Newbie Horse Rider

Blog for new adult horse riders

Month: February 2017

Part II Interview With Melinda Folse: Rediscovering Horses in Midlife

Melinda Folse and her horses, Trace and Rio.

Like many adult riders, Melinda Folse rediscovered her passion for horses at the age of 45.  As a child who rode horses with fearless abandon, returning to horses in her 40’s presented a new set of fears and challenges.  Melinda quickly discovered that these challenges present new opportunities to learn more about yourself as well your horse.  This is the beauty of connecting with horses at midlife.  In Part II of my interview with author Melinda Folse, we talk about the struggles and the rewards of rediscovering horses in our middle years.

Melinda Folse

Please tell us about your horses.

I have two geldings, Trace and Rio, who are truly a perfect combo of personality, temperament, challenge and reward for me. I have a friend who told me Trace is my “soul horse” and Rio is my “personality horse. “ I don’t disagree, but I’m still exploring what that means! Trace is actually the impetus for the content of my first book—it was the struggles I had with him that caused all this research, because as a nonfiction writer that’s what I know to do when I want to know more about something! And I found so much information that was helpful to me and I thought would be helpful to other struggling midlife riders that I couldn’t not share it! I’ve learned more about connection, authenticity, and how horses mirror what’s going on inside you.  With Trace, he’s my best retreat horse. Rio, on the other hand, brings out my playful, willful, physical side. He’s a challenge physically whereas Trace is more of a mental and emotional “growth opportunity.”

How has age changed your approach to riding?

I’m not nearly as driven or bound to a schedule. I feel freer to just enjoy my horses — and sometimes that’s in the saddle, sometimes that’s on the ground, and sometimes that means I’m sitting on an overturned bucket with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, just being with them and watching them eat. In the saddle, and especially after working up the content for Riding through Thick and Thin (especially after interviewing Wendy Murdoch and immersing in all her wonderful DVDs), I’m able to feel things more. I’m much more mindful—of my own body and breathing, (thanks to the wonderful breathing imagery and explanations of Daniel Stewart and Mary Wanless) and what’s going on with my own body — as well as increased awareness of what my horse’s body is doing. This helps me relax a whole lot more, be less afraid, and enjoy the ride — even when I’m trying to learn something new!

I am a huge fan of your book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses.  This book gave me the encouragement to follow my dream of riding at midlife.  Why do you think so many women are suddenly following their dream of riding and horse ownership in their middle years?

It’s a combination of things really. In the book proposal I remember saying something like “about the time the kids are finally out of the house — and sometimes the husband is, too” — whole and half generations of baby boomer women looked around and remembered . . . horses. Whether they had a horse growing up, wanted one and never got one, or always had this curiosity and love in the abstract, the availability of time and disposable income suddenly makes pursuit of this dream doable — and they are doing it in droves! Just like the middle age male icon of the shiny new mustang, their female counterparts began getting shiny mustangs of their own (sometimes literally!) And the passion, commitment and joy these women find in this journey quite literally gives them a new lease on life — watching this over and over, I began using the tagline, This is your life, Part II — with more horsepower!

Many women have said to me, “I’d love to learn how to ride, but I’m too old.” What would be your response to this?

If you’re otherwise healthy enough, give it a try. Just be smart. Choose the right horse, take some lessons, don’t take anything for granted and embrace the learning that goes along with this journey. If you take the time to learn how to be as safe as possible, and you build your skills slowly and quite literally from the ground up, you’re going to have fun like you’ve never had — and learn more about yourself than you ever knew.

I understand that you worked with Clinton Anderson for many years. How has he influenced your approach to riding at midlife?

The beautiful gift that Clinton has is breaking down even some of the most difficult things to learn with a horse into doable pieces, and building those skills up in a way that helps people achieve more with their horses than they ever could have without some of these techniques and, as he calls it, The Method. Clinton is brilliant at training horses, but even more brilliant at training people. I loved every minute of getting to work with him and learned so much about horses and people! He has empowered countless numbers of these midlife women to live their dreams and to learn more than they ever might have. I watched this happen first hand in the clinics and tours I attended as part of his staff, and it was fascinating to watch his audiences absorb, then try, then learn what he taught them. It’s been a game changer for a lot of midlife riders, both men and women!

