Movement Monday: Winter creativity

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We’ve had quite a snowy, wet, cold spell here. I don’t have an indoor space to work with the horses, so most of our time together involves me feeding them. It takes a surprising amount of dexterity and energy trying not to fall down in the treacherous footing that alternates between ice skating rinks interspersed with frozen chunky muck and a foot deep lake of slippery clay. The horses are focused on eating, finding shelter from the snow, wait rain, wait snow… sleeping flat out in any dry patch they can find when the sun peeks out. We’re all tired.

I find I need some kind of vigorous movement, something that challenges me, to work out pent up energy. It’s how I clear my head so I can focus on things like writing. Long winter nights beg for ways to keep moving and cooking is the perfect answer. No need to contrive an exercise routine. Cooking from scratch so that I have to knead dough, or chop veggies. Grinding my pesto in a mortar and pestle instead of the food processor. One night I made homemade refried beans, squatting on the floor to get the best leverage to mash the beans with a potato masher. Sitting on the floor and working on my laptop so that I keep putting my body in different positions and have to get up and down. I’ve been pondering how the tools of convenience eliminate sources of movement…

Since I’m not as active with the horses in the winter, I get creative. Walking through the snow to feed instead of taking the ATV. Pushing the wheelbarrow down the lane with a bale of hay, can I push with my arms out ahead of me? Elbows slightly bent, shoulders down and back? It’s harder than it sounds and requires constant awareness not to let my elbows slide behind me, leaning into it and pushing more from my hips. Carrying feed buckets, instead of just letting the weight of the bucket hang off of the ligaments in my shoulder and elbow, keep my elbow slightly bent and my shoulder joint tucked back against my shoulder blade. I can feel deeper core muscles wake up when I do this!

All these little things build strength and awareness in parts of my body that are key to my successfully working with my horses come spring. Even though I’m not riding or working much now, I’m still tuning my body to be a good dance partner for my horse. I’m also tuning my ability to be creative within my environment. I wonder how handy that will be when the horses and I can start to work together again?

 

Movement Monday: The depths of winter

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January ushers in deep, dark, cold winter days in my neck of the woods. Once snow is on the ground our proximity to the mighty Colorado puts us in the path of her river generated fog bank. Silently engulfing us during the night and covering everything in a layer of hoarfrost. By morning it’s a wonderland of mist and white tree branches that dissolve the moment the sun penetrates, filling the air with tiny, sparkling crystals, or shards of snow, depending on how heavy the frost.

These temperature inversions bring lots of extra labor, keeping water tanks free of ice chief among them! Managing ice starts to feel like a full time job. It’s too cold, the footing too dicey to ask the horses to do much other than focus on eating and staying warm. This is the season that calls us to hibernate and pay attention to surviving. It’s the time of year to store up our energy in preparation for the labor of spring planting. It’s a good time to remember that stillness can be a movement too.

I like to follow the horse’s lead and listen to the call of the seasons. Winter naturally offers opportunities to take a break from strict training regimes and conserve our energy. When it’s warm enough we bask together in the sunlight and breathe the crisp air together. If I touch them while I breathe, the movement of my breath can move my horse’s body. Tiny movements that gently bring cold, stiff, aging joints to life. Firing those small skeletal muscles around joints to remind them their job is to stabilize and perceive subtle changes in environment, the better for navigating the slick terrain. Excess tension melts away and we both breathe easier.

I got rid of my coffee table in my living room. My floor is covered in blankets, with rollers, pillows and bolsters – even an array of rocks to use as stimulation for my feet or weights to lift. Getting up and down off the floor, finding positions to lie in that allow excess tension to melt from my winter tired body.

Melting is a movement too.

Have you allowed yourself to succumb to the call to hibernate this winter?

 

 

Moving into the New Year

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Feeding horses while the sun sets on 2018, and I’ll be feeding horses as the sun rises on 2019. Taking photos of the horses with icicle manes in the chilly last light of the last day of the year, pondering the shifting of time, the movement of one year to the next. This deep winter is the best time to get all quiet, to reflect on blessings past and those on the horizon.

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As we gently roll into a frosty New Year, remember that stillness is a movement too.  Be still long enough to feel all the tiny places holding tension melt, release their burdens and let go. Long enough to let your mind rest and feel the weight of your bones.

