Did the title of this post get your attention? If you’re like me (and at least 97% of all the horsewomen in the world), you may be wondering what on earth I’m talking about. Of course he’s better cared for! He depends on you to feed him, keep him in a safe and comfortable environment, and scratch that spot right near his withers that always makes him do that funny thing with his lips.
Read the last sentence in the previous paragraph again. (Just humor me and do it, OK?) Anything stand out? How about the word “depends”? (I’m not even going down the bladder control rabbit hole)! He depends on you. So what happens if you get sick? What happens if you injure yourself? What happens if you’re so tired when you feed him at the end of the day that you don’t even notice that little lump…?
Do you see where I’m going with this? You can’t be the best horse owner if you don’t care for yourself. You need to be healthy, at least somewhat fit and rested to be there for him.
The Ugly Truth
Remember the movie A Few Good Men, when Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise get in a shouting match and Cruise says he wants the truth? And Nicholson replies – “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” Can you handle the truth about yourself? Can you look yourself in the eye (in the mirror, of course) and say that you’re doing everything possible to take good care of yourself?
“You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”
“Taking care of yourself” means different things to different people. Understand I’m not talking about massages, girls’ night out, or mani-pedis – I’m talking about your health (which also means different things to different people). For the sake of this post, I’m taking a lead from the World Health Organization, which describes health as, “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
So you don’t have to be running marathons every month (or at all), you don’t have to adopt a vegan diet, you don’t have to spend hours in the gym or drink gallons of green smoothies, but you should at least establish your baseline. Caveat – I am not, nor do I claim to be, offering any medical advice. I am not a doctor, nurse, nutritionist, or personal trainer (or marathon runner, although I do love green smoothies!). I’m simply a 62-year-old woman who has spent the last 50 years, yes – 50 years! – as a horse person, and I have the surgical scars and cantankerous joints to prove it.
The whole “self-care” thing has become a bit of a cliche – which is one reason why I didn’t use it in the title of this post! For a lot of horsewomen, myself included, “self-care” means washing the cut you just got fixing the fence, or at least squeezing on it a bit so it’ll bleed out any germs. Horsewomen, we need to do better.
I’m challenging myself to do better this month, and I’m inviting you to do the same. March is Women’s History Month, so let’s make a little history of our own by becoming the healthiest horsewomen in the world (or at least at the barn).
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.
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.
I don’t know about you, but 2020 pretty well had me on the ropes by February, and it didn’t improve much over the following 10 months. I lost my Mom in February, lost my job in September, and spent the rest of the time trying to come up for air.
While 2020 had its challenges, it also offered opportunities for growth and gratitude.
While losing my Mom was and still is devastating, she was 99 years old and had had an amazing life. And she passed away in February. Which meant she didn’t have to die without family nearby. My sister and I spent the last few days at her bedside. The fact that she didn’t have to endure the loneliness of a lockdown is one of the things I’m most grateful for from 2020.
I grew in my job, writing over $70,000 worth of successful grant applications in 5 months. This was for a small non-profit whose budget was in the $100,000 range. I’m still pretty proud of that.
I’m also pretty proud of the fact that I left that job when staying would not have been in my best interest. The situation evolved over the period of just a month, and it took me a while to move past the disappointment and anger I felt; however, I now know that I am right where I’m meant to be – in my writing studio in my home working on ways to help empower horsewomen in the Barn & Beyond.
2020 brought things into our lives we never could have foreseen, which is probably a good thing – can you imagine knowing ahead of time how the year would unfold? There were times it was hard enough to live just that moment without having a foreshadowing of what was to come.
2021 rolled in right on schedule (and not a moment too soon!), and with it came hopes for a better 365 days for all of us. I’m planning amazing things for The Horsey Life Community this year including teaching ways to calm the anxiety that’s seemingly become a constant companion of late.
You can grab my newest offering, 60 Seconds to Calm below. It’s a small collection of exercises you can do in less time than it takes you to read this post, because the last thing we need is another activity that will be “good for us”, but takes a half-hour or more. I can’t imagine wanting to add to our already overloaded schedule and burgeoning to-do list!
