If you’ve ever set goals or been working on something challenging, you’ve probably heard that it’s important to know your “why”. It’s important for things like fitness goals – having a reason that you’re emotionally connected to makes it easier to go to the gym or head out for a long walk when you’d rather sit and read a book.
Knowing your why is equally important for your Horsey Life. While learning about/spending time with your horse hardly seems as difficult as the last 36 minutes of a 30-minute aerobic class, you need to be completely connected to your why to keep you on course when demands from other areas of your life try to encroach on your precious time spent on your Horsey Life.
Here’s an example, pulled directly from my life over the past couple of weeks. I’ve been busy with an article I’m writing for the United States Dressage Federation’s magazine, the Connection as well as requesting and compiling horse show information for the USDF Region 1 Omnibus. It’s grant writing season, so at my job (I’m the Operations Manager of a small non-profit), I’ve been on deadline with applications, follow-up reports, and budgets as well as doing press releases, social media and web updates along with newsletters to publicize a special event we’re hosting in May. And I had committed to a weekly post here on the Horsey Life.
And then my Mom’s health started to decline.
At 99, it wasn’t totally unexpected, but it meant arranging a trip from VA to CT so I could see her. I’m so glad I went when I did. My daughter and I drove to CT Thursday morning, and Mom passed away Monday morning at 3. My sister and I were there with her. That is a big why. I’m heading back to CT this weekend for her Memorial Service and to spend rare time with my 4 siblings. Family is important to me – another big why. But this year, I’ve added another priority into my life – me.
With everything going on, it would be so easy for me to just do a quick feed of the horses twice a day and not worry about spending too much time with them, but I made a commitment to myself that this year, I was going to start taking care of myself. I’m 61, and if I’m going to live to be 99 like Mom did, I sure want the next 38 years to be the best they can be, and that means taking care of myself. One of the things that’s really important to my physical/mental/emotional well-being is spending time with my 2 horses.
Yesterday, in the midst of entering dressage show information into the Omnibus, billing shows for their listings, and then typing all of the opening, closing, and show dates for March, April, and May into an e-blast (complete with links for each one) and working on the article for the USDF Connection, I headed out into the sunny, warm afternoon to walk the fence line, scrub and refill the water troughs, and spend some time with my “ponies”. It was an extra trip to the barn in the middle of the day – usually, I go a.m and p.m to feed – and every minute of it helped restore a little bit of my soul.
I realized at the end of last year that spending time with my horses was a critical factor in truly enjoying my life, but I had often only been doing the maintenance stuff and it was becoming another item on my to-do list rather than a deep, renewing experienced, so it became a very big why.
So this week, really take some time to figure out your why(s) around your Horsey Life (beyond just the fact that you love horses and want them to be an important part of your life). Make sure you know why they’re so important to you. That deep knowing could sustain you through those times where there are so many other important (and often urgent) demands on your life.
A little Learning…
As so famously said by Alexander Pope, “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” This danger rises exponentially when horses are part of the equation. If you don’t want to be the bad example that becomes lore with your great-grandchildren, try a few of these suggestions to ensure your Horsey Life is long and healthy.
When more is better.
There are definitely some instances when more is better. Getting to know your horse – his particular personality traits, his normal appearance, and attitude. Having that knowledge will make it much easier to spot a small problem and prevent it from becoming a large problem!
Regular safety checks also fall under the “more is better” category.. Having a simple routine to check your horse in the pasture every day (if he lives out like mine do), can help . My simple field-check formula can be remembered as “22400 Gut”.
- You want to check your horse’s 2 eyes, (are they swollen or gunky or extra runny?)
- 2 nostrils, (Is there abnormal discharge?),
- 4 legs, (are they cool and “tight” with no obvious lameness, abnormal swellings or heat?),
- 0 swelling (insect bites, tick bites and hives show up on my Thoroughbred mare much more frequently than on my 31-year-old Dutch gelding. Knowing your horse’s body well will help you identify a new swelling – not one from an old windpuff he’s had for 8 years.