Books by Melinda Folse:

The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses:  Finding Meaning, Magic and Mastery in the Second Half of Life

Riding Through Thick & Thin:  Make Peace with Your Body and Banish Self-Doubt, In and Out of the Saddle

Clinton Anderson:  Lessons Well Learned – Why My Method Works, by Clinton Anderson and Melinda Folse

Grandmaster, by Melinda Folse and Won Chik Park

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Part I Interview with Melinda Folse: Helping Women Find Peace in the Saddle

Melinda Folse

Melinda Folse is many things: author, editor, consultant, equestrian, mother, and friend.  Add to her list of achievements mentor, particularly to middle-aged women who long for that special connection with horses.  To this latter group Melinda provides the kind of reassurance of a close friend, telling them the words of affirmation that they need to hear.  It is in this role that I first became acquainted with Melinda when I picked up her book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses.  My first introduction had me hooked; here was a woman I could relate to, one who could help me find meaning in the second half of life.  Her articulate writing and compassionate nature has inspired countless numbers of women like myself who seek affirmation that it is possible to follow your dreams after 40.  Melinda’s honesty about her own struggles with self-doubt and body image make her a woman we can all relate to.  Last week I was fortunate to speak with Melinda about her latest book, Riding Through Thick & Thin, and the path that led her back to horses at mid-life.

Since reading  Riding Through Thick & Thin I find myself returning to the book for guidance and reassurance.  It is such an important topic, and one that will relate to women of almost any age.  What was your inspiration for writing Riding Through Thick & Thin?

It started with a call from my publisher asking me what I thought of the topic. As we talked and they told me their ideas—about all the mythology that surrounds riding horses at heavier weights—I was intrigued.  I began reflecting on my own personal battle with body concept — not so much actual weight as the perception I had growing up of being larger than I actually was. Looking back now at pictures and remembering how I tortured myself because I always weighed more than other girls my age, I wanted to know more about BOTH sides of that struggle. And finally, it was a long conversation with Jill Valle, a therapist who specializes in body image, that led me down the mindfulness road and sort of shaped the concept — and eventually the content— of this book into the journey we’re all on at one time or another.

What message do you hope women will walk away with after reading your book?

That we have to learn how to love and respect the body we’ve been given, go with our strengths, do what we can to mitigate our own personal challenges, and keep learning how to engage both mind and heart — and ride on!

You mention in your book that you have a daughter.  How difficult is it to raise a daughter in today’s appearance obsessed culture?  Have you encouraged her to use some of the strategies in your book when she starts to question herself?

Yes! I actually have two daughters, 13 years apart. And I can tell you that there’s a world of difference in how I mothered each of them around this topic. To my older one, who has always had a perfect figure, I said nothing about this struggle, but she watched me go on diet after diet— fighting off that same 20 pounds over and over again— and unfortunately picked up some of my negative body image habits, and she is still fighting that fight on her own battleground today. Aaaack! Mother Guilt! For the second one, I knew more and I did better, but my lingering issues probably still rubbed off a little bit, but I can say she is much more accepting of her body and aware of how damaging “fat shaming” is to a person’s self concept, regardless of actual size or BMI. She went to a private school and witnessed first hand all kinds of unhealthy behaviors, but the awareness that is now so much more common really helps today’s daughters, I think, to at least intellectually understand the harm we can do to ourselves.

Melinda, you mention in the book that you are a huge fan of martial arts.  How do you feel that martial arts can benefit riders, especially those starting out later in life?

Oh goodness, how much time do you have? There are so many parallels between martial arts and riding horses—both from the physical standpoint of balance and biomechanics, and in mental stillness, focus and use of energy to achieve lightness — whether you actually are light or not! I’m a huge fan of Mark Rashid, a clinician who is also a black belt, and draws these parallels very well. Would love to study more of his work and strengthen this connection even more. Also, the conditioning you do for martial arts serves you well in the saddle—flexibility, strength, and stamina — that holy trinity of fitness I refer to in both both my books.

Stay tuned for Part II of my conversation with Melinda Folse.

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Product Review: Winter Riding Pants by Tolt Equestrian Wear

Image result for Tolt Equestrian Wear logo

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, I have found a new love.  This new love comes in the form of a pair of riding pants that I recently purchased from Tolt Equestrian Wear.  These pants are so incredibly stupendous that I just have to share them with the world, or at least my collection of readers.  But seriously, these pants are a total game changer for me, and I’ll tell you why.

Tolt Equestrian Wear Winter Cargo Boot Cut Riding Pants

As you know, I kinda have a beef with the equine fashion industry that makes little effort to recognize the fact that approximately 75% of the 9.2 million domesticated horses in the United States are owned by women over the age of forty (Clinton Anderson; The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, by Melinda Folse).  The vast majority of riding wear on the market today is made to fit the bodies of girls/women under the age of 30.  Luckily, Amy Eavou is here to challenge the status quo and maybe even lead a revolution in women’s equine fashion.

Me, modeling my new Tolt riding pants.

