A Selfish Senior Year:

How I’m learning to actually take care of myself.

Someone told me recently that I seem like I’m doing “so much better” this semester.

While this statement was so encouraging to hear, I laughed a little, surprised. It’s true that physically, I am in a much healthier state than in years past. I can’t point to the reason excepting the grace of God… my current health is such a blessing after the past seven years. With that said, this semester has been anything but easy, and I’ve spent a surprising amount of my time crying. Ugly crying.

Somehow, I think this emotional turmoil is what’s made the beginning of my senior year so special. I am [forever] learning to be vulnerable with my peers. I am totally okay with not being okay. And, more importantly, I’m learning to take time to take care of myself in the very moment I need self-care, and not a moment later.

I have a tendency to dwell on the hurts of other people; my ability to see and observe the people around me is something that I often take for granted. Sometimes, though, the pain of other people is overwhelming, especially when there’s nothing I can do about it:

  • When friends and classmates die by suicide, and the empty chairs in [senior] classes are so distractingly heartbreaking.
  • When friends and classmates are so consumed by anxiety that they struggle to engage on campus.
  • When friends and classmates are homesick, sick, or just tired.
  • When neighbors are annoying and difficult but also destructive.
  • When I can see that something is wrong, but the pain is so deep and so secret that it will never be brought to the surface—or at least never revealed to me, the quiet girl on the other side of the classroom.
  • When family members need me, but I can’t come home to comfort them.

I can’t do much to fix any of these things—at least, not directly or wholly restore the situation like I’d love. The world is just too big and too complex. But I can love the people in front of me.

I can write newspaper articles to help people or causes I care about. I can be the kind, quiet girl on the other side of the classroom, and maybe I can even cross the room. I can be available to those who need me, over and over again. I can tell people that I see light in them, even as I see their pain. I can help students with their papers and show them their hidden giftedness with words. I can show them their own brilliance—one of my favorite jobs as a writing center tutor. I can take care of my Wofford family in so many ways.

But I must take care of myself.

It’s hard for me to say no. Selfishness is the last word I want attached to my name. I dislike selfish people. I don’t ever want to disregard or silence the needs and voices of others. I don’t like saying no, especially when saying yes helps someone else.

And yet, I’m learning to take care of myself first. I’m learning to be more “selfish”—in a new way. The kind of self-care I’m seeking after isn’t watching Netflix instead of studying. It doesn’t mean forcing myself to do more [good things] for self-care, like exercise: it’s allowing myself to do less.

Self-care is allowing myself to do less.

Sometimes that means I skip meetings of organizations that I love and enjoy. Sometimes I sleep in instead of finishing my homework… something my former self would abhor. Sometimes I turn in a paper that’s not my absolute best work, because it is the best work I could have produced in that moment. If something more important comes up, it takes precedence over my homework, and that’s okay. As embarrassing and difficult as it is to admit my own finiteness, it’s also exhausting to try and keep up with my own expectations.

Friends, I know what it’s like to trust that another cup of coffee is all you need to borrow against tomorrow (Believe me… I drink a lot of coffee!). I know what it’s like to abandon responsibility and call it self-care. I’ve done it for most of my adult life.

But self-care, itself, is our responsibility. Our bodies are temples, right? Let’s treat them like it! This looks differently for everybody, but it’s important. It took me a while to realize that forcing myself into deeper exhaustion with [excessive] exercise was just burning the candle from both ends, so to speak. Yes, self-care involves physical health, and exercise is so important! But are we making a deposit rather than a withdrawal in our self-care? For a while, I wasn’t.

Self-care is sleeping. There’s no other way around it. We are so much more resilient with sufficient sleep. I believe that we cannot even begin to exercise or wean ourselves from excessive energy drinks or achieve any other health/self-care goals unless we are sleeping. It took me more than three years to admit that I wasn’t being honest about the way my sleeping patterns were affecting my health. It’s still difficult. But it’s worth it.

Self-care is taking a break… A real break. Outside, or at least away from all forms of work or screens. How long can we go without our phones? Is it truly restful if we are still planning out our week in our break times? How many times have I sat outside without homework, just for the sole purpose of enjoying my surroundings? Not enough. The in-between can be great, but it cannot be our only source of relaxation. Let’s go relaxing, friends.

Self-care is processing with friends. I am so grateful for my friends and the way that we intentionally set aside time to check on each other as a group. In one particular circle of friends, each person gets to update the others on how things are going—how things are really going. It is one of the most wonderful practices of self-care that I’ve found.

Being vulnerable with friends allows for me to receive care as I give it to others. It’s beautiful, no matter how you slice it. I’ve got a lot of people in my life that love and care for me every day, in big ways and in infinitesimally small ways that I appreciate so very much.

It’s really hard to live restfully as a senior with four jobs, two majors, a capstone project, a team, and a four-legged child. I’m really bad at it, most days. I am tragically busy and overcommitted, still. But when my dear friend told me I seemed so much better than before, she was right. I can talk about difficulties in my life with such relief, now. I get to share the deep, deep grace of God as He works in my life. The healing and restoration I’ve seen around me is precious and beautiful, even if I don’t notice it at first. It’s there, friends. It’s there.

Ask me about it. Or don’t. But at least know that when I tell you I’m not having a good day, I am somehow also on my way to being very, very well.

