How do you know what you think you know on a given subject? In the horse world, sometimes the “great truths” handed down from our fellow equestrians, other disciplines, and preceding generations can be real — or the farthest thing from actual truth.
There’s an old saying I have always loved — and have experienced time and time again in interviewing all kinds of “horse people” for both The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horsesand Riding Through Thick and Thin: “Anytime you get three horse people together you will most likely find that they will not be able to agree on anything. However, when one of the three leaves the conversation, the other two will finally agree on one thing: the one who left was definitely wrong.”
I think the most important lesson to draw from this “great truth” is that while it’s important to consult the experts, to educate yourself and to listen to those who have “been there, done that” (do we really want to make all the mistakes ourselves?), it is equally if not more important to use the noggin and inner guidance you were born with to learn how to figure some things out for yourself.
How do you know you’re on the right track? You get quiet on the inside and learn how to really see what you’re seeing, hear what you’re hearing and feel what you’re feeling. With practice, this authentic, on-board guidance system we all are born with (but sometimes needs to be primed and rebooted, if you’re pardon the mix of mechanical and technological metaphor) will indeed help you listen, filter the advice, information and sometimes plain nonsense you encounter — and just know what you need and quite often, what your horse needs from you. Horses are great helpers for finding our authenticity — and discovering our own answers— but our part of the bargain is that we have to learn how to get quiet, use our innate gifts of observation and intuition, and teach ourselves to trust what comes. Give it a try and let me know what happens. I’d wager that every horse person alive has a story about this — I’d love to hear them! Please share them with me on Twitter, Facebook, my website, or email me at email@example.com
I’ve always been fascinated by how people name their horses. Do you choose a name that reflects a personality trait? A physical characteristic? A favorite character or personality? An ironic name? A laudatory predictor?
And, unless you raise a horse from scratch, you may pretty much get stuck with someone else’s quirk. Superstition dictates that we not change a horse’s name. Unless we get a horse whose name doesn’t really fit him. Or if, like me, you come by horse whose name, you later realize, was changed by the person who sold him to you — or a previous owner — are you then obligated to change the name back to the original? Or is that changing it, thus evoking the wrath of the bad luck fairy.
So let’s hear from you. What’s your horse’s name? How was he/she named and by whom? Did you change it or bow to superstition? If your horse is registered, were you happy with the choices proffered by your papers, or did you go with the “barn name” so you could call him whatever you want to? Are you looking for the right horse name? Take a look at this post from Five Star Ranch for some prompts, guidelines and interesting associations. Reach out to me here, on Twitter, Facebook ,or on my website.
No pressure, but whatever you choose, remember that you could be saddling future owners with your cleverness!
I don’t know about you, but now that I am definitely well into middle-age, I find myself thinking about that “bucket list” that seems more like something I used to hear my parents say they were checking off. Then I came across an article in Horse and Rider called “44 horsey things to do before you die.” Before I die? Whoa! I’m just getting the legal pad out to make my bucket list!
And then something shifted. As I read through this list, I realized that while they were all worthy entries, many of them didn’t fit me as a rider. With one hand reining in my escalating anxiety and the other gripping my pen, I began my own list―but instead of listing all the horsey things to do before I die, I decided to list the horsey things I’ve already been able to do. When I considered that just ten years ago I barely allowed myself to dream of owning a horse, the memories began to unfold of all that has happened and changed in my life since that 1000-lb lesson in abundance (as in be very careful what you wish for) arrived in my life. Because of this added horsepower, everything around me and within me opened up in ways “awe inspiring” doesn’t begin to touch.
So as I made my retroactive horsey bucket list, my bucket overflowed with gratitude for all the people, experiences and hard-earned wisdom these generous and wise teachers have brought into my life. So much has happened because of that single moment when I said “yes!” to a horse. And in reflecting on all that has happened, I can’t help but wonder what else may add itself to my list as I continue to follow where these horsey things lead. I like this a lot better than thinking about dying.
