Melinda's Life With Horses Blog

Melinda Folse, author of The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses, shares her experiences since returning to horses at 45.

Reconsidering Balance

Photo by Lorraine Hill

“Riding is the only sport I know of where one species sits on another”

This quote came in a recent interview I did for the new book I’m working on, and it really got me thinking how odd it is, really, to ride a horse. And in that same interview, we talked about how completely great it is when you get this balance thing right. It’s what keeps us trying to get better with our horses — and, as some golfers will tell  you, that sweet spot happens just often enough to keep you coming back for more.

The key, it seems, is not only finding your own center of balance (which is hard enough for some of us!), but to discover your horse’s center of balance — and to connect the two to achieve that fluid dance that we all aspire to.

Great riders do this instinctively. Go on YouTube and watch a few videos of those who are at  the top in their discipline. It doesn’t matter whether you’re watching reiners, cutters, dressage-ers, jumpers, polo players or Western or English pleasure. The fluidity of movement between rider and horse is such a complete connection they seem to be one.

For others of us, it takes a little more doing to “find our spot” . . . and keep it at any gait. Or through a spook. Or when things get fractious. It can be especially slippery during transitions. And some days, it can come and go like a weak cell phone signal, toggling from four bars to one to two to dropped service altogether.

And, like most things that come naturally to some and not to others, it is hard to explain the “how” of finding this place of balance to someone who has never felt it. So I’m wondering if any of you have stories or tips or techniques for “finding your spot” that you’d be willing to try to explain to those who struggle with stability issues — for whatever reason.

While the roots of the struggle for a solid place of balance at any gait can vary, from weight issues, to age, physical limitations, or other unknown factors, we can help ourselves and help a lot horses if we can crack this code together.

I look forward to your thoughts, suggestions — and photos or videos if you have them. And, if you have a story to tell around this topic, please email me if you’d like to contribute it to my next book about riding through challenges such as these.


Categories: Life With Horses Blog.

Donkey Pants

Forget the whimsical (if mildly humiliating) cross-eyed fly masks. Here's a late summer fly solution to add undeniable style to your donkey's otherwise mundane life.

This just in from Eunice Rush, co-author (with Marry Morrow) of Know You, Know Your Horse (Trafalgar Square Books, 2013). We had a great visit today as interview for a new book I’m working on (Sadly, it has nothing to do with donkey pants.)  This was just too good not to share.

Never let it be said that horsewomen are not highly ingenious and resourceful creatures in the face of a challenge large or small. We not only come through with solutions that work — but often with a sense of style that makes us giggle all the way to the barn — and beyond.

Kudos — and a Sportsmanship Award — go to Barney, Eunice’s snappy-dresser of a watch donkey.

Do you have unusual solutions to common problems to share? Post them here or email them to me! If they make us snicker, you, too, could be featured in this space! Barney says “Bring it!”

Categories: Life With Horses Blog.

Does your horse have a headache?


As many (if not most) of you already know, I have gone the distance trying to figure out what makes my horse so hard to deal with. One of the people I’ve run across in my search is Shea Stewart, a trainer and cranial sacral therapist who actually trained with Dr. Deb Bennett, one of my favorite sources for all kinds of great equine information. Dr. Bennett was one of my resources in The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, and seems to be the definitive source for all kinds of great information concerning horse anatomy. (If you aren’t familiar with Dr. Bennett and her work, do yourself a favor and check out her Equine Studies Institute.) And, in addition to Dr. Bennett, Shea has done extensive study of equine gross anatomy and bio mechanics with a variety of the industry’s top leaders, and has taught clinics to professionals and amateurs.

But I digress.  The reason I called Shea was a growing awareness of how troubles in a horse’s musculotoskeletal system can contribute to behavioral issues. I watched her work on a friend’s horse (and, I admit it, snickered a little when my friend told me Shea said her horse had TMJ.)  But after watching her work — and upon learning of her training — I invited Shea to come out and see if she could help me get to the bottom of what’s troubling dear Trace.