Breathe.  Feel how your breath moves you. Not just your lungs, not just your chest or your belly, but all of you. Allow this breath initiated movement to expand, maybe your breath moves your head and neck, or lifts an arm. Luxuriate in feeling your body move as it wants to, improvise, let go of expectations. Allow spontaneous movement to flow through you.

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Horses love stillness too. Touch your horse and breathe. Feel how much movement there is in the still space between the two of you. Let your breath move the both of you. Notice how alive and awake your senses are when you get this quiet together. What do you smell? What do you taste? What do you feel? What do you see? What do you hear?

Many good wishes for the coming year.

May it be filled with the joy of awareness, the childlike wonder of awakened senses and the magic of expanded insight.  Join me in moving into this new year full of wonder at the possibilities!

My heartfelt thanks to all the incredible beings who made 2018 one of the most remarkable years of my life, can’t wait to see where our journey takes us in 2019!

Last light NYE 2018

Merry Christmas Eve!

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The longest nights, the shortest days, the fullest moon and Christmas all clustered together this year. We awoke to our first real snow of the season this Christmas Eve morning at Restoration Ranch.

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The cats and I ran barefoot through the snow!

 

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Nothing like a fire to warm cold toes.

There’s nothing quite like snow at Christmas time to inspire the kid in me. I couldn’t wait to get out and sweep the snow off the walk and take pictures of the artfully frosted elm trees.

If you have spent any time with me at all you’ll have heard me talk about how horses are so in touch with all of their senses. Watch them revel in the weather, whatever it may be. Susan pulled in to feed this morning and watched three of the old guard drop and wallow in the snow, one after the other. It’s like a chain reaction, everyone wants to get in on the fun! Imagine how invigorating it must be to live so in touch with nature and the elements?

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My wish for you this holiday season is to find your own way to revel in the elements, to awaken your senses, take a cue from the horses and let loose. Do something completely foolish and silly that reminds you of what it was like to be a kid. I don’t know why we let go of our playful spirit as we grow into adults?

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Wishing you all the very best for the season and into the New Year! And thank you all for sharing the journey with the herd and I!

Movement Monday (or rather Tuesday): Repetition

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Good Monday (Tuesday) Morning!

I hope you are finding more ways to move and feeling the benefits. I know I am! I can sleep on my back without a pillow. I love that!

Today I want to talk a bit about repetition. A great deal of the movement we expose ourselves to is repetitive in some way. As an example, if I always wear the same shoes and walk the same route for my daily exercise my body adapts to the loads specific to the needs of that walk. Over time I may find my body responding to this daily repeat of the same loading by developing stress patterns from those specific parts being overused. The parts that are underused and weaker are prone to injury if I happen to do something where those rarely used parts are suddenly recruited – say to pick up a piece of paper off the floor.

Similar things happen with our horses. If I work them in meticulously groomed footing and we do the exact same routine every single day for the same amount of time, the horse’s body adapts to the stresses of that specific routine. Their mind also adapts to that routine. Ever had a horse that stops in the same spot in the arena every time and then objects when you ask them to continue on?

It’s so easy to accidentally build in patterns of behavior in our horses. It’s not just mental, it’s physical. The pattern is built into the body as well. Horses are great at letting us know when we have done something to excess! I’ll never forget one of my coaches teaching me about this concept by sharing the time she says she knew she screwed up when she turned her mare loose in the warm up ring at a show and the mare trotted down the mid line, halted at X and proceeded to execute the entire dressage test on her own!

In all my years of rehabilitating injured horses the issues I dealt with could easily be classified as overuse or repetitive use injuries. Too much time spent doing the same patterns of movement, in the same footing, in the same shoes, for the same amount of time.

How much do you vary your movement habits each day? How much do you vary your horse’s movement patterns? I want to install a path along the edge of my arena that has stretches that incorporate different types of footing to walk across. Then my horse and I can both practice walking on different footing barefoot! It’s all too easy to fall into habitual patterns. A certain amount of repetition is useful, even necessary, to perfect skills and build muscle memory, try not to fall into habitual patterns that ultimately limit you and your horse, and might even make you more prone to injury.

Variety is the spice of life, after all!

 

 

 

Movement Monday: Why Move More?

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Peppy helping a participant work on her balance at a clinic here a few years ago.

