Let’s Talk About Weight & Horses

Weight is a touchy subject for women, especially for horsewomen that don’t have a positive body image. How many of us have seen posts on forums asking whether or not a rider is too big for a horse? Far too often, at least in my opinion, multiple responses hold up the 20% golden rule that’s the end all be all of whether or not a rider should ride their horse.

For those that may not be familiar with the 20%, studies have shown that the maximum weight a horse – any horse regardless of build or size – should carry is 20% of their body weight. The studies indicate that when a horse carries more than 20% of their bodyweight, their heart rate increases and their muscles fatigue quicker.

 The average 15 hand horse will run around 1,000 pounds, which means the most weight they should carry is 200 pounds.

I ran Beavis on barrels at 185 pounds.

While this may be a good loose general rule of thumb, the problem is that most of these studies that have been done don’t take into account the differences in genetics, conformation, condition, or rider balance and fitness. In addition, there’s not uniformity in the horses and riders that they’re using to determine these results.

To make matters worse, some shows have even gone so far as to ask heavier riders to dismount based on the 20% rule. My fear is that if this taken to extreme, formal rules will be put into place on a larger scale – pun intended – based on studies that never took into account the individuality of horse and rider.

Using this 20% rule as the end all, be all is like saying people that weigh the same can lift the same amount of weight. Go to a weight lifting competition and you’ll see that’s simply not true. It’s not uncommon for smaller lifters to out-lift someone that weighs more than they do simply because they’re stronger.

Weight is not an indicator of strength or endurance but using this 20% rule as an end all be all makes it exactly that.

As a former trainer and instructor that’s ridden a large number of different breeds of horses, and as a competitor that’s been at every spectrum of the scale, I have a good feel of how weight impacts a horse and I know where the differences lie.

 While a rider’s fitness level does have an impact on how well a rider rides, my opinion is that a rider’s strength and balance are what is important. A rider can be strong and balanced but not necessarily fit according to traditional thinking. A balanced rider that is in time with their horse will have less impact on a horse’s back than a rider that’s fit but doesn’t have the best balance.

A rider’s build can also have an impact on how well they ride. If a rider is top heavy, they’re going to struggle more than a rider that carries more weight in their hips. With more weight up top, the physical impact on the horse’s back is going to be different than weight further down.

The same thing goes for horses and how they’re built. It’s common knowledge that a shorter back is stronger than a longer back. Two horses can weigh the same, but the shorter backed horse will be stronger.

My old horse Bluff weight 1200 pounds but he was also long backed.

Conformation and angles also play a role in a horse’s strength. In the barrel racing world, a horse with shorter cannon bones, a long hip angle, and lower hocks is more desired because they’re stronger making them faster coming off of a barrel.

A horse with a good shoulder angle can carry more weight more efficiently than a horse with an upright shoulder angle. Pair a good shoulder angle with correct angles in the pastern and hocks, and they’re even stronger.

Toad is a tough little horse right at 1,000 pounds.

Differences in the depth of the girth can also impact how well a horse carries weight. A deeper girth area allows for greater lung capacity so their endurance is better.

Conditioning also plays a role in how well a horse carries weight. It’s not only whether or not a horse has been worked, but the type of work they are being asked to do. For instance, a western pleasure show horse or hunter horse may be legged up perfectly to go compete in a class, but they may not be legged up enough to go run a barrel pattern competitively.  They need to be conditioned for the event they’re being asked to do in order to carry weight at an optimum level.

Over the years I’ve ridden several horses that I was either right at or a little over the 20% level. One Paso Arab cross mare that I rode weighed right at 900 pounds – 20% would be 180 pounds. There were several years I rode her weighing 185 and my saddle weighed 25 pounds. That mare carried me without any problem at all. We went on hilly trail rides and at the end of the day she had as much energy as she did at the start.

This Paso Arab mare carried me a lot of years at heavier weights and had no trouble.

I currently have two Quarter Horse geldings that both weigh right at 1,000 pounds. One is barely 14.2 and the other is right at 15 hands. I’ve ridden them both at 200 pounds and they carried me as easily at that weight as they do now, and they never tired any quicker than my black gelding that weighs 1250 pounds and is 16 hands.

1250 pounds and 16 hands, 1000 pounds and 15 hands – they carry me equally!

By the same token, I have had some smaller horses that weighed right at the 1,000 pound mark that I was a lot more careful about riding. I could tell they struggled a little more carrying me. This mare below is one of them. When she was green, could buck me very easily – which she worked out of – but she also tired quicker than my other horses did.

To the riders out there that struggle with a positive body image, don’t get too hung up on the 20% rule that gets spouted everywhere. Instead, take a look at your balance and strength and look at your horse as an individual whole.

Ask yourself these questions –

  • How is your balance and timing?
  • How well does your saddle fit?
  • How is your horse built?
  • Is he short backed or long backed?
  • How is the rest of his conformation and muscle?
  • How well is he conditioned?
  • Does he tire when he’s worked? How long does he have to be worked before he does get tired?
  • Does he wring his head or have any behavioral issues that could be caused by being uncomfortable?

