Finding Yourself Again…

I’m going to warn you – this blog post is going to be pretty personal, but my hopes in sharing this is that it might help someone else. We can be standing next to someone and not have a clue what’s going through their mind or what hell they’re dealing with. Sometimes those people are utterly alone, as I was.

Work in progress...

Work in progress…

When I started the CWC blog a little over a year ago, it started out as a way to reach out and inspire other riders that were struggling with confidence. The blog wound up being a journey for me personally as well, and it’s a journey that’s taken quite an unexpected turn the last couple of months.

While this blog was a way to urge other riders to get out there and do what they love, it was also an opportunity for me to do some self reflection as well. That self reflection this last year, has led to me making some drastic and life changing decisions.

I won’t go into any major details at this time, but two years ago my family endured a tragedy that changed all of our lives forever. While that tragedy didn’t necessarily cause the subsequent events, it certainly brought issues to light that needed to be dealt with.

This last year after the event was particularly rough, and quite frankly I sank to the absolute lowest Ievel of depression I’ve ever experienced. While I functioned normally in that I kept the horses up, did well at my job, and presented a picture that everything was ok to the rest of the world, the truth is that it wasn’t.

There were weekends where I went back to bed and cried all day after morning chores because I felt so alone and hopeless. There were many, many days I felt like life just wasn’t worth it any more, that if I ceased to exist it wouldn’t be a big deal to anyone. What really was the point of living?

I imagined ways to die. My favorite was waiting until a subzero night, making it look like I hit my head, and freezing to death. Guns and hanging were too painful, pills you wouldn’t really know you were going to die. Call it silly, but I didn’t like the idea of falling asleep out of your mind and somehow realizing in the dream that you’re dead.  Plus, life insurance wouldn’t pay if you committed suicide and I didn’t want my horses being suddenly homeless. Freezing to death would look like an accident, and on some level you’d know you were dying as you fell asleep.

I am a Christian, and it was during those darkest hours of depression that I begged God to feel His presence and to change me and my thinking. All I got was silence. I felt abandoned even by God at that point.

I had never sank that low, and had never felt that abandoned by God and my spouse but I knew that I didn’t want to stay there. So, I started fighting to bring myself out of it anyway that I could.

The first way was to find joy in every little thing no matter how small. I also started making myself more of a priority – my health, my happiness, and my career especially as a writer and as a horseman. If I could focus on those things and have something to work towards, I knew I could keep moving forward – and I did!

I finally came to a point of reality with my marriage as well, and I knew I couldn’t stay in a relationship that had slowly been contributing to my sinking that low. I knew it was time to get out, and that’s where I’m at now.

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While taking that first step was most definitely a terrifying one, especially after thirteen years of marriage, I also felt a great sense of relief in the midst of such uncertainty. Because of that, I knew deep in my heart that I made the right decision. I also started to realize that sometimes God gives us silence, and doesn’t answer our prayers, because we have to become miserable enough to move from where we’re at.

NEW PROGRESS

The divorce papers will be filed early next week, the farm is up for sale, and I’m trying to figure out what in the world I’m going to do with seven horses on short notice. There are good days, and there are still days that I cry – a lot – but the difference is that I can see I’m moving in the right direction and I feel a sense of joy, hope and purpose again.

I’m also finding my true self again, and doing things that I love to do. I’ve been eating healthier and it’s not the struggle that it always was before because I’m not medicating myself with food. I’m working out and lifting weights. I feel stronger than I have in years, and I’m riding a LOT better as well!

Won some money at the barrel race after a year off!

Won some money at the barrel race after a year off!

I’m also getting out and going to local places that I’ve always wanted to go, such as Bald River Falls in Tellico Plains, Tennessee. I plan on seeing a lot of trails this year.

Bald River Falls Hike

Bald River Falls Hike

I know that this year is not going to be an easy journey, but every day I’m finding how strong I can be. Life is gift that is too precious to be wasted in sorrow. So get out there and find the things you love and go after them with everything you’ve got!