Ok, so maybe it’s not a revolution, but my discovery of Tolt Equestrian Wear’s boot cut riding pants did wonders for my self-esteem.  The owner of Tolt Equestrian Wear, Amy Eavou, purchased Fuzzy Logic Equine and its patterns in 2013.  Since that time she has taken a successful product and made it even better.  Eavou, who is in her 40’s, knows how frustrating it can be to find comfortable and flattering riding pants if you’re over ‘a certain age’.  As she explains on her website, these riding pants are made with real women’s bodies in mind – ” The majority of us have curves; we need to have pants cut with that in mind.  We want a little room, but not so much that it interferes with our comfort.”

And there is plenty of comfort.  These winter riding pants are made from a technical stretch fabric that keeps you warm and dry.  All Tolt Equestrian Wear is made in Michigan, so they know a thing or two about bad weather.  The pants are designed with a higher rise in the back (hallelujah!) and a mid-rise in the front.  The waist band does not roll and provides a nice amount of support without being tight.  The double stitching along the flat seams ensures that the pants will hold up even during the toughest rides.

Flat seam construction

The first day I rode in my new Tolt pants the temperature was in the mid-twenties and, since I’m a wimp, I decided to layer a pair of leggings underneath.  The leggings fit beautifully underneath the pants without feeling at all bulky.  I was so comfortable during my ride that I was able to focus more on my riding and not on my clothing.  These pants were so incredibly comfortable that I kept them on to take the dog for a walk after visiting the barn.  The second time I rode in them the temperature was hovering around 28 degrees F.  This time I decided to forgo the extra layer and ride just in the pants.  Much to my surprise, I remained warm the entire time and realized that I really wouldn’t need to add an extra layer unless it dipped down to the teens.

These pants come in two styles: with the cargo pocket or without.  The pocket is a wonderful addition.  It is large enough to fit your iPhone, or anything else you may need on your ride, without adding bulk.  The pants can also be ordered without the knee patch if you’re looking for a comfortable pair of technical pants for other athletic pursuits.

Cargo Pocket

I have been on the hunt for a comfortable pair of boot cut riding pants for a very long time.  There have been a couple of other brands that I’ve tried over the years, but none have come close to the comfort of the Tolt riding pant.  As a Western rider, it is nice to have an alternative to jeans especially, in the cold winter months.  Any fashionista will tell you that the boot cut silhouette is one of the most flattering, as it draws the eye downward and elongates the legs.  For riders of English disciplines, the Tolt riding pants would fit nicely over a pair of paddock boots, and tuck in nicely to a pair of tall field boots.

If you’re looking ahead to spring, or lucky enough to live in a warmer climate, Tolt Equestrian Wear also makes mid-season and summer weight riding pants.  These pants are available in a variety of sizes and lengths.  If you don’t see what you’re looking for, call Amy.  She is happy to help you with a semi-custom order at no additional charge.  Give them a try – I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

If you know of another brand of riding clothes that would fit the demographic of our readership, let us know!

 

 

 

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Dear Equine Fashion Industry…

I used to love shopping for clothes.  That is, until I hit my mid forties.  It was around this time that I started to zero in on what was actually being sold by the women’s fashion industry: youth.  Perusing catalogs produced by almost every women’s clothing store uncovers a promise to be forever young.  It is not simply the style of clothing, it is also the models wearing the clothing.  This trend baffles me since the number of women in the U.S. in the 35-65 age group is increasing.  Why then are retailers not trying harder to target this marketable age group?  As a woman in her late 40’s, I do not feel tempted to buy clothing that is advertised on skinny models half my age.  I also want to find clothing that is designed with a woman’s (not a girl’s) body in mind.

What not to wear

Unfortunately, the equine fashion industry has also fallen victim to this trend.  When I peruse the catalogs from Dover Saddlery and SmartPak, I see endless breeches and other riding apparel clearly designed to fit a youthful figure.  This doesn’t make me want to put down my hard earned money.  No matter how fit and thin you are, an older body (especially one that’s had children) does not look like a young one.  Do these equine clothing manufacturers really expect me to buy the same breeches worn by my fourteen year old daughter?  Clearly they do.   I wondered what would happen if I confronted one of the equine industry’s largest retailers about this issue.  So, I gave  SmartPak a call.  As always, I spoke with a very sweet young customer assistant and inquired as to what winter breeches she would recommend to someone my age.  I told her nothing of my height or weight, and waited to see what she recommended.  After a very pregnant pause, she suggested that I take a look at two breeches – the Therminator by Kerrits, and the FITS Wind Pro Full Seat breech.