You might wonder why I keep going on about getting ourselves moving on a page dedicated to the idea of dancing Tango with horses? You’ve all heard the old saying, ‘it takes two to Tango’, right? We spend so much time attending to our horse’s every need. We make sure they get the best we can possibly provide. We make sure they get exercised regularly because we know how important movement is to our horse’s well being.

Guess what?

Movement is just as important for our well being. Humans are designed to be moving just as much as horses are, and we don’t get nearly enough in our domesticated lives. What movement we do get is most often couched in a daily ‘exercise’ routine. We tend to take ourselves through a particular range of motions in whatever our chosen form of exercise – motion that becomes repetitive.

I had no idea how limited my range of movements was until I started doing Parkour. At that point it became quite clear how my entire body has adapted to the activities I’ve done throughout my life. I have done a lot of skiing (down hill and cross country), riding horses, lifting hay bales and muck tubs to about waist height. Most of my ‘exercise’ routine has consisted of mat work designed to free up all the tight spots. Because I spend time squatting to work on lower legs of horses I have a decent full squat. But ask me to hang from a bar and swing or crawl on my hands and feet, or pull myself up on top of something (other than a horse), and I’m in trouble. It was truly shocking to discover the number of muscles and movement possibilities I have never explored!

When I talk to students about doing therapeutic work with their horses I quite often get a list of the things they either cannot do, or do not enjoy doing because of their own body issues. I get it, over the years my feet have started to hurt more. I have issues with my neck and shoulders. I’ve injured both rotator cuffs more than once and my knees were killing me. My right foot developed plantar fasciitis last year. It’s easy to think it’s just a normal side effect of aging. We say the same thing about our horses. Fusing hocks and arthritic joints are just a normal part of aging. What if it’s not normal to get crippled up as we age? What if it’s a side effect of a life that is ultimately too sedentary?

Think about it, how much time do you estimate you spend in motion every day, actively moving? How about your horse? How many hours a day do you estimate you spend sitting in some kind of chair? How often do you or your horse move on varied terrain? Since I moved to Grand Junction I can tell you that I live on pretty flat ground most of the time. So do my horses. We control the footing our horses walk in and make sure that arena is flat. We put their feet and ours in protective gear. All this stuff we do to manage the environment limits the feedback to our bodies. Limits our movement.

Since we started Parkour my knees stopped hurting. Going up and down hills and climbing the ladder to tie down my hay tarp were becoming out of reach. Now they are easy. My right foot that I’ve been protecting to ease the pain of the plantar fascia I now walk around barefoot on my hardwood floors, and even walked barefoot on the river rocks outside my house the other day. My chronically tight and painful neck and shoulders still hurt but now they hurt because I am actually using my entire body effectively and they are unraveling the adaptations of more than 50 years of life. Who knew that the pattern in my feet from wearing heeled shoes (yes, even low heels count) all my life was a major contributor to the tension in my neck and shoulders? My hands used to ache all the time, the joints in my fingers seizing up from trimming feet. No more.

What if it isn’t aging that slowly cripples us? What if it’s repetitive, limited movement that cripples us? And what if it’s reversible? Based on my personal experience I think it is. For horse and human. The trick is to incorporate more movement into our daily lives. Increase the variety of movements we subject our bodies to. Think hunter-gatherer cultures and how they had to move through the environment to survive? Digging roots, grinding, squatting, crawling, climbing, swinging – we are designed to use our whole body to move through our environment. If the hunger-gatherer analogy doesn’t work, think monkey!

Horses are also designed to be in motion. They move and graze. They reach up to browse from trees, reach across to browse on brush, walk up and down hills, climb over rocks, move on widely varied terrain. Their ability to stand and stabilize themselves while they browse on a steep hillside picking between rocks is astonishing. I love to go watch the mustangs in our desert canyon range here. It’s amazing the kind of terrain they can move through. On my flat ground at home I have to get creative about the kinds of movement the horses and I explore to even come close to stimulating a similar range of movement.

Varied movement places different loads on the joints and muscles recruited for the activity. The wider the array of loads we place on our bodies the healthier those parts remain. As one of my Parkour friends once quipped – ‘motion is lotion’. My feet are a great example. I had no idea how many tiny joints and muscles live in my feet and how under-stimulated they have been my entire life. Being encased in shoes does that to feet… As I work to stimulate all those joints and muscles my feet get stronger and healthier. As I move all those little joints my ankles are stimulated and moved in a wider range of motion. They are strengthening. And my left hip is getting stronger and doesn’t hurt anymore. And my neck and shoulders are unwinding. It’s a whole body affair!