If you still have questions of whether or not you’re too big for a horse, find a professional that is experienced with plus size riders. They’ll not only be able to give you an unbiased opinion, but they’ll be able to help you with issues that can be unique to larger riders and smaller type horses.

Weight is just a number. It’s doesn’t tell the whole story, and it doesn’t tell how well you ride or how well your horse can carry you. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Feeding Your Brain

We’ve all heard the saying, you can’t have a positive life with a negative mind. 

I have found that to be true time and time again. If I focus on the things that scare or worry me, the next thing I know, my over active imagination runs rampant with worse case scenarios.  I’m all worked up and worrying about things that may never happen. Instead of enjoying and living in the moment, my mind is busy elsewhere in turmoil. I’ve wasted time and energy on a realm that doesn’t even exist at that point instead of fully enjoying being alive at that moment. 

How much time have I spent spent in that worry and anxiety? Too much to count — decades — when I should have been counting my blessings right then. 

The last couple of years have been a journey of working on changing my thinking. I really do believe if you want to change your life, change how you think. Start with your mind, the rest will follow. I have seen the proof in my own life.

Interestingly enough, I ran across a recent study that shows complaining (negative mindset) actually re-wires your brain to be susceptive to depression and anxiety. 

Getting a little further out there, epigenetics is the thought that our consciousness changes or regulates our biology. A recent article in Success Magazine delves into this a little further. Because at the base level we’re made of atoms and molecules, and because our brains are constantly re-wiring and are not set, then our bodies react to our thoughts – positive or negative. 

As the old saying goes, junk in junk out. So how do I put the good stuff in? 

For me, faith is my go-to. When I feel lost, when I feel like I have failed miserably, when I need hope, I seek out God a little harder. 

With everything that happened this last year, I stopped going to church for several reasons I won’t go into now except to say that divorce and depression are two areas of ministry that a lot of churches miss. It’s those two times in life when people desperately need the church most. 

Recently I decided to visit Lifesprings Church in my town. The message was actually on tithing, but it talked about setting aside things for God FIRST. That got me to thinking about setting aside time for God first. 

Years ago, I went to a business seminar and the motivational speaker gave one of the most non-business talks I had ever heard. He talked about reading Psalms and Proverbs…..in the BATHROOM! 

It was a talk about filling your mind with positive things, and he said he read his Bible daily and that was his daily habit. He kept his Bible in the bathroom of all places. 

When he explained why, it made perfect sense. Especially after you reach a certain age, where is the one place you go – sometimes in a rush – first thing every morning? Yep, you guessed it, the bathroom. 

The following year, his friend Connie Podesta was the speaker for the same conference. It was then I learned that the speaker the previous year had just received a cancer diagnosis the day I had heard his message and that was the reason for it being such an unusual message for that setting. 

That whole story had such an impact on me that I came back and started reading my Bible in the bathroom. I kept that up for several years, but it was a practice that had lapsed this last year. When I heard the message at Lifespring, I decided it was time to start setting aside my first moments of the day for filling my mind with God’s promises.

I don’t have a lot of room in the camper, so I’ve been reading from my phone first thing in the morning. And yes, in the bathroom because that’s where I go without fail when I get up!

This article by Debbie McDaniel on 33 Verses on fear and anxiety to remind us that God is in control is one of my favorites. 

“But now, this is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1



Another good article is 5 Psalms For People Who Struggle With aAnxiety. 

It only takes a couple of minutes to read a few verses and start my day by filling my brain with something positive. I have to say, since I started back I have had a better mindset. 

Whether you fill your mind with Tony RobbinsJoyce MeyerJoel Osteen or some other self help / motivational speaker, making the effort to focus on positive thoughts will empower and change your life over time. Each day can be a new start. 

What are some of the ways you work on your mindset and your focus? What changes have you seen from that? Are there areas of your thinking you need to improve? What are some ways you can work on your thinking and focus?  

Supporting Those That Struggle

With all the changes this year, it’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog….After getting the farm sold and doing some serious soul-searching, I’ve decided to keep it going if for no other reason than the fact that I’m passionate about horses and being healthy with them – inside and out-  and I enjoy sharing that with other people. It’s therapeutic in that it keeps me going and motivates me as well.

View from halfway up

Earlier this week, I shared some progress pics on the CWC Facebook page that I took during a swim break at the campground we’re staying in. A couple of months back, I purchased a bare piece of property and we have been staying in a fifth wheel camp trailer at a KOA Campground nearby while we slowly build. While most folks would consider that roughing it, one of the big perks is having a nice swimming pool to use!

Camper living

The post talked a bit about not only maintaining my weight loss, but more importantly it talked about my mental well-being. That although there were still some “bad” days, I’m never ever as low as I was before and that faith, changing how I ate, how I think, and having genuine honest supportive people had helped.