“A horse’s behavioral problems can stem from both physical and psychological issues,” Shea tells us. As one of the few Texas trainers equipped to incorporate craniosacral therapy into her training, she is dedicated to looking at training and behavioral issues from the “whole horse perspective.”

A dull expression can be a sign of a head ache, Shea says.  Head shy problems can be another clue. Spookiness, behavioral issues, poor posture, heavy on fore, stumbling, tight pelvis or being croup high, difficulty with transitions, asymmetrical gaits — all can be signs of physical issues cranial sacral therapy can help. Since my  horse has most, if not all of these symptoms, I was intrigued.

So . . .you may ask . . .what exactly is cranial sacral therapy — and how can it help a horse?

Over the next few posts, we’ll explore this modality in more depth, and Shea has agreed to help me answer any questions you post. As she worked with Trace, I saw a marked difference in his eyes and demeanor, and after several months, these changes have remained. Although I’m not riding him yet (for a variety of reasons), I have some degree of hope that this may in fact be the answer we’ve been looking for.

Stay tuned and be thinking of good questions for Trace’s new BFF Shea!







Categories: Life With Horses Blog, Uncategorized.

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What makes YOU smile?

Jack and Missy are my role models




What makes YOU smile this holiday season?


Here’s to carrying it with you all through the coming year.


Happy Holidays, y’all!


(I haven’t forgotten about the “Horse Headaches” cranial sacral series. Editing video and posting after Christmas! This just came in and made too perfect a holiday greeting not to share)

Categories: Life With Horses Blog, Uncategorized.

Where is YOUR horse taking you?

After going through all the usual things that might make a highly sensitive horse buck and act like a fool every time you get on his back, and yes, even calling an animal communicator  to see if she might shed some light on why my horse bucks, I had all but given up. After the struggles with this horse evolved into my book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, this smart(er) woman was, quite frankly, out of ideas.

Now, before you start with the training tips and the respectfulness rants and the “that horse has got your number” advice, just save your breath. I’ve heard it all. And believe me, if I had all the money back I’ve spent on saddles, pads, trainers, supplements, riding lessons, clinics and DVDs, I could have bought one of those push-button horses I saw at the working cowhorse auction last January. And more than likely, I’d be out loping long easy circles right now instead of writing this post.

Which, precisely, is my point. This horse has taken me on a journey. Because of all the rocks he’s had me look under trying to unearth the source of his issues, I’ve written two books, met hundreds, if not thousands, of people I never would have met through the research, development and promotion of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses. I’ve gotten to work for and write the book, Lessons Well Learned with Clinton Anderson, and I’ve gotten to learn more about horses and horsemanship than I ever would have touched if this had been a horse I just got on and rode without incident.

Part of it, too, is my own nature. I like to get to the bottom of things. I know there’s some reason why a horse as connected and willing and smart as this one cannot relax with a person on his back. I mean to find it. And while I’ve come to accept that I may not ever be able to ride this horse, I’m not giving up. He brings a lot more to my life than transportation — and if we don’t ride, we don’t ride. We’re both too old to push the issue.

I’ve also learned through the Dust Off Your Dreams and Your Life, Up retreats I’ve developed with a couple of like-minded friends, that there is so much more to this horse-human thing than riding. And, with the help of Drs. Deborah and Adele and Tom McCormick at Hacienda Tres Aguilas and The Institute for Conscious Awareness, with whom I’m now studying to go deeper into this subject, there’s really no telling where all this might lead. All because of one unrideable, contrary old ranch gelding.

So I continue my quest. In the coming posts I’ll tell you about Shea Stewart and the latest piece of the puzzle my search has unearthed — and how learning a few simple techniques of cranial-sacral therapy can help you help your horse relax and feel better about his or her job.

Or in other words, how it can turn this:







into THIS:







Curious? Stay tuned.

Categories: Life With Horses Blog.

