Fat to Fit to First Level: Wise Choices, Every Day

Making a poor choice once will happen from time to time. Making a poor choice over and over again, however, adds up.

Working Kaliwohi bridleless. Photo by Amanda Grace Woodside

“Never in history has a troubled horse been fixed by pulling on two reins.” – Buck Brannaman

As I’ve written about in recent columns, Kaliwohi began spooking consistently at one end of my arena, so we set up a round pen in that end and gave him the opportunity to hang out in the round pen in hour-long increments.

These hour-long sessions give him enough exposure to work through his anxiety without making him bored or inattentive. I added items in the round pen and he has easily played with them, stepped on them, and generally handled them like a savvy trail horse would.

My primary concern as a rider is, first and foremost, to do no harm. I do not want to be a “hand” rider, a “spur” rider, a “whip” rider, or any other “insert your word” rider; the only type of rider I want to be is a kind, effective, trusted rider.

If you’ve seen prior photographs in earlier columns, it is evident my hands are rarely too strong; my weakness is maintaining consistent contact. But when Kaliwohi spooks, my self-preservation instinct is to grab his mouth instead of “go with the flow.” And that’s a bad thing. I’ve never really hurt him, but I know I still have a ways to go when it comes to mastering a firm-but-flowing contact.

If you want your horse to trust you, you first have to trust your horse. And that means going to your own vulnerable spot and figuring out what makes you anxious.

So recently, sometimes I’ve been riding Kaliwohi in the round pen without a bridle. I’ve never done this before on any other horse, but it seemed like a good “next step” for Kiwi and me and WOW! What an eye-opener!

Kiwi is attentive and relaxed. Photo by Amanda Grace Woodside

I learned very quickly that I’ve been lax in my seat bone position, and that has caused Kaliwohi to remain strung out through his back, instead of really working his hind end and engaging with throughness under his barrel. I also learned my thighs need to stay more linear, with my knees closer to the saddle. Otherwise, without the bit to guide him, my muscular mustang ignores my loose legs and meanders within the pen wherever he wants!

While my lower leg position in the photographs here is not ideal, the point is Kaliwohi’s topline. Working without reins, he has dropped his topline and is stretching his back just behind the saddle – like a great yoga stretch for our own spine. My next goal is to achieve this same level of spinal stretch while using the bridle.

As you can see, his hind hoof engagement is excellent when my seat bones are correctly positioned. At the present time we walk and trot, bridleless, both directions. I’ll add canter in the future.

Kiwi’s hind end engagement is awesome when my seatbones are correct. Photo by Amanda Grace Woodside

Regarding my own weight loss journey, the past few weeks have taught me a great deal about persistence and the grit and determination that is required when there is seemingly small progress or even minor retrogression on the scale.

I recently saw a friend whom I hadn’t seen in a while. Two years ago, due a heart issue, she worked hard and dropped eighty pounds and looked really great. When I saw her this week, she had regained all of that weight plus some. I was sad to see her this way, because I know carrying around 100 excess pounds is never good for one’s health.

As I reflected on my friend’s weight fluctuations, I realized that this “journey” I am on is truly never over. It is and must be a complete lifestyle change. Forever.

My recent plateau is merely that, a plateau, and before very long I’ll be able to share some new comparative photographs with everyone so you can evaluate my progress to date. But even when I get all the weight off I want to lose, the journey will continue.

Making the choice to get healthy – and stay that way – is the cumulative sum of making wise choices every day, every day, every day. Yes, even that special occasion. Yes, even when that relative’s feelings will be hurt. Better her hurt feelings than my bad health.

The great pianist Arthur Rubenstein is credited with the following statement: “If I miss one day of practice, I know it. If I miss two days in a row, the critics know it. If I miss three days in a row, the whole world knows it.” In similar fashion, if I make unwise choices regarding my food, exercise, or how I handle Kaliwohi’s mouth in one instance, that one poor decision will probably not have much long-term effect.

If, on the other hand, I make consistently poor choices regarding my food, my exercise, or how I handle Kaliwohi’s mouth, those poor choices will add up to weight, flab, and his reluctance to eagerly seek the guidance provided by gentle, consistent contact.

How does one build trust? Consistent, trustworthy action. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Join me on this journey on Facebook: Fat to Fit at Horse Nation (page and group), and my blog www.appalachianchic.com.


Go riding.

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