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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

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September 01, 2002
Subject: Adventurous People and Horses

Dear Mary

I have just finished reading your book, "She Flies without Wings" - congratulations on a very interesting work.

Though you raise a number of important points in the book, I noticed that there was a complete absence of any reference to the ancient art of equestrian travel as it pertains to both men and women.

The Long Riders' Guild is the world's first international association of equestrian travellers ( Each of our members has ridden a continuous journey of at least a thousand miles, and there are nearly 200 of us in 32 countries. For example, I rode 2,500 miles from Russia to England, and later travelled 1,500 miles up the Outlaw Trail in the Western United States; my husband CuChullaine made the longest equestrian trip in Pakistan's history; Gordon Naysmith rode 13,000 miles from South Africa to Austria; Nathan and Elly Foote rode from the tip of Patagonia to Alaska, etc. etc. [CLICK HERE to read the rest of this letter]

Though The Long Riders' Guild welcomes anyone who has made a thousand-mile journey without abusing the horses, I would like to draw your attention to a number of American women who have made great trips in the United States, including:

Nan Aspinwall was the first woman to ride alone across the continent in 1910.

Ginny Shumaker rode from Ohio to Los Angeles in 1941. A few miles from her destination, she was met by Roy Rogers and Trigger, who escorted her into the city. Shortly after her return home, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. A few days later, Gene Autry telephoned Ginny and asked her to be the "advance guard" for the country's first war bond drive. Ginny then rode from Ohio to New York, where she led a ticker-tape parade of Hollywood stars, including Gene Autry, down Broadway. Ginny is a member of The Long Riders' Guild and still raising horses at the age of 82!

Messanie Wilkins was told in 1952 that she had six months to live. So armed with only $32 that she made from selling home-made pickles, clutching a gas station road map of the USA, and mounted on a broken down summer camp horse named Tarzan, this amazing woman set off to fulfil a long-held dream - to see the Pacific. She rode for 6,000 miles before reaching Los Angeles, where she appeared on the Art Linkletter Show. Messanie then returned home to Maine, and did not die until twenty years later!

In 1975, Long Rider Member Mary-Ellen Eckleburg rode 3,000 miles down the Mississippi from the Canadian border to New Orleans. When some people scoffed that she had cheated by trailering her Arab gelding across some dangerous bridges, Mary-Ellen turned round and rode 3,000 miles back to Canada, on the other bank of the great river.

In 1979, the mother-and-daughter Long Rider team Pat and Linda Schamber rode from coast to coast.

In 1996, Eleanor Carter also rode across the United States, despite the handicap of being totally deaf! And our most recent member, Lisa Wood, rode 1,500 miles up the Pacific Coast Trail in 1993, followed by a 3,000 mile trans-US horseback journey in 2001, and has recently returned from riding in Tibet.

Although these are all amazing women, The Long Riders' Guild believes that riding horses should not be a celebration of a triumph in the so-called 'battle of the sexes.' This battle does not exist among the equestrian travel community, where it is replaced by a mutual respect for each other's achievements, regardless of gender. We Long Riders take no account of nationality, religion, or sex - priding ourselves instead that we only speak 'Horse'.

Mary, your book was interesting on many levels. I was particularly struck by the way you noted that, on the whole, women are better than men at interpreting non-verbal communications because women are genetically programmed to understand the needs of babies and small children.

Yet the spirituality of which you speak, the way the horse can take us to new places inside ourselves as well as on a physical plane, is by no means limited to women, as your book implies. The 3 m.p.h. average speed of a horse journey slows your body, mind and soul regardless of your gender, and the result is often a spiritual awakening.

This spiritual awakening is in direct contrast to the competition-based search for Blue Ribbons, and the use of a horse as a "trophy" to validate the rider's vanity, which is so predominant in the equestrian community of developed countries. Equestrian Travel is not about such an external show. It is instead about making an internal difference.

I find it sad that women in the USA are willing to celebrate the horse, yet most of them continue to tether themselves to the ring. The horse represents physical, geographical and emotional freedom. Yet the majority of riders, men and women, are docile slaves of the barn, riding in circles like goldfish swimming round a bowl and imagining they are in the deep blue sea.

Equestrian Travel is the ancient answer! Equestrian travel is an activity that requires courage, determination, diplomacy, a passion for horses, and often a talent for languages. In return, the Long Rider bonds with his or her horse on a far deeper level than can possibly be achieved in the dressage ring, or even on a cross-country course. (I speak from experience, as in my childhood I was a member of the British Pony Club and competed in those events, before graduating to hunting, dressage, three-day-eventing, and endurance riding.) Yet none of those passive equestrian experiences could equal the thrill of setting off on my Cossack stallion, Count Pompeii, early in the morning bound for a new horizon, with no idea where nightfall would find us, or what unexpected adventures we would meet on the road.

