Tuesday, October 24, 2017

New Goals

Last week was my annual raptor banding trip in Cape May, NJ.

20171017 Cape May
Second year female peregrine falcon

It was a fantastic week because not only did I get to see my best friend who lives in California and interact with raptors, I was truly at peace mentally for the first time in MONTHS. Two huge things came to resolution right before my trip and I was thus able to completely check-out mentally.

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Hatch year female northern harrier

I feel so incredibly revived (mentally) as a result! Such a great place to be knowing that I still have a lot of tough work projects coming up in my near future. They're not going to be easy, but they're not going to be anywhere as stressful as what I just tackled!

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After second year male kestrel

During my week of vacation, I had a lot of time to think about things I haven't thought about in ages. I pondered future goals and other dreams that I haven't been able to focus on with any sort of gusto in a long time.

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After second year male Cooper's hawk

As I pondered what exactly I'd like to focus on for myself and the horses going into winter, I kept coming back to two main things. And as I thought more (and read a lot of equestrian books/magazines that were on the back-burner for the past 6 months), I realized the two things I kept coming back to fit rather seamlessly together: yoga for me & dressage for the horses.


The advent of a primarily desk-job entering my life 6+ years ago has led to much more sitting than I've ever done. My hips and lower back have cried foul at this since the beginning. In an attempt to ease the pain, I don't sit in the traditional sense much these days: I have a vari-desk that adjusts from sitting to standing and everywhere in between, and I sit on a yoga ball or an adjustable saddle stool when I'm not standing. However, despite these wonderful mitigation measures, I'm still battling tight hip flexors and anterior pelvic tilt more than ever before!

Enter yoga. It's something I have pursued with intermittent regularity over the years. Like any human, I definitely have a weaker side and yoga is one of the few things that helps me build that weakness while stretching and adding flexibility to the strong side. I always feel better afterward and I love how my body awareness increases along with added strength to my weak areas.

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Second year female rough-legged hawk, a rarity for us

Yoga takes a lot of time and miles. It's akin to dressage in many aspects, you can't really cheat your way into the fancy "tricks" like handstands and other inversions. To truly execute those maneuvers, you've got to have a lot of body awareness and focused strength. If you've ever watched a skilled yogi flow through hand balances and inversions, you can't deny the raw strength present in their practice. The minutia behind the strength involved in such practices is both awe-inspiring and fascinating to me.

My two big goals for myself with yoga have always been splits and handstands. I know both are well within my realm of ability, I just have to take the time to pursue daily yoga to advance my flexibility and strength within poses. With a focus on splits first and handstands second, I will strengthen the weak aspects of my physique: hip flexors and lower abdominal muscles. The strength I'll gain along the journey will benefit my posture, my riding, my skiing, my rock climbing, and so many other aspects of my life.


Since learning more about dressage, I have believed firmly that it will help my horses more than nearly any other pursuit. Teaching them how to build their bodies to be strong in the correct places and use that strength in the correct way will only help in the journey to pursue any other sport I choose to dive into.

Dressage is a journey though; it takes time and miles to build a horse up to be able to properly execute the proper steps through each level. Like with yoga, you can't cheat your way to the fancy trick-like maneuvers. If you do cheat your way there, you're bound to encounter other issues that will prohibit lasting success.

Riding dressage, being the partner your horse needs you to be, isn't easy. It takes a certain amount of "feel" along with proper body alignment and strength.

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The rough-legged hawk's namesake, feathered "rough" legs - and tiny feetsies!

As I dove into a lot of dressage-focused reading on my vacation, I was reminded of just how not easy it is to properly ride a horse. Keeping your sit bones properly aligned underneath you, maintaining proper leg position, and then independently delivering a variety of aids to cue the horse quickly becomes downright complicated. Add in body weaknesses like tight hip flexors and weak lower abdominals and, well, frankly, you're a bit screwed.

But you know what I kept noticing as I read about the minutia involved in proper riding? So many of the notes about how to achieve proper body alignment and involve the exact same things I'm pursuing with yoga in my quest for splits and handstands. "Zipping up" your abdominals and tucking your pelvis will not only help you sit in the saddle properly, it will also help you hold a handstand.

Touché, Universe, I see what you did there.

Goal Unity

And thus, my winter goals for both myself and the horses have collided into near-perfect unity.

