Tips For Making It Through Fall & Winter

Fall is here and the days are already getting shorter. If you’re like most folks struggling to get quality horse time in between family, working and life in general, you’re probably feeling the pressure of these short days –  especially if you compete or stay active with your horse throughout the fall and winter. While there may be less daylight to fit in actual riding, there are a few things you can do that will help to keep your horse tuned up, and keep you feeling less stressful.

While most folks think of ground work as something only for young horses, it’s actually a terrific tool for seasoned horses. Ground work not only helps keep a horse responsive, but it helps their body to stay freed up as well so that they bend and balance much easier. Things like lateral work, working on bending from the ground, and fine tuning foot work can maintain or help a horse’s ability to perform.

Horses learn through repetition instead of quantity of time. The great thing about ground work is that you can get a lot accomplished in even 5 minutes. If you incorporate ground work into your turn out routine, you can fit a ground work session in twice a day when turn your horse out, and when you bring your horse in.

In years past when I was breaking colts, I would do ground work every time I took them in or out, and sometimes even while they were eating. Not only did it make the breaking process go much quicker, but it also cut down on boring round pen sessions.

My general rule of thumb in incorporating ground work into turn out time is to ask for one to two moves each session. If they do a great job of what I ask on the first try, I quit right then and turn them out. If they struggle, I’ll aim for asking no more than 3 times and quit on their best effort. That way they don’t get over-schooled and get irritated.

You can use the actual turnout as a reward after ground work. More laid back horses will usually try a little harder and will get lighter in their efforts when working when they realize they get to go out. For a more nervous horse, you can delay the turnout so that they don’t anticipate. Those types of horses, I’ll wait until I feel them relax before I quit and let them loose.

Although the work is very short, just a few moments, because it’s consistent and on a routine, they catch on very quickly. It’s a good way to set them up for success.

While you may think that actual ride time is the only way to ultimately improve or maintain your riding, the right type of exercises can have a huge impact on how well you ride. Planks with weights and kettlebell exercises are some of my favorite exercises to help maintain core strength.

If you feel you’ve gotten in a rut with your exercise routine, try to find new positions or moves that reveal body weakness. Just like patterns reveal weaknesses in our horsemanship, changing a position or trying a new exercise can reveal weaknesses in our bodies. It doesn’t necessarily take a big change, sometimes just a change of angle will work completely new muscles in a different way.

A big part of riding comes from the mind. Shorter days and grayer skies can play havoc on our mindset. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real condition that affects many people throughout the fall and winter.

To help combat the winter blues and keep you motivated and focused, be sure to fuel your body with foods that help support your brain. Foods high in vitamin D can help improve mood. 

Also, pay attention to gut health as recent studies suggest that probiotics can have a significant impact on depression and anxiety. Eating plenty of green, leafy vegetables also helps to keep a healthy intestinal tract that encourages the growth of good bacteria.

 Finally, don’t be afraid to just take a break during the winter. Horses and riders both usually come back better and more dedicated after a break. 

There’s a lot of pressure out there to ride through the winter, that if you don’t ride you’re not a real horseman or cowgirl, or you’re not dedicated. That’s just not the case. 

Horsemanship is not about riding the most, it’s about doing what’s right for the horse and keeping your horse where they want to work. You have a limited amount of rides, make the most of them. Sometimes that means taking a break. 

Plus, if you are giving your horse a break that gives you an opportunity to focus in yourself a little more. Use the time to exercise and find inspiration. 

Do you feel pressure to get a lot done as the days get shorter? How do you deal with those feelings? What are ways you can start to feel less pressure when it comes to being a rider?

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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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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? 

 

 

 

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?

A Tough Cowgirl

Earlier this year, I found out about female Saddle Bronc rider, Kaila Mussell.

Photo by Filene Mussell

Photo by Filene Mussell

The fact that she rides Saddle Bronc is pretty impressive in itself, but the fact that she’s come back from a broken neck is a clear witness to the strength that she has on the inside. She’s a phenomenal athlete and I think she’s someone who exhibits the strength and toughness we all aspire to.

