Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Living at the Speed of Silence

The power came back on around 2 or so this afternoon.  It went out, courtesy of Hurricane Irene, around 2:30 Sunday afternoon.  I'm writing this on Tuesday to post on Wednesday, by which time we will probably have forgotten the entire episode.  We went a whopping 48 hours without electricity.  Actually, that's not quite accurate since I'm one of those who "got".  I got a generator after the Big One in 1999 took our power out for four full days.  That was the year the guy across the street got to watch me take a bath in the rainwater in the horse trough.  That was really ugly.  

This wasn't so bad, as it turns out.  At least not for me.  Not for me and my horses and my chickens and my Domestic Partner (he hates that, so I throw it in at every opportunity) and my cockatoo and cockatiels and cats.  It didn't even faze the fat groundhog who thumbs his nose at me from the woodpile every day.  Yes, I swear he has a thumb and knows how to use it.  

What really happened here was a shift, subtle and imperfect, but clearly felt.  We've never had a major disaster in this area.  Not at my house, anyway.  The folks in Sparta on Glen Road had one a few years back when a heavy downpour took their road and shoved it into a gully.  We were at a horse show at the time and heard about the shoving after the fact, but for the Glen Road people, it was immediate and scary as shit.  We were horrified in a distant, made-for-TV-movie kind of way.  This time we got really, really quiet because it was our personal brush with missing our next mani-pedi.

What Irene did in the surrounding area was quite nasty.  She put a lot of water where there wasn't any.  She moved a stream in Vernon from one side of the road to the other requiring bulldozers to undo her decorating faux pas.  But at my house she was quite pleasant.  Wind, heavy rain and that sort of thing--almost romantic as we huddled and whispered so Irene wouldn't hear us--but none of the small preparations we made to ward her off were actually necessary with the exception of the very nice Bloody Mary I had after I'd weed-whacked along the driveway so the emergency personnel wouldn't be put off by my laxness if they had to rescue me.  Okay, maybe cutting down the dead tree that would have fallen on the power lines was a good thing, but did the Cockatoo really need a bath in case he wound up in a shelter?

["Did you see that?  Nice place, but it looks like she hasn't manicured her retaining wall in weeks!  Tsk!  There are poor people who would kill for that wall and the whacker to de-weed it...."]

Not my road, not my house, definitely not good news.
These folks won't be weed-whacking for a while.

The generator proved to be our most effective measure in the battle against nature for our little corner of New Jersey.  The big red lump that I've barked my shins on grabbing for the leaf rake became my bestest buddy with one or two pulls on the recoil starter.  We had lights when others around us were in the dark.  We had TV and phone and internet service.  The wind howled and I peeked out at the barn from time to time to make sure it was still roofed.  We listened for trees crashing that might mean fences gone.  Mostly we kind of hummed around the house reminding each other of the things we might have forgotten.

But at night, at 9 PM, when Cliff turned the key that shut off the genny for the overnight and we took ourselves to bed in the total dark and silence, there was a different feel.  Not scary, not ominous, just smooth.  Quiet is very quiet indeed when there's no buzz-hum of lights and cycling of pumps and such.  The wind was louder and the silence was deeper.  That first night was a very good night for sleeping, and we slept deeply and with that exhaustion that comes of mucking stalls in the dark while horses munch on their hay and which follows all those preparations that didn't stop till lights out the night of Irene, Saturday  night.

Last night, Monday night, was amazing!  More perfect weather I couldn't imagine.  The pink sunset set off a gorgeous, breezy afternoon.  Luckily for us, damage was minimal, so we luxuriated in the horses in their green pastures and all the goodies that Genny brought to the table.  We ate terrible tuna salad (I'm not very creative under pressure) and talked about a few details of repair.  And at 9 PM we both gleefully announced Lights Out.  

The peacefulness of these silent nights has been seductive, and today when I hied myself off to buy more bread for more tuna salad in days to come, I was excited.  I by no means want to denigrate the real trials my nearby neighbors are suffering through, but for me this was something else.  Challenge met, foe, not really.  For a little while, though, I heard my horses breathing again.  I saw the world of near-silence through their eyes.  I liked what I saw, and I was looking forward to moving deeper into this space the storm made.  Me and my tuna and my bread and the silence.