Whataya Gonna Do?

If you’ve ever spent any time with me at all — or read my book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, you know two things about me. One is that the “smart woman” referred to in the title is most decidedly not me. And two, that I have done the unthinkable in the horse world.

I fell in love with a horse.

And worse, I’ve made a commitment to him that rivals the most dysfunctional marriage you can think of. And yet, I continue to search for that elusive “loose screw” in my love interest that makes him at once the best horse I’ve ever ridden and the worse nightmare a horse owner can have.

Oh yeah, this condition also makes me a trainer and clinician’s dream. For the time energy and money I’ve spend trying to fix this ranch gelding of questionable origin, I could have had a well-bred, good minded, push-button trained fill-in-the-blank pure breed.

And yet, I persist. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me to sell my  horse, Trace, I’d be a rich woman. Why do I stay in this situation?  Well, it’s complicated.

For one thing, it is because of the struggles I’ve have with this horse that I’ve learned more about myself and people and horses than I ever could have imagined if he had been well-behaved. I never would have started watching those Clinton Anderson DVDs. And I would never have gotten to go to work as Clinton’s head writer, written his second book, Lessons Well Learned with him, and enjoyed one of the most fun, rewarding and getting-paid-to-eat-ice-cream (channeling Jo DiMaggio’s famous quote about getting paid to play baseball) stretches of my career. I never would have written The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses (if you haven’t read it, every chapter starts with a problem I was having with Trace and my efforts to solve it that led me into another world of horse issues, looking at these through the lens of a horse-obsessed middle aged woman) or met, spoke to, and conversed with hundreds of like-minded women about this horse thing that thrills us and drives us crazy as nothing else. In fact, if it weren’t for Trace’s contrary nature, I wouldn’t be writing this blog!

So there you have it. My horse seems to have worked himself into a job. And, for better or worse, I’ve just decided to roll with it.

There seems to be a line drawn between two camps of horse owners. On one side, there are those who view their relationship with their horse as a commitment. A for-better-or-worse journey of discovery.  An unparalleled opportunity for self-discovery and learning that transcends self-help AND horsemanship.And, across the line, are those who view a horse as a thing that does or does not “fit your program,” as my friend Carol says. Carol shows at very high levels and has owned dozens of good horses. She has no trouble letting go of one that isn’t working for her. She loves her horses, takes meticulous care of them, and knows when to pull the plug. It really depends, I’ve come to realize, on what you’re after.

So, keeping these two camps — and the somewhat wavy line between them — in mind, I’ll be exploring in coming series of posts some of the more extraordinary things we do when our horse has, as a vet friend sometimes diagnoses, ADR (Ain’t Doin Right). Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you what you’ve done to solve a horse problem, especially against the advice of the “just sell him and get another one” camp.

On my upcoming posts on this topic I’ll be checking in with a holistic vet, an equine massage therapist, a cranial sacral therapist, and yes, an animal communicator.  Stay tuned and happy trails!


Categories: Life With Horses Blog.

Finding Horse Time

Horse Time, as I like to call it, is that blissful place where the world slows down, senses struggle back to life, and the tension lines throughout my body soften and dissipate. Just standing with a horse is calming. Watching him eat, graze, and move about his world is a gentle reminder to pay attention, breathe more deeply, and get out of my head and into the moment. This, without a doubt, is the part of the day where I return to myself, find my own sacred space, and recapture the quiet rhythm that life always offers, but in the rapid-fire demands of the world around us,  gets easier and easier  ignore.

Do you take this time to just “be” with your horse? Or do you, like I used to, enter the barn every day with a head full of agenda, a list of to-dos, and expectations of your horse and yourself that have very little to do with your heart and everything to do with your head?

Sometimes life has a way of slapping some sense into us.

