Embracing What Is

Embracing What Is

None of us signed up for this. The pandemic, the social and political turmoil, the fear. To be blunt, things kind of suck right now. We’re in survival mode, and the best we can hope for is a reluctant acceptance of our circumstances… right?

What if I were to challenge you and say that now is an even more important time to embrace what is? What if we were to look for one positive thing every day? What if we developed our practice of gratitude so that we appreciated things that went unnoticed before?

It’s important to know we’re not alone. Having some sort of safety net in times like this can make the difference between navigating the crisis mainly intact, or picking up the pieces when all is said and done.

We, as horsewomen, have a safety net, therapist, warm fuzzy, and amazing listener all rolled into one – our horses. Horses have a way of grounding us (and I don’t mean by bucking us off!) Their daily routine doesn’t involve watching news of the latest death tolls, getting a swab stuffed so far up their nose they expect to have it come out of the back of their head (seriously, COVID tests are NOT fun), and heading out to shop at 6:00 a.m. in hopes of finding some toilet paper and avoiding too many other shoppers. Horses can be our ultimate path to being grounded in the present – and to embracing what is.

Being present is something I talk a lot about in this blog (you can read other posts HERE and HERE). It’s so easy for us to let the noise in our heads take over. When things are “normal”, we have a constant playlist of inner conversations, what we need to do, what we wish we hadn’t done, what on earth we could have been thinking when we did THAT… Pre-COVID we were rarely fully present – we had a routine (read: rut) that we’re in, we become automatons marching through our days. That was then…

In these during-COVID, and hopefully (eventually) post-COVID times, it’s all too easy to cling to those patterns to try to maintain some semblance of normality in our lives. There are big changes taking place, and undoubtedly more to come.

Changes, especially ones out of our control, can be frightening. It feels safer to block out as much as we can and try to keep going. Here’s a challenge your horse and I have for you – the next time you see him (or her), stop for at least 30 seconds and just observe him. Is he relaxed? Is he holding tension anywhere in his body? Or is he just busy frisking your pockets for peppermints? Whatever he’s doing, chances are he’s embracing what is (especially if “what is” involves peppermints!) He’s not worrying about the future or regretting the past – he simply is.

I realize that horses have the luxury of not having to deal with groceries and masks and hand sanitizer and a lack of toilet paper, but we can still take a page from their playbook. For 30 seconds, just stop. Take a breath. Relax your shoulders. And think of one good thing about right now. It can be something as major as not having had any of your friends or family becoming ill, or as trivial as the fact that the store not only had toilet paper, but they had your brand!

Will this change your life? Probably not. It won’t make COVID go away, it won’t stop racial and political unrest, it won’t bring people’s jobs back; but, it will give you one tiny piece of your day that you can own. It’s your chance to embrace what is.

Embracing what is is a choice. It’s a very conscious choice that needs to be made over and over until it starts to become a regular part of your life. Next week, I’ll be discussing the difference between response and reaction.

In the meantime, stay safe, and do your best to emulate your horse, and embrace what is.

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.

If wishes were horses

If wishes were horses

If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride…

I know this may sound obvious, but one of the first things that’s required to make a start on your Horsey Life is… a horse! You don’t need to own one or to go to any great expense in the initial stages, but starting off on the right boot-wearing foot is absolutely vital.

With a laundry list of factors to sort out, let’s start with the most important  – safety. This is vital while learning a new skill in which your partner weighs +/-  1,000 pounds. You want to feel comfortable in your learning situation. If the horse you have access to is difficult to handle, or the person you’re dealing with is anything other than patient and kind (both to you and the horse), you’d be well-advised to turn around and head right back out the gate. There’s too much at stake here – not just for your Horsey Life, but for all the other parts of your life as well.

#1 It’s all about who you know

The easiest way for most women to start their Horsey Life is to find a backyard that has horses.