Seven of my horsey experience favorites — and their life takeaways include:
Open yourself to unexpected beauty. “Horse camping” on the 35,000 acre LBJ Grasslands — where a two-hour ride turned into an 8-our odyssey, but I didn’t care because of the surreal “pinch me I must be dreaming” beauty of this experience. Takeaway: If you open yourself to new experiences, you never know what unforeseen beauty may await
Be willing to do something badly. Ranch sorting — where my horse had a much better idea of what to do than I did, but we managed to live through the experience and even sort a few cows. There was also a reining clinic that was both an ugly and wonderful opportunity to push some edges I didn’t even know I had. Takeaway: You don’t have to be good at something for it to be fun; being willing to suck a little bit means you get to try something new. People can be surprisingly kind and helpful to someone who is trying to learn.
Get bucked off and then get back on. This is where the big girl panties come in handy — and where pain is relative to the experience, and working through it has its own surprises. Takeaway: The reward of the ride is greater than the pain of hitting the ground every once in a while.
Experience an exceptional pairing of physical and mental fatigue— where physical fatigue was only exceeded by mind blowing information overload. Takeaway: I’m stronger than I thought I was, more capable than I realized, and my innate curiosity and thirst for learning is a gift that keeps on giving.
Immerse yourself in learning. Working for and traveling with Clinton Anderson and the Downunder Horsemanship team, ask all the questions I wanted to, and then shape the answers into training tips, articles, newsletters and a book, Clinton Anderson’s Lessons Well Learned was the horsey learning experience of a lifetime. Ditto the time I spent with the Drs. McCormick at Hacienda Tres Aguilas and the Institute for Conscious Awareness. Takeaway: Opportunities come along — and may be fleeting — but if you can manage to grab them and give them all you’ve got, the doors they may open are unimaginable.
Share what you’ve learned. Pitching and writing “The Smart Women’s Guide to Midlife Horses” based on my observations, conversations and experiences, both while working with Downunder Horsemanship and with my own experiences, struggles and insights with my own two midlife horses. “Riding Through Thick and Thin” was an opportunity to draw from a lifetime of body insecurity and self-help study, delve deeper and meld with expert advice from the horse and rider arenas to create a new toolkit for riders and non-riders alike that could be a body image game changer, in and out of the saddle. Takeaway: Everything you experience holds a gift, both for you and for those you are able to share it with.
Find the right help. In retraining a horse that everyone else had long since given up on — where painstakingly slow, steady and deliberate progress yielded results beyond what anyone could have imagined. Takeaway: Listen to your heart, show up, slow down and move forward one step at a time to scale impossible mountains and discover unspeakable beauty where you least expected it.
How about you? Is a horse on your bucket list? Has a horse already supplied more joy than any bucket list can hold? I’d love to hear from you. Reach out to me here, on Twitter, Facebook or my website.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
If a riding instructor has ever told you to “look where you want the horse to go” I submit to you that it goes much deeper than that. When your mind is clear and certain of exactly what you want your horse to do, it makes an unbelievable difference in his willingness to do it. Why is that?
One of the many ways our horses push us to be better people is to demand (by ignoring our requests until we’re compelling enough to convince them we really do know exactly what we want) clear and decisive direction. I can always tell on the days I’m feeling a little bit mentally lazy or distracted that my horse, Rio, completely “forgets” how to do everything he knows how to do really well on his “good days.” (I guess what we realize by now whose “good days” we’re really talking about here) And, while it’s true that horses are entitled to their “better” and “not-so-great,” and “a little bit rusty” days, it is usually more a matter of our own clarity that determines how things will go. How do you find that clarity and authenticity? That’s one of the best things our horses force us to do. And like getting and staying in shape (the other thing they require of us that provides far-reaching benefits way beyond the saddle) building the clarity muscle is a matter of practice, determination and repetition. So leave your cell phone in the car, force the to-do -when-I-leave-here list from your mind, and when you’re with your horse, practice not only being in that moment just with him, but picture in your mind (with the greatest detail you can muster) exactly what it is you want him to do before you ask him. Don’t forget to come back and tell me what happened! Comment here or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If enough of you respond, I promise a future post that compiles these stories–because if you’ll really do this, I know there are going to be lots of stories we’re all going to want to hear! So let’s get out there, clear out the life cobwebs when you’re with your horse–and get sure!