Newbie Horse Rider

Blog for new adult horse riders

The Horse Lovers Guide to Making Friends

Have you ever had this happen to you?  After meeting someone for the first time you casually mention that you own or ride horses. Suddenly, you become keenly aware of the contorted expression that has spread across the face of your new acquaintance:

You do what??

I get this look a lot, which probably explains why I don’t have a lot of non-horsey friends.  Of course I also get this look from some of my own family members.  My daughter also experiences this in school which can make a teenager feel somewhat isolated at times.  Why is it so difficult for people to understand the passion that comes with loving horses?

The reaction that I get from people when I express my love of horses usually determines whether or not a friendship has any hope of survival.  This is not a bad thing, because who has time for insincere friendships?  My husband doesn’t ride (or at least not very often), but he understands and supports my passion and frequently comes out to the barn with me.  The horses love to see him since he usually has a bag of carrots in tow.  He understands that I would rather go on a trail ride than shop at the mall; I don’t want to go to a party if it interferes with my riding lesson; I don’t care if my car is always covered with muck from the barn and smells like horse manure. Unfortunately, few of my other non-horse friends understand this about me.  So how does a horsey-loving gal make friends outside the barn?

My husband on his second ever trail ride

My suggestion is to bring a friend who doesn’t understand your compulsive need to be around horses out to the barn.  Introduce them to some horses; let them brush one and show them how to safely give treats to a horse.  Make sure that the horse you use for this introduction is friendly.  If your friend looses a finger while feeding a carrot you’ll probably never hear from them again.  The point is to show your non-horse friend how peaceful it can be to interact with horses, out of the saddle.

If the trip to the barn goes well, take them on a trail ride.  There are many places that specialize in trail riding for non-riders.  This is a safe way to introduce your friend to the sport.  Many people underestimate how relaxing a trail ride can be – meandering down wooded trails on a hot summer day.  Hopefully the ride will clue your friend into the spiritual connection that forms between horse and rider, even on an hour long trail ride.  We did this when my husband’s family came out to visit us in Texas.  My daughter and I had recently bought our first horse, and many members of the family seemed to feel that we had lost our minds.  By taking them on a relaxing trail ride they gained a better understanding of our passion.

Taking the family on a trail ride in Texas

Another way to introduce non-horsey friends to equestrian sports is to take them to a horse show.  Summer is horse show season and there are plenty of shows going on across the country.  (Check out usef.org for a list of events taking place across the country.)  Taking in a horse show with a friend can be a wonderful way to introduce them to a variety of equestrian sports.  Whether you watch dressage, jumping, or go to a rodeo, there is a lot to learn about the physical strength and mental concentration required to be a top notch equestrian.

Have any other suggestions about how we can build friendships with non-horse people?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

 

 

 

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Fabulous 50

 

Napa Valley, CA

For over a year I dreaded the day that was fast approaching:  my 50th birthday.  Thanks to my wonderful husband, the half century mark blew in like a lamb as we spent the day on route to San Francisco.  Having turned 50 last year, his words of wisdom rang true: the prospect of turning 50 is far worse than the actual event.  Most people get stressed out over at least one birthday.  For some it is 30, for others 40, but for me it was 50.  Having moved past this milestone has allowed me to reflect on why I was so stressed about it.  After all, it’s just a number.  The funny thing is, I’ve decided that I actually LIKE being 50!  So, for all of you who are stressed about getting older, let me share a few words of wisdom.