Obviously (at least I hope it’s obvious), don’t touch anyone’s horse without their permission. Horse owners get pretty cross when someone stuffs their fingers into their horse’s mouth and then complains (or sues) when they get bitten.

OK, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s break this down a bit.

If you have a friend (or a friend of a friend) who has a horse or rides regularly, ask if you could come by and pet/groom/clean up after their horse. Plan on doing something nice for this horse owner like baking them brownies or giving them a $5 gift card to Tractor Supply. Ask in advance if there’s anything you should know/bring/wear, set a time and then DON’T BE LATE. (Don’t you hate it when someone types in all caps? Got your attention though, didn’t I 😉

Equally important as your arrival time is your departure time. Know up front if the person providing the portal to your Horsey Life has an hour to spend with you or just 20 minutes. It’s just minding your manners (your Mom would be so proud!)

This is often the best way to dip your toe into the water trough and see if you suddenly realize that horses on the other side of a fence are amazing, but when you don’t have that handy-dandy barrier, they’re downright terrifying! (Again with the whole looking-like-an-idiot thing – better to have a moment in someone’s back yard than at a public barn with half a dozen 10-year-olds in attendance. Just sayin’).

#2 Ask a pro

The next place on the list is a lesson barn –  one that teaches riding lessons, or has pony camp, or something of the sort. The advantage of going public is that many lesson barns are set up to deal with curious Horsey Life newbies. Ask them if you could book a lesson to get a bit of hands-on with a horse. Remember, these folks are professionals, and while they enjoy teaching, they still have to pay the feed bill at the end of the month, so again, be punctual and prepared.

If after a lesson or two of Horsey Life 101, you’re ready to begin riding lessons, you’ll have the advantage of already knowing the instructor and possibly the horse you’ll be riding for your lessons.

Caveat – make sure the barn you visit is reputable (and don’t rely on Yelp reviews to help you decide). Since it can be hard to “know what you don’t know”, ask someone at the local tack shop or feed store, or contact leaders of local horse clubs like 4H or Pony Club for suggestions. These folks are invested in keeping people safe, so they’re likely to be a good source of info.

#3 Happy Trails to You

My next suggestion is to check out a local (and again, reputable) trail ride/dude ranch facility. The horses used at well-run facilities are generally safe, well trained, and used to dealing with novice riders.

It’s a good idea to visit the facility before your ride. Have a look around at the horses, the staff, and the overall condition of the place. If the horses look cranky or not well-cared for, or there are customers riding in shorts and flip-flops, fences are broken and things are messy and disorganized – proceed directly to the nearest exit and ask your friendly 4H or riding club leader to give you another suggestion. If the care of the horses and facility aren’t up to par, standard safety precautions could be ignored as well.

When you find a place that looks well-managed, speak with a member of the staff, be very honest about the fact that you’re a beginner, and see if you can spend 10 or 15 minutes with a quick overview of horse handling 101 before you hit the trail.

#4 Pay it forward

An often overlooked option to get some horse time in is to volunteer at a local rescue or therapeutic riding center. Because these barns generally require a good number of volunteers, you may find that you can get some basic horse handling instruction.

One thing to remember is that not all the jobs you’ll be assigned will give you actual hands-on time with a horse. You might be cleaning stalls, painting fences, or cleaning tack. Do every chore efficiently (and cheerfully), and the people in charge will notice you (trust me on this), and you’ll stand a better chance of moving up the ranks and becoming a side-walker in a therapeutic riding program, or a grooming horses at a rescue.

So whether you start this journey in a small back yard barn or at a large commercial facility, I hope this is a useful resource to starting your Horsey Life.

What to expect when you’re expecting (to start your Horsey Life)

What to expect when you’re expecting (to start your Horsey Life)

Welcome to the Horsey Life 101 Series. In this category of posts, I’ll be focusing on the things that you may face as a midlife woman getting into horses and riding for the first time. There are a lot of things to consider, so lets jump in!