There is no gym membership required. Everything you need to move more and improve your health is all around you. A friend of mine recently told me that she tries to eat the rainbow every day as a gauge for keeping her diet healthy and varied. I love that analogy. I think we can apply the same concept to moving. If you need inspiration, check out Katy Bowman’s work on nutritiousmovement.com. I’ve been sharing her daily movement advent to my business page on FB if you’d like to join us.

Working with horses is an athletic pursuit. The healthier and stronger we are the more capable we can be of providing this kind of varied movement for our horses. I don’t have to avoid groundwork because my feet hurt too much. In-hand work because it bothers my shoulder. Trimming feet because I can’t bend over. Riding because I can’t swing my leg over the saddle. Riding because my knees can’t take it. I can be a strong, balanced, solid mover my horse can easily follow. It’s my horse’s who push me to keep moving. They follow movement instinctively and when I don’t move well it’s confusing. I don’t want them to have to guess and compensate for my weaknesses. Who knew getting stronger could be so easy!

It takes two to Tango, two vibrant, healthy, mobile partners. Let’s bust the myth of aging and dance!

 

 

 

 

Movement Mondays: Movement is for horses too. Even when it’s cold outside!

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Photo by Susan White

It can be a challenge to move enough when winter kicks into full swing. We got our first snow here today and it sure feels cold and damp out there! I am often asked by students, ‘what can I do with my horse when it’s too cold to do my normal training program?’ Personally, I don’t like to ask my horses to work too hard in the cold. I don’t want them to get too sweaty before the sun goes down because they live outside. And I’m not so sure it’s great for their lungs to breathe hard in particularly cold air.

The good news is, a lot can be accomplished in the walk.

I know, I know, how boring!

As far as I’m concerned, both in Tango and horsemanship the walk is the foundation of everything. We always go back to refining our connection and ability to walk together when we dance. And I do the same when I interact with my horses. I spend gobs of time building this connection with my horses so that when they finally commit to dancing with me we can walk anywhere at any pace side by side. Comes in handy in so many situations! I’ve already started using this winter as my time to review and refine this part of my relationship with my horses. We walk all over the place!

So, how do I make walking interesting – both for me and my horses?

I like to set challenges. I might decide, as I did a number of years ago, that I will not pull on their head, drive them from behind or bribe them with food to get them to walk with me. I made a commitment to allowing my horse to choose to follow me. What came out of that challenge became the foundation I now build with every horse I take on. It’s a great thing to play with when it’s cold and nasty because you can leave them in their stall or paddock, leave their blanket on and just play with picking up a soft feel and seeing what your horse does with that. My horses processed through enormous amounts of stress and old trauma from how they’d been handled in the past. When they finally decided to follow me it was with their whole heart. Time really well spent and so much movement happens in these seemingly quiet places.

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With the horses who have committed to dancing with me we do a lot of transitions within the walk.  Transitions are where balance control and communication happen with the greatest intensity. Speed up, slow down, halt and stand – then go, halt for a moment – then go, halt and shift the center of gravity back – then go, add in bits of lateral work, circles, arcs and squares. The more varied the movement patterns the wider the variety of loads placed on joints and bones, the greater the variety of muscle groups recruited to coordinate the movement.

 

And the more opportunity we have to refine how we communicate. I like to maintain that challenge for myself. How do I communicate to my  horse to speed up, slow down or change direction without pulling on them? Can we do this in a halter, bridle, at liberty?

Worst case scenario, if the weather really sucks, we can stand in a shelter and work on connecting with each other, creating the potential for movement. We practice engaging our cores and taking one step at time in perfect balance with each other. Five minutes of shifting balance, lifting the core, feeling the shift to move together is a bit like crunches for horses. Just these tiny amounts of input keep the body and mind in tune.

And, of course, if I get out and get my horse moving I am also getting myself moving. Walking is just as good for us as it is for our horses!

Share your creative cold weather movement ideas with us!

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Tanya Pearce Photography

Want to learn more about my philosophy of Tango with Horses? Now’s your chance!

In January I’ll be running a free two-week introductory course on-line. Beyond Body Language and Tango with Horses. Check it out on Facebook here.