 

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The Low Expectations Strategy

LOW EXPECTATIONS…

Springtime is here and show season has begun!

It’s a time to drag and rotate pastures in preparation for summer grass.

It’s also a time to get ready for the first horse show of the year.

It’s also a good time to assess your goals for the year, and your mindset. What are your goals as a rider? What are your goals for your horse? What are you goals for the show season? And, the big question is do all three of those goals align?

I’ll be honest, I’d absolutely love to run down the alley way at the Thomas and Mack arena at the NFR, or run a cow down the rail at the AQHA World, or jump a course at the Longines FEI World Cup. Actually, I’d love to do all three, but if i start my show season off thinking we’ll be hitting that level by the end the year, I’m going to be sorely disappointed!

The pattern at the State finals. Ground was awesome!

The pattern at the State finals. Ground was awesome!

Joel Sherlin who trained NBHA World Champion and RFD-TV American Semi-Finalist (2014), Bully By Design, has a saying that goes a long ways when it comes to riding horses and horse shows. Joel, who lives in Athens, Tennessee, is as down to earth as they get even though he’s somewhat of a local legend for his uncanny training ability and funny stories that all come from personal experience of course! His saying is, “Low expectations.”

"Team Blowout"!

“Team Blowout”!

You see, just like any great horseman that’s learned from experience, Joel knows you can have the best plans in the world and the biggest dreams, and sometimes things just happen that are out of your control. For instance, you’re riding a colt at a big show and he spooks at the flash on a camera as you’re making your way along the rail and you blow your class. Or maybe you’re riding a horse that’s been hauled a lot but they spook at the second barrel when the wind flaps a banner on the rail. It happens. The key is to not let it deter you from moving forward in your goals.

I’ve hauled with Joel and his wife Nancy quite a bit and I try to learn all I can about this “Low Expectations” strategy. Obviously with their track record and number of great horses they’ve turned out, there’s something to it!

We stayed in the Sherlin's trailer known as "The Double OO". It's famous!

We stayed in the Sherlin’s trailer known as “The Double OO”. It’s famous!

“Low Exepctations” is really a change in mindset that’s usually brought on by the school of hard knocks – sometimes literally – and disappointments. It’s a learning experience.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that when you ride horses that have issues or need some training, you learn very quickly to appreciate the little things. For instance, if you a haul your horse to it’s first show and you stay on, it’s been a good day – never mind you didn’t even place! That’s “Low Expectations” in action right there.

Bubba earned me THE black ribbon for the horse show for his horrendous go in Trail. The following year he won me an All Round for the day!

Bubba earned me THE black ribbon for the horse show for his horrendous go in Trail. The following year he won me an All Round for the day!

When you’re starting a new discipline, or your new to riding in general, it’s the same thing. If you get in your class and you remember your pattern, or you make it around all three barrels still in the saddle, then you’ve had a good ride! Again, “Low Expectations”.

By now, you see where I’m going with this.

Sometimes you have to take a step back and look at where you’re at and what your base struggles are. Do you have trouble getting a lead? Does your horse struggle loping small circles? Do your horse spook every time you go into an indoor arena? Those are the simple things you can focus on now. Fixing foundational problems such as these will lead to much bigger successes later on.

The same thing goes for us a riders. What are some of the things that you struggle with as a rider? Maybe you struggle with getting the correct diagonal at the trot, or being in time over a jump. Perhaps it’s getting left behind when you come out of a barrel headed to the next one, or just not being intimidated with speed. When you break it down, all of these things really relate to strength and balance. Just like working on foundational issues with your horse, you can work on the basic issues as a rider and improve your ability over time.

As riders, we always tend to look at the end picture. What we don’t realize is that it’s all the little things that eventually produce the final success, and that’s a side effect of having a “Low Expectations” mentality. Work on those small things a little at time and eventually they all add up.