 

Not the same person!

I want to talk very candidly about the support part. 

This last year was rough with a lot of loss. Not only did I lose a fourteen year relationship and marriage but I also lost a family that I loved as my own. People think step parents don’t love or don’t grieve, but that’s just simply not true. I also lost friends and my own family through all of this.

In the midst of dealing with depression and a marriage that was falling apart, it was said by family to my ex that I was crazy and that I needed to get back on whatever it was that made me sane, and that I was going through a mid-life crisis. In the immediate throes of a separation argument, and a lowest point, I was told I was so crazy I didn’t know what day it was. (Gaslighting, anyone?) That same argument I was told that all those people who I thought were my friends were laughing at me and pitying me because I thought I was some twenty year old cowgirl. Narcissist and cheater were thrown out there too. Keep in mind this came from two people who said they loved me.

For someone with depression going through that with no support system, no family to turn to, and only a few good friends to confide in, that was an extremely hard time in my life. I don’t know what I would have done without my co-workers, my neighbor, and my best friend and “Superman” Austin Foust. Those were the people who wouldn’t let me forget they were there for me no matter what and I will never forget that as long as I live. God gave me those folks to get me through that dark time. I really believe it.

Any time you go through something like this you reflect on the past and try to figure out what happened, where it went wrong. Sometimes in doing so, things start to make perfect sense. For me, that’s exactly what happened. Only after I gained some distance was I able to clearly see the depth of the lies and their purpose, and the gross years of manipulation that had occurred and what I had let it do to me.

In looking back at comparison pictures, it’s clear to me that this was a downward spiral years in the making. This didn’t happen over night. These are not easy to look at, and most definitely not easy to share.

 

These pictures are close to ten years ago and they speak volumes. Yes, I was heavier but it’s not just about the weight. I was not healthy, physically or mentally either one. I couldn’t see it at the time, but now looking back I definitely can, especially when I look at comparison pictures.

I was exhausted because I wasn’t getting enough sleep (not by my own accord), and my body was riddled with inflammation to the point that I had a place on my face that didn’t heal for over a year. I was miserable and you can see it!

There’s a saying that if you’re struggling and your people are just watching then maybe they’re not you’re people. That’s true. If you’re going through depression and/or health issues and the ones that say they love you are not being proactive to help you get healthy (not supporting you to get healthy!) then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate who your people are and how important your health is and do something about it.

Don’t be afraid to cut ties if that’s what it takes. Sometimes removing yourself from toxic people is the only way to get well if they’re not going to change their behavior. You can only control your behavior, you can’t control theirs.

If you love someone who is struggling with their physical health, and/or their mental health what they need most is your support.

Sometimes people don’t need to hear what you think they should do, or whether or not you think they’re making a mistake. Most often they just need support in the form of listening while they come to terms with what they’re dealing with. They don’t need judgement, they need a place to talk. They also need to know you’re true (and loyal) to them behind their back, not just to their face. They need to know you care by your genuineness.

Aside from mental support, sleep has more impact on health and mental well-being than anything else a person can do. If someone you love isn’t sleeping well, support them by encouraging them to get to bed earlier. Let them know their sleep is a priority to you too so that they don’t feel any pressure to stay up to get things done, or spend time with you. If you’re watching TV, turn the TV down so they can sleep, and make sure  you watch it in another room. Be considerate by being quiet.

If you truly love someone and want the best for them, you don’t want to be an enabler by rewarding them or showing them love with unhealthy food, especially if they have a health condition that’s impacted by food.Don’t set them up for failure by making it harder to eat healthy – They’re already struggling with that. 

Instead of showing you care by bringing home a gallon of ice cream, bring home something healthy that they enjoy. Take the time to find out what that is.

Instead of dangling temptation in front of them by eating that double burger with fries while they eat a salad, you could eat a salad as well. Sometimes when you care about someone, it means sacrificing a little bit yourself. In the end, not only will they benefit, but you will as well because they see your support and you will have had a healthier meal.

It’s true that we’re responsible for ourselves, and our own happiness and we shouldn’t let someone else dictate our happiness. However, if we’re struggling with getting healthy we have to put ourselves in a place of success and part of that success is having support.

If you care about someone who is struggling, what are the most important ways you can support them?

If you’re someone struggling with health issues, what changes can you make to make progress? 

 

 

 

Planning For Your Show Day…

The farm didn’t get the business that was needed to keep it going so I put it back on the market for sale. So, it looks like there will be more changes in store for me this coming year. I like to think of it as Tiny House Living, horse style. Hey, if life gives you lemons you make the best dang lemon marguerita you can possibly make, right?

While change is never easy, I am looking forward to downsizing and having more time and money to focus on my own horses and compete more when things settle down. For years I’ve been a jack of all trades, going and doing so many things. I’d like to narrow my focus, be more selective about where and who I spend my time on, and just see where that leads. While selling the farm is the end of a dream in one sense, it’s freeing and the start of an ultimate dream in another. I’m looking forward to what the year will hold.