In equestrian travel, you the rider depend on your horse to get you to your goal for that night, and your horse depends on you to provide food, water, and shelter from the worst of the elements. You are interdependent.

As the Long Rider Lisa Wood said in an interview after her Pacific Coast Trail ride, "You don't travel 1,500 miles on a horse and then sell him - you marry him."

I would like to invite you and your readers to learn more about equestrian travel by visiting The Long Riders' Guild website: This website is the repository of more information about equestrian travel than has ever been collected together in the 3,400-year history of this most ancient human-equine activity. You will find the History of Equestrian Travel, the Equestrian Travel Timeline, which lists all the known Long Rides, thrilling Stories from the Road, a list of Members, and much, much more.

I look forward to hearing what you think about the issues I have raised.

Kind regards,
Basha O'Reilly
The Long Riders' Guild


July 19, 2002

Hi Mary, I am your newest fan! I have just finished reading "She Flies Without Wings", and it was....wonderful. That is the understatement of the year! I have been a horse lover all of my life, and since moving to New Mexico a year ago have thankfully incorporated horses into my daily life---being in the right place at the right time is everything! I exercise the horses for Clouddancer's Therapeutic Riding Program (the huge program in Colorado mentioned in your book is well respected in NM), as well as for private owners. The feelings of peace, well-being and balance that just being NEAR horses provides me with were expressed beautifully in your book. And to have the privilege of riding them, well, it humbles me every day of my life. I am glad to know there are women like you who feel the connections we do--and I love that you relate your feelings for horses to everyday life (I find myself thinking often about the similarities). If asked to describe what it is about horses that I love so much, I sum it up (because I could go on FOREVER!!) like this: Horses bring into my life what religion brings to others.

Keep up the wonderful writing!! I am spreading the word about YOUR words to those who will enjoy your work as much as I did....

Take Care, Stacy Neuman Corrales, NM


July 8, 2002

Hello Mary. Would you please add me to your mailing list. I have just returned from Fort Worth Texas, where I researched and photographed a story on cowgirls, to coincide with the opening of the Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame (June) for The Times newspaper, London.

I met many inspiring women, including Mitzi Lucas Riley (daughter of Tad Lucas) and I bought your book from the Hall of Fame. Meeting Mitzi and other horsewomen, and reading your book has rekindled my too-long-ignored desire to ride again (I stopped when I was 13, having discovered boys, which has since proved to be a disaster - I'm 36!!!). Through my work in feature and travel journalism, and photography, I write and photograph horse stories as much as I can, always yearning to ride again but always believing I've missed my chance and perhaps am too old and stiff. Now, because of your words, I realise I have the power to begin my love all over again.

Tomorrow I have my first riding lesson in I don't know how long. I am booked to ride Bramble at a riding school near my home and I am very, very nervous but I cannot wait. I long for tomorrow to come. I feel like a ten-year-old again!!


June 28, 2002

I just this morning finished reading 'She Flies Without Wings'. I loved it so much I couldn't put it down. I am fifteen and ride once a week at a local riding stable, and I also have a sister who has a neighbor who owns horses which he lets me ride as much as I want when I come up there. I cannot remember a time when I did not love horses and have felt different when I was around them. Even after about six years of riding I still get butterflies in my stomach as we get near the barn. When reading your book I felt more connected to everything, just reading your book seemed to just make so much sense. I loved the part about Transformation Through Compassion, I for a while was riding a Thoroughbred gelding at the stable where I ride, he was beautiful in his own way, like many lesson horses he was a bit shaggy but I just fell for his movement and he seemed to be different. He is not an average gelding, he has so much spirit and I have heard from people that they have been told he bites in his stall and everything. I started riding him alot and then after a show he went lame. He was lame for about 2 months, and I still would come and give him candy canes and groom him, and durning that time I saw in him what many people said he was like, one day in his stall about two weeks after he went lame he bit me, not hard to like break the skin, but I got a good bruise. After he bit me I finished petting him and gave him the left of the candy cane, but was a bit confused about how he was acting, since I had never seen him like that. Still the next time I was at the barn I went and saw him and gave him peppermints and petted his neck and just spent as much time with him as I could before I had to go for my lesson.

Last week he was sound again and I got to ride him, it was like so uplifting to be on him again, to just feel his movement and just be with him. He was so different then he has been before, when I was brushing his legs he stood there the whole time with his head down by mine, like watching everything, and he even nibbled at my hair. Even the week before before I was leaving his stall to go home he just stood with his ears pricked letting me stroke his neck and face with his eyes closed, just relaxing and seemed so happy. I don't know what really changed him, maybe it was just being off for so long, and I don't know if really my visiting him so much made him change any, even though I would like to hope it helped him some. You probably hear lots of stories about how your book helped people, but I just wanted to tell you how inspiring your book was and how I could relate so much to the whole feeling for horses. Thank you so much for writing such a great book. -Erika


Date: June 3, 2002

Dear Mary- I am a lover of all horses but in particular, the Thoroughbred stole my heart years ago. I pursued a career as an exercise rider after high school and though things did not go as planned, Thoroughbreds still have my heart...

