So why, exactly, are we doing this? Knowing the “why” for your Horsey Life

So why, exactly, are we doing this? Knowing the “why” for your Horsey Life

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.

Why New Year’s Resolutions Suck for Horse Women – Part 3

Why New Year’s Resolutions Suck for Horse Women – Part 3

Hello and welcome back!

Today I’m wrapping up this 3-part series on why resolutions suck for horsewomen. In the first two posts, I laid out why I think there are better alternatives to resolutions, and how to begin using them. 

I covered:

If all of this seems a bit overwhelming, I’ve got the solution to keep you from running off screaming into the night: chunking. 

Yup, chunking. Chunking means simply breaking down your goals into small, manageable steps. For instance: You love trail riding but haven’t done much recently. Your friend has invited you to go on a 15-mile ride with her in 6 weeks, how would you ensure you and your horse are prepared:?What’s the terrain like? Are there a lot of hills? Is your horse fit enough? Are you fit enough? Does all of your tack fit my horse and me appropriately? Does your horse load into, and stand quietly tied to the trailer? Do you have enough Epsom salts for the 3-hour soak you’re going to need after the ride? 

 Answering those questions will give you an idea of where you’re starting. You have your why (you love trail riding and spending time with your friend), and you have your desired outcome – you and your horse having an enjoyable day out on the trail in 6 weeks. Now, all you have to do is get from here to there… before your eyes glaze over at the thought of trying to get this all managed, let me introduce you to my not-so-secret weapon. Chunking.

Yup, chunking. Chunking will help you break down the steps that are necessary to get you from today to the end of the trail ride. Let’s say that you’re not as fit as you’d like to be. Instead of putting down: Get Fit in your planner, break it down. Do you need more flexibility? Work 10 minutes of stretching into your day, gradually upping that amount. Need more endurance? Grab your smartphone and check how many steps you’re currently walking in a day and then add a hundred more each day. 

Or maybe your horse doesn’t load reliably. Instead of waiting till the morning of the ride with your fingers crossed,  break down your work with him into steps. 1. He needs to come to the trailer quietly, rather than yanking your arm out of the socket or dancing around or digging in his heels. That’s step 1 – just get him to approach the trailer quietly. Perhaps the trailer isn’t the real root of the problem – perhaps it’s because he likes to be a bit pushy at times, in which case you want to work on that aspect first. 

Keep working backward from your goal to where you’re starting today until you have the smallest effective steps laid out. Taking a 15-minute walk followed by a stretch once or twice a day is much more manageable than hitting the gym for 3 hours a day the week of the trail ride.

As I suggested in the last post, keep track of your goals, but also of your progress. Check off the steps you’re taking every day in a journal so you can see how far you’ve come (and to point out that you’re not making the necessary progress should that be the case)!

Chunking is great for nearly every situation in life – whether horsey or not – overall health goals, home improvement projects, learning a new skill –  they’re all much easier to manage when you have a baby-step that you can complete and check off in 1 sitting. If your chunk is much bigger than that, break it down again, and again, and maybe one more time until you can see yourself being able to complete the activity in 1 session. 

I know someone out there’s saying to me, “For goodness sake, women – the damn ride is in 6 weeks, not 6 months!”, and I hear you. Notice I’m not limiting you to just 1 baby step per session (or per day), feel free to do one, and then another, and then another, go for it, but be sure to acknowledge the progress you’ve made!!

So, hopefully, when next December rolls around, you will be thinking beyond those same old resolutions to a system that really helps you reach your goals and celebrate your progress every step of the way!

Until then, love your horse, love your life, and love yourself.

Why New Year’s Resolutions Suck for Horse Women – Part 2

Why New Year’s Resolutions Suck for Horse Women – Part 2

In the last post, I said that one of the most important things to figure out about goals is WHY. Why do you want to ride? Why do you want to finally master sitting trot? Why do you want to eat chocolate chip cookies for breakfast?? (Oh, is that just me??)

Another critical component of achievement is to be very clear about your goal, ie Begin with the End in Mind. As the inimitable Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” So unless your goal is “somewhere else”, get absolutely clear on exactly what you want.

In this post, I’m picking up with the next step – Know where you’re starting.

Once you’ve established your desired destination, you need to establish your starting point. An honest appraisal of your current skills, available time and money, and the suitability of your horse is critical. Just as when planning a trip, knowing the destination is essential, but going to Chicago from New York is very different from going to Chicago from Los Angeles. The starting point helps set the path to the goal.

I firmly believe that the best way to establish your starting point is to enlist a friend or professional to evaluate your (and your horse’s) current level. And if you choose a friend, for heaven’s sake pick one who isn’t afraid to tell you if she sees something that could use some improvement! That will help you determine the steps you need to take to get from starting point to the goal. For instance, if you have never cantered, qualifying for the next Olympics is probably not realistic. 