Then the power came back on.  To say it felt like an intrusion seems ridiculous, especially when there are so many people within a few miles of here who are just trying to sort their treasures from the mud and water and hoping their insurance will cover the damage, but I do feel as if I was on a path that was looking really friendly and like a good place to be when this big ol' bear jumped in and left paw prints all over it.   

My sympathy goes to the people who live here.
But I'll bet they don't have a freshly-bathed cockatoo
at the shelter with them.

For a minute last night, Cliff and I talked about maybe turning off the power every now and then.  But I know this feeling will go the way of the No-TV period my ex and I swore to on our return from a TV-less several months overseas.  That one ended with the Olympics (have to see the Olympics!).  This resolution will probably end with the new season of House and a desire for consistent hot showers.  I don't know. 

Like Ric Elias, I learned something in this 48 hours.  I learned that:

Weed-whacking does not a happy spirit make unless you own a Sears store.

Knowing how to start the generator does not make one special, but actually doing it makes the supervisor from The Maids, Inc, get really wide-eyed.

Horses shit non-stop, especially in the dark and during their owners' attempts at self-actualization.

Doing anything in the dark other than sleeping is pretty pointless as daylight will reveal that you did a terrible job and there was a reason why our forebears went to bed at sundown.

We are a very, very noisy species.  We could definitely tone that down a shade.

"Disaster" has different colors and shades of meaning.

Getting all excited over surviving a weather event has to be put into perspective with other such events like the total ash-up of those poor folks at Pompeii and the years of mess and pseudo-recovery in New Orleans and Brett Favre actually retiring for real.

There's some small, humbling good in everything that happens, even if it's just that it made us stop for one second before ordering another new iPhone.  

My plane didn't go down in the Hudson.  No one blasted my building out from under me.  I didn't even have to get airlifted out of a raging torrent by handsome helicopter dudes (for which eventually I prepared by wearing my best pj's to bed).  But for a minute I had a glimpse of something I'd forgotten--quiet and peace--and I'm definitely going to try to catch that firefly again before I forget where I saw it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Yo! Where's Your Anagnorisis? Lost in Your Peripeteia?

I wrote the bulk of this prior to the visit by Lady Irene, East Coast Hurricane of the Century, and it applies even more as cleanup begins on horse farms across the East from the Carolinas to New England.  Nothing screams "Diry Job" like hacking up fallen trees and swishing away septic water that has sought and found its level in your front paddock. We may not all agree on anything (ever), but we're all in this one together.  Fire up that genny and muck on!

Mike Rowe is a favorite of mine, so you can expect him to pop up in my blog whenever I can find something with his brilliant touch that highlights or applies neatly to the world of horsemen.  This particular lecture from TED is about as pointed and important as anything I've seen to date.  Hot body notwithstanding, Mike Rowe has a firm grip on what's wrong with our society and a sane suggestion to make it better, starting with the de-villianization of hard work.

If you have horses, hopefully you've already tipped to the idea that there can be joy in dirt and sweat and smells that are not quite acceptable in polite society.  If you haven't; if you're among the elite who rarely touch a horse that hasn't been groomed and saddled for you and who wouldn't begin to know which end of a muck fork does business in the barn, this isn't for you.  It will make you itch.  You should stop reading now and go watch a video on interior design or French cooking.  Really, you'll be much happier.

Irene's Leftovers:  Dirty jobs number 1 through 27

For the rest of you, are you still hiding your ability to sling manure from your co-workers?  Do they know what you do on the weekends, or are you pretending you have hirelings for that unacceptable stuff?  Does your family ask you not to discuss horse anatomy and quality of equine fecal matter at the dinner table?  Have you seen a stallion gelded, or are you holding on to the fantasy that some horses just come that way from the horse store?  Can you give an injection?  Debride and bandage a wound?  Flush yucky goo out of an abscess?  Do you pride yourself on how well you wield a chainsaw or do wheelies on a farm tractor, or is all of that part of a life you barely admit to?

Part of what's wrong with the US is our disdain for manual labor.  And part of the downhill slide of the horse business is the unwillingness of some riders and owners to give up the Black Velvet fiction and grasp the Into the West reality of our relationship with horses and what it takes to really maximize that.  Some of us are missing the best parts of the real "us".  We keeping our eyes closed to who we really want to be, and that's just sad.  