  1. Look forward, not back.  Sure, you’ve done some awesome things in the past.  Feel free to recall those fond memories, but don’t dwell on them.  Instead, look forward and think about all the stuff you’d like to accomplish in your next 50 years. Spend some time planning how you’d like to live the second half of your life.
  2. Being young is so over rated!  Ok, so maybe I had more energy 15 years ago than I have now.  So what?  I use that as a terrific excuse to curl up with a good book on a Sunday afternoon, something I would never have had time for when I was 35.  When I was younger I was constantly on the go: full time teaching job, kids, graduate school, etc…  Sometimes I look back and wonder how on earth I did all that without loosing my mind.
  3. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a little more money to spend on yourself when you’re 50.  When my husband and I were first married we would sometimes have to look around the apartment for loose coins just to put gas in the car.  While we do have three kids to put through college, at least we can fill up our gas tanks and take an occasional trip.
  4. Embrace who you are, inside and out.  When I was young, I didn’t always like what I saw in the mirror.  Why did I have to have curly red hair when all the beautiful people had straight blonde or brown hair?  I hated my freckles, my rear end, my height… As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to not only accept the way I look, but embrace it.  Now the things that I used to despise about my physical appearance are the things I love the most.  They are what set me apart and make me, me.  Hopefully I’ve passed this message onto my teenage daughter.
  5. Age gracefully.  There is nothing wrong with having lines on your face, or gray hair.  Our society has an obsession with youth and has brainwashed us into believing that we should look 30 forever.  Why???  I don’t want to look 30.  I’m not 30.  I like the lines on my face because they are a road map of all that I’ve done in my life.  I’ve earned every single wrinkle and every gray hair.  Of course I believe that we should take of ourselves as we age, but we shouldn’t have to hack up our bodies and inject toxic substances into our faces just to feel accepted.
  6. Wake up every day feeling grateful for this wonderful experience called life.  How fortunate I am to have this opportunity to turn 50 when so many poor souls never get the chance.  I try to find beauty in the most simple of things, and laugh as much as I can (which probably explains the wrinkles around my eyes…).

Now go out and enjoy your age!  And remember, your horse doesn’t care how old you are or what you look like as long as you show up at the barn with carrots.

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The Newbie Horse Rider at Large

The beautiful view from our room in California wine country

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,…”   Charles Dickens could always find the right words to sum up any situation, such as my life over these past few weeks.  It started with what I thought was a stomach bug, followed by a whirlwind vacation with my husband to San Francisco and Napa Valley (now thinking that perhaps drinking numerous pints of beer and eating copious amounts of bread wasn’t such a great idea), stomach issues continued, then the horse show (more to come on that in a second), stomach still not right, out to Dallas to see my mother and father, stomach still in turmoil.  On the bright side my mother is doing well, on the downside my body seems to have developed an aversion to all sorts of things, most of them yummy.  Ugh!  Getting older can be rough on the spirit.

For the time being I am home and excited to share all the gory details of my second horse show – ever!  Unfortunately, my travel situation did not set me up for success in this past show.  I arrived home from California Wednesday night and by Thursday afternoon was riding Austin around the show ring.  I had been counting on practicing in the arena before the show, but my plane got in too late on Wednesday to allow for this.  There are many experienced show people who would not be at all fazed by such a situation, but I am not one of them. Showing up to the fairgrounds feeling exhausted from the trip, not to mention a stomach that was not cooperating, really did not put me in the mood.  I even told my trainer, “I’m not feeling this.  I really don’t feel ready for this, like at all.”  His response?  A coy smile.  That’s his code for, “Yeah, you’re still riding.”  Damn!!  Why can’t I find a trainer who gives into my whining just occasionally?

It felt like I was on Austin for less than a minute before we were ushered into the arena.  There were four of us in the class, and I couldn’t help but notice that the other women seemed far more experienced at showing their horses.  Nevertheless, I did my best to focus on the task at hand and recall every little thing we worked on in our lessons.   Austin was nervous, likely due to the fact that he had a stressed out woman on his back, and kept trying to pull away from the rail.  Despite my best efforts I couldn’t get him to walk straight, and so he moseyed on down the rail as crooked as a drunken sailor.  We got through it, but it wasn’t  pretty.  The surprise was that we actually took third place, not bad considering.  The championship class two days later was much better, even though we took last place.  In that class my goal was simply to ride well and keep Austin relaxed, which he was.  He was so relaxed that he broke momentarily from a jog into a walk at the exact second the judge was looking at us.  After that I knew our place was not going to be stellar, so whenever I felt Austin tense up I’d scratch his neck and he’d relax.  The great thing about showing is that it provides a window into the gaps in your riding and training.  We know what to work on, and already I’m noticing a huge improvement.

