Saturday, 15 July 2017

When Dedicated Rider Meets Peri-Menopause 

I am not aging gracefully.  The symptoms of peri-menopause started creeping up on me slowly with an occasional hot flash and irregular periods.  Then, all of a sudden, “WHAM!” my body started some radical changes that were definitely not for the better. 

The worst was the crushing fatigue. I am used to having lots of energy and being involved in many activities throughout each day. I work full time, own a couple of businesses, care for my two horses and a boarder at home, ride my two horses 4 or 5 times a week, teach a few riding lessons, work out regularly, look after a large country property and still find time to do a little sewing, singing and dancing the tango with my husband.  Suddenly, last fall, I just couldn’t do it all anymore.  I would come home from work at  6 pm, do the stable chores and feed the horses, eat supper and by 7:30 pm I was so tired I could not even think about lifting a saddle on a horse much less ride two of them.  Even when my chronic insomnia was not making me tired, being exhausted seemed to have become the new normal.

Then there was the weight gain.  Even when I strictly regulated what I ate, and intensely worked out regularly in addition to riding most days, I gained weight.  This was frustrating to the point that I gave up on eating well and working out for while – it seemed pointless to bother.  Workouts that used to help me keep feeling fit and vigorous just added to my exhaustion.  

And it would be rather ironic to forget to mention the forgetfulness. I am a detail person. I do NOT forget to do things. Or at least I didn’t. Now I regularly lose my keys in the house, forget why I walked into a room and have to check several times to make sure I have actually remembered to lock doors when I leave the house.

All of this is not unique to riders.  Most women go through some sort of their own special torture in the transition to menopause.  However, it does have implications for those of us who ride.  Here are some of the things aging women riders deal with:
  • ·        Guilt over not riding on the schedule that you used to follow.  My horses are used to workouts 4 or 5 times a week but now, sometimes I am lucky if I can manage to find the energy to exercise them twice a week.  And I feel guilty about not being consistent because I know how important consistency is in training.
  •       Our bodies physically change shape and size in peri-menopause, and sometimes this is not within our control.  In addition to the body image issues this causes, it also in some women can change their balance in the saddle and make them feel like suddenly they cannot ride correctly anymore.  
  •      We cannot underestimate the impact of body image issues either.  I know a woman rider going though peri-menopause who will not ride if anyone else is present because she feels so ugly in her riding breeches after a period of rapid weight gain.
  • ·        For some women, mental focus becomes challenging.  I have had mature women riders in the middle of lesson that’s going really well suddenly stop and look at me in horror and say “I have no idea what I was just doing or what to do next.”
  • ·         Some women have heightened emotions during this phase of their lives.  Even the slightest of things can make the waterworks start.  I have taught lessons with women in this phase of their lives who have ridden something like a lovely shoulder in and then dissolve into tears because it was so beautiful.  And then be horribly embarrassed that they are crying.

Peri-meonpausal riders need to learn to be kind to themselves and they need understanding from others as they journey through this phase of their lives. The most wonderful benefit we peri-menopausal riders have is our horses, who accept us unconditionally even when we have trouble accepting ourselves. 

Take away for instructors

For male riding instructors or younger women riding instructors who have not yet experienced the trials of peri-menopause, it is really important to understand the magnitude of the physical and mental changes and challenges women experience at this time.  Being aware of it and talking about it can help the rider not feel isolated or like they are “losing their mind.”  Encourage them to discuss their experiences with other female riders who have passed through this phase in their lives.  They can often provide reassurance that only can be provided by someone with a shared experience.  If a peri-menopausal woman suddenly feels like she just can’t seem to ride correctly anymore, help her find her centre of gravity again and go back to working on the basics of proper position.  It is always OK to teach a lesson on the basics with even the most advanced rider. And if she unexpectedly breaks into tears, reassure her that tears are just one form of release and are very normal. Encourage her to stop, take a few deep breaths, rub her horse’s neck a few times and giver her time to compose herself, and then carry on when she is ready.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Validation Part 2: Seeking External Validation
 From the Right Places

In the last blog post, I mused about the need we as riders have for external validation of our riding skills from instructors and other riders. As discussed in the last blog post, we can seek external validation in many ways, one of the most common being attention seeking from others.  An example of seeking this type of external validation is the posting of photos of you, your horse, and winning ribbons on social media. The sole point of posting such photos is to send a message “hey, look what I did” and then read the congratulatory messages from friends.  If we were not seeking external validation, we might have the photo taken but we wouldn’t feel the need to show it to everyone.

But what if we sought our external validation from a more meaningful place?

Riding is an equal partnership between horse and rider.  So, what would it mean if instead of seeking external validation from our friends, we instead sought it from our horse?  What if at the end of a show when we make a social media post about how happy we are with our horse, we also focused on the question “how happy was my horse with me today?”

Receiving external validation from our horse requires us to become a good listener as we ride.  When we apply an aid, we need to listen for the response, not just keep repeating the aid.  If you put your legs on your horse to ask her to be more forward with every single stride in her trot, how will you ever know if she responded to your aid?  In fact, soon she most definitely won’t respond!  But if you give the aid, wait for validation from the horse that yes, she understood your clear aid, you will have a horse that is going more forward and has externally validated that you just did a good job.

If your horse is spooking during your class, he is telling you something.  Have you been his calm base of support in what is likely a stressful environment for him? Have you ridden focused in each moment giving whatever aids are needed to keep his mind and body attuned to his job and you instead of spooking at the flowers?  Is he telling you something else? If your horse jumps a clear round in good time without resistance, that is clear external validation that you did a great job.

When we switch the focus of our outward approval-seeking from other people to the horse we are riding, some wonderful results can occur.  We learn more about what our horse needs from us and we deepen the relationship.

April 1 2017