Last night I watched what could be the worst horse movie ever made.  The Long Shot, my watch-it-now pick from Netflix for the evening, was a superficial sap-fest about overcoming obstacles.  The fact that the dressage ring was its locus--not the usual cowboy or racing fare--got me all a-twitter.  My twitter-pated interest gave way to disgust at how technically crummy the story was.  How it lacked all the reality of horsemanship and portrayed the dressage rider as a blithering idiot and retraining a blind animal to competitive level as a simplistic, made-for-TV game instead of the amazing but standard fare episode some horse owners enjoy.  That the two horses--the beautiful warmblood performing the dressage moves and the elderly, blind grade horse that stood in during the "Let's Get Fuzzy" scenes--didn't even look alike didn't help.  

No fear of dirt and hard work here! 
Hire two-year-olds!  They know what's important.

But more impressively, the main character managed to work at a barn in California, mucking stalls, giving lessons, riding, grooming, and presumably coming into occasional contact with filth is never once shown sporting so much as a smudge on her pristine breeches or perky nose.  No sweat, no dirt, no purple smear of Thrush Buster or yellow Strongid stain anywhere.  Somewhere some horses had to be shitting, but never in camera range.  

Seriously, Hollywood, is this the best you can do to help us get right with the real world?  Do we find work so aversive that even the horse biz is free of it?  

Rectal exam?  No problem.  No job is too dirty for Doc Dillon.

Time to man up and admit that you have met yourself in the dark, and your self craves dirt and muscle-wrenching work that makes you glad to hit the bed at night.  It's time for the New Equestrian to rule the roost.  Even if your taste for dirt only runs to weekend forays into making sure your rented stall at the boarding farm is spotless and your horse is parti-colored from the dabs of various boo-boo meds you've dabbed on, if you let yourself, you may find something deep inside that's near death and could use a little fresh air.   

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What Time is It?

Zip and Duke are oblivious to
the wonders of fall clean-up

 Fall is upon us!

For one thing, it's time to take a look around the horses' home and see what needs fixing before winter.  I was more than a little surprised to discover that my place is in far better shape than expected at this juncture.  Better than most years, which is a very Good Thing.  But that didn't stop me from ordering two pairs of terribly stylish PVC jump standards and buying an entire set of official pole-bending poles.  And there's the ring footing additive which will appear as soon as I get around to placing the order.

In case you're also in shopping mode, I can tell you that the least expensive PVC jump stuff is available from Jumps USA.  It's not that their ojets de jump are cheap, but if you've got a ring full of wooden things that were supposed to be impervious yet have perved quite successfully with feet missing and standards warped into artistic forms, PVC might just be the way to go.  Besides, they look so shiny.  And though you can get similar bits and pieces from other catalogs (Dover Saddlery comes to mind as that's where I priced them out), the no-shipping-charge rule at Jumps USA trumps lower per-item price.  The four, plain-Jane starter standards from that site cost me just a few dollars more than the same 4' wooden ones at Dover after the Dover shipping cost and tax were added in.

The footing is going to be something called "Airfoot" from Footings Unlimited.  Ground up athletic shoes!  Who'd have thought?  I suppose the real surprise is that we horse folks will pay big bucks for someone else's ground up useless stuff, but we all know that if you put a horse picture on it, we'll fork over the mortgage payment.  Anyway, the nice lady at FU said that Airfoot would be just the thing to mix with the top inch-and-a-half of my sand/road grit/dirt base that's so inconsistent that a sudden downpour can turn it from lovely, soft sand to something like Silly Putty.  Consistency is key.  Softness when I involuntarily dismount is also a consideration.

So, I've fixed fence posts and ordered all the high-end goodies, and my horses are just thrilled.  Actually they couldn't care less.  They were more interested in the diet feed I switched the two chubs to.  Lack of work due to inclement climate change has not been kind to any of our behinds.

I'd love to pretend I've got a whole lot of major projects afoot that will turn my backyard into something worthy of a photo spread in Horse Illustrated,  but that isn't happening, so I'll move on.

State of the Industry

Autumn is the time when things tend to get hinky.  Winter is coming ( may be 113F where you are now, but it will be cold soon, I promise).  What's coming this year is a hay shortage in many areas of the country.  Either too much rain precluded effective haying (cows are happy; horses not so much) or drought killed off the crop.  This is a good time to 1) downsize, getting rid of animals you can do without and won't be able to feed during the winter, and 2) find alternative feed sources.  Hay replacers are likely to be a better bet than bagged forage simply because bagged forage is still hay, which means it will be at a premium.  Lower-quality hay is an option as long as you bolster the horses' nutrient intake to make up for the lack.

