Wednesday, July 28, 2010
We've had some spectacular animal sightings this summer, but my favorite has been the mama moose and her baby last weekend at the Cowgirl Yoga ranch (click on the image to see a larger version). A group of Cowgirl Yoginis were riding out and must have scared them from the trees where they usually spend the day; mama came running across the field closely followed by her baby. We watched as they circled the field to make their way back to the trees. It was breathtaking. In these moments when the path of humans and animals intersect, I am always reminded of the Sanskrit blessing lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu - may all beings everywhere be happy and free. The picture of the horses evokes the same sentiment - same field, the night before.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
We're smack dab in the middle of Cowgirl Yoga season - a great time to share my next interview. Michelle Bushneff is a true horse girl at heart; she has a passion that has blossomed in many wonderful directions. She's also a yogini who attended one of our first Cowgirl Yoga retreats in 2008. She started practicing yoga in her early 40s, around the same time she started working with horses and founded an online community that encourages young girls to nurture their love for horses through reading, writing, and other meaningful activities. She doesn't have a horse of her own (yet), but spends as much time as possible around horses by taking riding lessons, volunteering, and trail riding.
1. Give us a snapshot of Michelle, girl with the horse bug: when did it start, how has it evolved?
It probably started at birth - I've always been animal crazy - but blossomed in the preteen/young teen years like it does (according to my research) for more than 50% of girls. I didn't have access to horses, but would spend hours and hours reading horse books, looking at pictures, drawing, and dreaming of horses. I came back to horses in my early 40s and took an unusual path from book learning to ground work, riding and training with horses. During this time I also founded Girls Horse Club.
2. Share your vision for Girls Horse Club.
The seed for GHC started with my own love for animals, but the real inspiration came from Marce, the daughter of a friend. Even before I started riding and training as an adult, I saw how horses inspired her to learn and grow. While many teen girls were caught up in shopping and boys, she was learning to take public transportation to a stable, teaching herself HTML to participate in online horse simulation, and reading about genetics so she could understand how horses get their coloring - all motivated by her passion for horses.
Long story short, in 2001, after a long history developing "edutainment" content in emerging media/technology markets, GHC was born with the mission to entertain, educate, empower, and inspire girls through their love for horses. I wanted it to be accessible to everyone from girls who only dreamed of horses to those who were lucky enough to attend horse camps, take lessons, or have a horse of their own, so a "virtual barn" was the perfect place. I also developed product concepts and prototypes for collectible horse models, electronic games and books. None of those have come to life (yet), but the site remains a cornerstone of the vision. GHC has gone through lots of evolution over the years (and a bit of drama too), but the vision has never wavered.
These days GHC is a total labor of love so activity ebbs and flows depending on what's going on in my family and/or professional life at any given moment. This summer a couple of longtime contributors are leading activities that challenge GHCers to get out in the real horse world, and take steps to realize their horse dreams. How cool is that?
I could go on and on about the amazing girls who have contributed to GHC over the years, but all have proven that horses bring out the best in young (and not-so-young) girls. In fact, the girl who was the original inspiration is now a not-so-young girl in medical school, she's still completely horse crazy, she's a very accomplished rider/trainer, and we still keep in touch, thanks to Facebook.
3. You're a yogini. Your thoughts on the connection between yoga and riding?
I see connections on so many levels. There are physical parallels, like building overall strength and balance that's centered in your core while tuning into your body and the signals it's sending to you (yoga) and the horse (riding). There are mental/emotional parallels - working through fear ("I'm going to fall off the horse if I try to canter" or "I'm going to break in half if I try a backbend") and challenge by learning to breathe and focus. And I love that there's an endless amount of knowledge to be gained and challenges to overcome when practicing yoga and working with horses.
4. Tell us about your equine therapy volunteer program. Is this your first?
I first learned about equine therapies when my niece, who has cerebral palsy that confines her to a wheelchair, starting riding for hippotherapy. Turns out when you're sitting on a horse, the movement is similar to a human's walk and that stimulates neurological function in the rider. I attended her lessons a few times as a side walker, and was amazed at how it helped her posture and control. Plus it was much more fun than other types of physical therapies.
