Tough Horses Make Good Horsemen

A few days will mark the one year anniversary of Cowgirls With Curves!

It’s been a great year and what started out as simple blog has turned into a wonderful journey for me too as not only a writer and horseman, but as a woman as well. I want to say a special “Thank You” to all the followers out there. You’ve been such an encouragement and you’ve shown me what this is really all about — encouraging other riders and making a difference.

I’ve spent the winter doing the bare minimum and packing on a few pounds. Bad news is that I put on 6 pounds of that 20 pounds I lost last year. The good news is I’m still 14 pounds lighter than this time last year – so I consider it a bit of a success!

With show season right around the corner, I’m starting to feel the itch of riding more and warmer days. I’ve always said there’s nothing like a colt or green horse to make me start working out. The last couple of years, I’ve not had to worry about that too much. This year is a little different!

Back in December, Willie Kamps came to farm to live. Willie is an interesting horse. He’d been ridden by a kid, and I believe even roped on. I hauled him some last year to a few barrel races and even a sorting. Although he was easy to put where you needed him when it came to tracking cows, he still had a few gaps.

For instance, we sat a friend’s helmet on a barrel when she was done riding. I went to go around that barrel a few minutes later, thinking nothing of it since we’d worked around it a few times already, and suddenly it became a fire-breathing dragon we couldn’t get within ten feet of!

Although he’s a bit calmer in the arena, he’s a completely different horse out in an open field by himself. He’s got a lot more energy and is constantly looking for things to spook and bolt at. You’d better have your heels down or you’ll easily be left behind!

I also have an off the track retire thoroughbred, Dynamic Host, that I’ll be re-schooling as well as an eventing prospect. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of similarities between he and Willie Kamps when it comes time to ride out in the field!

While some folks steer clear of horses like that, I tend to love a good challenge. I also see them as an incentive to get stronger, in addition to an opportunity to improve as a horseman. Becoming a better horseman is important to me.

Having two tough horses to ride and train and train – in two different disciplines – this year is most definitely enough of a reason to get me up a little earlier. I’m getting older and I don’t like to hit the ground — the best way to avoid hitting the ground is to get strong and balanced!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what inspires and encourages you. What is it that makes you want to get stronger? What is it that makes you want to become a better rider?

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

Just A Few Minutes

Is your horse getting enough time from you?

With working and taking care of family, sometimes spending time with your horses takes a back seat. Sometimes you feel as though you’re lucky just to get them fed and turned out all in one piece. The thought of catching, grooming, saddling and riding is just too daunting a task.

Toad tied out at a barrel race.

Toad tied out at a barrel race. This is one horse that I’ve done these exercises on a lot!

Fortunately, there are things you can implement into your daily routine that will help you and your horse stay tuned up even though you may not get a chance to ride. The best part is that it only takes a couple of minutes every day to see a big difference in how your horse responds.

Most likely you have the same routine every time you feed and/or turn out your horse. You do the same thing every time you do your chores. The good news is that horses learn by repetition and you can use your routine to make a difference in your horse and not spend that much time.

For instance, every time you go to feed your horse you can ask them to move over or do a side pass before you give them their feed. This only takes a couple of seconds to do, but when it’s done every day the benefits add up.

Another exercise that I implement into my daily routine is moving my horse’s hips and shoulders over while they’re eating. I’m not quite sure why, but there’s something about working with a horse while they’re eating that helps them to learn quicker. Again, it only takes a few seconds to do but  you’ll see a huge improvement in the lightness of your horse.

If your horse is grumpy while they’re eating, then you definitely want to spend the time working on your horse while they’re eating. Not only is it a chance to bond with your horse, but it’s also an opportunity to address respect issues that may not come up any other time.

Turn out time is an excellent opportunity to get your horse moving their shoulders and hips. Instead of pushing your horse over like you did during feed time, you can work on getting your horse to move without having to touch them. You can also work on flexing and getting your horse to give side to side through their face. With time, you can get your horse extremely light and that will most certainly translate to under saddle.

When you’re leading your horse in our out, instead of just going straight to the pasture or barn, take a couple of minutes to move the hips or shoulders.Ask them to move the shoulders and then quit – make sure you quit on a good note.

It only takes a minute or two, five at most, to implement these exercises into your daily routine. Not only will your horse get some much-needed interaction, but because you’re doing it every day and it’s repetitive, your horse will catch on quickly and improve.

Done with our ride.

Done with our ride.

Little Changes

Most of us know that horses react better and learn more when things are broken down into little increments, or changes. It may not seem like you’re getting a whole lot done in short sessions, but training actually progresses quicker that way. They retain more and have a better attitude which allows the training to progress at a faster rate.

