Get Ready to be Surprised

Get Ready to be Surprised

News Riding Through Thick & Thin

Once we start digging for “truths” it may surprise you what you think of yourself and your riding, and what you think OTHERS think of your riding. And above all, what all these “thinks” are doing to your self-image and the quality of your experience with horses.

In just one of the embarrassing stories I tell on myself in Riding Through Thick and Thin (and believe me, there are many), I relate an experience of riding in an arena at a friend’s ranch in preparation for a clinic the next day. To say that I was apprehensive about this clinic might be the understatement of the decade. I saddled up, entered the arena, and began some slow circles on the sillier of my two horses.

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Another friend joined me and began circling with us, then she cued her horse into a lope. Without thinking about it too much, I followed suit. We were laughing and talking as we rode and I gave little thought to what I was doing in my effort to just keep up. Quite simply I was lost in the moment. All clinic anxiety dissipated, I was in the zone of joy.

Later, over dinner, my clinic-phobia returned and I voiced my concerns — half joking, half not. The friend hosting us for the weekend looked at me, not bothering to conceal her surprise. “I can’t even believe you’re saying that,” she said. “When I saw you two down at the other end of the arena chasing each other around like puppies i have to admit I felt envious — and a little bit insecure. You’re a much better rider than you think you are.”

Whaaaaaaaaat????

As it turns out, sometimes we have no idea of how others see us. Not that it matters, except as a reality check for how we see ourselves. We are so often our own worst critic that for the sake of our self-concept it is important to learn to take an occasional step outside our own awareness and try to see ourselves through the lens of an impartial observer.

If you don’t have an honest — if shocked — friend to offer up some observational insight, it might be worth it to ask for this kind of feedback from someone you can trust to keep it real. It is only through honest self assessment that we can begin to see things as they really are — and not as our hated imagination would have us believe.

Give it a try and let me know what happens. I can’t wait to hear your stories of amazement that will help bury my own . . . and how we can all learn this lesson together!

Reach out to me here, on Facebook, Twitter, MelindaFolse.com, or email me at mkfolse@gmail.com.

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com

Measure with the right stick (or tape).

Measure with the right stick (or tape).

News Riding Through Thick & Thin

Most of us have grown up with an idea of the “ideal rider’s body.” Whether that for you is a size or a number on the scale, maybe it’s time to re-examine your measuring device. Health and fitness experts — and even doctors agree that the better questions to ask include:

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– How do you feel?

– Are you healthy?

– Do you have enough energy to do what you want and need to do?

– Are you strong, effective and safe in the barn and the saddle?

– Is your horse happy and healthy?

In a recent media brouhaha over this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition cover girl, Ashley Graham, I listened to the back and forth, between retired 70’s supermodel Cheryl Tiegs telling E! News she wasn’t happy with Sports Illustrated‘s annual Swimsuit Issue featuring “full-figured women.” The former S.I. cover girl said that a woman’s “waist should be smaller than 35 [inches],” and while she the found Graham’s face “beautiful,” she didn’t think it was “healthy in the long run” to put a curvier model on the magazine’s cover. And then came Graham’s rebuttal: “There are too many people thinking they can look at a girl my size and say that we are unhealthy,” Graham noted. “You can’t, only my doctor can!”

Tiegs later apologized, saying the media distorted what she was trying to say: “I was not equating beauty to weight or size, but unfortunately that is what the media reported in headlines,” Tiegs wrote in an open letter to Graham in the Huffington Post. “I was trying to express my concern over media images and the lack of education in America about healthy choices, thus the reference to the 35-inch waist as a guideline to health.” Citing Dr. Oz, Centers for Disease Control, Harvard University, and the American Diabetes Association, Tiegs is not wrong. Just maybe a little bit misguided in that blanket assumption.

In Riding Through Thick &Thin, we offer up all kinds of ways to incorporate “the holy trinity of fitness” into the day-to-day lifestyle of riders who are pressed for time in a way that would actually benefit anyone else as well. Making sure to do something (a little or a lot depending on how much time you can make available) every day — and to have a selection of activities you enjoy — in the three areas of:

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Stamina (walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, aerobics, etc.),

Strength (resistance training with weights, bands, barre, core work)

Flexibility (stretching, Yoga, pilates, etc.)