Photo by Bernie Hudyma

Photo by Bernie Hudyma

What was it that made you decide you wanted to try riding broncs?

I started off in rodeo, barrel racing at 11, and steer riding at 12.  I did well at both events, however I got more of a rush out of riding steers and wanted to stay in the roughstock events.  When I became too old to ride steers, my initial inclination was to ride bulls, however my dad convinced me otherwise. I’m glad he did, as at that point I knew of some women who have ridden bareback broncs and bulls, but didn’t know any women who rode saddle bronc in the modern style of saddle bronc riding.  It turned into a more prestegious goal for me then, becoming the first woman to do so.  At that time,  my brother also wanted to ride broncs, so we both went to some bronc riding schools together to learn.

 

Photo by Christopher Morris

Photo by Christopher Morris

How did you feel the first time you rode an actual bronc out of the chute?

That was so long ago, and I’m pretty sure that I blacked out.  When I was first learning that happened a lot, and even when I rode I couldn’t remember what happened.   Eight seconds happens pretty quick, however over time and practice that short time (8 seconds) slows down, and when everything is happening right, it feels like all your movements are in slow motion.

Photo by Patti Ouimette

Photo by Patti Ouimette

When you decided to actually compete the first time, how did you feel?   What were some of your thoughts & fears and how did you overcome those?

I was pretty nervous the first time I completed. I did, however grow up breaking colts since I was 10, so I already had alot of exposure to riding horses that bucked, and I already had rodeo experience, although not in saddle bronc.  Most of my thoughts would have been related  to not wanting to being a “failure” and get bucked off, not wanting to look like a “girl” out there, or scared that I wouldn’t be accepted because I was a girl.  I really wanted to be accepted and to show others that I was just as capable as other bronc riders.  Nowadays my attitude on all of these feelings has been completely turned around, however at that point in time that is definitely what I thought.

You broke your neck last year. Tell us a little about that.

I broke my neck on April 5, 2014 at a BCRA rodeo in  Barriere, BC.  I got bucked off and landed on my head and kind of rolled onto the right side of my neck and shoulder.  I felt a shooting pain down the my right arm, and what felt like a crunch, but I chalked it up to a concussion, because other than being pretty sore, that’s what it felt like.  I drove home that night, which was a couple of hours away and didn’t go to the hospital.  The next day I was talking to my brother who is a doctor (GP), and he convinced me that I should go get it checked out because I was supposed to be flying to Hawaii the next day for a family vacation.  I went to the hospital more so to eliminate anything being wrong with me, because I didn’t want to chance having high medical bills in another country.  I happened to be picking up a friend at the airport that day and decided to stop in at VGH (Vancouver General Hospital) which is the only spinal unit in BC.  I’m happy that I did.  They took the injury very seriously and put me on a backboard and in a neck brace.  Multiple x-rays, CT and MRI later I was told that I broke my neck in 2 places on the right side of C6, and that I wouldn’t be going anywhere.  I wore a brace for a couple of weeks until they realized my neck wasn’t healing properly.  Immediately thereafter I went in for surgery and ended up getting a fusion between C5-C7, and two of my disks replaced by part of my right hip bone.

Photo by Filene Mussell

Photo by Filene Mussell

When did you decide to start riding again after that and why? Was riding the first time after your injury different from what it was like before?

While I was healing from a broken neck I was faced with all sorts of thoughts and decisions about what my future would be.  After weighing all the facts, talking to my surgeon and hearing everyone elses often unwanted “opinions” on what I should do with my life, I dug deep down and realized that my passion for bronc riding was still there.  At minimum I wanted to come back to riding if only to end on my own terms.  I waited a full year after my injury to completely heal to ride again.  My first ride back was on a “practice” bronc, a day prior to Williams Lake, BC Indoor Rodeo where I was to be competing for the first time after breaking my neck.  The bronc “Starbucks”, was a horse I was familiar with and I had ridden a few times in the past.  I managed to get her rode, but it wasn’t pretty and got off on the pickup man.  It definitely was a huge relief to get that one out of the way, as I came away without injury!  From there, the major fear was gone, and I was back to the swing of things.

How was it different?