NBHA Barrel Race

NBHA Barrel Race

Since I’ve been thinking more about competing and the coming show season, I thought I’d share some tips for showing that I’ve learned first hand, sometimes the hard way, the last few years.

The first tip, and one that I think is probably the most important is in regards to food. Food has an impact on how you think, how you react, how well you focus and yet it’s one of the most under-rated elements of competition.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to help someone not be as nervous about showing and when food is mentioned they say, “Well, I don’t need to eat. I’m too nervous to eat.” People just don’t think it makes that much of a difference but it absolutely can mean the difference between a good run and a poor run. We plan our horse’s nutrition, especially if they’re in a high performance event. Why wouldn’t we do the same thing for ourselves?

Willie Bobby & I at the barrel race

Willie Bobby & I at the barrel race

The effects of food on the body can last longer than we realize. If you’re wanting to eat better for a show day, you’ll want to start at least a couple of days early. This will allow some extra time to get the bad food out of your system, and will allow your body to adjust to the better food.

I always eat turkey an hour to thirty minutes before I compete. The protein fuels my brain and muscles so I can think and react. Turkey is also a natural source of Tryptophan which has a calming effect on the body so it helps with nerves.

I also make sure I eat some source of protein every couple of hours the entire show day. This helps keep my sugar levels regulated so I can think clearly and not get nervous. If I’m the least bit nervous, my horse will feel it and will react, so the more clear my thinking and the calmer I am the better my horse will behave and perform.

Another thing that I do is load up on water a couple of days before a show. It’s easy to not drink enough during the show day. Dehydration can wreak havoc on your mind and your reaction time just like food. The more you load up on water the day before, the less likely you’ll be to get dehydrated if you’re not drinking as much as you should. A hydrated mind is a clear mind.

Because of the sugar levels in sports drinks, I try to drink mostly water. If I must have something besides water, I’ll drink Powerade Zero that has zero sugar. I’m not necessarily a big fan of the chemicals, but it does have some needed electrolytes. You can also carry lemon water, or some of the sugar-free drink flavorings. Just be sure to read the label to know what you’re ingesting.

Barrel racing in January

Barrel racing in January

Sleep is another thing that can really impact your performance in the saddle. Make sure you get at least seven to eight hours of shut-eye the night before. If you know you’re not going to be able to sleep because you’re thinking about showing too much, give yourself a couple of extra hours to allow for tossing and turning.

Another tip is to take some quiet time the day before and the day of your show. Take the time to just be still and think about what you need to do and what is important. Don’t let your head run wild with fear scenarios. Plan your day and your strategy, and remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Connect with your goals.

This year has a lot of uncertainty and changes, but the one thing I can do is control is my own mindset, and how I prepare for when it’s finally time to step in the ring and do what I love to do best. The better mindset I have and the better I set myself up, the better chances I’ll have at enjoying my show day.

When it comes to competing, what are some of your fears? What do you think you do to contribute to those fears? How can you change your routine to lessen your fears? What is your strategy for the coming show year?

bubbashow

Through Thick & Thin

It’s been a while since my last post and I have a LOT to share, so this will wind up being a combination of updates and a wonderful interview with equine writer Melinda Folse.

One encouraging bit of news is that so far through the holidays I have been able to maintain my weight loss, despite splurging quite a bit the weekend of Thanksgiving. This time last year I weighed 208 and so far I’ve managed to stay around 155 pounds.

Updated pic from today & wearing clothes that I used to bust out of! Lol! Scarf courtesy of @rusticnation ! #weightloss

A post shared by F.j. Thomas Author (@f_j_thomas) on

I started the morning off with the first bite of sweets for the first time since March – a piece of cheesecake. Actually, it was several pieces! Then I had chips and dip, followed by several yeast rolls, mashed potatoes, dressing, and of course the usual turkey. I basically filled the whole day with eating things I’ve not eaten since March.

The next day, I went right back to eating the usual protein and veggies. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, I was actually glad to get back to eating healthy. I figure I’ll allow three days a year – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday – to eat all the things I don’t the rest of the year.

Terry "Tab" Bouk win picture from Oklahoma

One of Tab’s winning horses

 

Another bit of news is that I’m in a relationship and Training business partnership with Terry “Tab” Bouk from Oklahoma. Tab was a race horse trainer for several decades breaking, riding, and racing Thoroughbreds, Quarters and Paints. He’s also had extensive experience working with other breeds and disciplines from Reining and barrels, to Eventing and Hunter. We recently decided to start Filson – Bouk Training & Horsemanship in east Tennessee. Not only are we training and giving riding lessons (and possibly doing clinics!), but we’re taking in boarding horses as well. I’m excited to see what the new year holds!