It can be a bit overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. You know you want to ride. Or drive. Or at least be around horses. But what do you imagine that to look like?

I’ll go over 5 questions that will help you think about your ideal Horsey Life. Working through them should help the next step of the journey become at least a bit more clear,  Most of these decisions can be taken one at a time, and over a long period of time, but it’s a good idea to look at the list and think a little bit about where you’d like to be in your Horsey Life in 5 years or so, so let’s get started!

The 5 Questions

Do you want to:

  1. Ride, drive, or just be around horses?
  2. Hang out with a horsey friend or take lessons?
  3. Ride English or Western?
  4. Buy a horse?
  5. Keep the horse at home or in a boarding barn?

So let’s start at the top of the list.

Question 1. Do you want to ride, drive, or just be around horses?

You don’t have to make a decision right away, but the answer to this question will inform all the ones that follow, so do give it some thought. If you can’t decide, get some exposure to different scenarios. If you have horsey friends, hang out for a bit to get a feel for what parts of the experience seem like you could picture yourself enjoying.

If you don’t have access to horses through friends or acquaintances, visit the local feed or tack store, look at the ads on the bulletin boards. If you find an ad for a farm that looks like a promising place to visit, ask the folks who work at the store for their opinion. While they’re not likely to badmouth anyone (nor should they), they may at least be able to give you pointers on good barns to visit. You can also ask local 4-H or United States Pony Club leaders. Those good people are vested in the safety, education, and well-being of horse people, regardless of their age.

Question 2. Do you want to hang out with horsey friends or take regular lessons?

This doesn’t have to be an either-or question. In many cases, you can create a nice mix of the two, so let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of each.

Hanging out with your horsey friends – Pros

  • You can get started in a more casual, and possibly more comfortable, situation. Knowing and trusting the person who’s helping you out can allay normal fears that can arise when working with an animal who weighs around 1,000 pounds.
  • Your friend’s schedule may be more flexible, and if you see each other frequently enough, chances are good that you’ve already begun having some horse time.
  • It’s likely to cost less to shadow your friend, at least in the beginning. I’m not saying you should take advantage of your friend’s willingness to help, and I’m certainly not saying that riding lessons aren’t well worth the investment, but spending a little time around horses in a casual setting isn’t likely to cost you more than taking your friend out to lunch or getting her a gift card from the feed store.
  • You can ask questions and not feel stupid. I’m a firm believer that the only stupid questions are the ones that go unasked, but I understand how embarrassing it can be to ask something you imagine is completely obvious to others. Friends can make take the edge off that self-consciousness we feel when we’re in the spotlight.

Hanging out with your horsey friends – Cons

  • You don’t want to risk a good friendship. If her horse happened to bite your hand accidentally when you fed him a carrot, will it feel weird? (Your friendship, not the bite. They can hurt like hell, but they’re not usually especially weird)
  • You don’t want to feel like you’re taking advantage of your friend. As noted above, a thoughtful gift or two is very appropriate.
  • You don’t like the way your friend handles her horse. If she’s overly aggressive with her horse or he doesn’t look well cared for, that’s going to be uncomfortable for you. And on top of that, if you think her rough treatment is the norm, you may decide you don’t really want to be involved with horses after all.
  • Your friend promises to call and set up a time for you to come to visit her horse, but she never does. Again, this can make things awkward.

Taking riding lessons – Pros

  • The person teaching you should be a competent professional who has the safety of you and the horse as her first priority. (Note the word “should”. Just because someone sets up shop as a riding instructor does not mean they are qualified to teach.)
  • You can count on a regular schedule for your weekly lesson. Most teaching barns have hours that align with people who come to ride after work and on weekends.
  • You’ll have the opportunity to be exposed to different horses and riders. Even if you ride the same horse every week, being around the barn and having the chance to watch other people with their horses can teach you a lot. And The other riders at the barn are usually happy to answer a few questions and brag on their horses.

