Time To Ride: Not Your Standard Medication

Below is my winning entry for the Time To Ride contest, highlighting one woman’s battle with clinical depression.

Not Your Standard Medication

Depression is like a dark hole, and there are days that you struggle just to see a glimmer of light. For some it can be crippling, but others find a way to fight through. They might do it on their own, with medication, or with the help of angels around them.

For Marlise Langenhoven, her angels just came in the form of horses.   Riding horses has been a lifelong dream for Marlise, but it was unreachable in her early years. Growing up in South Africa, horses and riding were for the more privileged.   Marlise grew up moving around a lot with her family moving to the United States when she was 28 years old. She struggled through abuse as a child and multiple moves until she became an adult and married her husband of 20 years, Mark.

Then came her first child, and the stressors of being a new mom and the new challenges the dynamic change brought about led to her diagnosis of clinical depression.   “I was very depressed, on medications … having a hard time coping with life in general,” Marlise recalls.

Then one day her daughter suggested riding lessons. “When she said that, my heart kind of sunk a little bit because where I come from, riding is a very expensive hobby, and my family couldn’t afford it at all,” she says.  Still, she looked around her home in Murfreesboro, Tenn., for a place to just take one lesson at the age of 38.

“I can remember the first time I got on and started riding,” she says. “I was just on a lunge line going around in a circle, but I can still remember how it felt to just be on a horse and to do something I have always wanted to do.”

Expecting to only take one lesson, Marlise was hooked from the very first step and continued her lessons, even though she was one of the oldest riders at her first trainer’s farm.

“When it comes to riding as an older adult, it’s very intimidating…at least it was for me,” she says. “You’re surrounded by all these young kids who are much better than you are.”

Ending the Victim Cycle

Marlise found that with every lesson, every little thing that she started getting right during her lessons, as a rider, pushed her to want to do more. She felt accomplished after every ride, no matter how small the gains were.   After about a year, Marlise and her daughter moved on to their current trainer, Lauren Romanelli in College Grove, Tenn. In one of her early lessons, Lauren said something that hit home to Marlise.

“Lauren would say, ‘Stop riding like a victim.’ But I had no idea what she meant,” she says. “I had my shoulders back, my chin was up, and heels down.”

Then it hit Marlise that she needed to let go of all the negativity and early struggles, and just live in the moment.

“Dealing with horses really taught me that I had to deal with my stuff and that I had some unpacking to do, instead of keeping it all boarded up,” she reveals. “I just needed to leave it alone and move on. Go forward.”  Her new life mantra was to no longer look back: “If you want to accomplish anything with riding, you have to move forward. You don’t achieve anything by looking back.”

Moving Forward

Now Marlise and her daughter share a leased horse together. It’s wasn’t long before Marlise was learning about more than just counting strides between jumps, but other horsemanship skills. With each stall she mucked, each hoof picked, each horse groomed and fed, she discovered more of the beauty and the strength that radiated from horses.   “

One of my favorite charges, Chance, would give me big hugs and nibble my back pockets whenever I picked his feet,” she says. “And with every perceived show of affection, or evidence of trust earned, another little piece of me would fall back into place. My time at the barn was the joy of my life.”

Marlise has also learned that life, like jumping, is about making adjustments as best you can as you go. Some days you ace it and other days not so much, but tomorrow, you tack up again, take a deep breath and try all over. It’s enlightened her and given her a new lease on life, a life without any more depression medication or extra weight. While her depression isn’t totally in the rearview mirror, she continues to manage it with exercise, riding, and therapy when needed. She attributes it all to her time spent in the saddle and in the barn, looking up and moving forward.

Marlise enjoying competing at her first three-day event with a fellow adult rider in 2015.

Marlise enjoying competing at her first three-day event with a fellow adult rider in 2015.

“I do think there is something to be said about riding and being around horses. That has really, really helped me,” says Marlise. “For me, at the barn it’s all about being in the moment—you focus on just you and your horse. There’s always something you need to focus on when you’re at the barn, and because you’re focusing on these little things while you’re riding, you shut out everything else going on. For that time, I am not a mother, I am not a wife, I don’t have responsibilities … all I have to worry about is in that barn—me and my horse.

