An Interview with Mary D. Midkiff
CM: You noted that the same techniques to deal with or riding horses that work for men does not necessarily work for women. How did you noted this? Through personal experiences or other people? What are reports?
MDM: I had created and was producing Women & Horses™ Workshops in the early 1990s bringing together many experts in the areas of exercise physiology, female athlete therapists, physicians and horse riding instructors. It was through these workshops that I met my mentor Peggy Cummings (www.peggycummings.com) and she along with all the information I was learning opened my eyes to new ways of approaching riding, handling and training horses.
I was going through lots of physical and hormonal changes during this time and knew I had to find another way to ride and work with horses. My body could no longer take the pressure of using strength and power over finesse and technique. As I produced and attended these workshops I found I was not alone and many women were seeking the same resources and hungry for a female friendly approach.
This was the beginning of my search for saddles designed to support the female rider. Just as the bicycling world learned that growth in the female side of the industry would come from comfortable and supportive bicycle seats (saddles), for women to be safe, comfortable and effective in riding horses saddle trees had to be designed specific to their conformation. Today, there are still only a few saddle companies making and selling saddles for the female equestrian. Our industry is based on tradition and many companies continue to make equipment based on past use such as the military and ranching.
I have also looked for exercise programs designed for what women need to be successful female equestrian athletes. Pilates and Yoga continue to be the most helpful as they focus on a correct alignment through the spine and pelvis, strong abdominal core, which supports the back and frees the limbs to work independently, and balance.
CM: The relationship between women and horses can bring many benefits. Can you mention what kind of physical benefits can be?
MDM: The physical benefits are remarkable. Working with horses in general requires physical fitness in grooming, bathing, cleaning stalls, lifting heavy objects, and walking horses to and from pasture to name a few basic care taking requirements beyond the exercise provided by riding.
You are going to get dirty and sweat around horses; it's a fact. So enjoy the healthy aspects of working within nature, breathing the fresh air, exercising your muscles, joints and increasing circulation of blood flow. It's really good for you!
Horse sports can provide many levels of fitness. Here are comparisons of high-energy activities from my first book "Fitness, Performance and the Female Equestrian" (J. Wiley Publishers):
Sport & Calories Expended (per minute of activity)
Backstroke Swimming Laps - 11.0
Cross-country running - 10.6
Galloping a horse - 7.4
Tennis - 7.1
Horse-grooming - 6.9
Medium-to-Low Impact Aerobics - 6.7
Snow skiing - 6.4
Trotting - 5.9
Walking - 5.2
Sweeping the Floor - 2.9
Walking on horseback - 2.2
CM: And interior benefits?
MDM: The internal or mental, emotional, spiritual and intuitive benefits of being with horses are equally if not more powerful. Women are experts at interpreting language without words. We were created as nurturers, caretakers and the future of the newborn depends on us!
These talents and intuitive skills innately lie deep within women. Some are more in touch with it than others but it is there in all of us. We can tell what a baby needs through body language, various noises, gestures, dispositions and behaviors. It is the same with horses. Once we learn their ways of communicating we connect with them and their world opens up to us.
Women have a way with horses. Our gentle touch, our soft voice, our non-threatening presence and the sense of peace horses feel from us communicates. When I go to the barn, out into the pasture with horses or on a ride, it is meditative; I am removed from the problems of everyday life and shifted into the natural world which moves at a slow quiet pace.
I consider horse time my cleansing time. When I go back into traffic, or issues created by human kind the horse has touched and healed me mind, body and soul.
CM: Surely, women throughout the world who are truly involved with horses relate their experiences and feelings to you. There are facts and feelings in common? What do they show? You share the same feelings?
MDM: Many women over the years have shared their horse experiences with me. Some are troubled or worried and write looking for help; others share their triumphs or a tiny connection that made a big difference.
The women I hear from tend to be women looking for a special relationship and wanting a deep bond with their horse. I share and teach women how to establish a relationship with a horse. It takes certain techniques, understanding horse behavior; awareness of how the human is "being" in the horse's space, dedication and commitment. It is similar to making a difference in another human's life. I have seen what horses can do for people in making a difference in their lives. Horses are truly transforming.