Taking riding lessons – Cons

  • I hate to say it, but there are unscrupulous horse people out there. I’ve been in the horse business for decades, and while I know the vast majority of hard-working trainers and instructors are as honest and caring as the day is long, there are outliers. If the atmosphere in the barn is uncomfortable, people aren’t friendly, and horses pin their ears back when you walk past their stalls, take that as an indication that you should check out a couple of other barns as well.
  • A lot of barns cater to kids. I love teaching kids and have taught hundreds over the years, but if you’re looking for a quiet, relaxing place to learn and your only available time for lessons is Saturday morning, you may find that you’re heavily outnumbered by munchkins.
  • Good instruction is priceless, but it does come at a cost. Weekly lessons can add up, but so can weekly yoga classes or daily lattes (not that I have anything against either yoga or lattes, but you do need to figure extra money into your budget for your lessons).

OK – that’s question 2, let’s move on.

Question 3: Do you want to ride English or Western?

A good part of the answer to this question may come down to availability. You may be in an area where most of the people who ride do trail rides, and a dressage barn can’t be found within a hundred miles. You may have one really great barn within commuting distance that teaches adults, and they teach English.

To be honest – the tack you use matters far less than the quality of the instruction you receive. I’ve always taught balanced seat riding. I help riders find the correct balanced position that allows both the rider and horse to be more comfortable and effective.

A balanced beginner is far less burden to a horse than someone who’s ridden for years but sits heavy and is stiff or unyielding. I’ve ridden and taught Hunt Seat, Dressage, Stock Seat, and Side Saddle (and bareback 🙂 – my core position changes very little regardless, and a good instructor will help you develop the same position of balance.

My advice is that in the beginning at least, look for an instructor that comes well recommended, or whom you’ve watched teach. If you like the instructor and the horses and facility are well cared for, you’re in a good place regardless of whether or not there’s a horn on the front of the saddle. Next question!

4. Do you want to buy a horse?

This is… putting the cart before the horse a bit, but it doesn’t hurt to be thinking about your eventual goals. If you’re already convinced that horse ownership is in your future, you’ll want to be learning about more than just the riding end of things. If you’re planning on owning a horse, there are a lot of things to take into consideration, like your budget, the amount of time you have, and the accessibility of a suitable facility, either at home or a boarding barn.

There are several steps you can (and should) take before handing over that check to buy your first horse. Some form of basic horse care instruction, whether via a friend or a professional is crucial.

If you find that you are considering purchasing a horse, see if you can take a part lease on a horse where you take your lessons. Leasing a horse is a bit like horse ownership with training wheels – you get the feel of it but haven’t committed to the scary part yet. This is as far as many women take the experience. For various reasons full ownership isn’t practical or desired, but they’re afforded more interaction with a horse than just a weekly lesson, so let that idea be in the back of your mind as you start your journey to a Horsey Life.

Time for the last question!

5. Do you want to keep the horse at home or at a boarding barn?

We’ve jumped the queue a bit again, but if you are considering horse ownership, begin thinking about the logistics. If you’re on a quarter of an acre in the ‘burbs, you’re not likely to be able to keep your horse at home, but even having a house in the country doesn’t automatically mean that you should have your horse in your backyard.

Some things to consider about your horse’s living arrangements should you decide to keep him at home:

Horses need to be cared for 7 days a week, 365 days a year (366 in a Leap Year). If you travel frequently or work long hours, you’ll need to figure out who’s going to take care of the horse when you’re not able to.

Zoning laws, cranky neighbors, and insurance companies can also affect your choice. Check and double-check your local ordinances and insurance policy. Horses can be considered an “attractive nuisance”, which means if your neighbor’s kid crawls under the fence and into your paddock and gets stepped on, you may be held responsible. According to Equine Insurance Specialists, LLC, “Unlike the typical rule that there is generally no duty to protect trespassers, the “attractive nuisance” doctrine provides that a landowner will be liable for harm caused by artificial conditions of the land that are highly dangerous to trespassing children.” What this roughly translates to is that little kids can’t grasp the fact that that pretty horse has big teeth and huge feet. The horse, in effect, could be seen as the reason the little rugrat crawled under your fence in the first place.

