Merry Christmas Eve!

20181224_072850.jpg

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.

20181224_073341-2.jpg

The cats and I ran barefoot through the snow!

 

20181224_073830 (2)

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?

20181224_081739 (2)

20181224_073322 (2)

 

 

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?

20181224_081907 (2)

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

Dilly and me moving bw.jpg

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?

20729220_271113163388514_3605849502935592279_n (2)

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!

IMG_7410

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

snow day-0965

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.

Movement Monday: How good movement improved my hoof trimming

IMG_1895 (2)-1

Helping my friend with her horse’s feet while she recovered from her broken arm. That’s her on the left with her sling.

For those of you following my blog, you know I’ve written a few about trimming feet. I don’t trim for a living, but it is a passion of mine and do as much with my own horses as I possibly can. Last summer a dear friend had an accident and she broke her arm so I’ve been driving to her place every three or four weeks to trim her horses feet. I take this as a great honor because she trims her own horses and doesn’t let too many people mess with her horses, let alone their feet! Did I mention she is 84? For those of you thinking you’re too old to move more than you already do?

First, let me just say, my 84 year old friend is the perfect example of the benefits of natural movement. She lives on a small acreage in a home that is more or less off the grid. She chops firewood, clears dead wood out of her pinon forest, takes care of her two horses every day, trims their feet, walks them, rides them and all the other things that need to be done on a small farm. I have seen few people heal like she did from a broken arm, let alone someone who is 84.  Seriously, it’s been 5 months since her accident and she called a few days ago to report that she trimmed both horses herself!

img_1293.jpg

This is Jean and I at a clinic at my place together in June. She had her accident and broke her arm just a few weeks later.

But I digress.

What I want to share is that I used to struggle with trimming. I never really had the physical strength for it and my hands are quite small so getting the nippers working for me on thick walls or especially hard feet was challenging, to say the least. I would line them up and move a hand down to the narrower end of the nipper handles, start the bite and work my way up the handles. Using two hands I desperately relied on my puny grip strength to get the nippers through the concrete hoof wall.

IMG_1850

Did I mention the big joint at the base of my thumbs was starting to bother me quite a lot and my fingers were often stiff and sore. I was constantly injuring my shoulders, on the edge of rotator cuff injuries. It’s easy to start thinking “I’m getting to old for this”. So imagine my surprise when I drove down and worked on my friend’s horses a few weeks ago and discovered I no longer needed to use my grip strength to make the nippers work. Nipping was easy! It took me so by surprise that I had to pause and analyze what was different.

Without making any conscious changes in how I nip I was, in fact, using my body in an entirely different way. I found my dexterity with the nippers improved, the ease of cutting through the hoof wall had improved and I was not needing to creep my hands down and work my way back up. What was different?

As I explored, I realized I was using my whole upper body, the strength in my arms and back and shoulders to close the nippers! I have never had any power to use my arms that way before so what changed?

You guessed it, movement. I had spent the week before that trimming session really focused on small things I could do each day to build my arm, trunk, and hand strength. When I say simple I mean it. I wasn’t doing planks or anything particularly taxing because my left rotator cuff was bothering me so much. Instead I did things like – a modified plank with my hands on the counter, the table top or a chair. I’d get down on all fours and focus on how my arms were supporting me. I’d reach up and grab a door frame and pull as though I was going to do a chin up – but just enough to work the gripper muscles in my hands and activate those muscles in the rest of my body that would allow me to hang or swing. I hung in door frames and did modified pull ups and push ups where I could. I carried my feed buckets without just letting my arms hang so the ligaments in my joints were carrying the load. Anything I could come up with to get my arms bearing loads in different ways to recruit different muscles.

I’d hold as long as I could, emphasizing proper technique (ie – correct positioning of my hands, arms and shoulders to activate the muscles that stabilize my shoulder joints). Focusing on proper technique with a smaller load takes the pressure off the joints and ligaments and puts the load on the muscles surrounding them instead. Who knew…  And who knew that doing such small things throughout the day could have such a profound impact!

Trimming my friend’s horses was a revelation. The increased strength in my arms and shoulders made the job a breeze. Only after trimming did I realize my hands are so much stronger. They are also have more dexterity and they don’t ache all the time. My shoulders feel strong and my left rotator cuff is healing up after years of giving me problems. I can use my arm strength to close the electric fence gate handles without having to use two hands and put some body weight behind it. My posture is improving in leaps and bounds. I feel better and stronger than I have in years.

And I didn’t ‘work out’ at all.

If you want to learn more about the things I’m doing to improve my own strength and mobility, check out Nutritious Movement

Get out there and get moving!

Giving Thanks

IMG_7414

Thank you Susan White for this fabulous image. And thank you for all the amazing things you contribute to my world!

