Look Where You’re Going to Get Where You’re Going

“It is a truth universally acknowledged…”

Not just  a great first line, but a comforting thought.  Don’t you love universal truths? Or truths we all buy into? I do because it means  the fact that there are truths we all acknowledge as true means we can look to a universally accepted blueprint for how to live our lives. One of the places I look for these universal truths is at the barn. I look there because it’s one of my many opinions that there is no group of people on earth with more quotes relating to living your life than horse people. For example, there is the one about how to jump fences on horseback which, when you think about it, really applies to anything in life that you tackle that’s a little scary but worth doing. It goes like this: “Throw your heart over first, and the horse will follow.” The point about that one seems to be that if YOU’RE not sure you can jump that five-footer, you’ll inevitably translate that doubt to your mount and he’ll ensure you don’t jump it. When judges grade a jumping competition and a horse balks or refuses a jump, it’s the rider they look at for hesitancy. They tend to figure that if the horse is physically capable of jumping the fence but doesn’t—it’s pilot error, pure and simple.

Like anything in life, you gotta believe it before you can do it. And horses are amazing the way they can mirror how you’re feeling. But for all that, the point I wanted to make today is that when you are sorting out your life, the process is a lot like riding a horse in that you, as the rider, really must look where it is you want to go. Ideally, this is right through his set of ears like a kind of organic scope. You don’t look at the ground, obviously, although new riders often do because they want to make sure everyone’s feet are going where they should. But looking at the ground is a great way to end up there.

Riding a horse–like living your life–is a delicate balance. You are not just a sack of feed up there for the ride (or at least ideally not.) When you turn your head, the horse feels it, the horse reacts even if just a little bit. If you are looking down, instead of up, or to the left, instead of to the next line of jumps, that’s where the horse is now looking too. Which, since that’s not where you want to go, looking over there is not a good thing.

Kristen Lamb has this section in her book Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer where she interviewed some NASCAR drivers for a piece she was doing and they, basically, told her they try not to look at places they don’t want to go…like the wall, for instance. It seems that in professional driving as in life and in horseback riding, it’s important to zero in on where you’re going.

Like I said, I love it when universal truths really are universal.

On the Right Track to Balancing Super Stardom with Motherhood

I imagine this post will likely go right up there with being of interest to only a very small percentage of the people who read this blog but I’d like to at least ask the moms in the crowd to hang back (after the stampede.) To everyone who loves horses, an important event occurred last week that had the Twitter-Facebook sphere “awwwwing” with even more frequency than usual.

And that was: Zenyatta had her baby.

Now, if you don’t know who Zenyatta is, that’s cool. And not everyone who wasn’t living in a cave or under a rock would know who she is. Zenyatta is an ex-racehorse considered by many experts to be the greatest thoroughbred racehorse in history. Okay, so now aren’t you embarrassed that you haven’t heard of her? That statement would’ve been a tad more emphatic if she had won her last race—the only one in her entire history of racing BTW that she lost (she came in a very close second, so “lost” doesn’t really seem a totally fair assessment.) Anyway, she is, without argument from anyone, the all-time North American female money-earner. Like, ever. Okay, so granted she’s amazing.

She is also jaw-dropping beautiful. And monster-big, for a mare.

She’s also sweet. To say that about a racehorse is kind of a big deal. She is—get this—affectionate. She totally knows she’s the star of the show and she used to do a daft little dance before her races for the amusement and general delight of the equine media who, of course, adored her.

She retired at six years old after her last race—the Breeder’s Cup Classic, which she’d won before (the only female to do so)—and was paired up with a stud named Bernardini. (Her jockey was quoted on Sixty Minutes as saying that no stallion was worthy of her.)

In any event, on March 8, her bouncing baby colt—all 130 pounds of him—was born, a dark bay with a white star and polka dot markings on his feet just like his Mom. And the equine world rejoiced!

I think the thing that prompted me to do a post on Zenyatta was this little video clip that I saw of her loving on her new foal. While everyone always talked about how friendly and sweet she was, it still touched me to see her with her colt. She literally keeps the little fellow within kissing distance nearly all the time (not easy to do as you’ll see in the clip.)

