Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’ve already done it. And, if you’re like me, you did it for all the wrong reasons. If you’re lucky, it will work out just fine. (Some would say it always does, regardless.) When I bought my horse, Trace, it was the beginning of an amazing journey I wouldn’t take for. But in terms of a wise horse purchase, it wasn’t. Even the purchase of Rio, my goofy little sorrel that makes me smile every single time I look at him, wasn’t quite according to the protocol I now understand as much more solid reasoning when it comes to buying a horse. Still, I love them both and will keep them as long as they’ll let me. This makes them either the luckiest or unluckiest horses on the planet, because of all the things I am, I am NOT a quitter. Usually to my own detriment. Nevertheless, because I do love a challenge (and enjoy having horse issues to research and write about), I keep these founts of learning around for my own education and humbling. So far, this plan seems to be working. But in the spirit of our grandmothers’ wisdom that advises “it’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one” (although I’ve done both with similar results, but that’s another story for another time . . . ), it IS just as easy to fall in love with a good horse as it is an . . .um . . . challenging one. So here’s a little journaling exercise that will help you wrap your mind around the perfect horse for you. Get a sheet of paper (or if you journal regularly, a fresh page) and answer the following questions to build a mental picture of the horse you want. Write as much as you can as fast as you can, the first thing that pops into your head with each question. 1. Mare or gelding? Why? 2. How old? Why? 3. What breed? Why? (If there are several you are drawn to, you can list more than one) 4. Color/size/physical characteristics (try not to fixate too much on looks, but we all have our favorites. Again, if there’s more than one you like, that’s OK. ) 5. Temperament and disposition. How does your horse behave when he’s learning something new? Surprised, Frightened? Frustrated? or Upset? Annoyed? Is he affectionate or all business? 6. What’s on his resume? Training method, level, intensity? Disciplines? Show record? Trail experience? Ranch work? Former owners? What does he like to do best? 7. What’s his story? Former owners, physical issues, past experience that shape who he is, what he likes and dislikes, and what might motivate him to do whatever it is you’d like to do with him. (Note, I always use “he” when I talk about fictitious horses. I don’t know why. Probably because both of mine happen to be geldings. I like mares just fine. Also, I was an English major and the “he” rule was beaten into me at an early age.) SO . . . now that you have thought all the way around and through your own definition of the perfect horse for you RIGHT NOW, here’s a little pre-shopping visualization for you. Imagine this horse you just described grazing in a pasture. (Sorry. Now you really do have to pick a breed and color.) You’re standing just inside the gate, just watching him. He lifts his head and looks at you, then turns and walks straight toward you. He stops right in front of you and you see soft, quiet eyes on you, waiting. You raise your hand and rub his face. He lowers his head. You put the halter on him and lead him back through the gate and into your life. Return to this list and visualization as often as you can. And don’t forget to come back here and tell us about the horse that shows up for you!
This post was originally published by Equisearch.com
Who among us hasn’t enjoyed an enthusiastic nuzzle from a horse we just know is expressing great affection? Or is he? Among many of the trainers and horse folks I’ve crossed paths with, one of the things they snicker about most is people (especially women) who let a horse get all up in their grill thinking it’s affection when in fact it’s just a horse’s way of expressing dominance. This horse, the aptly named “Precious,” (one of the Wildcatter Ranch’s trail string) elevates this kind of boundary invasion to an art form. “What?” You may ask. “No way! My horse really really loves me!” Well, that he may. And sometimes it is a nuzzle of true affection. And sometimes, it is the horse showing you that he has absolutely no respect for your boundaries and/or personal space. This is not a good thing. Disrespect of any kind from a horse, even if it starts small, can grow into something dangerous. How do you know when it’s disrespect and not affection? As with most things with horses, it just takes getting quiet for a moment and asking the irritating question my friend Kathy Taylor of HerdWise always asks in her Equine Assisted Learning sessions, “What do you think?” If you find that a horse, especially a new or unfamiliar horse, consistently gets inside what Clinton Anderson calls “your personal hula hoop,” it’s most likely a sign of disrespect. In fact, one of the very first exercises Clinton teaches in his Fundamentals series is to draw a circle around you (about 4-feet in diameter) in the dirt with the tip of a stick or even the heel of your boot. (Clinton’s famous “Handy Stick” just happens to be exactly the right length for this. Coincidence? I don’t think so!) Now get in the middle of it with your horse outside the circle. That’s your personal “hula hoop” of space. Stand there for a while, and every time this horse tries to come into the circle without being invited, chase him back out. Then ignore him. After he stands quietly outside the circle for a few minutes, walk to him and pet him. The rule is, if you want to get into his space and rub and pet on him and enjoy a good nuzzle, by all means, do so. You can go into his space and you can invite him into your space. But if he barges into your space without being invited, no matter how irresistibly soft his kisses, you need to push him back out and make the kissing your idea.
This post was originally published by Equisearch.com
I heard an interesting story yesterday that’s too good not to share. It came to me by way of Jennifer Fulton, a trainer and riding instructor in Aledo, Texas, who spends a lot of her time and professional energy working with women on the Midlife Horses trail.
We were discussing our upcoming panel discussion at the AmerEquine Festival of the Horse next weekend, and she told me about one of her students, a 60-year old woman who came to her about three years ago and wanted to learn how to ride.