If you're a member of your local Farm Bureau or Horse Council (if you're not, you need to join now), you should watch the news coming down the pipeline.  In my New Jersey, the biggest standardbred breeding farm in the state, Perretti Farms of Upper Freehold, has announced that they will be phasing out of business over the next two years.  Our Governor, The Christie, says the racing industry is in transition.  That's a kind way of saying that there just isn't money out there for gambling either on the owner end or the patron side of the track.  One can see the handwriting on the tack room wall as this will affect more than just one breeding farm.

Ironically, while some areas of regulation can be blamed for the changes in the industry--tighter regulation of gambling, for instance, which is keeping slots out of tracks here--the budget-driven cutbacks in environmental oversight will offer slight loosening in other areas.  Be aware so you can avoid the worst and take advantage of the best of the chaos in your jurisdiction. 

Paintings of my Horses

Art by Sharin Barber...awesomeness in oil!

Another thing I did during my fall reassessment was indulge my artsy spirit by not painting pictures of my horses.  Sharin Barber does a far better job.  If these paintings aren't the absolute best things hanging on my walls right now, then I'm George Morris (and we all know how much I'd just love to be George Morris, right?  Blech.).  Sorry the background is so busy, but I hadn't hung them yet, and the paintings just cried out for photographing in natural light.  The painting of my grandson, Dillon, with "baby neigh" Duke is eventually destined for Dillon's new bedroom after his parents drag him from my arms to the far-off realm of Indiana.  But for now it's on my wall looking lovely and garnering compliments from every delivery man I can lure into the house.  I don't get many other visitors, and someone has to look at these at least daily to make me happy.

Sharin is a pro and will paint your animals if you ask nicely, send photos, and pay her reasonable fee.  You can check out her blog linked here under the blogs I personally favor.  She's also on Facebook and might allow a friending if you're nice.

Don't forget the horses!

Some of you have shown an interest in the ongoing sagas in my barn.  For those of you who wonder what ever happened to the  nice Paint mare with the squamous cell carcinoma on her nethers, she's still with us and so is it.  It's not growing apace, possibly because we've scared it with all of the chemo and surgery and possibly because of the herbal supplement, 2-Mor Saver, she's on that is supposed to keep it under control.  Whatever the reason, her status is quo.  The cisplatin bead implants didn't really faze the cancer, but were worth the effort as an experimental gesture.

And for those who've been wondering whether Zip ever got his wild brain hair under control, the answer is a resounding yes!  After several years of gradually worsening attitude and increasing balkiness, my Aha! moment thanks to Cherry Hill and Michael Johnson led to a new approach that has been amazingly successful.  It's taken only two months--and I say "only" because, given the weather, riding time has been minimal, so that two months equates to about eight under-saddle experiences--to turn him back around....hence the new jump standards and pole-bending poles, which would have been unnecessary without a horse willing to put them to good use.  Oh, Leo and Dakota, my other riding horses, take a merry stab at both, but Leo's age (25) and arthritis (considerable, but under control thanks to Recovery Extra Strength) and Dakota's basic western trail horse conformation make their efforts more endearing than exciting.  Only the Zipster can make my version of combined training (the above-mentioned Montana Keyhole and two two-foot jumps in a pattern not found in any manual) feel like the Olympic Trials.   

So that's what time it is.  If there's a good side to climate change, it's the ample time during the hot, rainy, unrideable summer for tack cleaning and tack-room sorting and minor repairs of plumbing and electrical systems.  If fall bestows upon us a nice run of pretty days, then my horses and I will be ready to take advantage of them.  If you have the same opportunity, getting everyone in good shape, fine flesh, excellent fettle and so on will serve well over this coming winter.  The weather is predicted to be warmer overall, which means healthier horses come spring.  That can't be bad.

Onward, riders!  Mount up and do what comes naturally (and have the Airfoot footing handy for when it does).  

Monday, August 15, 2011

Better Listening Through Less Technology

Listening...sounds easy, right?  You just sit there and stuff goes in your ears and voila!  Listening happens!  