“For that time, I can just be me, I can just be that young girl that has always wanted to ride, but never had that opportunity. For that time I can be living my dream. It’s like the only real selfish time that I have, and I’m really, truly selfish with it—I don’t care about anyone else, I don’t think about anyone else, it’s just me and my horse and riding, and our connection.”

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Dogs + Horses = Perfect Combination

If you’re a horse person, most likely you’re also a dog person. Walk around at a horse show, anywhere across the country, and you’ll find dogs of all sizes, breeds, and personalities escorting their four-hooved counterparts. Sometimes, you might wonder if there are more dogs than horses on the fairgrounds.

Having a dog as part of your horse show family is more than just displaying a fashionable accessory. For some, they provide a sense of companionship on those long, lonely hauls to the show. For others, they serve as a built-in security system for the tack stall. For others, it’s simply a matter of bringing “home” with you, wherever you go.

But how can you make the experience of having your pooch with you at the horse show a more pleasant one for you, your horse, and your fellow exhibitors? I spoke with a few experienced exhibitors who travel with their favorite dogs for their experiences and opinions, and also with a dog obedience trainer, Mandy Eakins with Manners Matter KY, for tips on how to be a better dog owner while on the road.

You can read the article in it’s entirety here:  A Horseman’s Best Friend

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If you have questions about dog training, check out Manners Matter KY.

About Megan–My Animal Life

In the second part of my “About Megan” series, I’d like to talk about my animal life and why I seem to focus more on writing about them in my career.

I grew up in an animal-loving family. My mother’s mother, and her mother, were dog breeders and handlers. Mom grew up with multiple breeds of dogs in her house and learned a lot about dog showing and breeding from her family. She met my dad through dog friends, and my dad was a dog handler. My mom also grew up with horses, so she introduced my dad to the world of horses.

When my sister was born, my parents had one of the top dogs in the nation, a Golden Retriever named Bronco, but my parents were slowly getting out of the dog business. From there we got into the horses more, and by the time I was born we had a barn and my sister was riding. I grew up showing horses in 4-H and open shows, occasionally hitting AQHA shows and then the PHBA circuit as I entered high school and college. I competed with the Indiana High School Rodeo Association all four years of high school, with bouts in barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, and a little breakaway roping. Meanwhile, I was also showing reining, Western pleasure, hunter under saddle, showmanship, halter, and horsemanship, so I felt that I truly was an all-around competitor.

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I attended Murray State University thanks to being recruited by the Rodeo Team, and competed for one year on the team until my barrel horse blew his suspensory ligament at a speed show at the University of Tennessee-Martin. I also joined the Equestrian Team, where I remained a member all four years, serving as captain my senior year, and doing public relations for the team for two years. It was an incredible experience and I loved every minute. I minored in Equine Science while at Murray, and most of my time was spent in the saddle–either riding my horse(s) that I had in town with me, training school horses, or just messing around with Punk, our school’s top stallion. It was then that I decided I wanted to dedicate my career to equine publications.

 

Skip's TuTuffTu 2004 PHBA World Champion

Skip’s TuTuffTu 2004 PHBA World Champion

After graduation from college, I started moving around and had to leave my horses at home. It wasn’t until I moved to Lexington, Ky., in 2007 that I was able to have a horse down here. Unfortunately, the same week I moved from Oklahoma to Kentucky, Nino, my beloved Palomino world champion gelding, coliced and died while in surgery at Purdue University.

Meanwhile, after graduation I had also added a new love to my life in the form of a little stumpy puppy who was bossy and uber cute. Dally entered my heart in September 2005 and became my moving buddy–since I couldn’t have my horses, I could have my dog and cat (Mara) with me. Dally moved from Indiana to Texas to Oklahoma and then to Kentucky with me (along with Mara), and she was by my side for many rough times, including losing Nino.

How could you not fall in love with those big ears and stumpy legs?

How could you not fall in love with those big ears and stumpy legs?

It was after Nino’s death that I decided I needed something to kill time and I decided to attempt dog agility with Dally. My family had been on the forefront of bringing dog agility to Indiana many, many years ago, so I was familiar with it. I knew Dally was smart, and she needed a job. That was seven years ago…and we’ve been competing for six years. I never would have guessed seven years ago that we would have one agility championship (almost two), three straight trips to the American Kennel Club National Agility Championships (Reno, Tulsa, and Harrisburg), and the many memories and friendships that I have now.