“Unlike the typical rule that there is generally no duty to protect trespassers, the “attractive nuisance” doctrine provides that a landowner will be liable for harm caused by artificial conditions of the land that are highly dangerous to trespassing children.” Equine Insurance Specialists, LLC.

If all of that is manageable, having your horse at home can be a dream come true. It’s wonderful to look out the window and see your horse. It’s wonderful to be able to skip the drive to get to the boarding barn. And if you keep your horse at home, you can go out and feed him in your PJs whenever you want.

I know I’ve thrown a lot of big-picture questions at you in this post. As I said earlier, you don’t need to figure them out all at once or in a certain time frame. While you shouldn’t rush any decision about such a big part of your life, it can be helpful to set up a framework to make some decisions eventually.

It’s all too easy to get mired down in the details and let “paralysis by analysis” take over. The focus becomes thinking about the decision rather than actually making it.

So set your mind free to dream a bit – you’re taking your first step toward something you’ve waited your whole life for – beginning your own Horsey Life.

A trot down memory lane

A trot down memory lane

They say that those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. As midlife riders who have been out of the saddle for a while, we’re more likely to wish we could repeat it! How is it that the carefree (and pain-free) days of riding as a teen have morphed into days filled with fatigue, fear, and frustration?

We remember (or hear) stories about kids who jumped their ponies through rings of fire or over piles of their friends stacked up to create a good-sized jump. Galloping across fields with nothing more than a halter and lead rope on our horses… what were we thinking?

via GIPHY

My main riding discipline eventually became dressage for many reasons, one of which is that I’ve always been kind of a chicken rider.

My not-terribly-brave youth didn’t involve jumping horses through rings of fire, or over piles of my friends and acquaintances. It didn’t involve a lot of (intentional) galloping across open fields. It did; however, involve trail riding (usually by myself) up the mountain near our house. I’d either ride up the slopes of the ski area (only in the off-season), or the section of the Appalachian Trail located a half-mile or so further down the road (both of which were completely against the rules of the ski area operator and whichever governing body makes up the rules for the Appalachian Trail.) What was I thinking??

My little Quarter Horse/Arab cross mare, O’Malley, was a former cow horse, so she was fine with going up mountains, climbing over fallen stone walls and jumping fallen trees, but when I think now about going out for hours on my own up a mountain on a horse at the age of 13, it seems like it was a level slightly above chicken.

I remember the lessons when my riding instructor had me jump the little brook at the ski area. It was a nice natural obstacle, and, it was fun, although a bit scary. Going back to the ski area years later and looking at that “little” brook, I felt incredibly fortunate that my little 14.2 hand cow horse was an honest horse with tremendous heart. The brook ran about 8’ below the top of the banks, and where we jumped it, probably around 10 – 12 feet wide. What were we thinking???

I remember riding my mare to our regional high school for VoAg open house day when I was a freshman. I can’t remember exactly why I rode her the 12 or so miles on that chilly morning. We didn’t own a trailer, so perhaps I couldn’t get a ride, perhaps it was just a nice way to be allowed to get to school late (and earn props for having ridden a horse to school). The trip covered several miles of dirt road, but also several miles of windy two-lane roads with no shoulders. At any moment, a truck could have come along and plowed into us, ending the whole trip right there and then. What was I thinking??

The trek to school that day was followed a year or so later with joining the local Pony Club. Neither O’Malley nor I were big fans of stadium jumping, although we both loved cross country. (That’s O’Malley and me in the cover photo). I rode to one of the Pony Club lessons (which was only about 5 miles from home) for a showjumping lesson one day. The plan was I’d ride back home at the end of the lesson, but the unplanned flight headfirst into a jump pole and consequent concussion changed the plans and I didn’t get to ride her home till 2 days later. I was grateful that my naturally chicken-shitted nature meant I always wore a helmet, but I had lots of friends who only wore them in the show ring. What were they thinking???