I will be pursuing stronger lower abs and greater flexibility in my hip flexors among other added strength gains to my body through yoga and also ask the horses to carry themselves with more balance and precision through dressage-focused exercises. With any luck, we'll advance together through these pursuits, building strength and skill along the way.

It's my hope that putting these goals into writing in a public space will help increase my accountability toward their pursuit. Only time will tell!

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How amazing to have such a rare-for-us bird in hand! Sporting my Rolex hat, of course.

How about you - tell me about a time you pursued separate goals only to find that they benefited one another. Did you find it easier to pursue those goals because they supported one another? Or maybe you don't care one lick about goals and you just came here for the pictures of raptors 😉. Totally okay, if so, and know that I'm happy to field any questions you may have about them/the project - so ask away.


  1. A) I LOVE the pictures!
    B) I am continually surprised how my hunter goals realign with what I consider good riding (aka basic dressage). I used to ride a lot of dressage and therefore am picky about my flatwork. I was feeling frustrated that Rio was so stiff to my inside rein when tracking left. Turns out I wasn't riding him straight off my outside (right) rein. I was caught in the "trap" of focusing on inside flexion and not controlling his shoulders and outside hind. my point- good riding is good riding no matter the discipline!

    <3 Kelly @ HunkyHano

    1. You're right - good riding is good riding no matter the discipline! I've been falling into that same "trap" for awhile. I was ignorant to how to fix it prior to learning more about dressage. Now I'm battling weaknesses in my own body to properly cue my horses! Good riding isn't easy but I'm having a lot of fun getting better.

  2. I'm so glad to hear you got chance to rejuvenate and came away with a clear end goal in mind- I'm learning myself that it's such an important thing to take time to do. Also pretty pictures, I can always do with more raptors in my life <3

    1. Self care is a tricky thing, but man, it's so important! I'm glad you're taking some time for yourself, too. =)

  3. Would you be so kind as to share your yoga routine and sources? I've been in and out of it myself, but I'm coming around to finding it will only benefit me if I keep at it consistently. Yoga and weight training are benefits in track riding (motorcycles) as well as horseback riding, so I plan on getting my yoga game back on track this winter when riding may be limited!

    That rough legged hawk is a beauty!

    1. Although, I must add, that Cooper's male may be my favorite!

    2. Years ago, I printed off a simple vinyasa sun salutation flow diagram - a photo of each pose - from a general Google image search. I memorized the flow and that tends to be my go to base for all of my practices. This go around, I plan to register with Rachel Brathen's oneOeight.com and take online courses with her instructors. I've got a local studio, but it's hard for me to make the times they have classes so I'm happy practicing online at home. I've followed various youtube instructors over the years, done YogaToday, and followed recommended flows from Instagram yogi-stars. Once you see enough of it, it's pretty easy to just make up your own flow based on how your body is feeling on that day - it's what I'm doing the most of right now! I pull my mat out and just focus on moving and stretching the tight/sore areas.

  4. You are always so thoughtful in how you approach your life. I enjoy reading your posts so much. I think that often my goals match up. Lately it's been more about attitude then physical but it is the same idea.

    1. Thank you <3

      I think focusing on attitude vs. physical goals is an ebb and flow thing. We can't have one without the other, but the narrow focus on each tends to flip flop as we grow/learn.

  5. Definitely cool pictures of raptors!

    My goals don't align quite as well as yours (though I did just add a "yoga for beginners" to my Amazon wishlist), but my running and riding work together in other ways. Running keeps me fit and helps manage my stress levels. I know I'm in a better place mentally for training my horse due to running which is at least as important as the physical aspects for me.

    1. That's awesome that running helps you mentally and physically. I've never experienced a runners high but it sounds amazing.

  6. You know how I feel about your dressage and yoga goals (basically that I also need to do more yoga, and that you'll eventually figure out your weak spots). So I guess I'm just here for the raaaaaaaptoooors!

  7. Thanks for sharing the raptors with us, absolutely gorgeous. Stretching and weight training have done so much for my riding (as did mindfullness classes). I'm not that into yoga, but everything does provide some body awareness. I tried Barre sometime last year and liked it a lot, it requires a lot of small muscle movement and placement and huge amounts of awareness as well. Definitely added something more to my riding.