- The last 0 is blood. You definitely don’t want to see blood; however, blood will often make the problem easier to pinpoint!
- Trust your gut. If you know your horse really well and you know he’s not quite right, but can’t put your finger on what it is, call your vet. I’ve had horses for 50 years (literally), and I have never been sorry that I called the vet with some unexplainable attitude change – I just knew something wasn’t right. Trusting your gut (instinct) on this can literally save his life.
My 31-year-old Dutch Warmblood was definitely “not quite right” one day last fall. He wasn’t lame, he wasn’t coughing, there was no swelling, no bleeding, but something was wrong. When I called my vet, she had me check his temperature, which was 104!! She’d seen half a dozen or so horses with these same weird symptoms. All of them were sick for a few days and then just got better. 2 days into this high fever, he developed bright orange mucus coming from one of his nostrils. It was bizarre and a bit frightening – a 30-year-old horse doesn’t have as strong an immune system as a 10-year-old horse, and I was very worried. Fortunately, his recovery followed the same trajectory as my vet’s other clients and within 5 days of starting antibiotics, the fever was gone, the mucus was gone (it really was gross), and he was back to being his own incorrigible self. The moral of the story is that if I hadn’t picked up on those subtle symptoms of him being “not qI do advise (to myself as well as you) that you check it for several days over the next week or so so you have a baseline temp. That will give you the knowledge of what’s normal for him.
When do you call the vet?fever was gone, the mucus was gone (it really was gross), and he was back to being his own incorrigible self. The moral of the story is that if I hadn’t picked up on those subtle symptoms of him being “not qI do advise (to myself as well as you) that you check it for several days over the next week or so so you have a baseline temp. That will give you the knowledge of what’s normal for him.
If you’re going to the barn or going trail riding on your own, make sure someone knows where you are. Just checking in with someone is a good idea any time – (Remind me some time to tell you the story of the message that never got delivered, leading to a missing person’s search, and a State Police car waiting for me in the driveway when I got home. It’s funny now…) Better to have that safety routine. I would text my daughter when I got on a horse if I was by myself. I told her I would text her back in xx number of minutes/hours. It made both of us a little more comfortable knowing that if something did go wrong, at least I wouldn’t be lying in the middle of the field with a broken leg…
Common sense often isn’t
Have you ever read the warning labels that come on chain saws, blow dryers, and other common items we encounter during out day? If you haven’t, I urge you to go to the closest small appliance or tool at hand, and read it. On a blow dryer, “Don’t use in the bathtub” and “Don’t use when you’re asleep”… I think one of my favorites was on a chain saw advising the user to not use it near their genitals… wow… and you seriously thought operating a chain saw near your genitals was a good idea… why, exactly??
All of those warnings come, in part, because we live in a very litigious society, and the manufacturers of these items need to cover their own arses if (or should I say when) someone idiot decides to use a chain saw near their genitals. “Probably a good thing Lorena Bobbit only had a carving knife…”
So, because horses don’t come with those handy little warning labels, my advice is this: don’t do stupid things on, with, or around horses. Just don’t. I don’t care how sweet your horse is – he is a prey animal and will react with his flight instinct if he’s frightened. I don’t care how long you’ve been ducking under your horse’s stomach to grab the girth. Unless you live in an area with no insects, remember the big horsefly that lands on his back leg will garner more attention than where your head is at the moment.
Just use your (all too often un-) common sense. Remember the chain saw warning when you’re about to take your green horse out on a trail ride alone when you know he has a big spook…
Just don’t do it.
Stack the deck in your favor
There are things you can learn (and do) to help keep you and your horse safe and happy.
- Spend time really learning about your horse. The more you know about him, the less you’ll be surprised by an unexpected spook or buck
- Put a bucking strap on the front of your saddle. Doing so shows that you are one of those rare breed, a person with common sense! They’re an inexpensive way to help stack the deck in your favor.