But that's so very, very wrong.  Hearing is unintentional.  Your head-bone's connected to your ear-bone.  Your ear-bone's connected to your autonomic nervous system bone.  In other word, your ears, like so many other features of your slowly decomposing body, are on auto-pilot all the time.  You can't help hearing.  Want to test that?  I used to enjoy the day-after reports when I gave my classes this assignment.  I think you'll enjoy it too. 

Laurie Swartz engaging in some Total Intentionality
during a massage session with Pokey.  Shortly after this was
taken, Pokey proposed to Laurie who, sadly, turned her down.

Wait till your (hopefully non-violent significant other) is asleep.  Watch his or her eyelids until you see the balls under them gyrating as s/he follows the action on the internal dream screen.  That's REM sleep, and it's the best time to get even for slights, real or imagined.   Once you're certain the "subject" (got to be scientific here to excuse this terrible behavior) is dreaming, whisper a few words into his ear.  Yelling "FIRE!" is probably in appropriate as you'll wake the beast, but whispering it will suffice.  Now go away and leave him alone until he wakes up.  When he does (and you have to do this immediately as only "lucid dreamers" hold on to their dream memories for very long), ask him quickly what he was dreaming about.  You'll generally get a response along the line of, "Really weird stuff!  There I was about to tap Brittney Spears, and the whole place suddenly went up in flames!"

S/he heard you, and the autopilot allowed the ear-bones to incorporate what was heard into the current experience.

Now that you're a believer, let's see what you can do about your intentions.  Intention means that you actually meant to do that, not that you just said "I meant to do that" to cover your own idiocy.  I want you to mean to hear.  Hear intentionally.  Listen!  That does mean you need to 1) put the cell phone down and stop talking to it, and 2) stop your internal dialog, the one that runs through a daily checklist of everything you hate about everyone in your world and how wonderful you really are (or vice-versa).  Just listen.

If you can do that for a few seconds, you can do it for a few minutes.  Before you know it, you'll be listening on purpose when your kids/husband/co-worker/family pet are trying to get through to you.

And you'll hear your horse.  I don't mean in words.  Even Zips Awesomeness is a little sketchy on English grammar.  I mean you'll take the time to really look at the body language, feel the vibrations, sense the level of anxiety or peacefulness of someone other than yourself and your inner child.  If that someone weighs in at 1000 pounds or better, you can't go wrong with some extra-intentional listening, believe me. 

Monday, August 08, 2011

Your Self, Your Horse

Do you have a problem with your horse?  How personally are you taking that?  Can you separate your own "self" from that of your horse?  Inquiring minds want to know.

We are pretty much (many of us, anyway) aware that we have a tendency to project our own personal issues onto other people, and in return we like to take credit and/or blame for other people's behavior.  Naturally that's all ridiculous.  We can not control other people with any degree of certainty.  Just ask the mother of a teenager.

Or ask the owner of a recalcitrant horse with "potential" far above his level of willingness.

So why is it that we still don't get that taking our pets' personalities as an affront--feeling guilty, disgusted, disappointed, embarrassed about them--is pure silliness and leads to abuses of the finest kind?  The dog chases the neighbor's cat because he's hard-wired to do that.  Your yelling, beating, and other displays of shame on his behalf don't change that.  Training might, but even that isn't 100% effective.  He's got a "self" of his own, and it likes to chase cats.  Your horse is basically lazy.  Your yelling, beating, etc isn't going to change him, either, any more than his tossing you ass-first over cross-rails is going to change you.

Let's recap the "sphere of reality" concept.  You have one.  Your neighbor who collects dead groundhogs  has one.  Each of the fools voting in Congress in ways that  irritate you has one.  Your horse, your dog, your gerbil, the squirrel hanging upside down from the bird feeder...all separate spheres.  So what is it that we've all got?  It's a viewpoint.  That's all.

What does "snow" mean to you?  Is there a shovel involved? 
Or are you a flake-taster like Dillon?
Each being lives in a world that is inaccessible to other beings.  Yours is the world created by and for you by your very nature, your history, your experiences, your gender, state of health, age, ethnicity.  When you look out through your eyes, everything in your world is you-colored.  It may look green, blue, red, and lavender, but those are only the colors you are applying to what you see.  The background color is inescapably YOU.