As a mother myself, there was just something exquisite about seeing this amazing super-creature delight in motherhood to the extent she clearly does.

So that’s it! A little corny, I know but what with these impending empty nest blues I’m wrangling with, it doesn’t take much to get me all emotional about the parent-child bond! Just had to share.

The Power Of “No”

I hear that the employees working at Apple stores are not able to use a certain word when dealing with their customers. (And no, it’s not “Microsoft.”) Those black-teed employees tasked to work the “Genius Bar,” which is almost exclusively the arena of Apple customers who have a problem, are particularly warned against using the word.

The word is “unfortunately.”

On the face of it, that doesn’t seem like such a terrible word to be banned across 357 stores worldwide and it definitely takes some thought as to why that word.  I guess “unfortunately” is a banned word because it is not helpful and does not suggest a solution. It prefaces a re-stating of some problem or, worse, the prediction of a negative result for some problem. Any way you look at, stating the word “unfortunately” probably isn’t going to help anyone who is looking to have a problem solved.

If someone is forced to buckle down straightaway with the chore of solving a problem without wasting time recycling all the tiresome reasons as to WHY it’s a problem, and thereby getting into a negative mindset at the outset, I imagine that can only be a good thing. Plus, there is opportunity in the word “unfortunately.” Opportunity to discover something else that is an unhappy offshoot of the original problem, perhaps. Or opportunity to explore the possibility that there is no solution.

The fact is, once you start a sentence with “unfortunately,” no good can come of it. Your mind picks up the thread and fills in the rest of the sentence and it never ends well. Somehow Steve Jobs and his denizens realized this. I’m a big enough fan of most of the wonderful things that Mr. Jobs created in his perfect techno-world to pay attention to this at-first-quirky employers’ edict.

And, of course, like all great maxims, it works across  other arenas as well. A marriage proposal with the word “unfortunately” in it is not a good sign. A job offer that encompasses the word “unfortunately” is not a positive start either. When you are moving forward with your dreams—while it’s important not to be a total fool about what can and can’t happen—I  would say that using the word “unfortunately” during your planning period will aid in booby-trapping your efforts right out of the box. You have enough things working against you without your language working you over, too.

When I used to jump horses, my trainer would tell me that if I heard even the faintest whisper of a voice in my head as I lined up the jump leading to the coop suggesting my horse and I would not be able to make it over, then I should know that we wouldn’t, in all likelihood, successfully jump it.

She was right.

One thing I’ve learned is that little voice in your head has big power. So big, in fact that in addition to forbidding it to say certain words, there seems great equity in training it to say “you are awesome!” or “you can do it!” from time to time too. Especially if you can’t find anybody to cheer your cause,  why not pick up the pom-pom and start things off yourself? Get into the habit of carrying around your own cheering squad in your head and you never know where you may end up!

Not to take anything from the power of “no.” But just imagine the power of “yes.”

Final 10 Things My Horse Taught Me About Being a Mother

An AARP article a few years ago listed the sorts of personalities that tended to make the best Moms. Now, I know this is grossly subjective but like all things smarting of common sense, the article felt right. It said the number one personality that made the best Mom was the high school cheerleader, the close-second was the tom-boy, (go figure!) and the third highest ranked was the equestrienne. (Personally, I would’ve combined the second and third since most equestriennes I know are very tomboyish but I supposed there are some girly equestriennes.)

Which brings me to the final 10 items in my Top 20 Things My Horse Taught Me About Being a Mom:

  1. Pride of Presentation. The forerunner to my desire to dress my five-year old son like his last name ends with “Fauntelroy” had to be found in the many happy hours I spent braiding my horse’s mane, show-sheening his coat, and brushing his tail.
  2. Fearlessness. There is a saying in horsey circles that addresses scary moments, like when you approach a jump or coop. The saying goes that you should “throw your heart over first, and the horse will follow.” The adage means to say that if you’re ready for the jump, the horse will be, too. And, on the other hand, if you’re not too sure about that five-foot water-jump, well, don’t count on Thunder to sign on for the trip. This idea translates beautifully to motherhood. Whether you’ve facing a high fence with a jittery purebred under you and a stand full of people watching you, or bravely staring down a defiant three-year old in a fully-packed grocery store—the principle is the same. Act like you mean it and there’s a good chance he’ll believe you.
  3. Kiss the boo-boos. I recently read that 73% of mothers comfort their child first before examining or treating the child’s hurt. While I can say I certainly spoke soothingly to my horse while I dabbed on topical analgesics to his various cuts, I can’t say he was very impressed. Nonetheless, it was good practice for the little boy who would come later who definitely appreciated his mother’s words and touch during a trying time.
  4. Be mindful of the company he keeps. The proper equine pals will bat flies off your horse’s face with their tails and run up and down the pasture with him for hours (mindlessly, one presumes) until they all flop down on the ground, panting and happy. Unfortunately, the reverse is true, too. Blithely releasing your horse into the pasture without checking out the field can have you retrieving him the next day with big bite-marks on his neck and rump. I always knew which horses in the barn were friendly sorts and which ones to keep Prince away from, and I took even more care with my son’s playdates. And that went double when he got to middle school.
  5. Keeping things in perspective. I don’t care how hard you trained for the three-day event when Jiffy went lame at the last minute or how clean he looked after his bath (and just before he rolled in the dirt), none of it amounts to a hill of manure as long as he’s not tangled up in barbed wire or given himself colic because he got into the unlocked feed bin. By the same token, a situation where your three-old throws his metal truck into your flat screen in the middle of a tantrum is not the end of the world. Period. It’s a huge, expensive pain but it’s not worth getting derailed over. Losing him in a crowd at the mall—even for a few seconds—or watching your babysitter roll in from the local DQ with your toddler unrestrained in the front seat—is.
  6. It’s Fun to Get Dirty.
  7. It’s Fun to Play in the Rain.
  8. Eat Your Vegetables. My horses loved watermelon, apples, corn and sweet carrots. Coincidentally, they were my son’s favorites too. (He passed on the sweet feed.)
  9. Proper dental care is essential. While I don’t have to float my son’s teeth periodically (taking a huge file and whittling them down in the back) as I did with my mare, I am very aware of how often and well he flosses.
  10. Hugs are better when they’re returned. Having and caring for a horse involves a kind of love. It’s a source of pleasure, frustration, endless expense and hard work and most horse people think it’s worth it. A child, on the other hand, is all that, plus he probably won’t be the reason you show up at work with a limp or your arm in a cast (hopefully not, anyway.) And while I have often hugged my horse, nothing compares with the hugs I gave (and got) from my kids.

So, take it from me and my experience with a long line of horses, kids (and stepkids!), whether you’re a teenager looking to buy your first horse or a grown woman with a stable full at your beck and call, the things you can learn from the world of riding, riders and the ridden can prove enormously helpful later on if you ever decide to pick up the Mommy gig.

What about you? Do you ride? Are you a Mom? Do you have another hobby that you think has helped make you a better parent? Love to hear from you!

20 Things My Horse Taught Me About Being A Mom

A few weeks ago, I was flipping through a science magazine and came across the news that scabbing on a wound is now considered counterproductive to the wound healing quickly and with minimal scarring. I don’t know why the article surprised me. As an equestrienne, I’d been peeling scabs off my horse’s various cuts and scratches for years. The real surprise was that I hadn’t wondered, if it was de rigeur to do it for horses, why people didn’t do it too? My husband looked at the article, shrugged and said: “Kids always rip their scabs off.”

All of which triggered a burgeoning notion that being a Horse-Mom first before becoming a real one had prepared me for the job in many exceptional ways. Here are some of the things that owning a horse taught me about being a mother:

1. The Discipline Thing. This is a major issue in most relationship where you are outweighed by your charge by some 1700 pounds. If you can handle a truculent 1,800 pound four-hoofed, jerk-on-wheels (we all have our days), you have almost nothing to worry about when it comes to handling a child of your own under the age of three. Except for the occasional sharp smack on the neck to get Sparky’s attention, the disciplining is amazingly similar: You set boundaries, you make the boundaries clearly understandable, you respond to infractions of said boundaries with immediacy, love, firmness and consistency. And a good thirty percent of the time your horse and/or child will behave accordingly next time.