“This woman had no confidence at all,” Jennifer relates. “Her posture, her body language, her whole demeanor was downcast. She was carrying a lot of “life baggage” and it was clearly weighing her down. And, in the beginning, her horse even tripped a lot!” But for some reason this woman was drawn to horses, and Jennifer noticed something in her spirit that seemed to be asking for a chance to break free of all that downward energy. So slowly but surely, Jennifer told me, the woman has literally lifted herself up by riding and spending time with her horse. “Her posture is now completely straight,” Jennifer says, beaming, “She’ll look you in the eye, and she never would do that before. I’ve watched her confidence is blossom — and it shows in everything she does — and even in how her horse carries himself now, as well.” Jennifer smiles. “You know, this is why I do what I do. I love to say to her, ‘Just look what you can do! Just look at what your horse can do!”
I don’t know about you, but this story gives me goosebumps — and it is the perfect example of how our midlife horses can help us get “unstuck” in whatever transition we’re facing — and break free of whatever may have been dragging us down for who knows how long — right here in the middles of our lives. And as one of my guest panelists at our upcoming AmerEquine presentation, Jennifer has plenty more to share where that one came from. Come learn more about the transformation in confidence horses can bring — and share your own story of what changes your horse has brought about in you! We’ll be on the John Justin Arena Seminar Stage Friday 5:30 – 6:15 and Saturday 1:30-2:15, and in the Equine Network booth in the exhibit hall all weekend (stop by and say Hi!)
And meanwhile, what in your life builds that kind of uplifting confidence? When you’re facing a transition, what do you need in order to move joyfully forward? How do you prepare yourself to meet challenges and melt obstacles? How do you honor your own uniqueness at every stage of life?
These are among the topics brewing as we plan future events and programming to follow the Dust Off Your Dreams retreat. We’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas, comments and suggestions. The dynamic team we’ve assembled is ready, willing, and able to move forward to our next stage — and we’ve even rounded up a few horses to help bring about the awareness and insight to make the goosebump-inducing difference you’ve been longing for.
Let us hear from you! Comment here, e-mail me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org, join our Facebook community, or follow me on Twitter, and we’ll be sure to keep you in the loop for upcoming events and programs!
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 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.
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!”
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.
I’ve heard (but I can’t remember where) that the E-reader was the most received gift this holiday season. And yes, great competition now abounds to the tried-and-true Kindle (now with its new Fire incarnation), and these puppies are all getting more affordable, easier to use and, offering us the options of searchable content and a way to bookmark and clip the ideas, thoughts and sections we want to remember from what we read, may just keep the margins of print books free of scrawled notes that mean little to anyone but us (Does anyone beside me read non-fiction with a pencil in one hand and a highlighter in the other?)
So what does this cultural phenomenon have to do with The Smart Guide to Midlife Horses? Everything, apparently. Here’s what our publisher had to say that made me do the holiday happy dance:
“Melinda Folse’s bestseller THE SMART WOMAN’S GUIDE TO MIDLIFE HORSES is surely ushering in a new generation of horse-related books. Her book’s appeal to the readers of ebooks—considered by some to be the future of book publishing—is apparent as sales in digital format have skyrocketed! We are thrilled that the book’s message and content translates so well across multiple platforms, print and digital. Melinda’s book is one of the first of its kind to offer great educational content, along with great stories and a few laughs, in a format suitable for the midlife woman on the move.”
So, speaking from one cultural phenomenon (Boomer women and their Midlife Horses) to another (the proliferation of e-readers) all I have to say is WooHoooooooo! And of course, thank you to all who purchased my book this year — in its print or digital format (I’ve heard several people say they bought it both ways because it’s faster to find specific information and resources with the searchable feature of the e-book, but they still prefer the print version to sit and read).
If you’d like to purchase The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses for your new Kindle, click here. Got a different E-reader? No worries, as our friend Clinton Anderson would say. Click here to purchase The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses in other e-book formats.
And speaking of Clinton, while you’re there, be sure to check out Clinton Anderson’s Lessons Well Learned, also now available in e-book formats! Getting to co-write this book with Clinton was one of the best assignments a horse crazy aspiring author could ever hope for — and Clinton’s stories and experiences with horses and people are as fascinating and enlightening as they are entertaining!
So . . . now what? As this fabulous year draws to a close, I’m catching my breath a bit, getting more content loaded on my newly revamped website, and planning a 2012 blog calendar filled with tips, resources, ideas and insights to help make 2012 your Year of the (Midlife) Horse.
Want to come along? Subscribe to this blog (comments always welcome!), shoot me an email, join our Facebook community, give us a Tweet, or share on our YouTube channel when something interesting happens or occurs to you on the Midlife Horses trail. Above all, please feel free to share your victories, challenges, questions and observations with the diverse online community we’re gathering here. It’s your life, Part Two! With Horsepower!
Happy New Year!
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:
- Maintain bone density and improve ligament strength(impact activities).
Examples: walking, jogging, kickboxing, aerobics, skiing, snowshoeing, training with weights or bodyweight/resistance tubing
- Maintain hip mobility (for following the horse’s motion).
Examples: walking (probably the best one), cross country skiing, snowshoeing, skating, yoga
- Build core strength.
Examples: core exercises, martial arts, swimming, dance (jazz, hip hop etc..) pilates, integrated training with exercise tubing
- 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
- 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.
Equestrian Fitness Training
“Balanced Training for Better Riding”
What a pleasure it was to talk with Rick Lamb on his radio show, “The Horse Show with Rick Lamb” about The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses. Although I had never actually talked with Rick before, his reputation as the quintessential nice guy preceded him, and I’ll say I now fully agree with that assessment!
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 here to 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!
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!