- Wear a body protector vest. Whether you go with an “active” (these are attached to the saddle with a cord. When the rider falls and the cord breaks, an air canister is activated giving you excellent protection. There are also “passive” vests which are made with heavy foam blocks covered in a tough material. They’re designed to limit blunt trauma damage to your torso from a fall.
- Wear a helmet – I’ve heard it all – you hate helmets, you get helmet hair, they’re hot, you never fall off… if Olympian Courtney King-Dye had been wearing a helmet on that March day in 2010 her life would have looked very different. But because she was riding a horse that was such a good boy, she figured she didn’t need it for what was supposed to be a brief ride. Despite being a “good boy”, the horse tripped and he and Courtney fell. She suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) which damaged all 4 lobes of her brain.
In an interview with The Horse Magazine, Courtney recounted the series of events that unfolded that day.
“My accident happened in March, 2010. I didn’t fall off, and my horse did nothing naughty. He just tripped over his own feet and fell, and my head hit the ground hard. Hence my motto: expect the unexpected. I was not wearing a helmet, and my brain sheered, or bounced around, in my skull. I was in a coma for a month. I had to relearn to do things like walk, talk and eat.).”
Don’t take stupid chances with your life.
Till next time, Love Your Horse, Love Your Life, and Love Yourself!
If you are the sole horse person in your family, you may find that the flack about riding you get at home makes your Horsey Life less enjoyable. If riding plays a large part of optimizing your physical, mental, and emotional health, constantly having to deal with this conflict eat away at the joy you feel at the barn.
I was lucky – my parents knew nothing about horses (except food goes in the front end and fertilizer comes out the back end (my dad had a huge vegetable garden).
I met my husband, James, while I was at the @TallandEquestrianCentre in the UK getting my British Horse Society Assistant Instructor’s certification. He was also at Talland working on his BHS Intermediate certification, so I don’t have a non-horsey husband.
I know I’ve been lucky, but I’ve had many horsewomen come to me close to tears because she had family members who constantly complain about her horseback riding.
While I can’t promise that your family will suddenly become ubër supportive by tomorrow, here are some strategies to help turn the tide in your favor.
Be prepared. Consider the complaints they usually voice, and think about how you can address them. Don’t get defensive! If you know there are a few trigger words or situations, really take some time to try to understand your loved one’s side of the story. Do they have concerns for your safety? Are they upset that you don’t spend as much time with them as you used to? Or are they resisting change because it will shift some of “your” responsibilities onto them? (I use the quote marks because, as women, especially midlife women, we typically see household duties as our responsibility.
Choose an appropriate time Don’t try to have this discussion with them right before you’re ready to walk out the door and head to the barn.
Practice active listening. Be certain you are understanding your loved one by using phrases like, “What I hear you saying is that you’re afraid I’ll fall off and get hurt. Is that correct?” (For more on active listening, Positivepsychology.com has a great explanation).
Once you’ve taken the time to evaluate their more typical complaints, it’s time to think about why you ride in the first place.
Explain why it’s important to you. Are you less stressed from a crappy day at work after riding gives you some decompression time so you don’t bring home that negative energy? Have you wanted a horse since you read horse books by Walter Farley or Marguerite Henry when you were a child? Perhaps you have friends at the barn and enjoy some social time, or you like the fact that riding keeps you active, and pay more attention to your fitness. The trump card? You’re just a better person when you ride. You’re less cranky, less tired (although that may sound counterintuitive), calmer, and just happier in general. You can learn a bit more on finding your “why” in this post.
If your “why” isn’t resonating with your family, it might be time to draw some boundaries.
Setting boundaries. We hear about it in all of the self-care blog posts and instagram stories, but how the heck do you even know where to start? Make a list.
I’m not a counselor, but I’ve worked with many students over the years who had assumed positions and responsibilities with their home and family (and job!) by default (I know I sure did!)