My daughter, Emma

My daughter, Emma, had nothing but terrific rides on her horse Matt.  After winning her equitation class, she is now ready to compete at the Morgan show in New England in July.  Well done Emma!

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When Life Gets in the Way

I’ve fallen way, way behind in my blogging due to circumstances that I will explain.  First and foremost, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer a few weeks ago.  This has consumed my attention and made it very difficult to concentrate on anything else.  As with most women who receive a similar diagnosis, it came out of nowhere.  I guess that is life.  We go on, day in and day out, attending to the minutia of everyday life, until we are stopped dead in our tracks.  The plans she was making with my father for summer and beyond have been put on hold.  Now doctor’s visits consume her days, and thoughts of what’s to come haunt her nights.

My mother is in her 70’s, so most people who see this will not be surprised by her diagnosis.  But when you are close to someone, age seems irrelevant.  Life goes by so fast that it is hard for our minds to catch up with the toll that time has taken on our bodies.  In my mind I see her as the young mom from my childhood – always on the move.  Thankfully, she has wonderful doctors and a supportive family who will see her through this.  She is strong and determined.  As a cautionary tale to all women: pay attention to any change, no matter how insignificant.  The only symptom my mother had was itching.  Understandably, my mom thought the itching was simply dry skin, and continued to treat it as such.  Luckily a yearly mammogram caught the tumor before it got any larger.

The Breeders show starts on the 19th, after which I will go to Texas to help my mother.  I would love to keep the blog going.  My goal in starting this was to provide a forum for new adult horse riders, such as myself, to come together and talk about this unique experience.  And so, I am going to reach out to all of you and ask – okay, plead – for guest posts.  This would be a huge help during the weeks when I will be attending to my mother.  Please let me know if you’d be willing to help out.

Ok, hopefully this Does Not happen!

Meanwhile, I continue to gear up for the show which is only two weeks away.  I’ve been riding well, and Austin is looking better than ever. Yet I cannot help but feel nervous.  We rode outside for the first time this season and had a very disappointing ride.  Austin was feeling lazy, and the flies were driving us both crazy!  However, this last Monday made up for the mistakes we made during our previous ride.  We continue to work on staying straight, and moving into canter transitions that are slow and collected.  I can’t help but wonder if pre-show jitters ever go away, or if they are simply part of the experience.  When my nerves get the better of me, I will turn to my tried and true methods of relaxation:  mediation, mindfulness, and positive imagery.  I have found this last one to be extremely effective.  Simply closing my eyes and picturing my ideal ride, does wonders.

I will keep you up-to-date on my progress as we get closer to the show.  In the meantime, please let me know if you’d be willing to help out with a guest post.  I will be eternally grateful!

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Count Down to Show Season: 4 Weeks

The kids were home from school last week for spring break.  Alas, I’ve fallen behind on my blogging and just about everything else.  I try not to stress too badly because I know that in the near future I will miss all of this – the crazy schedules, the messes, the laundry…  So, for now I enjoy every minute and apologize for my tardiness.

With the Breeders Show quickly approaching, I’ve decided to document my journey toward what will be my second time in the show arena.  I have been trying very hard to stay calm and focused, and also to remind myself that it is my horse the judges are looking at.  Of course how I ride will affect how my horse looks, but I tell myself this as a way to calm my nerves.

For the last two weeks I have been riding without stirrups hoping to perfect my seat and leg position.   This has been tremendously helpful.  In addition to helping me discover muscles I didn’t know I had, it has forced me to use my seat for balance and communication.  I have come a long way in the last eight months, but there are still improvements to be made.  I think everyone can say this.  If there is one thing I’ve learned about riding, you never really stop learning.  The mere fact that I am able to canter comfortably around the arena without my stirrups is alone testament to how far I’ve come.  There is no way I could have done that a year ago.

Last week Austin and I worked on staying straight.  For a long time neither of us were particularly straight.  Now that my riding has improved and I am more centered in the saddle, it is time to work on Austin’s straightness.  Every horse bends naturally to one side over the other.  This is what is commonly known as lateral bending.  In Austin’s case he moves more easily to the right.  Whether a horse moves naturally to the right or the left is dependent on a number of factors, including his spine, muscles, and movement of legs.