With our daily commitment to the “holy trinity of fitness” we unlock the secret of sneaking up on overall fitness that, when paired with good nutrition, keeps us healthier at any size. It also nukes the “I don’t have time to exercise” excuse for even the busiest superhero.

And, while it’s true that if you commit to getting and staying strong, fit, and healthy, your waist may likely be (or start moving toward) that 35-and-under ideal, to say that’s the marker is just plain short sighted.

So toss out those measuring tapes and size 6 jeans, ignore the haters, whether their concern for your health is true or false, and put your attention on what you’re doing every day to protect your health by getting fit in these three important ways.

Tell me about your fitness routine. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, melindafolse.com, or email me at mkfolse@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what do you do?

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

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

Weigh in!

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

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

Happy Trails!

“Deep work” in Pilates — and the astounding results it brings — makes “pain” well worth the gain.

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This came in last week via email (posted with permission—thanks Cassandra!) in response to my post about my morning-after-Pilates misery. Now, before we even get started, as you’ll see below, Cassandra did ask me to stop whining and describing the consequence of this “deep work” by the less than flattering term, “pain.”

So. . . As I search my brain (and the Internet) for a better word to describe what stopped me from being able to sit or stand without whimpering for two full days, I’ll just footnote here that once this unmentionable feeling passed, I did feel stronger and more in control of those tiny, deep, elusive muscles. (Once you locate them you tend become obsessed with the “zip up” exercise – or at least I have.) In the immortal words of Max on CBS TV’s “Two Broke Girls” sitcom, “I want both more and less of it — and I am obsessed with it!”

And, I’ll also have to tell you that, playing with these muscles while riding last week, I discovered the AMAZING difference they can make in communicating with my horse (even when he has his hoofs stuffed in his ears in “La la la I can’t hear you” fashion.)

After a great conversation with Cassandra about all this  — and I’ve invited her to be a guest on our blog to tell us more about this amazing (if a little bit gut wrenching, in the most literal sense) exercise form — I share now her insights on the connection between Pilates and riding and midlife horses. (She’s actually one of us!) Cassandra firmly believes that Pilates is key to putting Midlife Horses success within reach for all of us —  with benefits that reach far beyond the saddle.

Cassandra writes:

“I must speak to you as I can not believe that you are the woman I wanted to contact for half a year! First of all, I have ordered your book…second of all I am definitely a Midlife horsewoman…having left New York 2 ½ years ago to finally have my dream of owning a horse come true. And Pilates has been immeasurably helpful in this journey to overcome all the adult “stuff” such as fear, lack of confidence and just not having grown up on a horse. And may I add a hip replacement…

“Two corrections however. We do like to keep pain to a minimum in Pilates. Deep work in muscles yes, but we try to avoid crippling you!  The other is that Pilates is not just for “high level” riders. The others in the class you mention have been doing Pilates for awhile, and it has helped several of them be successful in overcoming obstacles to their riding and increase their enjoyment even more.”

Stay tuned for more vital info from Cassandra about incorporating Piliates into your Midlife Horses fitness regimen. Meanwhile, pony up! I invite you to share your own Midlife Horses fitness insights, ideas, strategies, and any secrets you’ve discovered on your Midlife Horses journey. Post your comments here, email me (especially if you’d like to remain anonymous but nevertheless have something important to add to this conversation!), post on Facebook, show us your favorite moves on YouTube, or Tweet your best midlife horses fitness tip when this header pops up on my Twitter feed! And, if you haven’t seen it yet, click here to check out our new video about how our Midlife Horses keep us fit.

Happy Trails!

Pilates is cruel. Here’s what happens when you only think you have core strength. And why we must learn to “zip it”!

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My insides hurt. A few weeks ago I started going to a Pilates class (Cassandra’s Absolute Pilates) devoted to moves that will help us ride better. I also have a nagging hip and lower back issue I’ve been trying to resolve, and these Pilates exercises seem to be helping.

