LUCK OF THE DRAW

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Everyone has the talk at some point, if not many, in their lives. What would you do… if you won the lottery?

My first response is usually, “the lottery is just a tax on people who are bad at math,” followed by, “are you collecting? Here’s $2!” I’ve never bought tickets on my own, and have only participated in the odd office pool (do I need to mention we made about $7 back, so I’m still here?), but it’s never stopped my from dreaming about how much different my life would be, if I had millions at my disposal.

Everyone’s “lottery list” is different. The concept I’ve always thought made the most sense was, save a third, spend a third, give a third away. When dad and I talk about it, he has lists of cars and vacation properties already allocated. My list has always been fairly simple. Don’t get me wrong, I would absolutely spend some stupid money, probably on a lot of things that would only bring me joy for a few minutes. Eventually though, the novelty would wear off and I’d come back to my original plan.

I think all lists start off the same; pay off debt, take care of your family, go on a vacation. We would purchase our own horse farm, and a few horses for myself and my family, but not a barn full. I’ve seen that dream come to fruition for friends who thought a huge barn full of horses was a dream come true, and here’s the reality, there’s still only one of you. What good is a whole string of horses, if you can still only ride one at a time? I’d have a few to choose from, so I could always invite friends or family to ride along, and horses for anyone in my family that wants their own. My rule is, no more pets than I can reasonably care for in an average day. I might have all the money to pay for a staff, but the horses are for me and my family to enjoy, not them, and allowing someone else to handle the basic care takes away from your awareness of your own horse. If I just show up to a groomed and saddled horse, ride, then hand the reins back to my barn hand, I’m not getting out of it what I should be. The time you spend with your horses, grooming, cleaning, riding, or just whispering to them… priceless.

private barn

If I had a big, beautiful farm, I’d certainly need a good truck, and probably two trailers. One smaller bumper-pull, and another with living quarters. When you need to get your horse in front of a vet in a hurry, having a trailer small enough to jockey around a medical practice parking lot… priceless.

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Once all the important things for my immediate family were squared away, I’d make sure I had a nice chunk invested. As much as I’d love to believe I’d be sensible and manage my own money well, I’m smart enough to know that probably wouldn’t happen the way I hoped. I’d want to know that no matter how frivolous I was, my family and I wouldn’t have to worry about anything for the rest of our days. A good financial advisor and investment portfolio… priceless.

My next step would be making donations to all the charities that matter to myself and my family. The local humane societies, The Shane Center for Theraputic Horsemanship (where I volunteer), Licking County 4-H, to begin with. Maybe I’d even start my own foundation, named after Buddy of course! If I could start something that continued to generate funding for an important cause… priceless.

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I wouldn’t be completely selfless though. A major shopping spree would absolutely take place, in New York City or Beverly Hills, maybe both. I could finally be as stylish as I’ve always thought I would be, if I could afford my taste! I see one or two vacation homes, somewhere tropical, and somewhere exotic, both where nobody knew who we were, where we could slip away quietly and stay for as long as we liked… priceless.

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Lastly, I’d buy property, and have a show facility built in Licking County, primarily for the 4-H clubs to use, but available to rent for anyone. In the years that I showed 4-H, the horse people seemed to get short-changed a lot when it came to the local fairgrounds. The other animals and clubs had a higher priority for some reason. It would have several indoor and outdoor arenas with plenty of space to work and park trailers. There would be plenty of stalls, room for camping, and dorms, as well as space for food and retail vendors. Essentially, all the things we needed and deserved, but never had when I was growing up. It would be offered to the county clubs at a discounted rate, and to all others at fair market value, enough to keep it maintained and functional. The last thing 4-H clubs should have to worry about if they want to show, is finding a good location, and affording it. That would be my legacy piece of the puzzle… priceless.

show facility

As much as I’d love to be able to take care of myself and my family, I really would enjoy being able to do more philanthropic things. I suppose I should start buying tickets more regularly, to better my odds of being able to do that… What would you do?

