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 email@example.com. 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!
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.
At first, I wondered what I would talk about with this crowd, a group more accustomed to hosting style shows, politicos, and noted experts in something or other as their speakers. I’m no expert, but I have written about a lot of interesting things and people, so I decided to go with that. In the mix, of course, I got to talk about the creation of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, and all the unexpectedly synchronistic ideas, people and experiences that came together to result in this book.
One interesting thing I’m discovering in almost every group I speak to (formally and informally), is that while many are intrigued by the idea of Midlife Horses, they also relate to the metaphorical side of this book — and there’s always a handful whose eyes light up with the easily recognizable glow of old “horse dreams,” and I’m pretty sure they go home with the full intention of, as Koelle Simpson puts it, “bringing a little equine energy into their lives.”
Did your ears perk up at the word “cocktail?” I know mine did. But alas, on the better nutrition front, those frozen margaritas are going to have to go the way of fried chicken if I’m going to get anywhere with this Midlife Horses Fitness Challenge. Probably just as well, but I’m hoping I can still get away with a small glass of wine at the end of the day. No sense getting too crazy here.
But I digress. What we’re talking about here is a daily fitness cocktail.
So how many times have you listened to or read a fitness program or regimen developed by someone who knows what they’re talking about, all right, but it just doesn’t seem like something you could or would want to do for the long haul?
I know. Me too.
I’ve been an athlete all my life and I have enthusiastically (some would say obsessively) participated in everything from tennis to taekwondo to cycling to downhill skiing — and now, of course, horseback riding. So I know all about running, I know about weightlifting, I know about circuit training. I’ve jumped, kicked, run, walked like a duck, hopped like an overgrown kangaroo and crawled like a crab, all in the name of conditioning for something. And, up until now, I’ve never been able to get excited about working out just for its own sake. For me, there has to be a bigger, more tangible purpose for it to stick.
And now I have one. My object now is not winning, getting better, achieving any particular level of accomplishment. My object is protecting my body from injury, getting stronger, staying flexible, and building endurance. Which means leapfrog, while effective, will probably not make the list. I want to be in good enough shape to ride my horse well and keep riding for as long as I possibly can. (In years, not hours, although sometimes that happens, too, like it did to me the day we got lost on a trail)
And, for those of us who have found our thrill with our midlife horses, the struggle here is not only which activities we should choose, but even more important, when and how we will weave this additional commitment into our lives when we’ve just converted all our free time to “horse time.” When we scarcely have time now to do all the things we’re “supposed” to be doing, how in the world can we work in a workout?
Just like elsewhere throughout the book, I remind you again here that the answers you seek are usually hanging out somewhere between your own ears. To coax them out of hiding, however, you have to ask yourself the right questions. Here’s help in the form of our first midlife fitness task. Continuing the recipe analogy, get out a piece of paper and identify your favorite and most readily available fitness cocktail “ingredients”.
Got a dog that likes to go for walks? Put him on the list. Enjoy the mental clarity you get from yoga, pilates, tai chi or some other “moving meditation?”(You are allowed to double dip!) What muscle groups are involved in your regular house, barn or horse chores? With a little focused attention and creative grouping of these activities, regular chores, slightly tweaked, can also become reps of this or sets of that.
When you string these normal daily and weekly “ingredients” together in a more deliberate way over a period of time, you can end up sneaking up on midlife fitness with a cleaner house, cleaner barn, a well-fed, watered, exercised and and shiny horse and rockstar conditioning. We’ve all heard “take the stairs instead of the elevators” (yawn), and “park farther away from the door of the store” (snore), but what about taking those stairs two at a time to simulate a step up into the stirrup from the ground? (Yes, people will stare, but another glorious thing about this time of life is it’s getting much easier not to care.)
The trick is if you can find some activity already in your life that can be amped up just enough to make it useful as a fitness component, you can sneak this new fitness “cocktail” into your life without a lot of drama. And another benefit is, if it’s something you already have to do anyway, you’re less likely to find excuses not to do it. Instead, you’ll start to get weird satisfaction from the routine things in your life that are suddenly doing double duty as fitness tools.
Here’s more big news. “They” (whoever the heck “they” are) use to say that we have to sustain our aerobic activity for 30, 45 or 60 minutes to do any good. NOW we know that five minutes here, three minutes there, ten minutes somewhere else, strung together over the course of a day, gets results just as effective and a whole lot less irritating and disruptive to our routine.
What’s already in your daily activities that could become fitness tools? Let’s help each other by pooling our ideas. Post your list of favorite fitness cocktail ingredients on our Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses Facebook page and get a free set of Midlife Horses fitness flashcards!
When I went to the Equine Experience retreat at Hacienda Tres Aguilas near San Antonio Texas, I had no idea what to expect. I had just bought a horse the summer before, we were still getting along pretty well at that point, but something about this new relationship in my life compelled me to want to learn more.
