It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted on Talking In The Barn, and what better way to pick back up with an interview from a fellow horse lover and writer?
I’ve been following Melinda Folse for quite a while on Twitter, and I have to say she’s a woman after my own heart as she addresses things head on like any good cowgirl would. I think you’ll enjoy reading what she has to say…
What is your daily life like?
Whew. My daily life. Well, as a classic overachiever, over scheduler and overdo-er, there really is no such thing as a consistent daily schedule, but I’m working on it. Perpetually. I work full time as Communications Director for a large and very busy downtown Methodist church, so there’s never a dull moment there — and a hair-on-fire communications “emergency” about every 30 seconds. When I compare my day job to a robust and endless game of whack-a-mole, people really don’t know how to respond. But trust me. It’s fun, it’s a challenge, and it does keep me on my toes — and since it hasn’t killed me yet, it must have made me stronger, right? Before or after work — or whenever I can I try to sneak in some exercise and/or horse time (trying when I can to combine these two priorities), I enjoy time with my family, contribute to a few blogs, keep my social media fed, and if there’s any sliver of time left over I generally try to take a bath. And sleep as close to 8 hours as I can get. I’m getting too old to go without sleep, which really cramps my style because that’s how I used to make it all work!
Do you own horses & do you ride?
Yes! I have two wonderful horses, Trace and Rio, and I am a part owner in a third, Sam. They’re quarter horses, mostly. Rio is a registered quarter horse from the Colonel Freckles cutting horse lineage, but cows terrify him so we don’t bother with any of that. Mostly he eats. He’s a true character in every sense of the word and often makes me laugh out loud in pure delight in dealing with him and his antics. Trace, I suspect, is more of a Quarab (Quarter/Arab cross) and ironically loves chasing cows and we really hope to get back to Ranch Sorting and riding the trails at the LBJ Grasslands one of these days. Trace has been my “project horse” that actually inspired my first solo book, and it has been very rewarding to redeem him with the help of an old trainer named Karl Black. Sam is a grade quarter horse from a ranch in Oklahoma and may well be the most level-headed of the three, but he’s been mostly a pasture ornament in recent years (and a big, handsome one at that!) so I’m working on getting him rideable again, although he’s getting older and I’m not really willing to push it too much if he’d prefer to keep his status quo.
Do you write for a living?
Well yes and no. Right now my main paycheck comes from my Communications Director job, where I do write some and edit a lot, but my first love is and always will be my own writing projects. I started out in PR/Communications in the early 80s (And my, how times have changed! The fax machine was this wonderful new invention and hardly anyone had one!) I began freelancing full-time in the early 90s and wrote a lot of ad copy and articles for local trade and some regional magazines. Then I got offered the opportunity to help launch a national entrepreneurial magazine that was part of the Time Warner family called Millionaire Blueprints. It was a fabulous opportunity to grow and solidify my writing, research and interviewing skills and I lost all fear of calling celebrities and millionaires and asking them some of the strangest and most personal questions imaginable about how they took their million-dollar idea from concept to reality to success beyond their dreams. It was fascinating work. And then one of them, Gordon Weinberger, asked me if I’d consider writing his book. I told him I didn’t do books. I wrote articles. Not being one to take no for an answer, he asked if I’d consider writing 12 consecutive (and chronological) articles about his life and business success — and a principal he lived by and wanted to brand. That didn’t sound so scary so I said yes, and my first book, Infinite Persistence, was born. From there and with new confidence that I could, indeed, write books, I began a long process of writing the life story of my Taekwondo Grandmaster, Won Chik Park. As a second degree black belt and a longtime student of Grandmaster Park, I had heard bits and pieces of his amazing and inspiring story, but had never put it all together. I met with him weekly and heard more of his story, asked endless questions, drafted sections, made corrections and finally produced the finished manuscript of Grandmaster on Grandmaster Park’s 70th birthday, which, ironically, mirrors the opening scene of his book. Meanwhile, as I worked on Grandmaster, I began work as a staff writer for Clinton Anderson. A longtime Anderson