If you could do anything with your horse, what would it be? What are some simple things you can do today to improve you and your horse, and implement a “Low Expectations” strategy?

Fireman at Ft. Smith futurity year

Fireman at Ft. Smith futurity year

 

 

Disappointments & Different Plans

Well, it’s been a week of ups and downs, that’s for sure!

We’ll start with the positive… I had previously said that I had been asked to do an interview about Cowgirls With Curves on the Earn Your Spurs podcast. That episode aired on March 17th – you can listen it to it on the Earn Your Spurs website.

I’d like to take a moment to tell you a little about Alyssa Barnes and what she hopes to accomplish with Earn Your Spurs because I feel like she’s a kindred spirit. I had a blast talking with her  – she’s passionate about what she’s doing with the podcast and she’s someone who I can relate to on a lot of levels. Her goal for the website and the podcast is to be a resource for the horse community, especially for those new folks that don’t have any idea where to get started. She has a heart for those that love horses and her podcast interviews are always a lot of fun to listen to. She brings a fresh and thoughtful point of view to the table and I love that. So, if you get a chance check out her podcast and spread the word.

Now on to the not so positive – depending on how you choose to look at it.

No doubt about it, sometimes we need a good kick in the butt. Sometimes we get so focused on something we think we have to do that we can’t see the forest for the trees. I have a tendency to do just that.

For instance, I’m not the greatest at sorting cows. Especially when a cow gets a little hard to cut out of the herd, I have a tendency to get tunnel vision and focus too hard on that one cow and forget the rest of herd, thus pushing them through gate and automatically disqualifying.

Sometimes I have a tendency to do the same thing with my horses. This past year was a really rough one on a personal level, and a competitive level. Last year I only ran three or four times total the whole year. With everything else going on, for my sanity I really needed to run. Unfortunately, I had issues with my barrel horse’s feet and he came up lame or hurt every single time I was serious about hauling to a race. I can only take so much disappointment! The only bright spot is that we ended the year with the fastest run I’ve had so far — and I’ve been working three years for that!

The weather here has been horrible but I’ve ridden as much as I reasonably could the last couple of months. Fireman isn’t in tip-top shape, but he’s in good enough shape to breeze though a set of barrels without pushing too hard. So I planned on running at the first NBHA race this past weekend.

My plan this past week was to do my usual ride Monday and Tuesday, breeze Wednesday, lunge lightly Thursday, and then give my horse Friday off. Monday and Tuesday went as planned. Wednesday, I warmed him up around the pasture and then let him open up without pushing him. He was full of himself and felt good!

Thursday, I went to get him and he was three-legged lame. Seriously?!

I called my farrier. He looked him over and he agreed, it was coming from the foot but he couldn’t get Fireman to flinch at all with the hoof testers. One of my other horses was just getting over an abscess from walking on the frozen mud we had earlier so we both suspected a possible abscess but it was hard to tell.

Needless to say, for about 24 hours I had a severe mental breakdown. You know, one of those that requires wine and you question your existence in life, and maybe you’re not meant to ride anything because every time you plan on going something happens.

One of the problems I have is too many horses and not enough time. I only have one barrel horse, and one honest to goodness barrel bred prospect that’s five this year. But I also have a halter bred gelding that I sometimes call ugly names (because he’s handful) that I’ve put EXCA and ARHA points on, and that I’ve shown in anything from Ranch halter and trail to cattle sorting. I’ve also got another big halter gelding that I’ve done some limited showing with that needs to be finished out as well.

The gelding that gets called bad names sometimes...

The gelding that gets called bad names sometimes…

So after I dried my tears off, I figured if I’m going to have that many issues with my one good horse, then maybe I’d better get to work on these other ones and let them earn their keep as back up horses. Yes, they’ve all three given lessons, but I’ve really been piddling all this time and I’ve got too many horses to not be running something else!