Now on to the interview…

…But honestly friends, once we have a solid assessment about who we are – and what can and can’t be changed – we can acquire an assortment of tools and develop strategies for making the most of what have, taking advantage of opportunities that come our way, and reaching the potential that is unique to each one of us. ~Riding Through Thick & Thin

I’ve been following Melinda Folse on Twitter for quite a long time on Twitter, and have read her book, Riding Through Thick & Thin. Not only is she a fellow horse lover and cattle sorting enthusiast, she intimately knows the struggles of having a good self image as a rider and what it’s like to be short on time to stay fit and keep your horse ridden.

Melinda Folse is author of best-selling The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses (Trafalgar Square Books, 2011) and her newest release, Riding Through Thick and Thin (Trafalgar Square Books, 2015), as well as a variety of articles and posts that explore the many horse world metaphors that also gallop freely in the real world of women’s issues. From body image and aging to confidence, authenticity, and connection, Melinda’s work offers an open invitation to lighthearted introspection that just might lead to life-changing insight and unbridled joy.

Melinda Folse is author of best-selling The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses (Trafalgar Square Books, 2011) and her newest release, Riding Through Thick and Thin (Trafalgar Square Books, 2015), as well as a variety of articles and posts that explore the many horse world metaphors that also gallop freely in the real world of women’s issues. From body image and aging to confidence, authenticity, and connection, Melinda’s work offers an open invitation to lighthearted introspection that just might lead to life-changing insight and unbridled joy.

What is your daily life like? 

Whew. My daily life. Well, as a classic overachiever, over scheduler and overdo-er, there really is no such thing as a consistent daily schedule, but I’m working on it. Perpetually. I work full time as Communications Director for a large and very busy downtown Methodist church, so there’s never a dull moment there — and a hair-on-fire communications “emergency” about every 30 seconds. When I compare my day job to a robust and endless game of whack-a-mole, people really don’t know how to respond. But trust me. It’s fun, it’s a challenge, and it does keep me on my toes — and since it hasn’t killed me yet, it must have made me stronger, right? Before or after work — or whenever I can I try to sneak in some exercise and/or horse time (trying when I can to combine these two priorities), I enjoy time with my family, contribute to a few blogs, keep my social media fed, and if there’s any sliver of time left over I generally try to take a bath. And sleep as close to 8 hours as I can get. I’m getting too old to go without sleep, which really cramps my style because that’s how I used to make it all work!melinda-quote-hate-article

 

Do you own horses & do you ride?

Yes! I have two wonderful horses, Trace and Rio, and I am a part owner in a third, Sam. They’re quarter horses, mostly. Rio is a registered quarter horse from the Colonel Freckles cutting horse lineage, but cows terrify him so we don’t bother with any of that. Mostly he eats. He’s a true character in every sense of the word and often makes me laugh out loud in pure delight in dealing with him and his antics. Trace, I suspect, is more of a Quarab (Quarter/Arab cross) and ironically loves chasing cows and we really hope to get back to Ranch Sorting and riding the trails at the LBJ Grasslands one of these days. Trace has been my “project horse” that actually inspired my first solo book, and it has been very rewarding to redeem him with the help of an old trainer named Karl Black. Sam is a grade quarter horse from a ranch in Oklahoma and may well be the most level-headed of the three, but he’s been mostly a pasture ornament in recent years (and a big, handsome one at that!) so I’m working on getting him rideable again, although he’s getting older and I’m not really willing to push it too much if he’d prefer to keep his status quo.

melinda-authentic-values-2

Do you write for a living? 

