More than Muscle Memory

I am back in the saddle, literally. And damn, it feels great.

It’s been a couple years since I rode horses regularly.  Work, family, my health, finances—ahh, life– all contributed to keeping me out of the barn.

But, I woke too many mornings during this no-horse phase, wishing I was riding. And I kept practicing my two-point position on my bike. Clearly, I wasn’t through with a hobby (an addiction?) I had practiced most of my adult life.

Why is it that some girls never outgrow their love-of-horses-phase-of-life?

After 4 lessons in two weeks, I am in. 100%.

Barn basics quickly came back: brushing, tacking, mounting, handling, riding (walk-trot-canter-low jumps) and yes, a little nerves. As my trainer J says, the muscle memory was still there. And in each lesson, that memory and confidence was a bit stronger. I certainly couldn’t pick up a brand new sport this quickly.

After several visits, I realize it is more than the horses, the lift I get from riding that brought me back. I think I also relished going back to a familiar place for the mental memories I have of the barn, the people, the friends I have made. I feel welcome, like it’s been days since I have been there, not a year.

Resuming riding is also a short reminder of cliché’s—life is short, time goes fast, etc etc.

If there is something you love to do, DO IT. If you want to try something new, make the time now for yourself, your interests, yourself. The joy it might bring is worth it.

The journey continues.

C

Riding High

I really miss riding.  It’s been a month off of most exercise–too busy with work, family, too hot to ride weeks–other than a short bike ride, dog walk, yoga class.

But on my bike, I close my eyes and feel a horse canter between my legs.  I wake in the morning thinking “I wish I could ride today.”  I yearn for the camaraderie of my friends, my trainer pushing me to better, be more, challenge myself.

So today, with the kids back at school, work under control for a moment, I escaped my desk on a gorgeous summer morning for a couple hours to ride.

And how I have missed it.  I didn’t realize until I was back the myriad of things I love about riding:

Greetings with the grooms, the horses, the scent of hay, soft nickers.

  • The Zen feeling of currying Gatsby before tacking up.  I feel myself relax, as I move my arms in repeated circular motion, watching loose hair and dirt escape.
  • The smell of leather, the saddle-bridle-girth in a familiar hold as I carry them from the tack room.
  • A familiar warm up routine in the refurbished outdoor arena, I am enjoying our alone time as we walk and trot through circles and serpentines, move smoothly over poles.
  • Then cantering in both directions, flying-flying-free, smiling.  A gentle pat.
  • Once done, I welcome the sweat streaming down my face, my back.  It’s been a great workout.
  • The routing of lathering up Gatsby, then toweling him off after hosing him off.

I feel lighter as I leave, my spirit lifted.  Tonight, I feel the premature ache of legs not used to this exercise.  I can’t wait to ride again.

I was not going to write about riding today.  But, since the happy endorphins still feel as if they are flowing, I want to capture and try to remember these feelings.

Try it this weekend, to escape a few moments doing something you love.  It will lift you, put a spring in your step. C

Building Core Strengths

Tipping over in tree pose this week, I was again reminded how important core strength is.  Standing, for this yoga move I can place one leg up onto my other inner thigh, but lifting my arms or holding them out to the sides challenges me each time I try it.  I wobble, I rock, I slip.

I need to re-build my abdominal strength (after several months of doctor-required rest) so that I can hold this pose successfully without shaking.  And with a stronger core I will be able to attempt moves that remain in my past.

The same is true for starting to ride horses after a 5-month forced sabbatical.  I warm up longer, re-learn the muscle memory, slowly leave my comfort zone as my body becomes stronger, leaner.

The core.  The center. We all need to keep our cores strong, as positive energy and actions build and emanate from our core.

I think this is also true in our personal and business lives.  Running my own business, I have a set of core strengths, learned from consulting in media firms for almost 15 years.  But as technology has transformed the publishing industry (like most others), my projects have morphed, roles changed, involvement growing in newly developed areas.

While I continue to use the talents developed over the years, I continue to expand my strengths. I have stayed abreast with the industry changes—many coming from social media and new mobile apps—so that I can broaden my work into other industries.

If I don’t keep learning, pushing myself, I become weak, bored, complacent.  And that will not help me or my clients test new arenas, find unexpected successes, as we keep up with changing business times.

Yes, it can be intimidating, sometimes frustrating, building my core strengths—both mental and physical– to reach a new client, to attempt a handstand, to jump a short course.  But by working slowly, patiently, and celebrating the small successes, hopefully all of these will be attainable.  The reach is what keeps life engaging.  C

A Lesson from Maya, while Maya Lessons

“I want the biggest horse,” nine-year old Maya declared as she walked up the mounting ramp.

“This is Shiloh, one of the biggest we are using today,” Susan, the group coordinator replied, as I walked Shiloh by the mounting block/ramp to let Maya climb on.

Maya smiled, shyly pet the Shiloh’s withers, then froze.

“She is too big,” she complained.

“No, she’s perfect,” Susan replied.  “She is super sweet.  Just put your foot in the stirrup, and I will help you over.”

Maya refused, too scared to move.  Susan mounted Shiloh herself, to show Maya how her how Shiloh would simply stand in place until I led her away.