Fast forward a few decades…

And just like that, we’re suddenly in our 40s (or 60s). How did this happen? One day we’re jumping over possibly less than suitable obstacles and the next we’re hauling our kids to riding lessons or watching them graduate from college.

It occurs to you that if you’re planning on riding again, you’d better get on with it. You figure out a way to make it work around your already stretched schedule (and budget), and you’re so excited to be getting back to riding. You were like a fish in water on horseback. All of that freedom and those lazy afternoons riding up and down the sides of mountains or jumping over stacks of friends. It’s going to be so wonderful to feel that again.

And then… it’s not. Not wonderful at all. Doubts, self-flagellation, frustration – all vying for the top spot in your beaten-up psyche.

Grace

We wonder how the heck we could hesitate about riding again. We wonder what our out of shape bodies will look like in riding clothes or sitting on a saddle. We see the other midlife women who look like they have ridden at least an hour every single day of their lives, and the gap in our riding seems more like the Grand Canyon than the brook at my local ski area. Could we be feeling… fear?

Those of us who weren’t the “go-jump-over-fallen-trees-in-the-woods-bareback-with-a-halter-and-a-lead-rope” kind of brave kids recognize the pit-of-our-stomach fear. The sweaty palms and shallow breathing we experience when faced with new, possibly dangerous situations. That fear is obvious. We may not like it, but we recognize it for what it is – a healthy dose of fear that your amygdala has thoughtfully conjured up in an attempt to keep you from doing something ridiculously stupid (like jumping trees in the woods bareback with a halter and lead rope).

The more difficult fears are those which slip in under the radar. They’re not directly tied to something that has the possibility to cause imminent bodily harm. These are often social fears. I-don’t-want-to-look -like-a- idiot fears. And these are the ones most likely to cause self-flagellation.

When a task that was easy when we were 13 is now is difficult, our first thought is often something along the lines of, “What the hell is wrong with me?’” (At least that’s one of my first thoughts). But we’re judging our 40- or 60- or 80-year-old selves by 13-year-old self standards. Ladies, we need to stop doing this. Seriously, just stop!

Easier said than done, right? Heck, we have decades of self-flagellation under our belts. We’ve elevated it to an art form. But although we have no problem slinging insults at the person in the mirror, we would be horrified to even think of speaking like that to a friend, an acquaintance, or even somebody we don’t actually like.

We’re great at making allowances for other folks. We see another midlife woman riding and we think, “Well, I think it’s wonderful that she’s taken up riding again. She amazes me – she hasn’t ridden in 35 years!”

Here’s a little tip ladies, she probably used to talk to herself the same way you talk to yourself. Hell, she probably still does. But the important thing is that she’s gone one step beyond the self-directed trash talking. She’s gone toe to toe with that voice in her head telling her she must be an idiot to even think about riding again. She sees the extra 20 pounds she’s carrying, she feels the fact that a half-hour lesson wears her out, but she has made the conscious choice to extend herself some grace.

“Grace – a disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency”                      Merriam Webster

According to the good folks at Merriam-Webster,  grace can be defined as: “disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency”  An instance of kindness. That’s all it took for that woman to move past her weight and questionable level of fitness. She. Made. A. Choice.

To (poorly) paraphrase Hamlet, why does it seem nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageously poor opinions of ourselves? We need to catch ourselves when those hateful words are drumbeats in our minds. We need to take a deep breath and say, “Enough. I’ve had it with the negative opinion I have of myself. I’m not the first woman to come back to riding after a break, and I won’t be the last.”  You need to notice the inner hater and shut her down.