I recently took a full time job — an exciting, demanding, challenging return to who I used to be in the work world. As a Director of Communications now instead of a writer of books and articles and freelance grants, I start each day with a staggering to-do list (usually with a few leftovers from the day before), and time enters warp speed as demands on my attention pelt me like pea-sized hail (not enough to hurt me any; just impossible to ignore). Every escape to the barn — not every day now, but every chance I can create — has helped me realize the true gift of Horse Time.

Now I realize that while it’s good to have goals with your horse (and mine do start to come back to me if I am able to stay at the barn long enough), it’s just as important to allow yourself to take the ideas espoused in Veronique Vienne’s treatise on the subject, a little book called The Art of Doing Nothing into your Horse Time. The opportunity is there for all of us, every time we’re with our horse. It’s quiet though. And very easy to miss.

Take some time today and let yourself soak up a little bit of this wonder. You’ll be glad you did.

And, of course, now I want to hear from you. How do you find more Horse Time? For those of you who work in the 8-5 world as I now do, what’s your strategy for getting enough Horse Time without shortchanging the important people in your life? This has always been a hot topic, and now that it’s turned personal, it’s even more important to me  to dig into it than ever before. Let’s put our heads together here and brainstorm ways to find and make the most of our  Horse Time!

Categories: Life With Horses Blog.

The Side Effects Continue . . .

Just wanted to post a quick thank you to all involved — and all present! — for the opportunity to take part in last night’s webinar sponsored by US Rider. It was great fun to get to talk to so many people at once about all that has happened and continues to happen in the wake of  The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses was both gratifying and recharging! Thanks to all who asked such good and reflective questions and I hope you will keep listening, learning and gaining all the wisdom you can from your midlife horses experience!

We love our midlife horses — and maybe even as much, we love what these giant catalysts bring into our lives! If you missed last night’s webinar, here’s a quick recap. If you want to know more, please feel free to post your comments and questions here and I’ll be delighted to answer them! I do believe all horses should come with this interaction precaution:

Common Side Effects of Working With Horses may include:

1. Increased clarity
2. Enhanced confidence
3. Higher level of fitness
4. Better sense of your own power/authority
5. Amped up time/life management skills
6. Humility
7. Gratitude
8. Connection with others
9. Connection with your own spirit

If you experience any of these side effects, you are on the right track. If you don’t, slow down, take a deep breath and dig a little deeper!

I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones I’ve heard the most about in all my speaking, corresponding and visiting with those who have responded so well to this book. If you know of others, by all means, add them to our list! This, after all, is meant to be an interactive discussion – and I, for one, have love the responses you have been so generous to give. Keep it coming! When the webinar is available for replay, I’ll be sure to provide a link so you can go take a listen yourself!

Happy Trails and Happy Friday!



Categories: Life With Horses Blog, Uncategorized.

Side Effects Webinar (9-27-2012)

When the Equine Network asked me if I’d like to do a webinar on Thursday, September 27  around the topics covered in The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, I remembered the timeless advice of Suzie Humphreys in a talk I once heard her give about meeting new challenges head-on: “Sure!” (and then thinking to myself) “How hard can it be?”  After working on this presentation this past week, I have an answer. It’s hard. Not to come up with content, mind you. I wrote a whole book about this stuff! But what exactly will people want me to talk about  in this 20-minute presentation? In talks I’ve given to various groups, it seems this book hits a lot of different chords with all kinds of people. So what will this audience be most interested in exploring? Which topics will spark the best questions?

So I officially invite you, dear Discover Horses friends, to join us on Thursday September 27 at 8:00 pm Central — and in the meantime, if there’s something in the book that you’d like to hear more about, by all means, let me know!  Also, please note: I titled this presentation “Common Side Effects of Midlife Horses” to play off the book title and the whole midlife crisis allusion, but the truth is — and as anyone who has ever had a serious attachment to horses will attest — these side effects are present at all ages and stages of life. So even if you’re not a midlifer (and I’m still refusing to put specific numbers to this zone), but you do love your horse, please don’t let the title keep you away!