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WINTER WARM UP

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Given the choice, I prefer cooler weather to warmer when it comes to riding. You can always add more layers, but you can only take so many off. The downside to that, is once it starts getting really cold, everything slooooooows dooooooown and takes so much longer. No matter how many layers you pile on, your muscles just need that extra time to prepare themselves for the day’s work. The same applies to your horse. They’ve probably been standing quietly, not moving around a whole lot, when you decide it’s time to go to work. Does your winter riding routine differ from your summer/warmer weather routine? Maybe it should!

Since becoming more familiar with yoga, I’ve developed the opinion that it’s sort of like dressage for humans. Even though you may not do yoga formally, or you may not ride dressage in the traditional sense, you can still pull from those elements in ways that suit you and your horse, to help you both loosen up and be more effective, as well as lessening the opportunity for injury. I’ve never ridden dressage, but have often used some of it’s basic elements (and probably couldn’t even name them) to help warm up my horses. Using some of the lateral techniques at the walk and trot, softened up their shoulders and hips. Flexing their necks from side to side, produced a more relaxed headset.

You probably start your day with some manner of casual stretching, but horses may not necessarily. So, before your next “cold start,” consider taking a few minutes for each of you, and see if it doesn’t give you a better result.

What I’ve learned about yoga and stretching, is that during the course of our day to day activities, things tend to compress. This is especially pertinent to those of us who ride desk chairs during the day. Sometimes, I actually feel shorter when I leave the office, after my spine has smushed down like a bendy straw. When you’re doing yoga and stretching, you’re putting space back in the places where it’s been mashed out. It warms muscles and joints up slowly, which is the ideal, so they’re better prepared for their next task. Think about your spine, and your major joints, like hips and shoulders, those are the big hitters in both your body and your horses.

For yourself, here are some basic standing yoga poses (since lying on cold ground or a barn aisle probably isn’t super appealing right now). The beauty of yoga poses, is once you understand the basic concept, you can tweak it out to suit you and your needs. Slowly rolling your head side to side, rotating your arms in their sockets, and your wrists… Gentle twists with feet planted, reaching arms high overhead, then alternating left and right to take the stretches further to the side… Hinging at the hip to reach for the ground, or as low as you’re able to, then rolling back up to a standing position, one bone at a time… All of this only takes a few minutes, but you’ll be surprised how much more prepared you feel for a ride once you’re done.

yoga poses

For your horse, assuming they’ll stand quietly and allow you to manipulate them, the same ideas still work. You might need a treat to encourage them at first, but once they see how good it feels, you’ll probably be able to work out your own cues. Ask them to stretch their necks forward, reaching out, up, and down. If they’ll allow you, try asking them to curl their noses around to each side, like they’re scratching their ribs. You can even ask them for a “downward facing pony” pose, which also looks like a bow, where they’ll stretch their front legs out, and tuck their nose in between. This all helps their spine, from nose to tail. You can also take each leg and pull it gently out in front or behind, doing small circles in each direction. Your horse will tell you what they can and can’t do, what feels good, and what hurts, so when you’re doing this, especially for the first time, pay close attention to their responses.

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front legs

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Once you’re riding, you can spend a little more time asking them to bend and flex. Adding side movement to your routine is great for their large joints, as well as their minds. Horses like to learn new things, especially when they’re things that please you.

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The main point to remember is to take as much time as you need. Every body is different, especially ones that have been injured. Develop a warm-up routine that caters to you and your horse specifically, and don’t be afraid to try new things. If something feels especially good, it’s okay to hold it a stretch or pose a little longer, or create a circuit so you’re doing a number of things a few times, as a whole warm-up. If you’re feeling particularly stiff, look around the barn for helping tools, like a bale of hay or a bucket that you can use as a prop. If you’re doing something that requires balance, even being able to put one finger down on something can be all you need to steady yourself, or finding a focal point to look at while you balance. Learning to trust your body and your horse, to tell you when things feel okay or not, will help you put your best foot forward!