Well yes and no. Right now my main paycheck comes from my Communications Director job, where I do write some and edit a lot, but my first love is and always will be my own writing projects. I started out in PR/Communications in the early 80s (And my, how times have changed! The fax machine was this wonderful new invention and hardly anyone had one!) I began freelancing full-time in the early 90s and wrote a lot of ad copy and articles for local trade and some regional magazines. Then I got offered the opportunity to help launch a national entrepreneurial magazine that was part of the Time Warner family called Millionaire Blueprints. It was a fabulous opportunity to grow and solidify my writing, research and interviewing skills and I lost all fear of calling celebrities and millionaires and asking them some of the strangest and most personal questions imaginable about how they took their million-dollar idea from concept to reality to success beyond their dreams. It was fascinating work. And then one of them, Gordon Weinberger, asked me if I’d consider writing his book. I told him I didn’t do books. I wrote articles. Not being one to take no for an answer, he asked if I’d consider writing 12 consecutive (and chronological) articles about his life and business success — and a principal he lived by and wanted to brand. That didn’t sound so scary so I said yes, and my first book, Infinite Persistence, was born. From there and with new confidence that I could, indeed, write books, I began a long process of writing the life story of my Taekwondo Grandmaster, Won Chik Park. As a second degree black belt and a longtime student of Grandmaster Park, I had heard bits and pieces of his amazing and inspiring story, but had never put it all together. I met with him weekly and heard more of his story, asked endless questions, drafted sections, made corrections and finally produced the finished manuscript of Grandmaster on Grandmaster Park’s 70th birthday, which, ironically, mirrors the opening scene of his book. Meanwhile, as I worked on Grandmaster, I began work as a staff writer for Clinton Anderson. A longtime Anderson devotee (I joked that he had been in my home every evening for several years via DVD so I had literally gone to school on his Method.) Part of my job with Clinton, in addition to writing articles for his No Worries Journal and writing up his dictated training tips (in his voice) for his weekly enews, was to help him finish a book he was under contract for with Trafalgar Square Books. Clinton had been in the States for 10 years at that point and was quite a sensation — very similar to the success stories I had scribed for Blueprints! So I followed him around, asked endless questions, provoked stories, wit, and wisdom from him as he went on about his work (think of a border collie yapping at his heels until he tossed me a story or a detail I was missing) I also got to work with legendary horse photographer Darrell Dodds to shoot the pictures for Clinton’s book, and Lessons Well Learned hit the presses. While I was traveling with Clinton’s team, I began to notice that so many of the faces of the participants and audiences of his clinics and Walkabout Tour stops were very much like mine. The stories I heard as I interviewed some of these women could have been mine. And the stories I read as so many of them sent in effusive thank yous wrapped in irresistible stories of countless middle-aged women finding their confidence, authenticity, and courage through learning to work with their horses. An idea began brewing for a book to capture this spirit and tune Clinton’s advice toward this huge segment of his audience. Clinton wasn’t too keen on the idea, but Trafalgar Square books was. By then I had moved on from Clinton’s operation and was elated to have a contract for The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses in hand to begin my solo journey into writing books. A couple of years after Midlife had found evergreen success and was ensconced as one of Trafalgar’s best sellers, the editors who by then had become friends came back to me with another idea. What about a book about body image and riding? What about something that talks not only to larger riders and offers up advice on how to ride better and care better for themselves and their horses, but what if it dug into the roots of bad body image — and provides some real insight on how to overcome it, even as we work to get healthy, fit, and strong enough to ride well at any size. A diet and exercise book? Not really, but maybe some of that. A “big is beautiful” book? Well, not exactly, but ironically self-acceptance is very often the first step toward gaining a self we find acceptable. This book, titled Riding Through Thick and Thin, was a rascal to wrestle down, but I’m really proud and excited of all we were able to pack into those pages!

 

How many books have you written? What are their titles and what are they about?

I have now written five books: Infinite Persistence, Grandmaster, Lessons Well Learned, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, and Riding Through Thick & Thin. They seem to be about:

  • persistence (in general),
  • persistence (“never give up” when life hands you difficulty),
  • persistence (“success is often just around the corner, but the trouble is most people quit before they get to the corner”),
  • persistence (it’s never too late to live your dream), and . . .
  • persistence (reach for your goals regardless of real or imagined limitations).

(I think I’m seeing a career theme . . .)

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What inspired you to write a book a book about motivating women to ride? 

I was so inspired by the many women I met on Clinton’s tours and rode with at clinics. They were just getting out there living their dream — on whatever level they could, and giddy as teenagers over every accomplishment. Talking about their horses, sharing their adventures, missteps, challenges and accomplishments clearly “put the light on in their eyes” as my friend and career coach Sam Horn likes to say. Horses have a way of bringing out the best in women, and I was so intrigued by this I couldn’t resist the opportunity to dig deeper and write about it. And the second book both challenged and inspired me to plumb my own experiences with body image and imagined limitations — and to see what I could find out there that could be helpful for women who were letting real or imagined limitations hold them back from enjoying their horses.

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What was the hardest part about writing the book, Riding Through Thick & Thin?

The hardest part, I think, was narrowing down the scope. This is such a complex topic that in researching it I literally had to explore every rabbit trail (which is why the trail ride became its overarching metaphor) and chase every idea down and around to arrive at how these threads could weave together into something useful, meaningful and relatable to both the plus-sized rider as well as anyone else who struggles with size, shape, proportion, or any other physical issue, real or imagined. What’s more, this book had to criss-cross disciplines, levels of riding, age and interests. It had to be, literally, for every body!

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How did writing your book change you? 

I think it was a journey of acceptance for me, releasing me from a lifetime of body image captivity even as I wrote in hopes of releasing my readers. Putting an unflinching researcher’s eye on how these limiting ideas develop, where they come from, how we inadvertently feed them and allow them to persist and grow, helped me understand the true dynamics of giving this debilitating kind of thinking the boot, once and for all. I think as I walked around with this information rolling around in my head it sort of began to infiltrate my own thinking more and more. As a result I think and feel differently about my body, my riding, and my goals and dreams for both! Particularly in the body mechanics section as I kitchen tested some of these ideas on my trusty steeds (who were spectacularly patient, by the way) I found a much stronger, more stable seat on my own horses and am actually enjoying my riding and feeling more connected in the saddle than ever before.

 

What are some of your favorite exercises to stay strong for riding?