Humans are the same way…

Read any article on long-term weight loss and they’ll tell you that when it comes to food it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change. The reasoning behind that is that diets are too strict and unrealistic to maintain. I tend to agree with that, but at the same time changing  your whole lifestyle is major upset as well.

If you think about it, a diet is temporary even if it is for a few months. A lifestyle change, on the other hand is permanent. That’s kind of scary – you’re changing your whole life, not just what you put into your body!

The older I get, the more minimalistic I’ve noticed I’m becoming. I ask myself, “What small changes can I make?”

For a person that’s always been impatient and wanted results fast, that’s a pretty big change in itself. I’ve spent decades going on the next greatest diet and going down the scale to get results quickly only to go right back up. I got the results quickly – unfortunately those results were quick in both directions!

Are you getting enough vegetables?

Are you getting enough vegetables?

Like everyone else out there, I’m busy and have a full schedule. I already get up at 4am most mornings and my day is stuffed full of things that have to be done. I can’t radically upset that apple cart! Yet, I know I need to make some changes to be healthy.

So how do you make those changes when your day is already full? I’m finding the easiest way is to make small changes, and make them as effortless and enjoyable as possible. If something is too hard, or not enjoyable then it’s too easy to slip back into old habits and schedules.

One small change that I made several months ago is drinking home made green smoothies. I throw in a handful of kale or spinach and then fill the rest with fruit, almond or cashew milk, and vanilla protein powder. It takes maybe 5 minutes to fix. I take the smoothie with me to work and that’s my daily breakfast.

Spinach, banana, strawberry, Raw brand Protein powder.

Spinach, banana, strawberry, Raw brand Protein powder.

One of the most important things in drinking a smoothie every day is to make sure I enjoy the taste. If not, I’m not going to be motivated to drink it every day. I add enough fruit to improve the taste of the spinach, and add a protein powder that I truly love. I have to steer clear of soy and whey which made it a little difficult to find a good tasting protein powder but I found a couple of great tasting and affordable protein powders at Swansons Vitamins.

Because the green smoothies are quick and easy to make, and I enjoy the taste, it’s not been all that hard to maintain that one change. As a result, I’ve started drinking smoothies at other times as well. For instance, when I’m either short or time or it’s too late to actually make a meal.

The good thing about having a green smoothie for breakfast is that leaves only two other meals to manage during the day. Even if you bomb those two meals, you’ve at least gotten in one healthy meal for the day! It’s all in how you break it down.

Just like with horses, small changes can make a huge impact long term. What small changes can you make in your life that will make a difference in your health? Maybe it’s making that smoothie for breakfast. Maybe it’s getting an extra fifteen minutes of sleep. Whatever it is, find a way to make it easy and enjoyable to maintain it.

 

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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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What Is It That Makes You Feel Better?

This week I’d like to know…what is it that truly makes you feel better about yourself?

When you dread looking in the mirror, or testing your ability, what is it that makes you feel better about yourself? Is it losing a ton of weight? Is it winning that barrel race or pleasure class? Is it wearing your favorite outfit?

So often, we get into the rut of thinking, I’ll feel better about myself when I _____ – fill in the blank. For a lot of us, the blank might be losing thirty pounds or winning a class – or both.

The cold hard truth of the matter is that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. Heck, we’re not even guaranteed the very next breath. So why do we waste our lives not accepting who we are as we are at this very moment when we may not even get the very next moment? Why do we do that?

I read an article earlier today about the designer Betsey Johnson. She’s 72 years old, wears what most people consider completely inappropriate hair and clothing for her age, and she does cartwheels on the catwalk. Yet, she’s a confident, happy, and very successful woman.

 

Earlier this month, I learned about Leah Gilbert who is a plus size athlete and fitness trainer from Australia. Yes, you read that correctly – she’s a plus size athlete and fitness trainer. While she doesn’t fit the typical aesthetics mold of what most people consider an “athlete”, Leah is one incredibly confident and strong woman who is on a mission to change how we think about ourselves. By the way, I strongly advise following her blog Body Positive Athletes. You’ll be better for it, I promise!

So here we have two women that don’t conform or fit the “perfect” mold at all and yet both of them are happy confident women. How do they do that?

Although I don’t have all the answers, I would say one commonality they have is that they buck the trends, do what they want, and they do what works for them – not what everyone else says works for them. They live in the moment, where they’re at. Long ago, they stopped fighting who they were and stopped listening to what society told them they should be. Oh, and they don’t compare themselves to everyone else.

What are the things that you do well right now? Focus on those for a moment and feel good about yourself for a moment. Feel better?

 

Just out enjoying a winter ride on my pony Fireman.

Just out enjoying a winter ride on my pony Fireman.