Stretching

LAST MINUTE LOVE

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Valentine’s Day is nearly here, and with today really being your last option for trying to ship something and have it arrive in time, I thought I’d toss out a few ideas for the woman you love, who loves her horses. Let’s be honest, we’re not like other women. We sometimes prefer the practical to the pretty when it comes to gifts, but that doesn’t have to mean a new pitchfork with a bow on it (though I’m not completely discounting that idea, you’ll need to know what she really wants!).

If you need something quick and easy, check Groupon.com and LivingSocial.com in your local areas. We work with our hands all day long, but often neglect them, and would enjoy them looking like ladies hands once in a while! Certificates for a mani and or pedi will always be appreciated, and, upgrade it to the gel polish, so her tips and toes will stay looking fresh much longer than the stalls she cleans!

For your jewelry-loving-lady, Alex and Ani bangles are super popular, and very reasonably priced. They have a wide variety of charms and choices to cater to any whim, but my favorites are in their Kentucky Derby Collection, which include one with a horseshoe, and another with a saddle. You should be able to find a nearby store to buy from in person, if you don’t have time left to ship.

http://www.alexandani.com/collections/kentucky-derby.html

For the more practical women, one thing we can’t have enough of is barn gear. In central Ohio, Tractor Supply is a great source of all things fleece, thermal, quilted, and waterproof. I bet if you dug, she’s probably got a few pairs of well-worn wool socks that could use replacing, or gloves with less fingers than she has on her hands. Treat her to a new supply of winter essentials to keep her comfortable while she’s in the barn.

http://www.tractorsupply.com/en/store/search/ladies-insulated-winter-apparel_facet

Every horse-woman loves a pair of boots, and my personal favorites are Tin Haul. They’re whimsical and functional. Pick out a pair that makes your feelings crystal clear, like the “greater than” model…

tinhaul

http://www.urbanwesternwear.com/greater-than-tin-haul-boots

Keeping her warm and comfortable doesn’t have to stay in the barn, you can outfit her in some equally cozy, horsey-themed loungewear. My boyfriend’s mom found a pair of fleece lounge pants for me here, with the “BARN BUM” logo down the leg, which I love! They’re my “go to” pants when I get home and need to relax.

http://www.backinthesaddle.com/ShopCategory.aspx?ID=6,384

This gift is great for women of all ages, I’m not going to lie to you, at 37, I’m just as likely to want to play with it as I had been at 7. Pick out a “Glam My Pony” kit, or create your own at Equidivine.com. Michelle Inch has created a fantastic line of colorful, sparkly, and non-toxic beauty treatments for your four-legged friends. Your ladies can turn every critter in the barn, into a living My Little Pony! After being surrounded by all the winter shades of grey, bring some color into the barn for them!

equidivine

If you want a more personal approach, you can still make the functional gifts fashionable. My friend Rocksann at thesouthernbelleboutique.com, can customize nearly anything, including all your ladies’ tech gadgets, and now her collection includes Otterbox brand items! We all know the barn isn’t the safest place for her brand new iPhone or tablet, but if it’s dressed for safety, in a stylish way, what’s not to love?

phone case

My personal favorite though, and I’m afraid you would only be able to show her the picture because the order-to-ship time runs a few months, is a customized pet made by cuddleclones.com. For $199, and by using photos you provide, they’ll create a stuffed friend who looks exactly like the real one! Memorialize a lost pet, or just a travel-size duplicate to keep in the house with you.

cuddleclone

Ultimately, all she really needs is verbal and physical reminders of why, and how much you love her…  But since when was there a holiday that wasn’t an excuse for something she WANTS, and probably wouldn’t buy for herself.  Cape up heroes, it’s time to save her day!