“No, I’m not getting on,” Maya stubbornly explained.

“Why don’t you walk with her, then maybe decide,” Susan reasoned.  There were several other girl scouts to get onto horses, so we could begin our riding.

“OK,” Maya answered as she walked back down the ramp, while I moved Shiloh away from the mounting block.

This occurred last weekend while I was leading horses at Equestrian Connection with kids without special needs there—since EC was hosting a girl scout troop—and it was quite different from what I usually did.

In the middle of the arena, I showed Maya how to hold  the lead rope.   We walked a little bit around the arena,  then we stopped and I had her pet Shiloh’s soft black neck.

Susan walked over to us once the other girls were mounted, and we showed Maya how Shiloh liked to nuzzle her palm. Once Maya pet her soft nose, she sighed and agreed to get on Shiloh again.

We walked back to the mounting block, and with only a slight hesitation Maya climbed onto Shiloh’s back.  We walked slowly around the arena, me holding onto the lead rope  and Megan and Kelsey side walking on either side of Shiloh.  Maya was

We were amazed as this tiny girl’s transformation.  Maya had never been on a horse.  Maya initially refused to mount Shiloh.  Maya changed from physically tense to enjoying the exercises and games with the groups.

While standing, Maya closed her eyes and placed her hands on her head.  While walking, Maya stood up and hit the hanging balls, first with the left hand than the right.  She finally held onto the reins, helping to steer Shiloh over the obstacle course.  She played the hanging baseball game, throwing stuffed animals into the open holes, and played red light-green-light, directing us when to stop-go-and even stand-up on Shiloh’s back.

Thanks Maya, for reminding me that we can reach beyond the limitations we set upon ourselves.  We can stretch our bodies, our minds, and enjoy.  It will be worth it.  C

A Horse is a Horse is a Teacher of Course

A thought-provoking question was posted on the social networking site LinkedIn, for one of my member groups that reaches horse lovers in the business world.  A member asked what skill or trait has been improved on through interaction with horses. That gave me pause. Leading, touching, tacking, riding, watching, loving, jumping, healing, cleaning, listening to horses has taught me so much over the past twenty years that I have been riding.

I have learned to be aware of my surroundings, as even docile horses can be unpredictable, spook at air.  I am more humble; as my trainer Jeannine says “you can be a hero one day, a zero the next” as one excellent round on a course can have you eating dirt the next day.  I know–I have several now-healed broken bones to prove it.

I have experienced the exhilaration of jumping (for me) a perfect line of jumps or an entire course.  And after a hard ride or unexpected fall, sometimes I am ecstatic with simply galloping.  Patience, patience getting the muscles and confidence back.

I have learned that there is always something new to learn, to test, to practice, to challenge.  I have learned that these magnificent animals take a lot of time, of heart, of money to care for.  I have learned that equines have varying temperaments, personalities, physical beauty, abilities, riding styles–and we don’t all like the same horses–just as we don’t all like the same people. Yet they capture our souls.

I have learned that cross training really does help.  I have written before that yoga has improved my riding, my confidence, my center, dramatically.

One of the most valuable things that horses have taught me personally is to live in the moment.  Trying to squeeze 90-120 minutes into several days a week with work, family, errands, and other obligations can be a challenge.  I used to sometimes rush through the motions of tacking up, a quick ride with scattered thoughts, finish, leave. Not satisfying for me or the horse, I came to realize, still stressed after riding.

I slowly learned to live in the moment, to savor all my time at the barn.  Grooming gives me time to check out the entire animal, then make sure my tack is on properly, then warm up and ride, cool down, post-ride grooming, and carefully cleaning the tack.

I try to leave my stress on the street. Focusing on the task in front of me is far more enjoyable than a whirlwind of each motion, it is safer being aware of my animal and others around me, and I think that  the horse is simply calmer without nervous, hurried energy.  I have tried to carry this into other parts of my life, focusing on what is in front of me, and I think it is more satisfying, fulfilling.

My riding friends, I wonder what you have learned from horses. and what we will learn tomorrow. C

Release the Horses and Hounds!

Summer gently switching to autumn, yesterday was the perfect day to test out my new camera lens at the Dunham Woods Horse Show.  Hard work, learning this new toy, but what fun I had practicing.  There were so many different events, horses and riders to shoot–here are a few shots. C

The Approach
Nikki & Polisca
Hunt Team circle
Hunt Team Trio
Release the Hounds!
Hounds and Horses

The Stretch

Doing unsupported headstands in my 40’s?  Backbends? Trying again and again  unsuccessfully to do a handstand with no wall support (another day).

Riding horses, what to work on today stuck in an indoor arena all winter? Practice something different each ride–curves and straight movements, lateral maneuvers, tempo of the ride.

Trying to challenge the limitations we put on our capabilities can be daunting, but each stretch brings a reward of the mental, the physical.  Sometimes we move too fast, too dangerous, and we back up slowly, start anew,  but  slowly move back to starting position, then ahead–testing, convincing, reminding us that life is a journey yet completed.

It is what keeps us young, life vibrant, talk and actions interesting.  And as we move from working within our spirits to the larger community outside, our souls soar.  Try something new today.  Tomorrow.  C