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Women & Horses by Mary D. Midkiff - horseback riding fitness techniques for women

Women & Horses, knowledge for the female equestrian; female equestrian fitness training and riding tips

Review of "She flies Without Wings: How Horses
Touch a Woman's Soul" by Mary D. Midkiff

Reprinted from "The Courier-Journal" Louisville, KY (April 29, 2001)

A love affair with horses
By DIANE HEILENMAN, The Courier-Journal

Remember how happy Brandi and Mia and all those soccer players were when they won their world championship game?

Well, it's like that almost every day when you work with horses.

In part, that's why Mary Midkiff starts her latest book, "She Flies Without Wings: How Horses Touch a Woman's Soul," with the revelation: "When I was six, I was a horse."

In part, that's why we have had a Kentucky Derby for, soon, 127 years.

In part, it's why there is such an influx of women into the once largely male equestrian world, sparking books like Midkiff's, a slew of horse-crazy items aimed at women, and a steady growth in riding and in the backyard horse population and boarding facilities despite surburban sprawl.

I know because I'm one of the increasing numbers of "ladies" out there spending all available time and disposable income on coaches, horse gear, horses, hay, gasoline for the truck and convenience food for the family left at home.

No matter how tough it may be at the office, in the kitchen, the bedroom, on the commute or with the kids, you get a daily dose of victory with horses.

It comes from doing things as small as/as big as sitting on a horse for the first time, brushing dust off 1,200 pounds of muscle and bone, galloping over cross-country fences, teaching a young horse manners around carrots, rehabilitating an injured horse or just having the confidence to wear elasticized riding duds in public.

Victories, of course, come with a balancing dose of disaster, and the addictive adrenaline sport of riding and handling horses brings problems, injuries, tragedies, disappointments, financial setbacks, emotional bombs and physical challenges.

Facing problems and fixing them is part of the empowerment of the horse world.

The horsewomen we talked to, from young amateurs to seasoned professionals, have individual stories to tell of how they became involved with horses and how their attachment has grown. But all of them shared what seems to be an innate need for horses and the good sense to let this noble species be one of life's guides.

'We are equal to men, if not bigger and stronger ...'

Mary Midkiff grew up thinking she was half-filly, she was raised that close to the barns and pastures of a thoroughbred breeding farm in Lexington, Ky.

Which is why it seems strange that this former groom, horse trainer, event rider and road-race runner has become a library-bound researcher and desk-tied writer.

"It's a new leaf for me. . . . I've always been very athletic, very physically oriented," said Midkiff, who lives in Colorado. "That was pretty much the first half of my life, I think."

Midkiff's current life is on a road trip that will bring her to Louisville, promoting her second book, "She Flies Without Wings: How Horses Touch a Woman's Soul" ($23.95). It was published this month by Random House.

"She Flies Without Wings" is part memoir, part essay. It links literature and real life as Midkiff quotes everyone from Mark Twain to Jane Austen and interviews women across the country who have been consoled, empowered, soothed, transformed and linked with their horses in a manner that is emotional and cerebral.

Midkiff, whose first book addressed the mechanics of riding in "Fitness, Performance and the Female Equestrian," said she wrote the second because she noticed the expanding bond between women and horses as a contemporary phenomenon.

"Women and horses found each other through emancipation in the 20th century," said Midkiff.

Horses were freed from use in war and the farm, and that shift coincided with the shift of women from sidesaddles, corsets and constant child-bearing to physical, financial and scheduling freedoms.

Girls, especially, seem to enjoy the company of one another in the barn's atmosphere, where they gossip, groom and comb hair, said Midkiff.

"Boys have a gender difference. They don't seem to care so much about the caretaking thing."

The real transformation occurs when girls ride.

"They get on the horse and feel powerful, tall and strong. We are equal to men, if not bigger and stronger, when we are on a horse. It makes you feel very, very good and beautiful and important," Midkiff said.

She thinks women and horses are natural companions because both relate nonverbally, the horse naturally and women through centuries of gender training where empathy, compassion and intuition were valued -- as was the idea of power through finesse rather than muscles.

Midkiff created a Women and Horses fitness program to give women the ability to ride better and with more harmony. She also is president of Equestrian Resources, a marketing firm for show, sport and recreational riding.

"The beneficiary of everything I do is the horse, I believe," she said. "I don't want to underplay the importance this has on women and girls' lives, but the thing that really benefits from all the information and work I do is giving the horse a long, quality life."

A third book is planned, more of a historical overview of women and horses, "some sort of twist on the women and horse concept," Midkiff said. "That will always be my message and my subject. I've pretty much committed my life and career to that."

Midkiff will read from and sign her book tomorrow from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Glenview Pointe Hawley-Cooke Booksellers, 2400 Lime Kiln Lane.

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