The main difference with coming back riding after such a major injury, was that I appreciated the opportunity of being able to ride again.  I’ve noticed this year that I’ve had a lot more fun, not taken things as seriously as I have in the past, and enjoyed the whole journey of riding broncs in all aspects of the experience both outside and inside the arena.   I also managed to win the year-end season leader saddle for the BCRA (BC Rodeo Association) in the saddle bronc.  So overall, my comeback has been amazing!

How do you stay mentally tough?

I think pretty positive on a regular basis.  When I don’t, I remind myself why I’m doing this, focus and look at the bigger picture.  I read inspirational/self-help books, say positive affirmations to myself and post them around me.  As well, journaling has been a huge help in focusing on my goals, seeing where my mindset is, noticing things that may have helped in the past that can help me now, and/or seeing how far I have come and being able to acknowledge this.

What is that motivates you to keep going?

This is a really hard thing to describe what motivates me, as only a small amount of this can be put into words.  Motivation is more of a feeling, a passion that can’t be described.  I’m driven to do it, in part because I love the sport, the lifestyle, the challenge, the adrenaline and excitement of the sport.  To a large part these days I am motivated by seeing how much I inspire others to pursue their dreams by doing what I do.

Photo by Thomas Camus

Photo by Thomas Camus

What is your fitness routine to stay in shape to ride?

My fitness routine varies throughout the year depending on my work and rodeo schedule.  On a regular basis I strength train (primarily core training) 3 days a week  (30-40 mins), do cardio (primarily jogging) 3 days a week (4 miles), and yoga (1 hour) 1-2 days a week as well.  This may be alternated with other physical activities such as hiking, biking, MMA training or otherwise.

As for eating, I have had a lot of structured strict diets over the years.  I now find that its easier to eat well on a regular basis and stay active than to go to extremes.  I really don’t deny myself any foods, however less healthy alternatives I eat in moderation.  On a daily basis I do eat a high amount of protein, stick to whole, unprocessed foods,  and eat small amounts throughout the day rather than eating large meals.  Mind you, when you are on the road, it is sometimes hard to eat well or regularly.  I try to always pack lots of water and healthy snacks in case this happens.

Photo by Kat Nair

Photo by Kat Nair

Any words of wisdom for anyone that wants to ride broncs, or anyone that wants to rodeo in general?

Set clear goals of what you want.  Be willing to learn and put in the time and effort into what you do.  The skills for your chosen event in rodeo will not come overnight, but with hard work and dedication it will all come together.  Strive to constantly learn and improve.

What’s mandatory to be able to rodeo?

Mental and physical toughness, love of traveling, getting dirty,and performing under pressure, aside from investing a lot of money.  Nothing in life is easy,  but when things come together, it is all worth the effort.  Rodeoing is a lot like gambling, the only thing you are in complete control of is your effort in your ride or run.

If you’d like to keep up with Kaila, you can keep up on her social media accounts –

https://www.facebook.com/saddlebroncgirl/

https://instagram.com/kailamussell/

https://twitter.com/kaila_mussell

It Seems To Be Working

When I started Cowgirls With Curves earlier this year, I wasn’t exactly sure what direction it would take. All I knew was that I was passionate about sharing horses and encouraging others to pursue their dreams. Little did I know what kind of impact that it would have, and that it would be just as much of a journey for me as it has been for those that keep up with the blog.

The journey has led me to make quite a few changes and quite frankly they seem to be working.

I’ve stopped obsessing over weight and size.

Quite frankly, this is new territory for me because I don’t think there’s ever been a time in which I’ve either been on some kind of diet, or I’ve been feeling guilty because I’m not on one and I’ve gained weight.

Instead, I’ve been focusing on how I feel, whether or not I have energy, and if my mental status is in a good place.

I’ve stopped obsessing over what I eat and listening to what my body says.

I’ve learned that I don’t feel well at all when I eat grains, soy (in certain quantities)  dairy (with the exception of butter), sodas, and sweets. Instead of focusing on not having those things, I focus on real natural foods that I love that I can have that don’t have a detrimental effect on how I feel, and getting enough protein and fat in during the day.