Until you reach your judgment-free (or at least judgment-reduced) place, please, do me a favor. Every time you ride, imagine my voice saying, “Well, I think it’s amazing that you’ve taken up riding again. You amaze me,  no matter how long it’s been since you’ve ridden.” Each time you go to the barn, keep imagining that my voice is cheering you on until one day, your own voice will be ready to be heard.

It’s not going to happen overnight. That bitch has been running your brain for the last however many years, so this is going to take some consistent, concerted effort. You’re going to wonder if you’ll ever stop being mean to yourself. If you’ll ever just enjoy riding without all the judgment. Take heart, you will. We will. Hour by hour, day by day, week by week, we’ll start scraping away the crust of self-hatred and find that there’s actually a pretty wonderful woman underneath it all. It takes 9 months to grow a new human, so maybe we should consider this a 9-month plan. We’re not growing a new human, we’re uncovering the one who’s been there all along.

Welcome to the Horsey Life

Welcome to the Horsey Life

Welcome to the Horsey Life

My goal in creating this blog is to share some of the knowledge (and wisdom) I’ve gathered over the past half-century or so of my own horsey life.

Think of this as you’re home away from the barn.. A place to learn, and laugh, and grow. A safe place where women like you, like us, can explore the myriad of facets of our horsey lives.

Who I am, where I came from, and why I’m here

My name’s Penny Hawes, a life-long lover of horses and teaching people about them. I’m now in my 60s, but I started riding when I was about 10, got my first horse at age 12, belonged to 4H and Pony Club, then went to England after high school and took the British Horse Society Assistant Instructor’s Certification at the Talland Equestrian Centre. 2 years later, I moved to England after marrying a lovely man I met while in the UK.

I taught mostly kids on Thelwell ponies, but some of the kids’ Mums who’d always wanted to ride decide to start lesson as well. They’d always wanted to ride, but circumstances didn’t allow it.

When we moved back to the States, we leased a farm and started our boarding, training, and teaching business. Eventually we bought a fixer-upper farm with 42 stalls on 42 acres. (When I say “fixer-upper” I mean “fixer-upper” as in “the-indoor-ring-had-collapsed-and-every-time-it-raomed-there-was-a-foot-of-water-in-the-stalls-fixer-upper”.) My husband and I taught dozens of lessons per week, and I also trained and competed dressage horses.

As I began teaching more midlife women who were new to the Horsey Life, several of them said they’d like more than just riding lessons, they wanted to learn more about the other 80% of the horse experience, so I created d a 6-week unmounted course called Find Yourself on a Horse.

The course covered all the things that come up when you start or re-start riding in your midlife. We talked about how our strengths and challenges were magnified when dealing with a sensitive 1,000-pound prey animal, and how they could judge their own mental state from what was mirrored to them by their horses.

Now, if you’re like most “women of a certain age”, you’ve been societally conditioned to avoid risk and public failure. And when you’re learning new skills with the aforementioned 1,000 lb animal, the fear of looking like an idiot can overshadow the fear of getting injured.

My goal with the Horsey Life is to help you learn and grow, and to remember that everyone else is so busy trying not to look like an idiot that they don’t have time to see/judge you.

One reason why birds and horses are happy is because they are not trying to impress other birds and horses.         – Dale Carnegie, How To Win Friends and Influence People

What to expect

While this blog is geared to midlife horsewomen, it’s particularly pertinent to those of you who are just beginning your horsey life, or just picking it back up after years away.

Some of the posts will be under the “Horsey Life 101” category, aimed at women new to this Horsey Life, and some will be categorized as “Welcome Back”, created for those of you who are getting back in the saddle (metaphorically & literally) after a life-gap. The lines between the two are somewhat blurry, so feel free to jump around and explore posts that interest you.

While teaching is the core of what I plan to accomplish with the Horsey Life, I hope to teach with humor and humility, growth and gratitude. And to remind you that it’s never just about the riding.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear about your Horsey Life! Please say hi in the comment below!