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I’ve thought about sending a letter to the NBHA to see if they’d create a 20-D class just for me while I get these guys ready but I’m not sure that’s a possibility! (Kidding!) Even so,the geldings might not be the fastest thing on four legs, but at least I’ll get to run something! Sometimes it takes getting disappointed to be able to see something right under your nose the whole time.

Have you ever been disappointed and had to change your plans? How did you deal with it? Did something positive come out of your experience?

Rainbow after the rain in Tennessee

Rainbow after the rain in Tennessee

Junk In, Junk Out

We’ve all heard the sayings, “You are what you eat”, and “Junk in, junk out.”

 For most of my life, I’ve taken that saying with a grain of salt, pun intended. However, over the last few years I’m beginning to think there’s a lot more truth to those sayings than we realize.

 After a bout of unanswered questions about my health – that’s another blog post in itself – I started paying very close attention to how my body reacted to certain foods. Now, I’m not talking just gaining or losing weight. I’m talking about how food effects my breathing, my sinus levels, and even my mental status for the day.

After doing some experimentation, I learned that dairy and breads cause me to wheeze – that’s in addition to sinus and stomach issues. I also learned that cokes and sweets cause me to become depressed, and soy will send me into an emotional roller coaster during certain times of the month. In contrast, turkey and other meat cause me to focus and think more clearly.

The same thing could be said about our thought life. When we think negative things, the impact is negative.Those negative thoughts impact our happiness, our confidence, and ultimately our performance and whether or not we pursue dreams.

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Recently, I read a great article on thinking like an athlete. The article stated that the main reason athletes are successful is that they see themselves as just that – an athlete.

The article went on to say that when you see yourself as an athlete and get into that mindset, regardless of what your body is like, you start thinking differently in other areas of your life. You start taking training more seriously. What you eat and the amount of sleep you get become more important. Instead of those seeing those things as a means to lose weight, they suddenly become a way for you to train better and be a better athlete.

How many times have you been asked what you do with your horses or what discipline you ride? Probably too many times to count. Your answer has probably been, “I just run barrels” or “I just do a little western pleasure.” That’s the wrong answer!

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Today, you might not be running down the alley way at the NFR or doing a sliding stop at the finals at Congress. I get that you don’t want to blow yourself out of proportion, come across arrogant, or give the appearance that you’re competing at a level that you’re not – yet! However, if you keep thinking like you always have, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten.

Think about it for a moment…

Do you spend any less money on your horse than a serious competitor? You feed the best feed, supplements and hay. You keep a routine shoeing schedule so your horse can perform well. You take your horse to the vet every time they need it. You make sure your horse is in a safe, happy environment and kept on a schedule.

Do you spend any less time on your horse than a serious competitor? I know a lot of girls that compete locally and not nationally that ride their horses every single day. I also know girls that ride every free minute they can in the midst of working full time to pay the feed bill and mortgage, working second and third jobs, and taking care of families. Is the fact that they don’t get to ride as much any less worthy?

There’s things that you’re probably already doing that aren’t that much different than someone rides and competes on a higher level. Don’t cut yourself short in your thinking!

If you think you’re “junk”, then junk is exactly what you’re going to reap.

What do you think Charmayne James or Congress champion Karen Evans Mundy thought of themselves when they were working up through the ranks? Did they think they were just a barrel racer or just a hunter rider? No! They thought of themselves as champions that just hadn’t gotten there yet. All they had to do was work a little harder and ride a little better – that’s all.

So my question to you is this… If you knew for a fact that you would be running down the alleyway at the NFR, or riding the rail at Congress in two years how would that change your thinking TODAY? Would it make you see yourself differently? Would you have a new purpose every time you rode or worked out?

If you’re like me, you’ve beat yourself up for far too long thinking you’re not good enough and you’re just a barrel racer, etc. That thinking hasn’t gotten either of us very far, has it?

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Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It’s time to do something different. It’s time to think different and see what results we get!

In the end, it really doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks. It only matters what you think about yourself.

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