Pilates for sure, for the core work that makes a HUGE difference in my posture alignment and riding “lighter” (even though I’m not!) and with better, more natural feeling balance. Yoga is another favorite because it emphasizes breathing and helps meld strength and flexibility, both of which help me to relax more as I ride, but still have the strength and stamina to be effective in the saddle — and in my barn chores! I love to incorporate my daily “steps” into groundwork with my horses, and even run a little bit beside my horses on occasion; this is not only good exercise for me, it is very good bonding with my boys!

 

What are some of your least favorite exercises?

Well I think weight training and “working out” for its own sake is pretty boring, but I know it’s a good thing to do just a couple of times a week to make sure all the muscle groups get solid and consistent strength work. I’d rather walk outside with my dogs or get my steps in doing groundwork with the horses, but when push comes to shove and I still have to get those steps, sometimes a treadmill or elliptical is a necessary evil.

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If you had to pick one thing to tell a new rider on how to become better, what would it be?

Get in shape and train — and feed — your body for the kind of work it’s going to need to do. Also find an instructor whose approach and manner resonates with you, and take your time getting your fundamentals solid before trying anything that is outside your comfort level. Several of the instructors I talked to mentioned how important it is to be able to do everything really well at a walk before attempting a trot; and likewise before trying faster speeds and more complicated maneuvers. Sure, you can sometimes do that stuff before you’re really technically ready, but it’s so much better and infinitely more fun when you build it on top of a solid foundation!

 

What is your biggest struggle as a rider?

Finding enough time and being consistent in my horsework — and being patient when those windows don’t open as often and for as long as I want them to! I also had quite a bit of fear off and on during this journey and riding through that was something of a struggle for quite a while.

 

How do you overcome those struggles?

In both cases I’ve had to learn to slow down, take a deep breath, and center myself mentally and physically in what I know for sure. One of the best things I learned from Clinton is the value of fifteen minutes of intentional work with a horse. Sure, two or three hours is ideal, but when you don’t have it, you don’t have it — and the temptation is to do nothing if you can’t do what you want and need to do. The best lesson (and I have to keep learning it) is a little focused time here and there is infinitely better than nothing — and it is the way out of both mental and physical bogs of all descriptions.

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Why are these pictures special to me?
They all show — and remind me of — my deep connection with my horses. Whether on the ground (the bay horse, Trace) or in the saddle (the sorrel, Rio) spending time with these guys is one of my life’s great joys. I tell stories about both of these horses in both books, and they are both such teachers. They literally bring out the very best in me, and I wish that for everyone who loves horses.

 

What is something that most folks may not know, and would probably never guess about you?

I carry clown noses and finger puppets in the glove compartment of my Mini Cooper . . . just in case of emergency. I’ve yet to have to use them, but you never know . . .

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Any parting words of wisdom for riders?

Having horses is much the same as having children. You’re probably never going to have enough money, enough time, or exactly the right stuff. Just do what you can, with what you have, and try your best to make the most of every minute of it. Life is short. Enjoy your horse time for all it’s worth. And it’s worth a lot.


Melinda’s interview will also appear on my writing blog, Talking In The Barn. If you’d like to find out more about Melinda and her books, you can keep up with her at the links below –

Links:

www.melindafolse.com

The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses

http://melindafolse.com/books/the-smart-womans-guide-to-midlife-horses/

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2dSSHuD

Riding Through Thick and Thin

http://melindafolse.com/books/riding-through-thick-andthin-book/

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2dZIZGx

Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/Melinda-Folse-1662865860621143/

Twitter

https://twitter.com/MelindaFolse

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Improving Confidence

The last several months my confidence has improved tremendously, and with it my riding has steadily progressed as well. Not only have my times on the barrel pattern improved, but I’m riding more aggressively than ever.

While losing fifty pounds certainly does help to a certain extent, what has helped more than anything is getting stronger, not just in my core but all over. When you feel strong, you feel in control of not only your horse, but yourself as well and that builds confidence.

I had mentioned in one of my earlier posts that I didn’t spend hours at the gym. I have an extremely busy life between working two jobs, running a horse farm, writing books & marketing them, and writing blogs. I don’t have the time to spend an hour every day at the gym.I lift weights and only do a total of 4-5 exercises per workout. It only takes around 20-30 minutes at most to complete the exercises that I do. That’s realistic and achievable for someone that’s busy.

There are three exercises in particular that have helped me the most in becoming a better rider. I like these exercises because not only do you work multiple muscle groups, you also get a cardio workout as well.

The first is a walking lunge with a forward arm raise. Here I’m using 10 pound weights. This is a great exercise for riding because not only does it work your legs, but it also requires balance to execute the position, and it works your entire core to lift the weights.

Walking Lunge With A Forward Arm Raise

Walking Lunge With A Forward Arm Raise

The next exercise is a plank position with a pull up. Here I’m using a 20 pound weight. Let me say when I first started all this, it was all I could do to pull up a 10 pound weight! I’ve seen the most improvement in this exercise. It’s also an exercise that requires balance and complete core interaction while working your arms.

