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Focus on Fitness with Julie Kenney, IV

Published: 10/5/2016
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Editor’s Note: Julie Kenney runs Blackberry Farm in Harpswell, Maine. She’s an avid, thoughtful horsewoman and a life-long learner. When we heard that she was making changes and taking strides to be healthier and fitter, we knew she’d be a welcome addition to our Focus on Fitness. Although she wrote that publicly documenting her progress is much harder than she realized, we’re thrilled she’s said, “Yes!”

Read Part I

Read Part II

Read Part III

By Julie Kenney

I had to renew my state driver’s license this past summer.  The very nice and helpful lady at the Department of Motor Vehicles asked if I wanted to update my height and weight.  Now, I’m pretty sure that my height hasn’t changed (yet), but my weight?  Yes, indeed!  And no, I did not want to change my weight listed on the license.  Does anyone update to their current weight?  I have full confidence that I will once again be at that weight, or at least within 10 pounds.

Over the past seven months, I’ve dropped one to two clothing sizes, depending on how the clothes fit before starting this fitness journey.

I feel fitter, stronger, and lighter.  I’ve changed my eating habits to include more whole foods, less processed foods, and as much locally or organically sourced foods as possible.  I’m more in tune with what my body needs to stay healthy.

As part of this journey with my horse, I recently took a follow-up lesson with Judy Cross Strehlke, a Level IV Centered Riding Instructor.  I’m very happy to report that she found me to be balanced in the saddle, as opposed to sitting up on my seat bones and slightly weighted on my left. 

So this lesson we worked on balancing my horse.  I’ve realized that he carries himself more on the forehand than the haunches, but I didn’t know how to correct that.  Judy worked with us to bring my horse’s hind feet more underneath him.

Without your horse, try this exercise Judy gave me:

-- Jog a few steps. Feel yourself push off with your feet to propel your body forward.  When your feet leave the ground they are behind you.  That is what my horse was doing, which puts more pressure and weight on his front feet. 

-- Now, slowly jog in place, lift your knees a little higher, and then lower your rear end.  You will feel the tension in your gluteal muscles and hamstrings.  That is what my horse feels when asked to keep his hind feet underneath himself; it is the beginning of true collection. 

Collection in your horse originates from his hind end, not from his nose tucked against his chest. This “new” position for my horse is hard, just as I can feel the pull and stretch on me, my horse will feel those muscles and tendons being used in ways he is not used to.  That means I need to ask for the collection, make sure he understands what I’m asking, and then I need to release the reins and let him move out and relax.  Over time, this movement will become easier and my horse will be able to sustain it longer.

Check out Amy Skinner's article on Self Carriage and on Riding on the Bit.

As I jog four to six times per week, I’ve found my hip joints have become much looser and stronger.  But with winter fast approaching, I am conscious of the fact that I tend to put on weight as the air temperature drops, like a bear getting ready to hibernate. 

I need to continue to be mindful of my food choices, how I’m feeling, and monitoring my exercise routine at all times.  I know from experience that pounds can come back so much quicker and easier than shedding them and I am determined to not let that happen again.

So with that, my horse and I have new habits to form and sustain.  I’m excited about our journey.

Photos by Tina Beebe

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10/6/2016 Dr. Steve Peters
Fantastic work Julie. You are an inspiration for change in a world where more Americans are becoming sicker (diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol). Your example is a wonderful map on healthful living...not just for your horsemanship but for life. Way to go!
10/7/2016 Julie Kenney
Thanks so much Dr. Steve for all your continued support and positive comments. It truly is easier to establish new habits when you have a support group that keeps you uplifted!

"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." - Winston Churchill