I’ve started focusing more on real food.  

Instead of getting caught up in “calories in -vs- calories out”, and tracking every ounce of food I put in my mouth, I’ve been focusing on just eating real food that makes me feel good. I haven’t been listening to what all the doctors and fitness experts say, instead I’ve been listening to what my body says.

I’m eating a lot more protein.

I’ve learned that the typical meals of an egg for breakfast, and a lean protein at lunch and supper is not enough protein for me. I don’t have enough energy and my cravings are still there. However, if I have at least one serving of protein powder with 20g of protein, It’s a whole different story. My energy levels are much higher, and my cravings are minimal.

I’m eating more real fats like butter and olive oil.

Fats stabilize your blood sugar and they make you feel full and satisfied. When you’re full land satisfied with real food you don’t have any desire for junk!

I’m not limiting myself.

I may have a steak and baked potato with plenty of butter and salt. I don’t worry about the portion or limiting the butter or anything else – I just eat until I have my fill. I don’t want to end my meal still wanting anything because that’s when I wind up eating the things I shouldn’t eat.

I’m not beating myself up.

Weekends usually wind up being “cheat” time when I just have to have some cheese dip or pizza. If eat something that I shouldn’t, I don’t beat myself up about it – my body already does that for me if I eat enough of it.

The last meal is 4 hours before bedtime.

I’ve learned that if I eat a full meal in the evenings, I don’t sleep as well. I also have a tendency to get heartburn if I eat late. I try to eat a hearty lunch and then eat another snack with plenty of protein a couple of hours later. If I just absolutely have to have something, I’ll have a smaller serving of protein shake with almond milk.

I’m taking a probiotic.

With all the new research on probiotics and how it effects your mental health, and weight I decided to start taking a probiotic that has a prebiotic as well. While probiotics add good bacteria to your digestive tract, prebiotics feeds the beneficial bacteria you already have so you can digest your food more efficiently.

For years, even though I got plenty of sunshine and drank a lot of dairy I have been deficient in vitamin D and calcium. Even though I’ve always eaten plenty of spinach and red meat which I cooked in an iron skillet, I’ve always been border line anemic even with taking an iron supplement.

Obviously I’m not absorbing my food, which would explain why I need more protein than the usual recommended amounts. Think about it – if you’re not absorbing your food there’s no way to tell how much you’re not absorbing, so the recommended daily amount really can’t apply!

I make sure I get at least 7 hours of sleep – no exceptions!

Sleep is another thing that has a huge impact on how you feel and perform, how you deal with stress, and how well you eat. I recently read a study that said lack of sleep can be as detrimental as smoking! Since I’ve been focusing on things that make me feel better, I’ve made it a priority to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Those 7 hours are sacred and non-negotiable!

Progesterone cream is awesome!

On a side note, suspecting some hormonal issues I started using a progesterone cream that does not contain estrogen-like herbs. It definitely helps in the sleep department, not to mention it helps with my mental status!

I don’t work out – for now.

Short of stretching, pun intended, instead of focusing on getting the regular set of exercises in every day, I’ve been focusing more on just riding. I have five horses that really need to be ridden through the course of the week (after stalls are done), and I’ve taken on a client horse to bring along as a back up barrel prospect. If you think about it, with that many horses I have a gym sitting in my pasture – all I have to do is ride! Once winter comes, and the horses get a break, I’ll go back to getting in some short sessions of kettlebells but for now I’m using my horses as my gym equipment.

Client horses at a barrel race.

Client horses at a barrel race.

So where have all these changes gotten me?

 

For one, I’m happier and less stressed.

I’m not obsessing over what I can and can’t have, and because I don’t feel guilty about not meeting some standard that I think I’m supposed to meet.

I have more time – which also helps with stress!

Because I’m not having to get in a workout every morning I have more time to prep meals and write.

I feel better!

Although still not optimal, my energy levels are getting better, and I’m not struggling with depression as often. I’m starting to pay closer attention to how food impacts both of those things and that helps keep me motivated more than anything.

I’ve lost close to 20 pounds since the first of the year.