I discovered this opportunity quite by accident (if there is such a thing, which, increasingly, I’m starting to doubt). According to their course literature, passed on to me by a freind who knew I enjoyed delving into such matters, the McCormicks were trained in “Psychoanalytic and Jungian Psychology with an expertise in Object Relations Theory and mysticism.” I had no idea what all that meant, but it sounded pretty serious. I was intrigued.
My intrigue grew with the fact that they had traveled the world studying with an impressive list of greats in both psychology AND horsemanship, including the Celtic traditions of horsemanship. This last part REALLY got my attention. Folding what they had learned about horses and humans into this retreat, the Drs. McCormick called upon their championship Peruvian horses to help participants “explore the transcending connection between horses and people.” The Equine Experience Retreat (which, by the way, is still held several times each year at their beautiful Texas Hill Country ranch) promised “a place to find inner peace, growth, and creativity.”
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been looking for that stuff for most of my adult life. Sign me up!
So I naively packed my riding boots and clothes (not understanding that this was not going to be a riding experience at all) and headed off to the Hill Country to hunt for that elusive “still place in my heart” the McCormicks promised would help me learn to connect with the “heart and rhythms of nature.” Especially, I hoped, with the heart and rhythm of my increasingly agitated horse, Trace.
Even then I realized on some level that it was my own escalating agitation and stress that was coming back at me through the misbehavior of my horse. He was simply mirroring what was going on inside me, but it would be a while before I learned about that. (Chapter 10, to be exact, of my new book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, a somewhat errant chronicle of this journey. At this point, we are still in Chapter 1, headed toward Chapter 2 where a Peruvian horse named Maximo escorted me to the trailhead of my midlife horses journey.
Here’s a book excerpt to describe how it all unfolded:
“The day before, an aging Peruvian horse named Maximo had demonstrated for the group how he could use his buddy sourness to play my overactive nurturing instinct like a cheap fiddle. Then, as I later tried to lead him “with authority,” he plain-old ignored my pace and used each turn as opportunity to graze, oblivious to my “authoritative” yanks on the lead rope. “Max sees that you have no boundaries,” Deborah McCormick, Ph.D., explained to me and to the group. The message resonated with issues I had dealt with time and again in my life, without resolution.”
Do you cringe when people say how “nice” you are? Do you habitually sacrifice your own needs (or wants) to accomodate the needs (and wants) of others? Then maybe it’s time for your midlife horses!
“Horses see us for who we are on the inside,” agree many of the popular “horse whisperers” of today (who are parroting, by the way, the grandaddy of them all, Tom Dorrance.). The bottom line for those of us who have chosen midlife horses as a journey to rediscover who the heck we are? Watch the behavior of the horses you interact with very closely. The inner reality is closer than it appears.
Ok, this is just plain funny. If you remember that old Hans Christian Anderson fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” (and I’ll just bet you do) . . . and if you’ve ever spent any time in or around a corporate setting, you’ve most likely seen firsthand the condition some business analysts call “CEO Disease.”
This is a rampant condition where no one in the workplace is willing, for fear of reprimand, political fallout, or worse, job loss, to confront an ineffective or counterproductive leader. Instead, they just follow along, doing their tasks as assigned, and at the same time, each doing his or her part in letting the company drift from its core purpose.
I have been fascinated in recent conversations with HerdWise CEO Kathy Taylor about how equine assisted learning can reveal the dynamics of work teams, uncover surprising blocks to productive relationships that hinder corporate leaders, and even demonstrate in an unforgettable way how different leadership styles are needed to meet the needs of the team and the objective of the task at hand. By mimicking the energy of a leader, horses mirror workplace dynamics in graphic, unforgettable and often, humorous ways.
But by far the funniest and most telling thing I ever saw was this video of a CEO “leading” his team in their effort to get Kathy’s therapy horse, Roxy, over a pole in the center of a pen. This is especially funny if you know that Roxy has no qualms about walking over that pole. It’s a task she often does easily and willingly. But she clearly sees though this guy and no amount of “leading” — or coaxing or cajoling (and I believe there might have even been a trail mix bar bribe involved) will get Roxy over that pole.
Watch also how his team follows him around and defers to his ineffective antics. One lady gives a half-hearted attempt to support his effort by trying to block Roxy from leaving, and she even tries to reinforce his instruction by pointing the way they want Roxy to go. This is clearly a work team accustomed to following its leader, even when what he’s doing is not accomplishing the team’s overall goal.
A big thank you to Dallas Morning News Writer Kathleen Green and Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographer Robert Hart for this week’s Dallas Morning News My Town feature that highlighted The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses. What I love most about Kathleen’s story (notwithstanding her exposure of my fairly serious (and obvious) Mexican food addiction and my enthusiasm for horse shopping at Teskeys) is that she really gets what this book is truly about — and the amazing power of embracing any midlife dream as an antidote to the sense of ennui that can settle in on all of us at this pivotal time of life.
