Both literally and figuratively.
Just out of high school, I had an opportunity to join other musicians my age and spend the summer touring Europe. It was a grand adventure, especially for a country girl who had never been on an airplane before.
Travel can always bring about the unexpected, particularly when the travelers are a large group of teenagers traipsing over foreign lands. We seemed to constantly be adjusting our schedule, eating on the run, sprinting to make the next train, and generally dealing with a daily dose of chaos.
In reply to any complaints about the chaos, the head chaperone would shout, “BE FLEXIBLE!” She was a tough woman. To this day, I can hear her gruff, unsympathetic voice: “BE FLEXIBLE!” Then, her words grated on my ears.
Now, I realize: she was right.
As riders, we certainly want our horses to be fit and flexible. As this week’s photos illustrate, I am working on helping Kaliwohi learn to bend – be flexible – through his barrel. He much prefers to overbend at the neck, poke a shoulder out, and turn so his barrel can remain fairly straight and slabsided. So we work on bending and flexing through the spine and ribs on lateral turns.
As athletes, we, too, need to be flexible – in body and in mind. Almost any sort of exercise helps our body become more flexible. I like yoga and hiking; if you like other forms of exercise, go for it! The more we move our bodies, the more flexible they will be, now and in our future years.
Getting our mind more flexible, especially when it comes to preconceived notions, well, that can be a bit more challenging.
I used to think I could never be both overweight and a good rider. (Preconceived notion.) But a great instructor, Cathy Keeton, and a great horse (my Arab/mustang cross, Lady Grace, now retired) provided me the opportunity to change my mind about that preconceived notion. I’m not the rider I aspire to be, but I am a much better rider than I was a few years ago.
Progress. I am also more flexible, mentally, in how I judge myself as a rider. I now try to “judge myself” the same way I “judge” Kaliwohi after each ride: “Did he improve even a tiny bit today?” If the answer is yes, then I have improved as a rider because my horse improved. Bits of progress, ride by ride. (Cue inspirational music: it really is the journey, not the destination, as all those inspire-a-posters teach.)
The following sequence demonstrates stages of training Kaliwohi to flex through his barrel instead of staying straight and overflexing his neck. Photos by Greg Bell.
Another area that I have challenged myself to become more flexible in is with regards to food. I’m a picky eater, I don’t like to eat animals, I don’t like to cook, and a bowl of cereal is so. much. simpler. (I mean, seriously, who wouldn’t love a big bowl of Cap’n Crunch with Crunchberries for supper? Or is it just me? *insert eye roll*)
When Kaliwohi and I first began this journey here on Horse Nation, a rider from New Zealand read the first column and contacted me. Her name is Maree Thom. Maree very generously offered to coach me on food and nutrition, including how excess sugar and carbs can seriously inhibit weight loss efforts.
So! Recently I began a 12-week Skype course with Maree to learn more about food and nutrition and all those things. This is something entirely new for me, and I’m approaching the course with that “be flexible” mantra I learned as a teenager while traveling. I strive to be a good student for Maree and try the eating suggestions she is offering, recipes she is sharing with me, and all those things. We shall see how the weight goes over these next weeks, but so far, I am losing weight faster than before, which is a wonderful thing!
Being flexible means being open to change, being willing to try something unfamiliar, being receptive to something new and different. Most of us are reluctant to change because maybe it takes effort, or maybe it makes us a little bit afraid or anxious or cautious. Being open to change and new ideas, however, is what helps us improve, grow, and be better at “doing you.”
So, just like I’m helping Kaliwohi become more flexible, I am working to open up my own closed mind to new ways of fueling my athlete’s body so it can generate more energy and burn off more fat.
Be flexible. That’s a good guideline for travel, for riding, and for life.