My heart is full. Glowing with the light you all share with me each and every day. I feel blessed to have met old friends for the first time, made new friends, both two and four legged. Your openness, your willingness to embrace me and my new way of connecting and communicating with horses feeds me in ways I can’t quantify with words. I literally cannot do what I do without your support. I love our growing community and feel blessed by your presence in it each and every day.

You know how people talk about the family you’re born with and the family you choose. The family I chose has always been my animals, plants, trees, nature, the mountains, the desert. This is the family that sustains me through the endless joy and peace they offer. This family is my muse, fueling my passion for the work I do by asking me to go deeper every single day. I give thanks to my horse family in particular for helping me find myself with their compassionate guidance. There are no words to describe how much it means to me to feel their presence lighting my way long after the old guard leave this physical world. We are always connected. The teaching is ongoing.

The family I was born with – well, they are a blessing beyond words. My immediate family is small and close. I’m grateful for a brother and sister I can always count on. A Mother and Father who have always supported me in all the crazy ideas I’ve ever come up with. Your immediate family are the only people in the world you share a lifetime of experiences with. This bond of common experience endures whether you talk every day or not. No matter where you are in relation to one another, no matter if your relationship is rocky or smooth. Nothing can replace that.

In my small household family of two cats and a husband I am also blessed. Steve and I have spent half our lives together. He is my rock. Solid as the day is long. Whatever forces intervened to help us meet – thank you. I couldn’t do this life without him.

Thank you to all of you for being part of my extended family.

And have a blessed day of gratitude!

With love

Andrea and the herd at Restoration Ranch

Movement Monday! Make walking part of your daily sustenance

20181114_150435

This spontaneous late afternoon hike was all about moving my pent up energy and working hills.

Think less about getting in your one hour workout and more about creating opportunities to move throughout the day. Most of us, even those who exercise regularly, still lead a fairly sedentary life as compared to our ancestors who had to forage, hunt or grow their own food. Even when we exercise a lot we tend to engage in a limited set of activities. How can you find ways to put your body through a wider array of motions to make up for the deficit our modern culture cultivates?

For our short afternoon hike I chose something with a lot of variety. Steep uphills, on big rocks, slick rock scrambles, shallow grades on gravel and sand. Oh, and did I mention how beautiful it is here? Taking the time to lay flat out on the slick rock and breath is a movement too!

20181114_152130Our bodies are designed to be in motion: walking, climbing, hanging, swinging, jumping, squatting, on and on it goes. These varied movements keep us mobile and healthy. Think health on a deeper level than simply being fit or losing weight so we look good. These varied movements place loads on all of our bones, ligaments, tendons, joints, muscles and organs, stimulating circulation, oxygenation and waste removal.  Only the body parts that are in motion receive these benefits!

One of the best and easiest ways to move more is to walk. Seriously, I find the best thing I can do when I get stiff and sore, anxious, or blue is go for a walk. Any walking will do, but it does more if you walk on varied terrain. Hard ground, soft ground, rocks, sand, grass, uphill, downhill, duck under, climb over, and find things to balance on, hang from and swing around. Park farther from the door at the grocery store, go to the local playground, walk around the house if outside is too cold (see last week’s blog for ideas on how to  create an indoor barefoot obstacle course!), take your horse for a trail hike instead of a trail ride.

When I was teaching in South Carolina I got to go on a trail ride in the woods.  We did about seven and a half miles. I bet walked at least half of that. My body loved the changes and my horse partner for the day loved having a break from carrying me too.

The possibilities are endless. By varying the length of your walk and the terrain you walk on, you recruit a wider array of body parts. In no time, you will have a good idea of what parts you maybe don’t use on a regular basis. I know since I moved to the desert I lost all those muscles that help me climb hills efficiently. Going up and down steps, ladders, or up and down hills really hurt my knees.  I thought it was just part of my personal aging process. Until I started Parkour and my knees stopped hurting. Last week I powered up a slick rock hill that included high steps carved into the rock (used to be terribly painful), and steep slick rock that I could practice scrambling up on all fours (hands and feet, not knees). My legs and feet felt fantastic but boy did I get out of breath fast! Hint, I need to do more movement that works those lungs!

20181114_153018

The view from the bottom of the hill.

Horses benefit just as much as we do from a varied movement program. I like to take  a horse with me when I have to do something like pull weeds or fix fences. They tag along behind while I do things which means they do a lot of stopping, starting, speeding up and slowing down over a variety of terrain. Take them on a trail ride where you hike part of the time and ride part of the time. Your horse will benefit from the change in loads on their body between having to balance a load while walking and not having to balance a load. And you can practice being a being a balanced load, by the way, rather than simply a passenger.

Go for a walk today and every day. It is simply one of the best things you can do for yourself AND your horse!