tips for this sticky issue? Any fellas out there have something to say?

I totally get both sides of this issue —  and to some extent, I live it myself. I adore the community I belong to at the Fort Worth Horseshoe Club and am thrilled with the great care my horses get there. I can’t say enough nice things about the wonderful friends I’ve met there, the good horse company we share, and the joy of having such a beautiful place to go (especially when i need a quick escape!) to immerse myself in the horse world. (If you haven’t seen it yet, click here to check out my new video on this topic!) HOWEVER, I also would dearly love to walk out my back door in the morning, cup of coffee in hand, and say hello to Trace and Rio before I start my day (or talk to any humans). I’d love to be able to watch them in the pasture behind my imaginary house and just hang with them sometimes with no agenda or timeline. AND YET,  I also love NOT having to muck stalls, haul shavings, dispose of manure, fix fences, mow, brush hog, plow, scrub troughs.( I have a hard enough time staying ahead of the rolling dustbunnies in my dining room and running the occasional mop over my perpetually grody kitchen floor.) With my work schedule and busy family life, I can’t imagine adding another full-time job to an already overflowing plate. It just might take the fun out of the whole thing.

Thoughts, insights, advice, or observations from any of you out there on either side of this sticky fence? Let us hear from you! (Free Rio T-shirt to first three posters!). Post your comments here, on our Facebook page (and while you’re there, give us a “like” if you haven’t already! ) Or retweet your support and ideas whenever you see this pop up on my Twitter feed, or share a video that illustrates your point on  our YouTube channel.

 

Happy Trails!