And for me, the relationships I establish with horses makes every day an inspiring adventure.
CM: About the beginning of relationship, do you believe that anyone can get involved with the horse or there must be a natural affinity?
MDM: Anyone can get involved in horses but for the horse to accept you, you must be completely open to learning what it is like to be in their world. Horses will not accept a person who is threatening, dominating, angry or tense inside themselves.
People who are interested in getting involved need to experience the realities of being with horses. Once they have experienced handling, care taking, cleaning, riding and all of the physical chores that horses require to be healthy then they can make the decision if this is something they want to pursue further.
A person with a natural affinity for animals shows it very early in their life. If you have ever watched little children around dogs some are not interested at all, some just pet them unconsciously because they are told to be nice, but others, only a few that I have seen, have a special connection, know how to touch the dog confidently but softly and quietly. You can just see they have an automatic desire to be related to the dog. I feel it's the same with horses. There are some people you just know early on are going to be with horses forever.
CM: Do you consider your approach to them, which came through your grandfather, a natural affinity or induced?
MDM: I feel fortunate to have been horse-driven my entire life. I have always known I wanted to be with horses, work with horses, and have some kind of a career with horses. My life's journey has been about finding a way to earn a living to be able to be with horses, ride horses and keep a few of my own. My ultimate goal is to make a difference in the future of horses, how they are ridden, how they are kept, how they are managed and handled. To me, horses are the saints of the planet and we need to honor and respect their presence.
CM: What advise/tips would you give to someone not related to horses because of fear?
MDM: It is completely understandable that anyone would have fear around a horse. Even the most seasoned professional has respect for the size, weight, speed and impulses of horses. Horses are quadruped herbivore prey animals dependent on a herd for safety. You can equate them to antelope or deer; they are always on guard for the predator who wants to eat them.
They have large eyes that can see peripherally around to their hindquarters, ears that swivel in all directions, large nostrils to smell into the distance and feet that detect vibration in the ground. They sense danger and shifts in the air that we are completely unaware of. Because horses are prey they are unpredictable and can spook or react without notice.
Well trained horses and intuitively talented horse people learn over time to manage these natural impulses but to the novice if they see a horse jump or step on someone accidentally they may be afraid to get involved and get the wrong idea. They may have only seen high strung spirited horses and do not realize there are quiet horses that are excellent teachers.
It is important for people learning about the world of horses to start with very experienced horses that can be easily trusted and handled. There are wonderful horses that love to help you get started. Start out in a program that will show you how to work around many different types of horses safely. With practice comes confidence and horses will begin trusting you which can then lead to fun horse partnerships.
CM: How do you define your relationship with horses?
MDM: My relationship with horses comes from a very calm empty space. I have found if I approach a horse completely empty inside my mind, and I am completely available emotionally and completely accepting of who they are, they accept me and remain calm and choose to be with me.
Horses are my teachers, my children, my closest confidants, my dance partners, my work out buddies, my big warm furry friend, my champion that runs with the wind and my soul mates. What woman wouldn't want all of this!?
Horses have always had this affect on me but it has taken maturity, life experiences, self-awareness and time with horses for me to get to this point where my career is based on intuitive and holistic teaching, healing and training. I imagine it will only deepen from here to the end of my life.
I am deeply moved and honored to be accepted by a horse. They continue to amaze, surprise, delight and inspire me. They are always teaching me something, giving me insights and perspective, showing me affection when I least expect it and making me laugh when I get too significant.
I never know what a horse is going to share with me or tell me and I will always be listening to their voice.
I hope you will follow from newsletter to newsletter insights, observations, questions and solutions to numerous inquiries around horses and the world they live in. The resources, web links, experts, books and articles listed here will give you lots of options to pursue.
The Women & Horses newsletter stands for all horse and pony breeds, as well as donkeys and mules, all disciplines and uses of the horse and wild horses.
Past newsletters have been archived on the web site for you to check out anytime and I'm always open to receiving your inquires via email.
Mary D. Midkiff