If you don’t have a horsey friend or a local professional that you know,  you can ask the local United States Pony Club chapter, the local 4-H horse group, equine vet or horse organization for some recommendations. You also have the option of following the rest of the world, and going virtual. There are instructors and coaches that will work with you via Zoom, YouTube videos, or phone calls. (If you’d like to see what I offer, click here to shoot me an email and we can set up a call to chat.) 

The next piece of the equation is staying on top of your progress (or lack thereof). Do you keep a journal,  a planner, or another way to check your progress toward your goal and make sure you’re heading for the next logical step?  If not – you may get far off track and only realize it on December 31st when you look in the rearview mirror at the closing year and think…. Well, you know what you think.

I’ve heard motivational speakers talk about how ships are always making minuscule adjustments to their course because the wind and waves push the ship off track. If you’re on a ship going from New York to Southampton, you wouldn’t be very thrilled if you ended up in Iceland. Nothing against Iceland, it’s a beautiful country and the horses are amazing, but it’s not where you thought you were going. That’s what can happen if you don’t establish both the starting and desired ending point.

There’s an excellent book called the 12 Week Year, which proposes using a 12-week time period, rather than 12 months because you become more focused on the tasks required to reach your goal – there’s not the trap of having “plenty of time”. 

We’ll cover this more in the next post – Tracking Your Progress and Breaking it Down.

Until then, love your horse, love your life, and love yourself.

Why New Year’s Resolutions Suck for Horsewomen – Part 1

Why New Year’s Resolutions Suck for Horsewomen – Part 1

I’m writing about why New Year’s Resolutions suck for horsewomen a few weeks after the New Year. Sorry, but 2020 beat me up like crazy. I really wanted to look at the bright shiny New Year that was scheduled to arrive at one second past midnight, December 31, 2020, with the giddy hope of a little girl about to ride a pony for the first time. 

And then came 2021. Most of the first week of this year (which I’d hoped would be so different), I was tending my very sick 30-year-old horse who had spiked a fever of 105.7º. Packing his feet in ice, medicating him, praying for him (and myself), and worrying about him. It was beyond worrying. Then came the bright orange mucous coming out of one nostril. I have never seen mucous that color before, and I hope I never do again. 

Thankfully, he has recovered, but his illness, (along with the events in Washington, D.C. lately) has not been conducive to keeping that giddy hope alive. My hope is, alas, a bit in tatters. So while I have abandoned resolutions for something more user friendly, (which you’ll read about shortly), I had pretty well abandoned looking forward in any way, shape, or form. Each day brought its own challenges and left me with little reserves to plan my editorial calendar or launch my first mini-course. 

After trudging, head-down, for the first 2 weeks of the year, I decided to take a deep breath and look ahead, and I realized some pretty interesting things. Number one – it’s OK to feel like the whole world has taken a dump on your doorstep. Struggling? I imagine you are – 2020 was that kind of year (and 2021 is already offering us some challenges growth opportunities.) Offer yourself some grace and on the days you need to veg out with a trashy novel or binge-watching whatever it is that people binge-watch (my guilty pleasure is the Weather Channel, so I have very little frame of reference for binge-watching, other than Highway Through Hell…don’t judge, OK?)

Once you have given yourself some space to feel what you feel, the last thing you should do is to go and set a bunch of resolutions. That would be like getting over a stomach bug and then binging on Lobster Thermidor – NOT a way to keep yourself feeling better.

Here are my issues with resolutions:

  1. How many resolutions have you made that came from a negative place in your life? I should lose weight, I should work on my horse’s ground manners, I should declutter my house. Anytime you come up with a “Resolution of Should”, you’re less likely to stick with it, because it comes from a place of self-recrimination, and often you feel you “should” do things because you’re comparing yourself to some ideal. Please don’t do that, it rarely ends well, but that’s a subject for another post.
  2. How motivated are you when you start with your resolution? Again, we know that this will be our year to finally (fill in the blank). On December 31st we are so psyched to get started, we’re already thinking how great it’s going to be when we can buy breeches or jeans two sizes smaller, or our horse stops rushing the gate when we bring him in from the field, or we can eat at the kitchen table without having to move a mountain of paperwork or unfolded laundry.
  3. How often do you review your resolution and chart your progress throughout the year? Do you write it on a piece of paper and stick it up on the bathroom mirror only to have it blur with the steam from your shower, or come unstuck and get tossed away? Do you check in weekly or even monthly to see how you’re progressing, and alter course when necessary?
  4. How often do you stick with a resolution? There we are, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with our brand new resolution. This will be our year – we just know it… And then comes January 2nd. (Or March 23rd, or May 17th), and the stars are just not lined up for you to work toward your goal today. Or tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the next week… Damn, there goes another resolution down the drain.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       If you’re serious about making changes, here’s a process you should do might want to try instead (see how insidious this whole “should” thing is)??