Plank Position With Pull Up

Plank Position With Pull Up

The next two exercise is a crunch with weights. I use ten pound weights. There’s two variations that I do. One is a regular crunch with the weights just above my head. The other is a crunch into a sit up where I lift the weights up above my head. Both of these exercises simultaneously work your core while you’re working your arms. Because you’re using your core to lift the weights, it’s almost like weight lifting for your core!

Crunch With Weights

Crunch With Weights

Crunch & lift up

Crunch & lift up

The last exercise is a twist in sit up position with weights. Here I’m using 10 pound weights. This is another great exercise that works your core. If you keep your feet just a couple of inches off the floor while you’re doing the exercise, you’ll also work on balance at the same time.

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In addition to these, I also do the usual weight lifting exercises such as over head press, bench press, bent over row, and squats.

There’s numerous articles on the multiple health benefits of lifting weights besides just building muscle. Weight lifting helps with bone density, and it helps release growth hormones. Look at the bodybuilding grandmother Ernestine Shepherd and you’ll see that’s true! She’s an 80-something grandma that can do more push ups than most twenty year olds and she didn’t start weights until she was in her fifties!

Do you struggle with confidence in your riding? What is it that keeps you from feeling confident in the saddle?

Making Changes…

It’s been a little while since my last blog post. I finally landed a second job waiting tables at an Italian restaurant three nights a week. It’s been a hectic schedule between working two jobs, keeping my horses ridden, and trying to get the farm sold. So far I’m managing, although I will say I do know I don’t want to wait tables as a second job for the rest of my life!

While I have a more extensive blog post planned for later this month, in the meantime I thought I would share an update on my physical progress, and a few quick tips on what has helped me so far. The next blog post, I’ll share some of my favorite exercises, and talk about how some of them relate directly to riding.

Dance night!

Dance night!

When I started the CWC blog a year and a half ago, it was the start of a journey for me. My weight had ballooned up to 208, and no matter what I did or how much weight I lost I was tired, achy, and miserable.

The first step I took was changing my internal dialogue. Instead of criticizing myself all the time, I started to try find positive things I liked. Being kinder to myself mentally was very hard at first, but as time went on it got better.

The next step for me was attempting to just eat real food, and limit the junk, and then also limit dairy. I didn’t count calories, carbs or anything else. I just ate natural foods most of the time.

I usually fluctuated twenty or pounds anyhow, and by eating naturally, over the course of time I managed to drop off that twenty pounds and keep it off. However, there were many days I still felt tired and achy and my mental health wasn’t the best either.

Willie Bobby & I at the barrel race

Willie Bobby & I at the barrel race

This past March, I decided to make even more changes. I started eating protein and vegetables. Again, I didn’t count calories or anything else. I kept it extremely simple – I could have anything I wanted as long as it was protein or veggies.

I also started lifting weights, and just like with my food I kept it simple. Just three or four exercises a few times a week and no more than fifteen to twenty minutes. I knew it wasn’t realistic to expect myself to keep up more than that.

This pic below was taken several weeks back, but this week my scales said 155. I haven’t been this thin since my EARLY twenties!

Two different girls, two different mindsets!

Two different girls, two different mindsets!

I’ve not strayed from the meat and veggies since I started in March. I haven’t had any bread, sweets, or pasta even once. The interesting thing is that I don’t want any! For the first time in my life I finally have control over what I eat. There’s no bingeing or medicating with food!

One thing that has helped me has been the wise words of a good friend of mine that’s a Personal Trainer and veteran from Colorado, Scot Heminger – “Think of yourself as an athlete. Athletes don’t diet and exercise. They fuel their bodies and train to get better.” That mindset has made a huge difference because I don’t look at eating and exercise as deprivation and punishment, I look at them as a way to get BETTER.

Another difference I’ve seen has been my mental health. I no longer have the mood swings or the depression that I had before. Granted, I did make a big life change in getting divorced and surrounding myself with positive people, but I do think the change in diet has had an impact on my mental health.

Not only have I gained control over my appetite, and have a healthier outlook, I’ve also experienced a big increase in energy. My joints and my body also don’t ache like they did before. Because of all that, I feel like doing a lot more  – and it’s wonderful!

While all these side effects are great, the one side effect that is probably the best is my improved confidence. I walk taller and feel better about myself, and I feel strong! That confidence has found it’s way into my riding as well. I’m running barrels more aggressively than I ever have my entire life and I’m clocking a little faster every time I run.

NBHA Barrel Race

NBHA Barrel Race

I’m still a work in progress, but if I didn’t lose another pound I would be completely satisfied with where I’m at. I’m happy, and what I’m doing is realistically maintainable. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that where I am now started by simply loving myself a little more and making a few simple changes. It’s true what they say – change the mind and the body will follow. I think I’m living proof of that — and you can be too!