Photo Credit: Straightness Training

It is easy to constantly hold a horse in the position you’d like it to go, but doing this will not solve the problem.  My instructor has convinced me that it is much more effective to make a sharp correction, and then go back to straight.  When Austin begins leaning on the right side of the bit, I make a sharp correction by pulling on the left rein so that his head is moved away from the direction he is leaning. When doing this it is important to relax your hands once he straightens out.  It is only by applying pressure and then releasing it when he responds that Austin will learn what is expected of him.  As with training any animal, the key here is consistency and then praise when they respond appropriately on their own.  For more information on keeping your horse straight, I highly recommend that you checkout Straightnesstraining.com which provides valuable insight into the reasons for lateral bend, and is chock-full of helpful tips on how to straighten out your crooked horse.

Does your horse move more easily to one side or another?  How do you straighten out your crooked horse?  Your personal insight could help others.  Please, share your thoughts in the comments section.

Happy Riding!

 

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Countdown to Show Time: 5 Weeks 2 Days

I once read that people are most afraid of things that they have already experienced.  There must be some truth to this because I have become more anxious the closer we move to the start of Show Season.  Notice how I put that in caps.  For many people in the horse world, especially for newbies like myself, Show Season is far more than some vague time marked in on a calendar.  This is why we work tirelessly every week, and every month; why we continue to challenge ourselves mentally and physically until our bodies ache; why we show up for lessons in blinding snow storms and ride in subzero temperatures.  Show Season is a thing – large and looming in the distance that sets the bar for all of our time and effort.

It was about a year and a half ago when my instructor first suggested that I consider showing.  I laughed.  Me?  Show?  Yeah, sure.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was not such a far fetched idea after all.  I had seen enough horse shows to realize that men and women of all ages and abilities show their horses.   I decided to give it a try.  After selling my Paint horse and purchasing a beautiful bay Morgan gelding (Austin), I set out to learn as much as I could about showing  Western Pleasure.

Looking good in silver.

Austin joined the barn in March of 2016 which did not provide much time to prepare for the start of show season in May.  It was decided that my trainer would ride Austin in the first two shows, giving me ample time to watch and learn.  It is truly amazing how much you can learn by simply watching riders in a show.  I tried to catch every single Western Pleasure class that I possibly could.  Transfixed, I would take note of riders’ hand and body position, level of relaxation, confidence, leg cues, everything.  I would try to predict who would come in first, second, third, etc.  By engaging in conversation with other Western riders I  would gauge my level of understanding.  In the evenings I would practice in the arena, learning to feel comfortable riding in a large space while dodging multiple riders.  It was during these sessions that I came to realize the infectious power of self-confidence to influence not only the horse, but observers as well.

By August I was ready.  Or, at least that’s what everyone told me, though I had my doubts.  The weeks leading up to the final show of the the season were spent preparing physically and emotionally.  Shopping for my show outfit provided a pleasant distraction and calmed my nerves.  Trying on my outfit in front of a mirror – chaps, show shirt, boots, and hat – the reality hit me.  Could I really attempt this at my age?  Can an old dog really learn a new trick?

On the day of the show I left plenty of time to get to the show grounds and change into my outfit.  Assisted by kind and experienced show people, I warmed up in a small arena and tried to find that elusive self-confidence that I knew would get me through this.  My heart was pounding and I wondered what Austin was thinking as we practiced a few canter transitions.  A horn blew to announce the start of the class, and we rode in looking focused and confident.  In the end, we had a terrific ride.  It wasn’t perfect; they seldom are.  We rode as a team the best we knew how and won our first blue ribbon.

Our victory lap.

That win put me on a high that has lasted for eight months.  Now begins the countdown to the next show, and I am more nervous than I’d like to be.  I can recall far too easily the fear that gripped me when we entered the practice arena.  When anxiety gets the better of me I will strive to recall the feeling of pride as Austin and I rode our victory lap around the show ring.