Do an inventory of all of the activities in your typical day or week. Everything from throwing a load of laundry in the washer before you head to work, to making appointments for the dog to get his vaccines, to being the one responsible for your family’s menu. I don’t know about you, but I finally got so irritated with my husband answering, “Oh, I don’t mind” when I asked him what he’d like for dinner, I told him, “I’ve never heard of ‘I don’t mind’. You find it at Food Lion and I’ll cook it.”
Once you’ve written down your responsibilities, take a good hard look at what you can take off your plate. Are there things you’re doing that are completely unnecessary? Are there responsibilities you can hand off to other members of your family? Can you hire someone to do some of your tasks more quickly and better than you? Are there things you simply hate doing? Get it all written down. Once you’ve evaluated how you spend your 24 hours each day, brainstorm ideas about how you can reshuffle your day, and probably make your life run a bit more smoothly.
The hardest part of having your family complain less about your horseback riding is likely going to be to set and stick to your boundaries. You won’t be perfect, your family won’t instantly jump in to take over unloading the dishwasher or taking the dog to the vet (or suggest what to have for dinner), but you and your family may just be able to work out some compromises that let you spend time with your horse, and your family spend more time with you.
I hope these ideas will help you navigate the challenging waters of family expectations. Drop me a comment below if you’ve tried any of these, and how they worked out!
Until next time, love your horse, love your life, and love yourself!
If you’ve been working all day, whether it’s at your job or business, working in your garden, or keeping up with the housework, you may find yourself pretty tired at the end of the day. And if you typically ride after work, you’re likely to be wiped out long before you put a foot in the stirrup.
I’ve been there and it’s no fun! I don’t know about you, but I want to feel calm because I’m centered and grounded, not because I’m so fatigued I’m struggling to keep my eyes open.
There are thousands of ways to revive your energy – (just type a “how to get energy” in the Google search bar. I came up with about 2,450,000,000 results (0.79 seconds). Don’t feel like scrolling through several thousand articles? You’re in luck! I’ve done some of the searching for you.
The three types of exercises I chose are quick, simple, and free, (and none of them involve heading through the Starbucks drive-through on the way to the barn!)
You might think I talk about breathing a lot, and there’s a good reason for that. It’s because I do. Using your breath in a mindful way can help you feel energized, calm, confident, or peaceful. The value of breathing exercises can’t be overstated – it goes with us wherever we go, and it’s even free!
Why it works: Deep breathing, which is also called belly breathing or abdominal breathing, brings more oxygen into your body. According to an article by Dr. Mehmet Oz on sharecare.com, Nitric oxide is drawn into your lungs when you practice deep breathing. Nitric oxide opens up airways and blood vessels in and around your lungs. Put better breathing in, and you’ll see improvements in your energy and overall health.
The links below take you to a few different sites with breathing exercises. I usually recommend that my students and clients try out a few different exercises. Try to remember to do the exercise 2 or 3 times a day for at least a few days. That will allow you to decide if you like the exercise and if you feel like it’s helping. If you try an exercise you absolutely hate, move on to the next one. (I’m sure you’ll find something that works in the 54,600,000 results that Google pulled up for me ( in 0.65 seconds) when I searched “deep breathing for energy”.
Gaiam, a well-respected wellness site, suggests a one-minute breathing exercise that’s based on yogic principles. Very effective, and it can be done simply, easily, and quickly!
Dr. Andrew Weil is a very well-known doctor of integrative medicine. Three of his breathing exercises can be learned here.
A quick explanation of Integrative Medicine given by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) “Integrated medicine (or integrative medicine as it is referred to in the United States) is practicing medicine in a way that selectively incorporates elements of complementary and alternative medicine into comprehensive treatment plans alongside solidly orthodox methods of diagnosis and treatment.
