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.



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

The Horse and the Floor

Riding horses–16 years.  Yoga–3 months.

I started doing yoga several months ago to vary my workout routine. While I am now practiced in some of the poses–now knowing the differences between the downward facing dog, monkey, happy baby, child’s, forward and reverse warrior poses and others I can but some I would never attempt to pronounce, I am more flexible, the class flies by (and I HATE gym glasses, always have except for my riding lessons) but I cannot fathom doing yoga without an instructor right now.  I am still a newbie, basically a clueless follower.

A far more skilled rider, during my lesson this week with a new instructor while mine is traveling, there was an instruction of “relax your back” that immediately made me think about how much these two seemingly differing sports are alike.  They are both mind sports, as well as grueling physical sports that use muscles once unknown to me (and are both sports that people question “is that really exercise?”)

To succeed in both, I need to be truly “in the moment” leaving all troubles, issues, work, family out of my mind. I have to think–but clear the mind–to be free.  And it is possible. One small physical change–flexing the feet in yoga-dropping weight to the ankles in riding, walk the fingers to stretch to wide straddle-loosen the fingers on the reins, breathe, can have a huge impact on the experience.  Core strength is critical for success in both, one reason I began yoga. And I feel a sense of peace, of contentment, of completeness when complete with both.

I still don’t get as much endorphin-high after yoga class as I do when I have a great ride–less to conquer, less danger, less adrenaline rush; there are no warm-blooded animals to routinely brush and outfit and clean up after, but I truly enjoy yoga: the search, the poses, the stretching, the camaraderie.  Both sports are centuries old, and I can see why they have endured  for many years as recreational pursuits. C

Not Quittin’ Time Yet

“That’s it.  I am through,” I stated angrily, loosening Gatsby’s girth and riding the stirrups up, a sure sign I was done riding for the day.  “I am tired of not being able to do anything.”

“That’s fine.  Just let me tell you why he was acting up,” my trainer Jeannine replied,  then explained what I was doing wrong for Gatsby to canter in a serpentine down the side of the arena, changing leads unexpectedly.

“What am I thinking?” I said to myself.  “If I leave now, I am through.  And what lesson is that, to give up because it’s been a rough patch?  I am not a quitter.”  So, I started to tighten the girth again and pulled down the stirrups.

“What are you doing?” Jeannine asked, surprised.

“Getting back on, of course.  I’m not leaving like this,” I mumbled.

I remounted Gatsby, trotted around the arena, then broke into a canter, successfully navigating the corners that that earlier thwarted us.  And not a surprise that when I kept my outside arm in as Jeannine suggested, Gatsby cantered smoothly around the corner.

I briefly thought I was finished, but then Jeannine directed my friend Colette and I around a course of strategically poles and then low jumps.  Not as easy as it looked, and what a sense of accomplishment to go from almost quitting and then jumping.

My legs are already sore after an hour of hard riding, but my mind is freer, knowing I completed what I thought I could not and that I made the decision to not stop.  You have to work through the difficult things–easy as they might seem to others–to move ahead.  

And I always say a day on a horse is ALWAYS better than a day on the ground.  C

Unforgiving Surfaces

My horse was careening out of control, galloping down the long side of the arena, and I could NOT figure out how to take my hands off his neck to stop him.  Normally responsive and docile, this was a surprise takeoff, probably brought on by MY reaction to the pony galloping in the pasture and the puppies chasing each other, and the other horses enjoying a spring morn.

As we turned in a circle, I removed my foot from one stirrup and dismounted into the dirt, avoiding flailing hooves and landing on my knees in the dirt.  Bodily not hurt,  my brain angry and frustrated and upset, the tears came.

But which was harder, the sandy red surface or my ego?  After a long chat, I eventually remounted the horse, walked, then trotted slowly around the arena with nary an issue.  Why do we do it?  Why can’t we stop?  Do we have horse blood in our souls?  Or just a portion of their souls in our hearts?

The ego wins, as I will return tomorrow for another ride.  Hopefully under my control, not his.  C

Looking Ahead

“Look up!” my riding teacher said. “Look around the corner, not at the ground.  You already know there isn’t anything under Owen’s feet.”

How eye opening: to realize that when I ride I look a few feet in front of me, but at the dirt– not straight ahead.  It is certainly a different view and a much better ride, watching at the space around me, not just the ground.  It has given me more riding confidence, with me sitting taller and directing us better.

For years I have know that when I walk on my own feet and someone glances at my, I historically look down, perhaps after a smile.  Not anymore.  It’s way harder learning to look up on my two feet than on a horse, but I’m working at it. C

Totally Awesome

Have you ever seen a child who cannot walk help steer a horse through a set of cones?  Have you ever seen a high school senior with such strong disabilities he can only communicate through nods ride a horse with a smile from ear to ear? I volunteer with an wonderful equine therapy organization called Equestrian Connection in Lake Forest, IL and I am thankful and hopeful every time I side walk or lead walk with one of their clients.

 I cannot imagine the freedom that horses grant these children with disabilities.  Some of these people who cannot walk have freedom of movement for their first time ever, as we work them through exercises and games and get them to simply focus.  I work with S.  with Downs syndrome who was once petrified of the horses and could only ride for less than ten minutes, but now she tries to direct each session. There was C. who we tried to slow down his motions and pay attention to our task while working muscles, and S. who once could not communicate verbally now smiles and mumbles a few directives and holda her head up and focus on us and the horse.  The therapist had me tell her mom about the wonderful changes I had seen over a several month span, and she simply cried smiling.

Hippotherapy has given me a great apppreciation for people with all disabilities, their view points in the world, and a profound respect for their caretakers.  Yesterday, one of the most beautiful, charming  4 year old girls I have ever met showed me how she is learning to walk independently with her pony (we usually have our hands on their legs for support).  We walked over some poles on the ground, and she exclaimed “That was awesome!” 

Then, as she stretched her body up and around hitting balls suspended from the ceiling, again she said  “Totally awesome!”

After I was done volunteering, I had a riding lesson at my barn.  I thought about these children, as I was able to carry my tack, groom my horses, walk outside, and as I jumped a new horse my thought was the same as S, “Totally awesome!”  and very lucky indeed. C