 

 

 

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News Roundup: 4 Great Articles to Read This Week

Aging: it’s not for the wimpy.  And while I’m far from ‘old’ I can no longer claim to be young.  Three great articles recently appearing in the New York Times speak to those of us who are stuck in limbo –  this vague space where you are no longer young but not quite old.  All three articles get to the heart of what it takes to approach this time in life with optimism, curiosity, and determination.

Some day I’d like to…  I really should…  Do either of these sentence starters sound familiar to you?  If so, I urge you to read both of these terrific pieces by New York Times contributor Cal Richards.  The Wish List I Made After My Wife Almost Died and How to Turn Your Wishes Into Reality Instead of Regrets speak to the importance taking life by the horns now rather than waiting until it’s too late.  After nearly loosing his wife in a tragic accident, the author became consumed by regret.  His regret stemmed from things he wished he had said and things he wished he had done with his wife but never had.  Luckily, he was given a second chance.  He decided to jot down items that he considered important enough to go on a deathbed wish list.  He then set out on a journey toward living a life without regrets.  As he discovered, taking one small step each day toward your goal can make an insurmountable wish more manageable.  Such reflection is important, as it gives us the opportunity to think about how to live the life we’ve always dreamed of.  I urge you to read these short pieces, and then sit down a make your own list: what things would you wish for if you discovered you had very little time left?

My Wish List

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turning Negative Thinkers Into Positive Ones, by Jane E. Brody, is a must-read for anyone who tends to look at the cup as being half full, or who knows people who look at the world this way.  Of course no one is happy and cheerful all of the time.  But, as Brody discovered, “accumulating ‘micro-moments’ of positivity…can, over time, result in greater over-all well being.”  According to research conducted by Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, our ability to obtain positive emotions from even small everyday activities can boost our overall physical and mental health.  Such micro-moments of positive thinking add up over the course of a day, and help to protect against debilitating stress and depression.  Dr. Fredrickson suggests a number of ways we can incorporate positive emotions into our daily lives, including establishing realistic goals for ourselves and learning something new, both of which can be accomplished through riding!

Don’t be a Debbie Downer

If you’re looking for ways to incorporate more positivity into your daily life, consider tapping into the skills and knowledge of a young mentor.  In Phyllis Korkki’s article, What Could I Possibly Learn From a Mentor Half My Age?  Plenty, the author discovers the benefits of reaching out to a colleague who is half her age but well-versed in social media.  As she explains, many mid-life people are of the opinion that learning is hierarchical; knowledge and guidance should filter down, not up.  Reaching out to someone who is younger may feel awkward at first, but doing so can help to bridge the gap between the generations and expose you to a new set of skills.  As Korkki points out, “Each age group has untapped resources that can benefit others at a different stage in life.”  In the process of learning something new, the author also learns a great deal about the middle-aged brain and how it processes new information.  She discovers that an old dog can learn a new trick – it just may take a little longer.  Maybe I need to share that bit of information with my instructor who is half my age…

Have you read something new and noteworthy lately?  Let us know so we can all benefit!

 

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Confessions of a Feisty Filly

I Woke up this morning with a regret hangover.  I’m sure you know the feeling.  It’s where you wake up clutching your head while your mind flashes back to your less-than-stellar behavior.  And while it would be easier to blame my actions on alcohol, I was stone sober.  Here, let me explain.

My husband likes to affectionately refer to me as his ‘feisty filly’.  While he uses this term as an endearment, it is not necessarily my best quality.  I come from a long line of feisty fillies, on both sides of my family.  My mother’s father was from the Ukraine, and from this kind and gentle man we inherited a passion for life and a fire that wells up whenever we feel frustrated or misunderstood.  From my father’s mother I acquired an impulse toward the dramatic with an Irish temper to match (note the red hair).  Perhaps I can also lay blame to the fact that I was born in May under the sign of the Taurus bull.  Whatever the cause of my inclination toward the dramatic, being a feisty filly often gets me into trouble, especially at a barn where most of the staff and riders can only be described as stoic.