A few years later, I met some people through GHC who founded a riding program for kids and adults with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. I was so inspired by their stories of healing I signed on as a volunteer. I worked there for four years, then circumstances changed that led me to a different program where I'm currently working as a volunteer. I've also taken some courses to learn more about therapeutic riding and hope to continue my education.
5. What was your most inspirational moment working in a therapeutic riding program?
Years ago, I worked with a 94-year old woman who had suffered a stroke that limited her mobility. She walked hunched over with a cane for support, but she managed to drive herself (yes, drive herself) 20 miles along a major freeway to her weekly lessons. When she climbed on her horse (with assistance), she sat up tall and defied her limitations. Because her mind was as vivid as it was when she first started riding as a young girl, she expected her body to have the same memories, and she would get frustrated with herself.
But in spite of her age and physical limitations, she had a dream - she wanted to ride again, on her own (without the usual side walkers) at the running walk on a Tennessee Walker who was the first horse bred, born and trained into this riding program. Not only did she realize her dream, but she did it on camera with dozens of volunteers and a film crew watching. It was a gift to witness. You can see it yourself on this video. She comes in just after the 8 minute mark - have a tissue ready. [Editor's note: just add that to the long list of ways that horses have made me cry...in a good way, of course!]
If you're interested in volunteering or learning more about equine-assisted therapies, there are several organizations that offer training/accreditation and list local programs - NARHA, EAGALA, and EGE are a few.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
I work, and play, with some very talented people. For all of us, work and play are wonderfully intertwined. Work often feels like play. What a lucky bunch we are. We are all pursuing our passions, and my muses endlessly support me in the pursuit of mine. They don't call me crazy when I call them with my latest crazy idea. They've stuck with me, and I hope that we are all stuck with each other for a very long time. They inspire me to be creative. They are fun to be around. They make things happen.
With deep gratitude, appreciation, and respect, today I honor my Montana muses:
- Horsewoman extraordinaire and my Cowgirl Yoga partner, Janice Cartwright of Montana Horse Sense.
- Local farmer and exquisite chef Kate Huston, of Buddha's Belly Catering.
- Photographer Larry Stanley, who can capture a moment forever in his pictures.
Photos of Janice and Kate by Larry, of course. Photo of Larry and me by a cowgirl yogini with Larry's camera.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Saturday, July 10, 2010
What a whirlwind - is it really the middle of summer already?? I'm feeling full, in a very good way. You might have noticed I took some time away from an internet connection and to truly savor a little summer - we spent a family 4th at a lovely cabin in the woods, and then some time in Missoula with husband's family. The weather's been just right, after our cold, wet June, and everything is lush and green. Husband did his first post-knee surgery hike, and my recently-turned-5 year old showed us she can hike 4 miles sans probleme, in a dress too (she is definitely my daughter). We drove through the National Bison Range - love the photo above of one we saw shaking off the dust from a good roll. I just rode 20 miles in 2 days on my horse in the Bridger mountains, helping to flag the trail for Bozeman's annual Poker Ride. Today we rode through a grove of trees and surprised at least 5 screech owls with our presence; it felt like a magical scene out of a movie. And our July 5-day Cowgirl Yoga starts tomorrow, to be followed closely by July's ranch camp. I'm excited to meet Amy, our first Cowgirls vs. Cancer scholarship recipient, who is attending CY next week.
This is indeed my busiest time of year, which is exciting, unnerving at times, hectic, wildly fun. It leaves me FULL in many ways - of activity, gratitude, emotions. It's a time when I need to remind myself that it's not only acceptable, but also necessary to sloooow down sometimes and savor: indulge in a book, some quiet time, or a restorative yoga pose. This balance is what our Cowgirl Yoga slogan is all about: Yeehaw & Namaste. It's mid-summer as well as the middle of 2010 - a great time to check in and see where you need balance. So add a little Yeehaw to your Namaste, or the other way around.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Montana: not for weather sissies. Yesterday brought lots of weather drama to SW MT, when a series of severe thunderstorms tore through Bozeman and caused serious damage. Imagine, if you will, what lime-sized hail can do to glass windows. We were fortunate that our hood was not on the receiving end of the hail. Feeling sad for all those that were, especially our farmers whose crops were destroyed.
It never ceases to amaze me, the fury and glory of Mother Nature on display here, year-round. Yesterday evening, an intense double rainbow appeared behind our house, a welcome and calming sight after the storms ended.