Have I lost you yet?  Move on, then, to the fact that if your world is you-colored, then Charlie Sheen's world is Charlie-colored.  Your dog's world smacks of predatory instincts with a ground-level perspective.  Your cat's world is even more predatory since hunting and sleeping are basically his only activities.  Your horse has a view from much higher off the ground, colored by his prey animal instincts with cloudy spots from bouncing against your bubble by virtue of your interactions with him.  He can no more stop being himself and enter your bubble (which would, in effect, make him you) than he can sprout wings and nest on the barn roof. you find yourself angry at other people's behavior,or do you reserve your pique only for your pets?  Are you a little self-righteous and possibly controlling?  Having read the above, do you get that that's about as stupid as it gets?  You can make every attempt to bully your family, friends, neighbors, politicians, and pets, and you may "win", but you can't make them see your point-of-view.  The best you can hope for is detente, both of you viewing different worlds from your separate bubbles and agreeing not to try to kill each other for not being able to see the whole picture. 

The trick is to not just "know" this in a cognitive sense, but to "know" it in a meaningful way that makes compassion possible.  Aim for letting your bubble touch a few others without trying to control what's in them.  You'll be better for it and so will the world you live in.

Monday, August 01, 2011

More on the Benefits of Riding

Exercise has numerous beneficial effects on brain health and cognition, review suggests

ScienceDaily (2011-07-25) -- A new article highlights the results of more than a hundred recent human and animal studies on how aerobic exercise and strength training play a vital role in maintaining brain and cognitive health throughout life. Researchers also suggest questions remain in the field of exercise neuroscience -- including how exercise influences brain physiology and function and the relationship between human and animal studies.

It is an easy point to make.  Like the horses we ride, humans were meant to move.  We were all designed to walk, run, jump, climb, hunt, and flee from danger on footAs we grew and morphed, we lost the desire to see the planet from the treetops and built wheels from which grew treadmills and office chairs.  Horses, lacking the old opposable thumbs that made it possible for us to shoot each other and hitch rides on passing eighteen-wheelers, continued to live a more-or-less natural and physically active life.  It's only when we intervene and take Nature out of the equation that horses begin to look (and probably feel) like us:  soft and frequently unhealthy.

My saddle-esque desk chair that's supposed to keep my
core doing what cores do without any effort on my part

Two posts ago I shared the recent research that indicates that 1) exercise and the stress-relief that comes with interaction with animals keeps us from losing our minds earlier than necessary, and 2) head whacks have the opposite effect, so we need to use care and common sense in our efforts to be horsey.  My last post suggested that our efforts to customize our horses sometimes result in their downfall; that they are rarely born warped and bent, but can be made that way by us.  We do to them what we do to ourselves.  Exaggeration in service to style is never good, species notwithstanding.

Today's article presents yet another bonus of exercise.  According to the author's summary of research done at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, starting early on the aerobic side--we're talking children now, who we all know can use less time indoors interacting with the X-Box and more outdoors interacting with the world--actually creates smarter humans.  Now, if that's not a top-notch goal, I don't know what is.  Just check out the evening news tonight and you'll agree.

More effort is required in my gym
so I don't spend as much time
At this point the results are still tentative.  A connection seems to be clear, but more data will be needed to clinch it.  Still, given that vitamin and herb supplements, exercise DVD's that promise Ten Minutes to Firmer Thighs, funny shoes with foam rockers to tone the wearer's butt (I own four pairs, so I'm not one to criticize), belts that shock the abs into submission so no work at all is required by their owner....none of these have any sort of conclusive scientific support.  If we're going to buy into those, why not buy into the more obvious conclusion that brain power and appropriate use of our bodies are probably linked?
Getting fit is best approached with baby steps.

Before you rush out to buy your kid a pony so he'll excel in school, it's also important to note that injury rates in equestrian sports are on a par with dirt bike racing/jumping, skiing and other snow and ice sports, and Austrian rules football (stats here).  It's not in the reports, but I would not be surprised to find out that riders who are not in good physical condition, who do not wear appropriate safety equipment, and who are not in the hands of a good, safety-conscious instructor during the learning process probably get hurt more often.  Riding requires balance, attention, and core muscle strength that don't come free and can't be bought from late night infomercials.  They require work and dedication, and that's all the more reason to put riding on the list of Things to Do to Improve Your Life.