2. The Ability to See Past the Discomfort of the Moment. It’s the memory of uncomfortable equine incidents, like walking in mud and rain, cold and dark, looking for my horse out in some hilly, hole-infested pasture that later helped prepare me to weather a tantrum, clean up a seemingly impossible mess, or endure the constant sleep interruptions from an over-stimulated child. You’ll find you’re better able to deal with the unpleasantness if you can envision the coming, happier time: the tidy room, the tear-streaked but calm face, the peacefully sleeping child.

3. Sweets Make A Great Reward. And you still don’t want them to have too many.

4. Patience, Patience, Patience.

5. Expect the Best and You’ll Get It. Expect the worst and ditto.

6. It’s Only Poop.

7. Take Your Time. Unless you have servants to do it for you, getting ready to ride takes a good deal of preparation. One of the first things most equestriennes learn is to slow down and—since you have to do the job right (or, like checking your instruments before a flight, you may live (or not) to regret it)—you might as well enjoy the process. I have spent many happy hours grooming my mare, cleaning my saddle and other tack, watching the mice scurry out of the feed room, and listening to the other horses in the stalls nicker and murmur to each other; enough to know that riding horses is only a part of enjoying them. In many ways, this is one of the most important lessons my horse taught me about mothering. Forcing myself to slow down and listen carefully to my son’s report on his morning at Sunday School, or really involving myself in a game of hide-and-seek with him, allows me to enjoy him more deeply than I would the paltry satisfaction of ticking items off a list or finishing another task.

8. Second Sight. I am not talking visions here. I’m talking about sensing danger before it’s present. Because of a horse’s skittish nature, it’s always wise to keep your wits about you and see—before your horse does—anything that might cause a problem. That red jacket hanging over there on the fence? Steer clear or prepare yourself. Rocket might just rearrange the order of your spinal column if he sees it and decides that, today, it’s a threat to him. With horses, you always need to be one step ahead. Same with kids. The habit of looking down the road while at the same time looking at what’s right in front of me has helped me keep my child from walking into eye-level sharp objects, swinging car doors, too-steep stairs, off the edge of decks and any number of what-are-the-odds-he’d-get-into-that? kinds of dangerous situations. Developing eyes in the back of your head is a skill you hone with time. Taking care of a horse who saw bogeymen behind every tractor, rock and bush—helps.

9. Don’t Play in Traffic. Enough Said.

10. Endurance. I don’t mean the kind of endurance that has you switching horses on a mountain trail at 45-miles an hour, with your crash helmet caked in muck from the last hell-bent hour of your 20-hour ride. I mean a smaller kind of exhaustion that can overwhelm your determination not to quit. For example: I don’t care how tired you are from a long trail ride when the weather turned nasty and RockStar took that spill that left him shaky but YOU with a twisted ankle and now it’s so dark you can barely see the rider in front of you. When you finally make it back to the barn you still need to untack him, check him out for any boo-boos, clean him, dry him, feed him and tuck him in for the night before you can even think of icing that ankle, stripping off your muddy clothes and collapsing into a hot bath with a stiff one. I once broke my arm jumping a coop in a field and waited while kind friends fed my horse and turned him out to pasture before driving me to the nearest medical facility. (Being in shock helped.) As a result, you’ll find that years later, you’re wonderfully prepared for the moment—at four in the morning Christmas Day—when you still haven’t figured out how the damn dollhouse goes together. Or when you know you’ll end up screaming like a mental patient if you have to read the “Cat in the Hat” one more time, and then you read it a few hundred more times without any loss of inflection or drama when “Thing One” and “Thing Two” show up.

The Final Ten Things My Horse Taught Me About Mothering will continue next Friday! I’d love to hear from you—is there a hobby you had before you became a mother that you think made you a better mother? I’d love to hear about it!