Stoic – that is most definitely not me.  I wear my emotions on my sleeve, as they say.  I’m not difficult to read.  One look at my face will immediately tell you if I’m happy, sad, or ready to rip you a new one.  It is simply not in my nature to hold back, thus the cause of my regret hangover.  I have made great strides in recent months with my horse Austin, and I often feel amazed that I have accomplished so much in a relatively short period of time.  Much of this success is due to my terrific young instructor with whom I have developed a comfortable rapport.  Two months ago the barn hired a lovely young woman who is an enormously gifted rider.  She is sweet and gentle, and most unlike the majority of horse trainers I have met.  It was decided that she would work with me every now and then to help improve my equitation skills.  Fine, no problem.  Except, she has little to no teaching experience, especially with a mid-life feisty filly.  My first lesson with her was fine.  Second one – meh.  By the third lesson I had to swallow the irritation and frustration that I could feel rising up from my belly.  By my forth lesson, yesterday’s lesson, I could no longer suppress my emotions.  Austin was being difficult, and she seemed unable to communicate to me how to get him back in line.  Many of her directions ran counter to what was taught to me by my regular instructor.  Twenty minutes in I felt ready to implode (or break into tears which I eventually did the second I reached my car).  As politely as I could, which on retrospect was not very, I told her that my frustration level had reached its peak and I needed to end the lesson. Grabbing my reins, I stormed back into the barn, muttering and cursing under my breath.  My regular instructor met my gaze as I blew past.  “How’d it go?”  he asked cautiously, sensing my mood.  “Not good,”  was all I could get out.  By that point all I wanted was to get back to my car before I said or did something that would further harm my reputation.

Once home, I poured myself a glass of wine (the best elixir for a feisty filly) and calmly called my trainer.  He understood the cause of my frustration and assured me that the new trainer will improve with time, and I believe that he’s right.  I could have remained quiet and swallowed my feelings until they erupted into gastric ulcers.  But that’s not me.  Although he seems to derive a small amount of amusement from my emotional ‘episodes’, I am fortunate to have an instructor who seems to get me.  Today I will calm down and try to refocus my emotions.  Tomorrow I will hang my head as I do the walk of shame into the same barn that I stormed out of on Monday.

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10 Must See Horse Movies

 

Last week Central New York was hit with a nor’easter that dumped close to three feet of snow in some areas.  While I am not a fan of snow in March, it did provide a wonderful opportunity to curl up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and a steaming mug of hot chocolate.  Deciding which movie to watch was the hard part; there are so many wonderful horse movies to choose from.  I narrowed down the list to my top ten favorites:

Without a doubt, this is my all time favorite horse movie, and for so many reasons.  As a history buff, I love how the movie, based on a true story, shows the devastating effects of The Great Depression on ordinary people.  It also takes us back to a time when horse racing was as popular as football, and going to the races provided a short respite from the travails of ordinary life.  Full of complex emotion, Seabiscuit demonstrates how love, empathy, and forgiveness can be the best antidote for pain and loss.  My all time favorite line comes at the end of the story: “You know, everybody thinks we found this broken-down horse and fixed him, but we didn’t. He fixed us. Every one of us. And I guess in a way we kinda fixed each other too.”

While the book by the same title is arguably better, this 2011 movie is a must-see for horse lovers of all ages.  Set against the backdrop of Europe during WWI, it follows the journey of Joey, a spirited young horse, and his loyal trainer and friend Albert.  Directed by the acclaimed Steven Spielberg, it is worth watching simply for the breathtaking cinematography.

What young girl didn’t dream of flying across an open meadow after watching this classic 1944 film?   Elizabeth Taylor stars as Velvet Brown, a young equestrian who wins a horse in a lottery and attempts to turn him into a champion.  Apparently young Liz did all the impressive riding herself which makes this classic movie even more enthralling to watch.

No blog post about horse movies would be complete without mentioning this well-known story from 2010.  While I admittedly found this movie over acted at times, the story of Secretariat is so marvelous that it needs to be on my list.  Most of the time I watch this movie simply for the incredible racing scenes.

This terrific film is a must-see for every horse lover.  Wild Horse, Wild Ride is a moving documentary about the special people who choose to adopt and train wild Mustangs in just 100 days as part of the annual Extreme Mustang Makeover Challenge.  For the past 10 years this contest, started by the Mustang Heritage Foundation, has worked to promote the beauty, versatility, and trainability of  the American Mustang.  This emotional film chronicles the three month period during which horse and trainer transform from scared strangers to devoted companions.