What’s your dream? When you were young, what did you think you would always get around to doing — someday? Whatever it once was, I’d be willing to bet it’s still there. Really. Look under that pile of outgrown clothes, in the bottom of that overflowing junk drawer, or wedged between the post-it notes on your exploding calendar or bulletin board. You’ll find a hint of it.
Yes, for me it has always been horses that capture my imagination. But as the chapters of this book reveal, horses are really just a metaphor for anything that brings us a sense of freedom, a proverbial breath of fresh air, right here in the middle of our lives. It’s time to win independence over the day-to-day minutia that creeps in and takes over while we’re busy taking care of others and doing what we’re “supposed” to be doing as responsible adults.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all about being responsible and doing what we need to do. These are by no means mutually exclusive ideas. However, it is only when we embrace this natural midlife pause to reflect on our earlier dreams (whatever they are!) that we realize the opportunity is still there for us, on some level — and our dream is still waiting patiently for us to walk into the corral our subconscious built for it and make the decision to reclaim it.
We covered a lot of good ground in our hour-long conversation, and even though after talking to so many women about this subject it was a little funny at first to discuss the whole midlife thing with a man, I’ll have to admit that I may have made a small tactical error. Somewhere in my assumption that the search for meaning, magic and mastery with the help of midlife horses is a phenomenon particular to Baby Boomer women, I think I got caught in my own stereotype!
As Rick pointed out, the Baby Boomer generation(s) are also chock full of men who are now finding their thrill and chasing their own forgotten horsemanship dreams. And, for many of these men, the issues horses help resolve are strikingly similar! Rick’s book, Human to Horseman, chronicles his own midlife horse journey, much as I did mine, so if any of you are looking for a view of the midlife horse experience from the male perspective, you ought to check this one out at www.ricklamb.com! Also, you’ll find several references to Rick’s earlier book, written with Dr. Robert Miller, DVM, called Revolution in Horsemanship within the pages (and listed in the resources) of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses.
If you’d like to hear this great conversation for yourself, just click hereto visit Rick’s site. And, while you’re there (and to access all his great radio and TV shows and take a look at an impressive array of other books and products), be sure to sign up for a free membership! This site is a great resource for all kinds of horse information and entertainment — a place to visit often just to see what he’s up to!
Go give it a listen and let me know what you think — and if the interview sparked any follow up questions you’d like to ask either of us, please feel free to post your comment here and I’ll be sure to get back to you with a good answer!
Just got back in from a two hour ride that turned into four — and grueling trot-a-thon on Trace and a bend-o-rama on Rio that has my core muscles quivering like Santa’s legendary bowlful of jello. You just never realize the need for well-developed core strength until you’ve trotted around in circles for two hours on a snippy horse, followed by another hour and a half on my passive aggressive sweetie pie that much prefers leaning to bending, whose cantering is more like a ride on Six Flags Over Texas’ Runnaway Mine Train than the slow, easy circles of my dreams.
Hobbling back to the cool comfort of my twirly desk chair, I just decided to go back and re-read Chapter Four, “Leg Up!” of my recently released book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses . When I was writing the book, I realized through countless conversations with other women like me that one of the biggest challenges to midlife horsemanship is getting and staying fit to ride. Not only does this kind of conditioning make sense for improving our overall health and wellbeing, but when it comes to riding and working with our horses, it is crucial to be strong enough to be effective, keep ourselves safe, have a good time, and above all, keep coming back for more!
And, perfectly timed with today’s epiphany, there was a nice reference to this chapter on Rebecca’s TSB Riding Adventures July 27 blog post, titled “The Working Rider’s Workout,” as she prepares for a Wyoming Ranch ride (Yee Haww, Becca! You go, girl! I just learned the other day that dressage is like crack–more on that later– and I can’t wait to see if Becca finds the same is true about chasing cows!) Let’s stay tuned to this one and see how it comes out!)
Any others of you out there have a neat destination ride planned this year? Let us hear from you! We love to be inspired — and sometimes, live vicariously. Also, look for my upcoming post on some great fall rides I just learned about from a new friend who has personally done them all and can give us some great inside information on a surprising “trail culture” cropping up out there for trail enthusiasts across the nation.
And, as for getting that “core of jello” I’m sporting these days a little more solidified so I can be more effective in future trot-a-thons and bend-o-ramas, stay tuned for more info and exercises as I go back this coming month and revisit (and actually consistently DO) all those great core building exercises I tucked into Chapter Four of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses. Anyone out there want to do them with me? Anybody up for a little spirited “core building competition?”
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!