While I’ll be the first one to admit that not all short-cuts provide us with the desired results, there are definitely instances where we can set our MER – Minimum Effective Result, and get the improvements we’re looking for. This is especially true for relaxation exercises.
I love meditation and typically meditate at least once a day. Some days I do 20 minutes, some days more, some days all I can manage is 10 breaths. But on those days, 10 breaths give me enough space to step back from the brink, re-evaluate, and reconnect with now. This is extremely helpful when you’re doing something which requires your full presence, like working with your horse.
Being prey animals, horses are very sensitive to a perceived threat. If you get to the barn stressed about your job, the traffic, the COVID virus (or vaccine), chances are you’re going to pass some of this onto your horse. He might not understand why you’re stressed and not fully present, but he’ll sense that all is not well. Which will make him warier. When he tenses, you’ll become warier, and the whole thing spirals like water going down the plug-hole. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are simple effective ways to show up fully for your horse, your life, and yourself.
Check out this post for a great exercise to do before you greet your horse, and remember to download 60 Seconds to Calm. Your horse will thank you.
Until next time, Love Your Horse, Love Your Life, Love Yourself
So, my friends, you discovered in last week’s post that you’re not the only returning rider who is struggling to bridge the gap between your happy memories of riding when you were a kid and the occasionally scary and painful reality of riding now. And you might not like what I say next, but stick with me – it gets better after the next piece of advice!
Step one in becoming a comfortable, confident midlife horsewoman is to… manage your expectations. I know, I know, I can hear your outraged/despondent/indignant voices now – you thought I was going to help you live the dream and now I’m telling you to manage expectations?? Really?
OK, now that you’ve had a chance to register your complaints – take a deep breath and read on.
Managing your expectations is not the same as giving up. Let me say this again, managing your expectations is NOT the same as giving up. Here’s the deal – by being realistic, even cautious, at the beginning of your journey as a recycled rider, you’re a lot more likely to ride better and longer and have more fun doing it.
Managing your expectations is NOT the same as giving up.
Here’s my 4-step process to make getting back on the horse (literally and figuratively) one of the best decisions you’ve made in 2020 (not a high bar, I agree, but at least you’ll have one good memory of this dumpster-fire of a year).
First, what do you want from riding?
Are you planning on trying out for the Olympics or is going on a Sunday afternoon trail ride more your thing? Are you hoping to own your own horse, take lessons, borrow a friend’s horse? Get clear on this – take some time and really think about your ideal horsey life. There are no right or wrong answers, this is your vision of your life, not your friend’s, spouse’s, or instructor’s.
Next, where are you now?
Take inventory of where you are on your journey now. Are you a returning rider who rode a lot when you were in your teens and are comfortable with the idea of getting to the same level again, or are you happy with the idea of trail riding to relax on the weekends?
Do you have excited butterflies in your stomach when you think about riding or is it more a queasy feeling and sense of dread?
Notice where you feel anxiety or avoidance – that’s often a clue that we don’t feel like we can really achieve our goals or that they’re more difficult than we’re comfortable with (yet). Give yourself the time and the space (and the grace) to let these feelings percolate for a while.
That discomfort may also be a clue our goals are not actually ours, but rather something we’ve held over from a younger version of ourselves, or something society has decided is “appropriate” for someone in their midlife.
Third Question – What are you willing to do to get from here to there?
This is often where the dream goes a bit soft-focus. We dearly want it to be easy and smooth and perfect. What we get is often frustrating and bumpy and borderline awful. The dream seems so far away sometimes.
Are you willing to put in extra hours, extra money, extra exercise, and learning, and humility, and vulnerability to get there? Are you willing to keep smiling at the doubters (it’s perfectly OK to call them every name in the book under your breath and behind your mask)?
Are you really able to do/give/be whatever it takes to reach that dream or maybe, just maybe, is it time to adjust your sights a bit closer to your current situation and create an interim goal to help you reach your bigger goal? As I said earlier, managing your expectations does not mean you are giving up!