Four years ago LaMesa joined our family, and she has continued to the Arszman tradition with also competing in agility…and teaching me a lot.

LaMesa's my little buddy.

LaMesa’s my little buddy.

While I have been immersed in the dog agility lately, my heart has still be in the horse world. I have worked with equine publications, worked as a show secretary for many different associations, and stayed in contact with many in the industry. With my growing experience in agility, I am getting more familiar with that industry and have been learning more to share with dog lovers, just as much as I have with horse lovers.

My three girls--Lark, LaMesa, and Dally

My three girls–Lark, LaMesa, and Dally

My animals are my life–they make my life whole. I’m very passionate about my animals just as I am the humans close to me. And I love to write. Because of that, the ability to combine both loves into a career is a blessing. I love to learn new things to share with you, especially if it applies to my life and my animals. And I love to share how some people’s love of animals (and love from animals) have affected their lives in a positive way.

 

Throwback Thursday: Seasonal Tack Touch-Ups

Growing up with horses you think you know all there is to know about horse care. But spend a few years as the photo editor for a horse health publication and you get a quick check of reality that you have a lot more to learn. But it was a great education and I loved learning everything I could about horse health, equitarians, etc.

One of my first endeavors of writing for The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care was one that was up my alley because I’m obsessed with taking care of my tack.

This is the time of year where horse owners are chomping at the bit to get their saddles of storage and hop on their woolly beasts immediately. (I bet you didn’t know that saddles wear out more from neglect than use.) But there’s so much you need to do with that dormant tack before you can hit the trails, and that’s where this article comes in. There simple steps you can take to make sure your tack is ready for a full season:

Clean saddles not only look pretty, but they stay functional.

Clean saddles not only look pretty, but they stay functional. (Photo by Lori Schmidt)

Seasonal Tack Touch-Ups

The days will soon begin to get longer and the riding bug will start to bite–it’s almost time to dust off your saddle and deep clean your furry beast of a horse. But will your tack be ready to use after sitting in storage through the winter?

Whether you ride Western, hunt seat, saddle seat, or sidesaddle, simple acts such as checking potential stress points in the leather, the soundness of your saddle’s tree, and hinges of bits are often left out of the routine. It’s often assumed that just because your tack got you through your previous ride without any problems, then it’s in good shape for the next ride. That assumption can get you in trouble if your horse jumps to the side quickly or you must pull him up at the last minute; one small crack in the leather could turn into a big tear at the wrong moment, and it could leave you and your horse separated, and maybe injured.

Check, Check 1-2-3

Dennis Moreland of Weatherford, Texas, who’s been a tack maker for more than 30 years, says the one place most people tend to forget to look when checking Western saddles is the off-side of the girth. “They don’t see it every day,” says Moreland.

He advises riders to check the leather everywhere it folds, especially in the latigo, where the straight part might look and feel great, but where it folds around the cinch buckle it could be dry and cracking. Chicago screws in headstalls should be tightened and replaced where needed.

Western and English girths come in a variety of materials, including leather, neoprene, nylon, mohair or rope cords, and sheepskin. Moreland says, “The cinches made from 100% mohair tend to stretch, but the cord I use is mohair, wool, and Dacron mixed. It’s important to check your cords (to make sure) they have not stretched.”

If you choose to use nylon, sheepskin, or leather girths, it’s important to check for any cracks that could be uncomfortable to the horse and compromise the integrity of the girth. Also check all the buckles to make sure there isn’t any corrosion.

Buddy Baird with Stübben North America, an English saddle manufacturer, reiterates Moreland’s advice on checking saddles routinely. “The one thing we run into all the time is that people never look at their stuff,” he says. “They basically just assume that when they put it up it’s okay, and when they get it out it’s okay. Saddles don’t really wear out from use, but more from neglect.”

Two minutes is all it takes to give an overall tack check, says Baird, “Go up and down the reins to make sure everything is right and not stretched, go over the stud hooks to check if they are intact and not being pulled out, check for cracks, dry fissures, and dry rot.” If anything looks questionable, get it repaired.

Baird likens tack to a pair of leather shoes: “If you wear a pair of leather shoes in the rain and stick them in the closet for three months, or on your back porch, you will find those shoes to be very uncomfortable and very difficult to break back in. If you can keep leather soft, supple, and moist, that’s an ideal situation to go into the spring. You need to condition the leather to keep it from dry-rotting and getting hard and brittle because of the sweat.”