“Integrated medicine is not simply a synonym for complementary medicine. Complementary medicine refers to treatments that may be used as adjuncts to conventional treatment and are not usually taught in medical schools. Integrated medicine has a larger meaning and mission, its focus being on health and healing rather than disease and treatment. It views patients as whole people with minds and spirits as well as bodies and includes these dimensions into diagnosis and treatment. It also involves patients and doctors working to maintain health by paying attention to lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, quality of rest and sleep, and the nature of relationships.”
Integrated Health is becoming more mainstream in the United States as patients and doctors seek ways to treat the person as a whole entity, rather than dozens of specific parts. Deep breathing is good for the whole body, not just your brain, or lungs, or heart.
Not the “hire a U-Haul truck, pack up all of your furniture and head across the country” sort of move, more like the “let’s go for a walk, or dance in the kitchen (or clean stalls, groom, ride, etc).
Paradoxically, we’re often dealing with pain that limits the very thing that will make us feel energized – movement.
I am not, I repeat, I am NOT a doctor or other medical professional. You need to speak with your health care provider before you embark on any new exercise program. Be ready with specific questions on what exercises would be beneficial, and which to avoid to keep you strong, keep you healthy, reduce your pain, and ramp up your energy. You can speak with your doctor or physical therapist about what exercises can actually improve your pain while they give your energy a boost.
I don’t know about you, but when it’s hot like it is here in Virginia at the moment, I drink a LOT of water. I have 2 quart-size water bottles as well as a 20-ounce one. They’re stainless steel and double-walled so they don’t leave damp rings on my desk as I work. They also go with me when I go to the barn, work in the garden, or take any drive that’s more than 15 minutes.
According to an article in cnet, water can make you more energized.
“Drinking more water gives you more energy to do anything from strenuous physical feats to staying awake at your desk after lunch. Many studies have shown that dehydration lowers athletic performance, making you feel sluggish and off your game. It can also cause you to feel tired or sleepy, so if you’re getting enough sleep but can’t keep your eyes open, you may need to just up your water intake.
One study suggested that being dehydrated hurts physical performance for any activity longer than thirty seconds. Even if you don’t work out for hours on end, short flights of stairs or walking around the city you live in will feel much easier if you’re hydrated.”
I tend to sweat a lot, so it’s important for me to stay hydrated. I keep track of how many bottles I’ve consumed during the day by putting colored elastic bands around my bottle – 1 for each bottle I’d like to drink during the day. So if I want to drink 4 quarts, I’ll put 2 elastic bands on the lower section of each quart-sized bottle. When I finish a quart, I just roll the elastic higher on the bottle. When all of my bands are near the top of the bottles, I know how much water I’ve had during the day.
So now you have a few things to do during the day that can help your energy levels, and also improve your overall health – helping you be the owner your horse deserves for many years to come.
Until next time, Love Your Horse, Love Your Life, Love Your Self
If you’ve been following along with this series, you’ve already learned about Knowing Your Why, Understanding Yourself (and your emotions), and the steps to Clear Communication with your horse. Now it’s time to talk about some of the work that goes on behind the scenes when we’re setting and working toward our (realistic) goals. Yay. Just what you wanted, right?
Setting goals can be a driver that helps us improve in all areas of our lives, including our Horsey Life. (Read how I engineer a path to my goals in this post.)
If you’re anything like me, setting goals always seems to end up with large amounts of “should”, “why can’t I” and “WTF’s wrong with me?” I should be back riding by now. I should be showing again. I should be a size 8 and be flexible enough to bend over and put my hands flat on the floor. I’m batting 0/3.
I do want to say right here that I have achieved some important goals, both horse-related and in “real life”. But those goals I listed above? Not so much. Let’s take a little stroll through my broken, abandoned, and unrealistic goals, and see where things start to unravel.
We’re going to visit the soft underbelly of goal setting – beating yourself up when you fall short. That’s due, in part, to setting unrealistic goals for ourselves. We’ve all done it at some point in our lives. We set these ridiculously high goals for ourselves, only to watch them crash and. burn as a consequence of our self-sabotaging behaviors. But ditching just one word from your vocabulary will do more to help you achieve your goals than the best planner/goal setting software/sticky notes with positive messages stuck on your bathroom mirror ever can. The banished word?