But yesterday’s class was more intense than usual. And today (and likely worsening tomorrow) I pay. For one thing, yesterday it was all high level riders. Except me. I was just a glutton for punishment with an exaggerated idea of my own core strength and the erroneous thought that I could actually keep up with these women. And I did, for the most part. But my guess is that they are all able to move today.

Why is Pilates in particular so good for our riding? What makes this kind of pain so necessary? The object of Pilates exercises is to build long, strong, flexible musculature that will help us hold our frame steady (“locked and loaded,” as Cassandra says), and make clear and deliberate cues that will help our horse understand what we are asking him to do as we move fluidly with our horses in a relaxed, but powerful way. (Think Zena, Woman Warrior. On Horseback.) While we all know we need to be strong to ride well, it is the kind of strength we develop that makes all the difference. It is strength without tightness — supple, loose, and powerful.

And between here and there, apparently, lies the undeniable pain of hard work.(Good news, Advil!)  OK, maybe not actual pain (although I’m not sure I can stand up right now without whimpering),but  just the extreme muscle soreness, way deep in your innards, that tells you that you’ve found some tiny little muscles in there that have never worked an honest day in their now miserable lives.

Finding, isolating, and working these little tiny muscles, many of which comprise the “pelvic floor” and some of the harder-to-reach muscles that live under and around the “big guns” of the quads, glutes and hamstrings that normally get all our attention in more conventional workouts, is apparently the name of this hideous but effective game.

Now, I’ve heard of some of these muscles before. The pelvic floor is loosely defined as the interconnected “hammock” of muscles that  supports our internal organs and (ahem) surrounds the openings of our personal parts.  I’ve had two babies and a hysterectomy and have endured the Kegel exercise explanation (and how neglecting this crucial exercise leads to unspeakable and annoying problems that only get worse as we age) more times than I’d care to count.

But here’s the real news I learned yesterday about that group of muscles known as the pelvic floor. When this web of muscles and ligaments is strengthened and trained to work in concert with the abs and lower back, we can significantly improve not only our riding, but also whatever structural imbalances we may have. For most of us at this time of life,  the muscles of our abs and lower back and hips have learned to compensate for any natural imbalances by staying tight in an effort to protect our hip joints and spine. Not only does this inhibit our ability to relax our hips when we ride, but it is often the source of increasing aches, pains, and tension in the hips and lower back that plague us in every area of our life.

It’s also kind of a chicken and egg thing. We have to be able to get these muscles to relax in order to strengthen them enough to correct our alignment; however, it is the problem with alignment that’s keeping them tight . So to target and work these key muscles, we must learn to find them and then teach them to hold correct alignment. When we strengthen these muscles with Pilates exercises, we teach them to work with the surrounding glutes and abs that will then help create and maintain better overall structural balance. The bonus here is that supple strength that makes us so much more effective in the saddle. I don’t know about you, but I’m in!

So how do we find those muscles? And then what?

The image Cassandra put in our heads yesterday was the best one I’ve ever heard. She described it as “pulling the sit bones together like the foot of a zipper,” then “slowly zipping up the muscles of your core from that base, moving straight up the midline of your body, all the way to your sternum, keeping your shoulders back and down (‘locked and loaded’) and neck relaxed.” Then she had us hold that “zipped-up core” while we did each of the Pilates exercises in that particular series. (Ow, it even hurts to write about it this morning!)

If you’re new to this idea, I’d advise that you practice “zipping up” your core and seeing  how long you can hold it, just sitting there, whenever you think about it. Then try doing it as you go about your normal daily activities. Trust me — ease your slacker core muscles into this. Or go buy yourself the BIG bottle of Advil and, while you’re at it, a little Tiger Balm. (and remember, no matter how good it may sound, Tiger Balm is not intended for internal use.)

 This, I think, is a great example of how our midlife horses propel us to find levels and types of fitness that we would otherwise never pursue — for beyond-riding benefits that will continue to pay off in every area of our life for years and maybe decades to come. What new fitness levels and motivations has your horse led you to? Chime in and tell us your stories about fitness you’ve found at the hooves of your midlife horses. Post a comment here, move it to our Facebook community, re-tweet your favorite exercise when you see this headline pop up on my Twitter feed, or share a video on our YouTube channel.

Happy Trails!