And now, the one question to rule them all (sorry, Tolkein) – what is your why?
Why are you willing to spend an hour in an Epsom salts bath every evening? Why are you willing to slog around in the mud and the dark and the cold to feed your horse or adjust his blanket? Why do you keep getting up at 5, keep getting up into the saddle when every part of you aches and that duvet looks so inviting? Why?
Many people would argue that this question should come first, but putting it after the other questions means you can go back and look at your answers through the lens of knowing your why. It can change your perspective and offer you a way to think about your goals and dreams in a way you hadn’t before.
Did you find that some of your answers changed? Are you able to see a bit more clearly where you are, where you want to go, how you’ll get there knowing the overarching question of Why?
If your answers have changed, and you’ve decided that you really don’t want to go on hunter paces after all, or you don’t want to trail ride, or you don’t even really want to ride at all, preferring to groom and hang out and bond with your horse – that’s fine! It’s better than fine – it’s your truth. You haven’t given up or given in – you’ve managed your expectations.
Until next time, love your horse, love your life, and love yourself.
…and other laments of a midlife horsewoman
If you have a chance to hang around with other midlife horsewomen, you may hear them moaning about this somewhat frequently, (which is comforting in a “Misery Loves Company” kind of way); but, if you don’t spend a lot of time with other prime-time riders, various aches and pains can be disconcerting… and embarrassing.
Let me jump in right here and say that none of this is intended to be medical advice or to suggest treatment or diagnosis for any discomfort you may be experiencing. Always check with your health care professional before starting new forms of exercise.
OK, now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at some of the issues we face as returning horsewomen.
Well, this never hurt before…
I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember ever being sore after a ride when I was a kid. Well, there was that one time I got kicked in the crotch the night before a show… that definitely made for a pretty uncomfortable day in the saddle… but I digress.
When we’re young, we’re more likely to be flexible, to have a greater degree of cardiovascular stamina, to have better balance, and to lead a generally more active life. Obviously, this is one of those sweeping generalities that everyone advises against, but you get my point.
So the realization that riding can hurt can be sobering; however, pain isn’t the only physical issue we experience when we return to riding as midlifers. (Oh yay, there’s more?!?) Loss of flexibility, especially in our backs, hips, and knees can seriously impact our comfort level when we start riding again. And if pain and stiffness weren’t enough to send you in search of the nearest bottle of wine, let’s not forget about balance.
According to Healthinaging.org, nearly 8 million adults of all ages in the United States report balance disorders each year. About one-third of the older population reports difficulty with balance or walking; the numbers increase significantly after age 75. All in all, almost 40% of older adults are affected.
In case you haven’t noticed, good balance is key – for you and your horse to enjoy comfortable rides. A balanced rider is easier for a horse to carry in a balanced way. The rider’s balance can even have more of an impact than her weight on a horse’s ability to safely and comfortably lug a human around its back. This is not to say that you get a free pass if you’re seriously obese but can stand on one leg for a count of 10 without toppling over, but that’s a discussion for you to have with your doctor (and your vet.)
Funny, I don’t remember feeling (fill in the blank)…
After a break of several years, (or decades), getting back into the saddle can bring great joy, immediately followed by the shocking realization that this feels nothing like it did when you were younger. What happened to that old adage about riding a bicycle – you never forget? Isn’t that supposed to apply to riding horses, too? Evidently, one of the times you fell on your head when you were 10 caused just enough of a concussion to erase all memories of the downsides of riding; and you’re now discovering:
- The distance between the ground and the saddle has doubled since you were last on a horse
- Sitting trot is an exercise developed by the devil himself
- Any attempt to perform the above-mentioned sitting trot makes you feel you’re about to get a black eye and/or a concussion from your breasts bouncing around and smacking you in the face
- The speed of canter has increased exponentially since you last rode
It stinks to have to face the fact that we didn’t retain all the skills (and fitness) we had when we were kids; but, there is a way forward!
And I’ll share that with you next Monday. Until then, love your horse, love your life, and love yourself.
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.