Here’s the list of side effects I’ve come up with  so far:

  • Increased Clarity
  • Enhanced Confidence
  • Greater Overall Fitness
  • Mad Core Strength
  • Heightened Sense of Your Own Power/Authority
  • Improved Life and Time Management Skills
  • Continuously Refreshed Humility
  • Amplified Gratitude
  • Stronger and Clearer Relationships/Connections with others
  • Nurtured Spirit
Weigh in, everyone! Which of these side effects have you  experienced just because there’s a horse in your life? I’d love to have a few stories from  you guys to tell around these side effects, so don’t be shy! I’d also love to  hear from you if there are specific things you’d like for me to address within these areas — or others!
Hope you’ll be in the audience for webinar night ( Click here to register!”) — and please be sure to let the moderator know you’re a Life With Horses reader!

Categories: Horses, Life With Horses, Life With Horses Blog, Seminars.

Do you lunge yourself?

What's your pre-and-post-ride fitness routine?

Why do we lunge our horses before we ride? To warm them up and get the kinks out of their muscles, right? And to make sure they’re moving OK, paying attention and ready to work, right? Well guess what? We need to do the same things for our own bodies!

As you will see in the upcoming video posts, it takes only a few minutes of the right kind of focused attention on each major muscle group to get your body loosened up and ready to ride. In so doing you perform for your own body the same kind of pre-flight check you do for your horse when you are lunging him and doing your groundwork. In essence, you are giving your all-important core muscles the same kind of attention you give your horse:  ”Hey, wake up! Do you remember your job? Are you ready to work?”

If  your muscles, like mine, answer with a chorus of knotty complaints, you know its time to get more serious with your overall fitness regimen. And if you, like me, tend to rush around all day, and then screech up to the barn with just an hour or two of precious “horse time” before you go zooming back into the rest of your life, it will make a big difference in how you ride — and how much you enjoy it —  to add a little  breathing, stretching and loosening  to your tacking up routine. And more than likely, your horse will appreciate your taking the time to get yourself together, mentally and physically.

As promised, I did go visit Cassandra Thompson of ABSolute Pilates and the up and coming ABSolute Equestrian program recently to shoot some quick videos  of a few good pre-and-post-ride stretching and limbering exercises we can all do to make sure our muscles are unknotted, awake and ready to work. I’ll get these posted once I have a chance to clip, title and upload them to my YouTube channel — and will embed them here, one at a time, for your convenience as I highlight and explain them (thanks to Cassandra!). But meanwhile, here’s what I learned about the whyfors and how tos of pre- and- post- ride stretching and loosening.

First, by  beginning each pre-ride exercise with deliberate and timed breathing (always breath out on exertion), activating your core muscles by “putting your abs on” (grooming and tacking  up present great opportunities to work these into your normal routine — nobody even has to know you’re exercising!) and relaxing and  ”breathing with your ribcage” as you let your shoulders settle back and down (take a deep breath and feel your ribcage expanding outward to take in as much air as possible, and then, on the exhale, imagine sliding your shoulder blades downward toward your back pockets). Do this a few times and you’ll have your body calm, relaxed and centered to take on whatever challenges come your way.

And, while you wait on my remedial video editing skills to blossom, here’s a cool chart I found to show you the major muscle groups you’ll want to stretch before and after you ride — along with some simple stretches to do to get them loose and stretchy. Elastic bands will give you a much deeper and more targeted stretch, but if you’re not used to stretching at all these will get you started down the right trail!

Do you have any good pre-ride stretching and loosening routines to share? Look for Cassandra’s videos coming soon, and please let me know if you have any other good ones to add — or if you know of any good stretching routines, DVDs, or workouts that target these same areas — or some good, yet subtle things you can do at the barn. We’ll get to some good home routines a little bit later, but for now let’s just commit to doing a little bit of stretching before and after we ride to put this great habit into place. Send me your progress reports!



Categories: Life With Horses Blog, Uncategorized.