Saddle Trees

Saddle trees are the most forgotten part of saddle maintenance because they are hidden. Baird reminds owners to know what type of tree their English saddle has before they check it. Some saddles, like Stübbens, have flex trees. “In our saddles, the frame and tree are supposed to bend. If you can bend it, it is not a guarantee that the tree is broken,” says Baird. “However, the points of the tree are fixed points and should not be able to flex. (Other English saddle trees aren’t designed to flex like this.)

“It’s always good to check with the saddle manufacturer on how to check the saddle tree,” he adds. “Typically, there are different ways to check the different trees.”

While other aspects of your tack should be checked at least weekly, saddle trees can be checked yearly, unless you get into a wreck with your horse. In this case, Moreland offers general guidelines for checking Western saddle trees:

  1. Set the saddle on a saddle rack and stand directly behind it.
  2. Put the back of the saddle against your belt.
  3. Reach over and pull the horn toward you. (You’re holding the saddle between your hand and stomach.)
  4. Also, you can put the saddle on the ground and gently try to flex the tree. If the saddle wiggles or flexes, you’ve got a broken tree.

Bits

Bits also require a seasonal checkup because they are a direct communication line to your horse. “Bits will deteriorate faster not being used rather than being overused, because they tend to rust just hanging there,” says Moreland.

Check all swivel shanks to make sure the shank hasn’t rusted to the point that it’s frozen at the swivel. Some guides say to use a penetrating oil such as WD-40 or 3-IN-ONE Oil to help break any rust. However, Ed Boldt Jr., DVM, of Performance Horse Complementary Medicine Services in Fort Collins, Colo., offers other alternatives to using oil to clean the rust. He suggests using a steel wool pad with light soap and water. “You should watch how much oil you use on a bit because it could irritate the horse’s tongue or mouth,” warns Boldt. “I’d also recommend using a mineral oil instead.”

Always remember to disinfect bits if they’re shared by horses to prevent transmitting diseases. Filling a bucket with a solution of chlorhexidine (Nolvasan) will make disinfecting easier with just one dunk.

A Little Cleaning Goes a Long Way

There is such a thing as too much cleaning when it comes to your saddle and tack. Too much cleaning, especially with an aggressive-type of glycerin soap, can dry out the leather, eat away at the stitching, and it might cause mold.

“If you put your leather in a situation where it can grow mold, it will,” states Baird.

Moreland suggests using a gentle liquid saddle soap, such as Fiebing’s Liquid Glycerin Saddle Soap, with a dampened sponge or piece of sheepskin to clean the leather. If your saddle has a lot of dirt caked on, use a scrub brush like a nail brush or toothbrush. Green mold can be easily killed and wiped off using a concoction of one part Listerine and two parts water in a spray bottle.

Oiling your leather is not an everyday activity. Just as with cleaning, too much oil is not a good thing; it can make the leather spongy and break it down. In older tack stitched with flax thread, excessive oil can eat away at the stitching. (Tack makers use nylon thread now.) Use neatsfoot compound oil rather than pure oil because the pure oil can get rancid, and in the high humidity it will cause mold.

It’s best to check with your saddle’s manufacturer for what they recommend. Stübben representatives, for example, recommend their Hamanol conditioner, which is made in conjunction with the company that tans their leather.

Tack Storage

Baird suggests after every ride to take a damp cloth and wipe the underside of your saddle to remove the sweat and dirt, thus prolonging the life of your leather. “Wiping the saddle down will remove the oils and acid that come with the horse’s sweat,” he advises. “That can break down the leather.”

Storing your saddle in a dark, unheated tack room is detrimental to the leather. The absence of light or heat causes mold to grow on your leather and could freeze it. Over the course of the winter, or even during the summer, if you’re not going to ride in it, it’s in your tack’s best interest to be in a controlled environment and not subject to temperature and moisture fluctuations.

Take-Home Message

The state of your tack has an impact on your horse’s health and well-being, as well as your own safety. By just taking a few moments and applying a little TLC, you will apply the right preventive medicine that will keep you and your tack safe and healthy.

Next week I’ll share some advice I learned from a veterinarian about keeping your horse healthy when sharing tack.

You can read more by checking out TheHorse.com.