It’s a simple word. One syllable, six letters, no weird silent consonants – but it’s a minefield rife with soul-sucking pitfalls.
According to Oxford Languages, the definition of should is: “used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.”
Obligation, duty, correctness, criticizing. Wow – doesn’t that sound like a fun way to be motivated? All I have to do is think the word and I feel myself begin curling into the fetal position. I have enough things on my plate – I sure as hell don’t want to tarnish my Horsey Life with any “shoulds”. Ever notice that “should” is almost always associated with a goal that’s: 1. Unrealistic, 2. Not really connected to our Why, and 3. Something that someone else thinks we “should” do.
- I should ride every day. (When I’m working a 60 hour week and it’s rained for 11 days straight…)
- I should spend more time grooming my horses. (When by the time I get to the barn, there’s not a lot of daylight left, so grooming consists of cleaning hooves and grooming where the tack will go.)
- I should enjoy the time I spend with my horses. (When I have a migraine and any setting other than a dark, quiet room makes me want to vomit).
- I should make more time to spend with my horses. (When … well, when life happens!)
Sound familiar? I don’t know about you, but taking that one word out of each sentence creates an entirely different feeling. To go one step further, substitute “get to” or “Able to” for the word “should”.
- I get/am able to ride. It may not be every day, but how lucky am I that I have the opportunity at all!
- I get/am able to spend more time grooming my horses. Making a few tweaks to my schedule means I get an extra 15 minutes at the barn every day and my horse is loving the extra grooming!
- I get/am able to enjoy the time I spend with my horses. I know that when I go to the barn, it’s better for everyone that I’m not dealing with a migraine or any other condition that makes my time with my horses more of a chore than a joy. I allow myself to be human and not go to the barn, or just handle the basics when I’m not up to par.
- I get/am able to make more time to spend with my horses. I’m doing some batch cooking, asking my husband to take over some of the things that limit my time in the barn, etc.
I don’t know about you, but those sentences make me want to spend more time at the barn and with my horses!
Yeah, Yeah I can hear you saying. That’s fine for you, but I have to yada yada yada (fill in your excuses here). I work too many hours. My family doesn’t understand me. I don’t have enough money to buy one of those awesome $200 saddle pads/take more riding lessons/compete in horse shows.
You may hate me for saying this (I know I can get pretty pissed with myself when my “higher” self brings this up), but every situation in your life right now is because of a choice you made.
That’s a hard one to swallow, isn’t it? It takes away all of that lovely blame we can send toward the circumstances or relationships we’re experiencing at the moment. I’m not going to get into a whole discussion of this right now (because it’s a book, not a blog post), but there are literally thousands of books, coaches, YouTube videos, podcasts, etc. who will explain this to you if you decide you’d like to learn more and move past the shoulds, the blame, the frustration and the resignation you’re currently experiencing.
So while we might want to try to dump “should” from our vocabulary, there’s a word we could add that we rarely use in relation to ourselves. Grace.
In 9 Ways to Extend Grace to Others, author Dawn Klinge suggests acts like Let It Go, Forgive, and Watch the Way You Speak. While Klinge’s post suggests these examples as ways to offer grace to others, they’re just as appropriate (but much more difficult) as ways to extend grace to ourselves. We always find it easier to beat ourselves up than to let it go – move past situations of the past that we carry with us like a heavy cloak of darkness and guilt, forgive ourselves (another way to release some of the guilt we all lug around), and watch the way we speak to ourselves.
That’s a lot to think about. We’re learning a new way of thinking about our goals, our relationships with our horses, and more importantly, with ourselves, and that doesn’t come overnight… or over a weekend… or a week… or… well, let’s just say that this learning process continues throughout our entire lives. And we
should get to see every moment as an opportunity for grace.
Until next time, Love Your Horse, Love Your Life, and Love Yourself!