Kerrits Therminator Breech

While the Kerris Therminator looks nice on the above figure, somehow I don’t think it would look this way on me.  To be fair, I haven’t actually tried these on, but my first impression was: not-a-chance.  The material on these breeches doesn’t look particularly hearty, and I’m not crazy about the zippered front;  I prefer a pull-on pant which makes layering easier.  My search for reviews uncovered a few unfavorable ones.  Most reviewers commented that the breeches were not particularly warm.  One reviewer said that the front snap came off the first time she rode in them.  I do have a pair of Kerrits winter riding pants, which I love.  My Kerrits are a few years old – I think they are an older version of the Sit Tight N Warm Pocket Full Seat.  I adore these for riding in the frigid winter months in Central NY;  they pull on, and are made of a lovely thick material (very good at hiding imperfections) with a warm fleece lining.  In my opinion, the full seat is not the most flattering, but if you go with a darker breech color then the full seat is barely noticeable.

Kerrits Sit Tight N Warm Pocket Fullseat

Next I decided to look at the FITS Wind Pro Full Seat breech.  The first thing I did was look at the reviews on SmartPak’s website.  While reviewers agree that these breeches are warm, most feel that they are cut too slim, requiring one to go up a size (or two).  This alone scares me away from wanting to try them on.  These breeches are pull-on and have a mid rise in the waist.  The full seat is made from a gripping silicone which is less visible than a standard full seat.

FITS Wind Pro Full Seat

Feeling confident in the saddle starts with feeling good about what you put on your body.  Manufacturers of equine clothing need to respond to the increasing numbers of mid-aged riders by making clothing that meets the needs of this booming demographic.  Until this time, lets try and make shopping a little easier on all of us.  I am on a mission to find the most flattering riding clothes for women who ride well into their golden years.  Stay tuned to learn about an entrepreneur who is seeking to change the way we feel about the pants we ride in.

 

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Independent Seat: 4 Lunging Exercises to Get You Started

If only Fergus’ tiny rider had worked a little harder on developing her independent seat maybe she would have stayed on.  Maybe…

Hopefully you had a chance to try some stretching and core exercises that I discussed in my last post.  As a newbie horse rider, it is so important to incorporate both stretching and core work into your weekly routine.  This is not something that has to be done every day, though ultimately three days a week will yield big results in a rather short amount of time.

Achieving an independent seat is possible at any age.

I’ve been told that the best way to achieve an independent seat is to ride bareback because it forces the rider to remain balanced and move with the horse in order to stay on.  My daughter, who is now 14, rode bareback almost every day for about two years and consequently rides with a beautiful seat.  However, if you are an older newbie like myself, riding bareback is not an attractive option.  I have ridden bareback, but was never confident enough to move past the trot.  Not to worry.  There are plenty of other exercises that can be done on a lunge line with or without a saddle that will yield the same results.

Lunging is a perfect way to develop an independent seat.

You may be rolling your eyes right now at the prospect of riding on a lunge line.  I will be the first to admit that when my instructor suggested that I ride on a lunge line I felt somewhat embarrassed.  Wasn’t that how five year old kids learned to ride?  However, once I got over my initial fear of looking ridiculous, I realized the many benefits of the lunge line.  With my instructor holding the line, I was able to completely focus on my body without having to worry about where the horse was going.  If you are taking regular lessons, talk with your instructor about these exercises.

  1. Find your proper positioning.  Imagine that you are standing on the ground with feet level and knees slightly bent.  Sit up straight, but do not arch your back.  Try and picture an imaginary string pulling you upward.  (I find it helpful to engage my core which forces me to sit up taller.)  Your position should be such that your ears, shoulders, hips, and heels are aligned.
  2. Keeping your position, close your eyes and just walk.  Remember, your horse is on a lunge line so you don’t have to see where you’re going.  If you can, hold onto the pummel of the saddle so you’re not tempted to pull on the reins.  As you walk, take deep breathes in through your mouth and let the air out slowly through your nose.  Feel the horse as he moves underneath you.  Listen for his foot falls and see if you can picture in your mind which legs are moving forward and when.
  3. With your eyes open,  keep your arms out straight from your sides and at shoulder height.  Move your arms in small circles, and  then large circles.  Now circle them in the other direction, again making small and then large circles.  Now, alternating hands put one hand on top of your helmet for a few seconds while the other arm remains outstretched at your side.   The purpose of these exercises is to help isolate the movement of the shoulders from that of the hips.  The end goal is to have hips that move freely with the horse while arms/hands remain independent.
  4. Using your right hand reach out and touch the horse’s poll, and now do the same thing with the left.  Each time you reach out try and do so without changing the position of your seat and legs.  It is difficult, very difficult.  Turn it into a game and have your instructor (or whoever is holding onto the lunge line) call out points on the horse for you to reach out to while holding onto your position.

If you don’t have an instructor and are working on your own, I recommend that you look into purchasing training videos from www.equestriancoach.com.  This site has some marvelous training videos available from top riding coaches from around the world.  If you know of some other exercises for achieving an independent seat please share them in the comments section.  I always love hearing from my readers!

 

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