I have two TB mares - both raced. Karen is twelve and I have had her for 7 years - she is my best friend. Indy is 6 and I have had her now for two years. They are both very different in attitude and in their needs. Karen is easy to identify with - we are both independent and enjoy company as well as our individual space. Indy on the other hand has posed a great challenge to me...

Since day one, Indy had the habit of grinding her teeth and pulling the reins while riding. Everything was done to figure out what her problem was - saddle, bit, me, pain -you name it! As time went by, she started refusing to do even simple tasks such as standing quietly for the blacksmith. Her frustration and my anger became dangerous and my confidence went out the door. I cried a lot and even felt that she was "too much" horse for me. I almost sold her even though I had professional help on a weekly basis.

After reading your book, I decided to think about myself first. Why was I afraid? How am I communicating with her? Was she afraid of my fear and anger? I was an exercise rider - didn't I remember what some of these young animals went through? It dawned on me that we were not "close" - I didn't understand her and she didn't understand me. We both reacted instead of thinking. She needed reassurance and nurturing. We needed to start from scratch and not make any assumptions.

Two months ago, I started from the ground and worked my way up. The change in both of us is overwhelming to me. The joy brings me to tears. I am riding her again - in a BOSAL, and though we are walking in the ring and trotting a little bit, it is an accomplishment I never thought would happen. I thought I destroyed her because of my demands and assumptions. No more head tossing or grinding! What's amazing is no one suggested a hackamore or bosal - she's a Thoroughbred after all...(a bit of sarcasm in the comment, please).

This morning, while cleaning her stall, she hugged me and leaned on me gently the entire time. I am still teary eyed about it because she used to go to the other end and hide. I will admit it takes longer to clean a stall that way, but as long as I communicate gently and clearly, she gets the hint.

Thank you for writing your book. Sometimes we take so much for granted that we forget who we are and who horses are. Your book reminded me of my lessons I learned in my youth and forgot.

Sincerely, Dawn M. Bradshaw
Ellington CT


Date: Saturday, May 18, 2002

Please add me to your mailing list. Also, I am reading your book " She Flies Without Wings." Everything you say I have experienced. I'm sure you hear that all the time, but we are about the same age, and except that backgrounds are different, our feeling about horses are the same. It was so exciting to hear you say you felt you were a horse and they were your family. My first drawings were horses, all the books I read, even the games I played. I had such a draw to them I couldn't explain. When my father finally got me one at 14, I was in heaven. I had 3 other friends to ride with all the time. My boyfriend (later my husband) got whatever time was left over. My dad said it was the best investment he ever made besides education because it kept me from the boys! I never quit loving them but didn't ride for almost 20 years when he again got me a horse at 39. I am now 50 and ride regularly with friends. I also got my daughter a horse but she doesn't have the same drive I have.

I have found that it is a great social outlet for me. I'm not a wife, mother, or teacher on a horse, I am merely myself. It feels so glorious to ride free, feel and match my horses movement, and be outside to enjoy all that God has put on this earth for us. I have never shown and don't know all the proper ways to do everything but that has never kept me from loving every minute of it.

I find it funny that I have sought out information on nutrition, exercise, even yoga for flexibility. That's why I am enjoying your book and finding your web site. Thank you for all that you do to promote horses and finding pleasure in and outside of your body with a horse to connect it. Thank you for voicing my feelings. Patt


Date: April 28, 2002

Hi - I liked your book "she flies without wings". It said everything about horses and women. My favorite part was power. It is true that women have that bold with them that most men don't have because when I ride it's me and the horse. It's like the world stops for you to talk and to get connected to the horse. It's so hard to explain the power I feel when I ride. Your book was so good. I live in the country and I live by horses but I don't have one. The first time I got on one I was three years old. I'm now 13 years old. I started taking lessons in the 5 grade. The horse I rode was only nice to me so i had a good relationship with her. Now i ride again but some where different. Well I thank you for your book it was very nice.

Your book was so nice it helped me find more passion and understanding of horses. The first time i saw a horse I stood at the fence and watched them run and play around. There i felt like they were a god of women. But when I do see a horse run at a lovely gallop it's like to me winning a million dollars. It's something so powerful that no one can take away. That's why I thank you for your book "She flies without wings". It was so good. Because I know that the next time i ride or see one it will give me so much more power to do something that I love to do.

Thank You Eden Brown from Va


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