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This award winning film chronicles a group of Welch villagers who decide to pool their resources and breed a racehorse.  This documentary is one of the finest against-all-odds movies that you will ever see.  Full of colorful characters and one beautiful and determined horse.

Not too much more can be said about this classic 1979 film.  While much of this movie will sound all-too-familiar – the beautiful horse, a boy, an inexperienced trainer, and a big race – it is an epic movie with beautiful cinematography that has stood the test of time.

After a devastating accident, a handsome horse trainer helps a young girl and her horse to heal, physically and emotionally.  It is also a story of forbidden love that develops between the trainer and the girl’s workaholic mother.  This is a great movie to watch on a cold winter’s day – just make sure to have a box of tissues on hand.

This terrific film tells the story of Dan M. “Buck” Brannaman, legendary horse trainer and leading practitioner within the field of natural horsemanship.  This moving story takes you along on Buck’s emotional journey from abused child to equine communicator.  Buck’s difficult childhood allowed him to understand the fear and distrust common among abused horses.  His personal experiences and compassion have enabled him to help thousands of horses and their owners find peace and mutual understanding.

Okay, so this is a movie for the kid in me.  Racing Stripes was one of my horse-crazy daughter’s favorite movies growing up.  Despite the fact that I have probably watched this movie over 100 times, I never grow tired of it.  Like many horse movies, it involves a young girl who longs to race, and her horse trainer father who forbids it.   The fact that the animal in question is a zebra and not a horse puts a unique spin on a familiar tale.

There are other great horse movies that I have yet to watch.  Let me hear from you – what are your favorite horse movies?

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Improve Your Seat With This Quick Fix

“Can you feel both seat bones evenly on the saddle?”  My riding instructor would ask at the start of every lesson.  This predictable question was usually  followed by a declarative statement: “You’re not sitting evenly in the saddle.”  A few minutes later I would be advised to “put more weight in your left stirrup and lower your hip.”  One would think that after hearing these words day after day, month after month that I would get the message and get my fanny to sit evenly in the saddle.  Like most things equestrian related, this was easier said than done.

Then, everything changed (cue violin music).  While glancing through a copy of Horse Illustrated one day in the doctor’s office, I came across this magical sentence: “If you want to sit evenly in the saddle, stop crossing your legs.”  Really?  Could it be that simple?  I know that crossing your legs is bad for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which includes poor circulation, varicose veins, and cellulite.  Nevertheless, I have been a chronic leg crosser for most of my adult life.  I knew this would be a very hard habit to break.  I decided to give it a try, and enlisted the help of my family who were instructed to scold me if they caught me ever crossing my legs.  They say that it takes two solid weeks to break a bad habit, so two weeks of not crossing my legs became my goal.

This was a very hard habit to break, but after one week I started to notice some improvement.  I especially noticed the change when I sat in church on hard wooden pews where I could suddenly FEEL my seat bones!!  So that’s what they feel like! (Hallelujah)  Actually, sitting on a hard surface gave me an opportunity to discover what I should be feeling in my saddle.  After a week and a half my instructor was no long telling me to “put equal weight on both seat bones.”  As a matter of fact, he started to notice my improved seat.  Finally, I felt in control, balanced, communicative.  So this is what it feels like!

Whether there is any hard medical evidence to support my claim that crossing one’s legs is detrimental remains to be seen.  However, my experiment, which understandably only contained a single test subject (me),  has me convinced that crossing the legs is not a wise idea for equestrians.  Repeatedly sitting in this position will eventually shorten your hip flexors and lead to tightness over time.  This tightening will make it more difficult to sit equally on both seat bones in and out of the saddle, not to mention the strain it places on the knees and back.  Some studies have suggested that crossing your legs can even have a negative impact on the heart by raising blood pressure, although this is still being debated.

If you struggle to sit evenly on both seat bones, restrain from crossing your legs for two weeks and see how you feel.  If it improves your seat, let me know!

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