devotee (I joked that he had been in my home every evening for several years via DVD so I had literally gone to school on his Method.) Part of my job with Clinton, in addition to writing articles for his No Worries Journal and writing up his dictated training tips (in his voice) for his weekly enews, was to help him finish a book he was under contract for with Trafalgar Square Books. Clinton had been in the States for 10 years at that point and was quite a sensation — very similar to the success stories I had scribed for Blueprints! So I followed him around, asked endless questions, provoked stories, wit, and wisdom from him as he went on about his work (think of a border collie yapping at his heels until he tossed me a story or a detail I was missing) I also got to work with legendary horse photographer Darrell Dodds to shoot the pictures for Clinton’s book, and Lessons Well Learned hit the presses. While I was traveling with Clinton’s team, I began to notice that so many of the faces of the participants and audiences of his clinics and Walkabout Tour stops were very much like mine. The stories I heard as I interviewed some of these women could have been mine. And the stories I read as so many of them sent in effusive thank yous wrapped in irresistible stories of countless middle-aged women finding their confidence, authenticity, and courage through learning to work with their horses. An idea began brewing for a book to capture this spirit and tune Clinton’s advice toward this huge segment of his audience. Clinton wasn’t too keen on the idea, but Trafalgar Square books was. By then I had moved on from Clinton’s operation and was elated to have a contract for The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses in hand to begin my solo journey into writing books. A couple of years after Midlife had found evergreen success and was ensconced as one of Trafalgar’s best sellers, the editors who by then had become friends came back to me with another idea. What about a book about body image and riding? What about something that talks not only to larger riders and offers up advice on how to ride better and care better for themselves and their horses, but what if it dug into the roots of bad body image — and provides some real insight on how to overcome it, even as we work to get healthy, fit, and strong enough to ride well at any size. A diet and exercise book? Not really, but maybe some of that. A “big is beautiful” book? Well, not exactly, but ironically self-acceptance is very often the first step toward gaining a self we find acceptable. This book, titled Riding Through Thick and Thin, was a rascal to wrestle down, but I’m really proud and excited of all we were able to pack into those pages!
How many books have you written? What are their titles and what are they about?
- persistence (in general),
- persistence (“never give up” when life hands you difficulty),
- persistence (“success is often just around the corner, but the trouble is most people quit before they get to the corner”),
- persistence (it’s never too late to live your dream), and . . .
- persistence (reach for your goals regardless of real or imagined limitations).
(I think I’m seeing a career theme . . .)
What inspired you to write a book a book about motivating women to ride?
I was so inspired by the many women I met on Clinton’s tours and rode with at clinics. They were just getting out there living their dream — on whatever level they could, and giddy as teenagers over every accomplishment. Talking about their horses, sharing their adventures, missteps, challenges and accomplishments clearly “put the light on in their eyes” as my friend and career coach Sam Horn likes to say. Horses have a way of bringing out the best in women, and I was so intrigued by this I couldn’t resist the opportunity to dig deeper and write about it. And the second book both challenged and inspired me to plumb my own experiences with body image and imagined limitations — and to see what I could find out there that could be helpful for women who were letting real or imagined limitations hold them back from enjoying their horses.
What was the hardest part about writing the book, Riding Through Thick & Thin?
The hardest part, I think, was narrowing down the scope. This is such a complex topic that in researching it I literally had to explore every rabbit trail (which is why the trail ride became its overarching metaphor) and chase every idea down and around to arrive at how these threads could weave together into something useful, meaningful and relatable to both the plus-sized rider as well as anyone else who struggles with size, shape, proportion, or any other physical issue, real or imagined. What’s more, this book had to criss-cross disciplines, levels of riding, age and interests. It had to be, literally, for every body!
How did writing your book change you?