#likeagirl

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Even if you’re (like me, and) not into football, you may have still been in a room with a TV, during the Super Bowl. You may have caught some of the famed commercials, including another classic Budweiser tear-jerker, “lost dog.” As much as I appreciate Budweiser for producing these gems, and for their cooperation in my earlier blog entries, getting to know “Sparky” of the St. Louis hitch, and his handler, Kat, there was another commercial I took a surprising interest in…

Always, known for their line of feminine hygiene products, introduced their campaign, #likeagirl. http://www.always.com/en-us/likeagirl.aspx

Historically, “like a girl” has carried an insulting connotation. Tack it on to the end of a sentence remarking on the ability of any boy or man, and you’ve cut them, deeply. Kudos to Always, for taking this once, salty slam, and turning it into someone girls and women everywhere can claim with pride.

Bob Thaves I think, may have actually started the movement many years ago with his remark [About Fred Astaire] “Sure he was great, but don’t forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards…and in high heels!” Rosie the Riveter was a cultural icon in the US during WWII, reminding all our men away at war, that the ladies had a fine handle on things back at home.

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When you’re an equestrian, and a female particular, it’s quite common to have to take on roles that are traditionally held by men. That’s not to say that barns are the only place this is happening, and has been for quite some time either. It makes me think of when a man is put on a pedestal, for taking responsibility for his children. For some reason, when a man is seen with his kids in public, the general consensus is, “how great is that, he’s stepping up and being a daddy.” Why is that? He IS their daddy, why are we throwing a parade in his honor? For years after I first got my license, and would drive our truck, sometimes even now, I would and still get the odd gawker. It’s usually another man, often also in a truck, who seems genuinely taken aback that I’m behind the wheel of my own truck. You should see me jockey a horse trailer boys! After commenting on a #likeagirl discussion on Facebook with Kat from Budweiser, she posted a photo of herself at the wheel of one of their tractor-trailer rigs, during a Sturgis bike rally. I think that’s exactly the kind of spirit Always had in mind.

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In the horse world, we not only shop for our own trucks (without our husband’s/father’s/boyfriend’s approval, thankyouverylittle), and pull our own trailers that we can hook up and park all by ourselves. We can also drive farm equipment and bale hay. I recall one afternoon on the Standardbred farm, during hay season, where between the horse-women and the maintenance men, a wagon-stacking competition manifested itself. The guys blazed through the rows, stacking as fast as they could, while we sang along with the radio in the truck, and enjoyed our task. The guys finished their row as we pulled around the last corner to finish ours, beginning their victory celebration… when their stack wobbled, and tumbled off the wagon. They fumed, we laughed, and helped them re-stack the pile.

baling-hay

When I hear the phrase, like a girl, it makes me think of another way of another way of doing things. Sometimes it’s with more finesse, sometimes it’s from a creative angle, but never in a derogatory way, and I’m so glad Always is working to turn the meaning into a positive message.

I like that I do things like a girl, I am one after all, I should be pretty proficient at it by now! Don’t get me wrong, there’s still much to be said for the men who open doors, remember important dates, and tell the women in their lives how beautiful they are. I’ll never grow tired of that. From what I’ve seen of the world, maybe another movement needs to get rolling, “#likeagentleman.” It’s okay for girls and women to FEEL like girls and women, we should never be scolded or looked down upon for being who and what we are, we should be celebrated for all the amazing things that encompass our abilities to do anything “like a girl.”

It’s true, when I dance with a man, I still try to lead (which I blame on working part time in a ballroom studio for a couple of years, not because I’m bossy!). I’m as comfortable in a room full of men, as I am in a room full of women. I walk exactly the same whether I’m wearing boots, or 4” heels. I don’t look for a fight, but I won’t back down from one. I wear makeup to the barn, and shop at Victoria’s Secret in Carhartts and flannel. Being a girl has served me well in my 37 plus years, and I can’t imagine doing things any other way.

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