Since the first of the year, I’ve lost close to 20 pounds. To some, that might not be quick enough but it’s not the time or even the weight that matters. What matters is what I’m gaining through it all – a sense of self-control and happiness, and feeling better.

I have more self-control.

For the first time in my entire life I’m starting to have self-control when it comes to food. Even when I do eat junk, I’m not going overboard, and I’m able to say “No” to food that I  normally would have to have.

I don’t necessarily think it’s one thing that’s making the difference. For instance, I don’t think I can just eat more protein and lose the weight. I think it’s a combination of the mindset and the other changes together that’s making a difference.

Have you made changes that are working? What improvements have you seen?

Riding with my step-son.

Riding with my step-son.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Much Is Too Much?

Since starting Cowgirls With Curves, I’ve had an increase in followers on Twitter. Interestingly enough, most of them are fitness fanatics. Most of them post about the fastest way to get ripped, or the latest greatest diet supplement. Needless to say, people in my demographic are their biggest clients and I’m sure that’s what they’re counting on!

How much time at the gym did he spend to look like this???

How much time at the gym did he spend to look like this???

One of the things I’ve noticed is how much time they spend in the gym. It’s never 15-20 minutes. It’s at least an hour, often more, 5-6 days a week. They dedicate their whole life to looking good, eating healthy and working out. That’s fine if that’s what you love.

The problem is that we tend to hold those folks up as a standard, and all too often we’re made to feel guilty if we don’t put that same hour in at the gym. Think about it. How many articles have you read that have said if you’re not spending a minimum of thirty minutes a day working out you’re wasting your time?

No one dies saying they wished they’d worked more. I have a sneaking suspicion that no one dies saying they wished they’re worked out more either. On a side note, I can imagine them saying they wished they’d ridden a few more horses!

This looks like a fun way to stay active!

This looks like a fun way to stay active!

I work in the healthcare industry and I’m surrounded by “healthy” people who live in the suburbs and fill their lives with yoga, gyms and kid’s soccer games. More than once I’ve gotten little looks when I say I’m taking the elevator because I get enough walking in every morning.

But seriously, we have nine horses and I spend a full hour every morning cleaning stalls, dumping feed, and bringing horses in – seven days week. I’m going non-stop. While they are just getting up casually drinking their coffee from their Keurig and worrying about what are going to wear for the day, I’m already out dumping a load of manure!

Then when they come home and worry about cooking dinner or what soccer game to go to next, I’m saddling a horse to ride or giving a riding lesson right up until time to go to bed because it’s the only time I have to get my riding in. My morning starts at 4am most of the time.

Naturally, when I go to work, the last thing I want to do is walk up the stairs! I also don’t want to get up an hour earlier just to get a workout in. I used to, but not any more.

While I do think it’s important to build strength, especially as riders, I think it’s also important to keep a happy balance. I think you also have to consider what are you getting in return for what it’s costing you. Is it worth it?

If that hour at the gym is really a sanity break for you, then yes it’s absolutely worth it. My guess is that’s a healthy habit that will stand a good chance of lasting a long time and that’s great!

On the flip side, if you’re stressed just making it to the gym because you’re so cramped on time, or you’re working out instead of getting a recommended amount of sleep, or it’s taking you away from important activities then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate what you’re doing. That hour may be causing more harm than good in some ways. If you’re overwhelmed by getting in that hour or even thirty minutes a day of exercise, then maybe it’s time to try something different.

Spending 10-15 minutes a day on core exercises or kettlebells really can offer some benefits, and you’ll see a definite improvement in your riding. That 10-15 minutes doesn’t even have to be all at one time – it can be broken up into different quick sessions throughout the day.

A few weeks back, I ran across this article on PopSugar. It talks about how instead of exercising in the traditional sense, you can find other ways to get active and healthy. If you’re like me and already getting that hour of barn chores in every morning you’re already half way there!

If you’re spending that hour in the gym every day, do it because you look forward to it, not because you feel you have to.

How many of you have felt stressed getting your exercise routine in every day? How did you deal with that stress and did you make any changes?

One of our afternoon rides. THIS is what's important.

One of our afternoon rides. THIS is what’s important.