Step 1. Know Your Why

I wrote a post about this HERE, but I’ll give you a quick recap.  Why do you ride, (or want to ride if you’re not already riding)? What’s your desired goal? I’ll give you a few minutes to really think about that, come back when you’re ready…

OK – got your reason(s)? Good. (It’s very helpful to “Begin with the End in Mind”).

Now we work backward from there to plan your path to your goals.  Is your ultimate goal to compete in the Olympics? Would you like to trail ride through beautiful landscapes with friends, or, perhaps, drive a pony cart?  Using your desired destination as a starting point, we’ll reverse engineer from there to develop the steps that will help you reach your goals. 

Next week we’ll cover Step 2: Know where you’re starting

(Want a few quick exercises to help you manage calm? Check out my free offer – 60 Seconds to Calm.

Courageous vs. Fearless – Why 1 of These is Actually Stupid

Courageous vs. Fearless – Why 1 of These is Actually Stupid

I have a confession to make. Despite the fact that I coach horsewomen on managing fear (among other things), I am not a fearless woman, and I’m most certainly not a fearless rider. And honestly? I’m OK with that. As far as I’m concerned, being fearless around your horse (or almost anywhere else, for that matter), is actually one of the most dangerous, and yes, stupidest, things you can do.

Far from being the bad guy here, fear acts kind of like an internal smoke detector. The horrible loud beeping is startling and jarring and usually only means you need to change the battery (or order takeout because you just turned dinner into a smokey, inedible mess) but that one occasion there is a real danger it can literally save your life.

Just like the smoke detector, sometimes there are false alarms with your fear, so it’s helpful to know your horse’s “battery-needs-changing” signal from the “we’re-about-to-have-complete-meltdown signal. With exercises like correct breathing, being mindful, and Tapping, you can learn to respond to his cues appropriately, which helps you navigate that often gray area between fearful and dead. But here’s an important point – the appropriate response to fear is not fearlessness, it’s courage.

According to Oxford Languages, the definition of courage is the ability to do something that frightens one, certainly a quality to aspire to. And while fearless isn’t actually defined as stupid in the dictionary, being not afraid of anyone or anything can get us in trouble. Fast. Courage, on the other hand, is defined as the ability to do something you know is right or good, even though it is dangerous, frightening, or very difficult. 

Think of having courage as being willing to take a calculated risk – like visiting family at 10 p.m. Christmas Eve – the most common day of the year for heart attacks. Are you going to miss out on seeing Aunt Bertha unwrap the DDD cup bra that makes the rounds of your family every year? Of course not – and you’re not likely to give up horseback riding due to fear, either.

Hopefully, you’re going to create a plan before your horse’s next meltdown moment. Understand your responses to his actions (which are, in themselves, responses and/or reactions), and build a toolbox of useful exercises you can use to help you be courageous without being stupid, I mean fearless. (Make sure you grab a copy of the 10 – Minute Toolkit for some great tools.)

If you know he gets kind of cranky when you tack him up around feed time, plan ahead for how you’re going to manage his crankiness. (But, I have to admit, if you dragged me off to work when I thought I was going to get to eat, I’d be cranky, too!).

Can you ride him a bit earlier? A bit later? Can he have a few mouthfuls of his dinner before you ride? Those are all ways of helping manage the situation before it has a chance to get started, but what happens when none of those options are viable?

You were stuck late at work and now have an hour to groom, tack up, ride, cool down, untack, groom again, and he’s scheduled for dinner right about at the 35-minute mark. Do you normally become afraid that he’s going to dump you and try to go back to the barn? Or he’ll just plant his feet and refuse to move? This is where your responses to his cues become critical.

Giving in to your fear by jumping off, adopting a modified fetal position, and taking him back to his stall may not be your best choice – for your sake, his sake, and the sake of all the rides that may occur at 5 p.m. in the future. By the same token, if you know he has quite a buck when he’s cranky and you’re not that experienced or balanced a rider, it would be stupid (there’s that word again) to just damn the torpedoes and jump on to go for a trail ride in the woods by yourself. Fortunately for all, there is a middle way. Be courageous.

  • Take a couple of deep breaths.
  • Consciously relax your shoulders, jaw, and other favorite tension-holding places in your body
  • Evaluate the situation
  • Move to plan B.

Plan B could be lunging him instead of riding. It could be to ride in the outdoor ring where he’s less likely to fuss if other horses are being fed. It could be some in-hand work to clarify and confirm his respect for your personal space, or riding for just 10 minutes.

None of these choices are completely without risk, and quite possibly will create at least some fear, but just like you wouldn’t dream of missing Aunt Bertha and the Christmas Bra, you shouldn’t miss enjoying every possible moment with your horse. Arm yourself with tools and meet your ride with courage.