I think it was a journey of acceptance for me, releasing me from a lifetime of body image captivity even as I wrote in hopes of releasing my readers. Putting an unflinching researcher’s eye on how these limiting ideas develop, where they come from, how we inadvertently feed them and allow them to persist and grow, helped me understand the true dynamics of giving this debilitating kind of thinking the boot, once and for all. I think as I walked around with this information rolling around in my head it sort of began to infiltrate my own thinking more and more. As a result I think and feel differently about my body, my riding, and my goals and dreams for both! Particularly in the body mechanics section as I kitchen tested some of these ideas on my trusty steeds (who were spectacularly patient, by the way) I found a much stronger, more stable seat on my own horses and am actually enjoying my riding and feeling more connected in the saddle than ever before.
What are some of your favorite exercises to stay strong for riding?
Pilates for sure, for the core work that makes a HUGE difference in my posture alignment and riding “lighter” (even though I’m not!) and with better, more natural feeling balance. Yoga is another favorite because it emphasizes breathing and helps meld strength and flexibility, both of which help me to relax more as I ride, but still have the strength and stamina to be effective in the saddle — and in my barn chores! I love to incorporate my daily “steps” into groundwork with my horses, and even run a little bit beside my horses on occasion; this is not only good exercise for me, it is very good bonding with my boys!
What are some of your least favorite exercises?
Well I think weight training and “working out” for its own sake is pretty boring, but I know it’s a good thing to do just a couple of times a week to make sure all the muscle groups get solid and consistent strength work. I’d rather walk outside with my dogs or get my steps in doing groundwork with the horses, but when push comes to shove and I still have to get those steps, sometimes a treadmill or elliptical is a necessary evil.
If you had to pick one thing to tell a new rider on how to become better, what would it be?
Get in shape and train — and feed — your body for the kind of work it’s going to need to do. Also find an instructor whose approach and manner resonates with you, and take your time getting your fundamentals solid before trying anything that is outside your comfort level. Several of the instructors I talked to mentioned how important it is to be able to do everything really well at a walk before attempting a trot; and likewise before trying faster speeds and more complicated maneuvers. Sure, you can sometimes do that stuff before you’re really technically ready, but it’s so much better and infinitely more fun when you build it on top of a solid foundation!
What is your biggest struggle as a rider?
Finding enough time and being consistent in my horsework — and being patient when those windows don’t open as often and for as long as I want them to! I also had quite a bit of fear off and on during this journey and riding through that was something of a struggle for quite a while.
How do you overcome those struggles?
In both cases I’ve had to learn to slow down, take a deep breath, and center myself mentally and physically in what I know for sure. One of the best things I learned from Clinton is the value of fifteen minutes of intentional work with a horse. Sure, two or three hours is ideal, but when you don’t have it, you don’t have it — and the temptation is to do nothing if you can’t do what you want and need to do. The best lesson (and I have to keep learning it) is a little focused time here and there is infinitely better than nothing — and it is the way out of both mental and physical bogs of all descriptions.
What is something that most folks may not know, and would probably never guess about you?
I carry clown noses and finger puppets in the glove compartment of my Mini Cooper . . . just in case of emergency. I’ve yet to have to use them, but you never know . . .
Any parting words of wisdom for riders?
Having horses is much the same as having children. You’re probably never going to have enough money, enough time, or exactly the right stuff. Just do what you can, with what you have, and try your best to make the most of every minute of it. Life is short. Enjoy your horse time for all it’s worth. And it’s worth a lot.
Any parting words of wisdom for writers?
Write. Every day if you can. Don’t let excuses, busy-ness, or the needs, demands, and priorities of others keep you from your writing. It is only through writing that you can fully process your own story — and ride it all the way into its greatest potential! As a writer and a writer, the pathways are amazingly similar. Both journeys are about conquering fear, gaining confidence, finding your authentic voice, commitment to continual learning, and summoning the courage to getting back in the saddle every single time you get bucked off. The joy and elation when everything goes right in either of these pursuits is well worth the effort required. In other words, if you’re a writer and you don’t have a horse, get one!
Melinda’s interview will also appear on my motivational blog, Cowgirls With Curves. If you’d like to find out more about Melinda and her books, you can keep up with her at the links below –
The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses
Riding Through Thick and Thin