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 withan “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!
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 thatone 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!
Have you ever realized that “goal” is a four-letter word? The irony and appropriateness of that amuse me (but my amusement threshold is incredibly low after a year of pandemic life).
According to Wikipedia, a goal is “an idea of the future or desired result that a person or a group of people envision, plan and commit to achieve.” When I was running my training barn, I created goals tailored to each horse. One stallion that came to me for training clearly needed to relax his topline use his back more freely. He had been started by a rider who tried to control him by taking a death grip on the reins. By the time the poor horse came to me, his defense mechanism was to just tuck his chin against his chest, totally dropping behind the contact, and then just tank off. He clearly needed to be ridden sympathetically, and learn to seek the connection rather than fearing it.
My solution for him was to take him out trail riding. He’d never been out on trails, so it would be an experience he wouldn’t associate with having his head cranked in, and he was fascinated by all the smells. He walked along like a bloodhound, nose to the ground, and stretching over his topline nicely. As the days went by, I gradually asked him to walk on very light contact, then a bit more contact, and he was perfectly happy to comply. After about 3 weeks of solely being hacked out, I took him back in the ring and he happily stretched over his topline and reached for the connection with the bit. How did I achieve my goal? I used 3 steps that can be applied to any goal – horse-related or not.
Begin with the end in mind. I learned this from the late Stephen Covey, a leadership and productivity genius, in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, (although the original idea is attributed to philosopher Seneca around 50 BC). So, how does that relate to goals for horsewomen? You’ve got to know what you want to achieve. In the case of the stallion above, my goal for him was to have him relax his back and trust the contact. I couldn’t do anything with his training until we achieved that objective. So, I started there.
My second step was to establish exactly where we were starting. If I rode him on a loose rein and didn’t attempt to pick up contact, he was calm. He responded well to aids from my legs and seat, and would half-halt nicely just without any rein contact. That was good, but as soon as I picked up the reins, he would get tense and start to duck his head back against his chest. So, my starting point with him was that he was responsive to seat and leg, but the whole idea of contact really freaked him out.
My third step was to reverse engineer the journey that would take him from very tense and tight to relaxed and trusting. I worked backward from my goal and brainstormed some ideas to use as goalposts along the way. I wanted him to seek contact, but before that, he’d have to trust contact. Before he could trust contact, he’d need to trust me, and learn that I wasn’t just going to pull on his face as hard as I could. Before he could trust me, he had to get to know me a bit better. I spend a lot of time on the ground with him. Hand grazing, grooming, a bit of lunging – all of those experiences let him began to see me as someone very unlike the original person who started him. It all began with trust.
If you’re having any training issues with your horse, take a step back and decide what your end goal is. The steps required to help a horse relax his topline may be quite different than if you’re wanting your horse to be more responsive to leg aids. I always ask students if they want to ride in the Olympics, or would they be happy taking relaxing trail rides or entering some local shows. Be crystal clear about your goal will help you attain it that much more quickly and easily.
In the words of the inimitable Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you‘llend up someplace else”, so make sure you know where you’re going!
Until the next time, Love Your Horse, Love Your Life, and Love Yourself!
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.
How To Avoid Letting It All Go To Hell In A Handcart (also known as tracking your progress).
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’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:
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.
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.
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?
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…
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.
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 Communitythis 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