Because my God is so good. And it is well.

“Camp Ladybug” and the horses that run Tryon

For the past five weeks I’ve been living in Columbus, NC, hosting two teens from Boston as they competed in horse shows at the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC). It’s been a blast introducing them to Bojangles, queso, Krispy Kreme, Cookout, boiled peanuts, grits, and other wonderful foods like sourdough bread… and they’ve introduced me to all kinds of foods, too.

This is not an area with which I am unfamiliar: I attend Wofford College just thirty minutes away and I have kept my horse in Campobello/Landrum for two years now. I ride at Clear View Farm in Landrum with the Wofford equestrian team, and I have loved attending Saturday Night Lights grand prix events at TIEC since its opening. I love the area.

Every day I drive between three counties and two states: Polk (NC), Spartanburg (SC), and Greenville (SC). Whether the drive is half a mile or twenty minutes, I almost always pass a truck piled high with logs. It seems that cutting down trees is a daily occurrence in the foothills. I’d be willing to bet that TIEC has a great deal to do with the rapid development of the area as farmland. I have to swerve to avoid a wide truckload of timber 9 out of 10 times I leave the house. This makes me sad–the clay-filled patches of cleared land will take years to become beautiful again, wooded or not. The topsoil lost will never really replenish, or at least not in my lifetime.

At the same time, I love the farmland. I love seeing horses, cattle, bison, donkeys and other animals grazing on rolling hills of lush grass. I love the hay fields and the rows of corn. But I love the trees, too. There’s got to be a balance. How does one keep a farm in a way that doesn’t destroy the area’s natural beauty?

The capstone I’m working on this summer involves studying trends in horsekeeping and land management in the area, especially since TIEC’s opening in the summer of 2014. I’m hoping to see how the development of TIEC as a major hub for equestrians has impacted the land around it.

My summer job is easy proof: I’m living on a ten acre horse farm, freshly carved from a wooded lot. The pastures have taken months to establish–runoff was a major hurdle in both construction and landscaping. The family is based in Boston, and will be until they permanently move here in about nine years. They built their retirement farm ten years in advance, sending their thirteen year-old daughter, her friend, and two horses here for the summer in order to compete at TIEC. Obviously, this area revolves around horses and is beginning to revolve around the equestrian center.

I’ve met many people from the area through our equestrian connection: waitresses that comment on our riding breeches, feed store and tack store employees that love to swap stories, or families in the grocery store whose giant bag of carrots we notice and ask, “Do you have horses?” The answer is almost always yes. We’ve met many area people by asking to pet their dogs as they walk around TIEC.

Everyone has a different opinion about how TIEC is impacting the area.

“It has done almost nothing for the community,” a woman says as we stand outside a Landrum restaurant. “It is so self-contained. Everything is right there–the food, the housing. You can’t even bring your own shavings, you have to use theirs. It doesn’t help the community tack stores, restaurants, nothing.”

I point out that TIEC has most certainly added a great deal of jobs to the area and has most certainly added business to area real estate–two of TIEC’s most significant contributions to the area. In my head, I also consider that if all TIEC competitors were required to find shavings and hay on their own in the area, there would be a severe shortage of both, and prices would be exponentially driven up for locals. But I don’t say that aloud… the economic implications of an establishment this large are expansive and complex, beyond my own understanding. The woman didn’t know that TIEC had done so much for real estate and jobs–“That’s good to know,” she says.

She’s also not wrong, though. The center has been understaffed and incredibly busy this summer, and I’ve heard complaints of slow running shows, un-emptied trashcans and bathroom facilities without toilet paper. When the US Pony Club East Championships were held at TIEC this summer, at one point TIEC ran out of food and water, according to one of the coaches we met. I believe that TIEC has grown so fast that they have outgrown their own staff–they are not quite as organized as they need to be. I also believe, though, that they will get there.

TIEC is a fabulous facility and is a wonderful place to compete. The center is intentionally available and free for the community to come explore–even people who know nothing about horses are welcome at TIEC, and I admire that. The restaurants are super tasty, and though they may be slow at times, the food is worth it. One local trainer told me that TIEC has really improved the quality of eating out in Tryon, diversifying the options and increasing the overall quality of restaurants in the area. Restaurants in Landrum, Tryon and Campobello have seen some increased business, too. Not everybody wants sushi or diner food, however good, every single day for two weeks.

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Other horse-related businesses have benefitted from the center, as well. After a particular weekend of showing in extra hot weather, one of the horses was not feeling great. He was anemic, and we needed to buy a certain supplement to help him feel better. I went to three different feed stores in order to get enough. “We had some gallon buckets yesterday, but someone from [TIEC] came and cleared us out yesterday,” said one woman at the register as I plunked the last three small bottles on the counter. When TIEC’s two tack stores do not fill the need–and they focus mostly on equipment and apparel–competitors will shop at local businesses.

So how do my observations fit in to my project? Well, the short answer is that they are my project. I’ve been working all summer on a survey to give to boarding operation owners in order to gather more information about how horse management in the area has been impacted by TIEC and the area’s environmental factors. I’m SO close to distributing this survey and I can’t wait to see what feedback I receive!*

In addition to surveys, I will be conducting interviews and site visits with several managers in order to continue what I’ve been doing all summer: engaging people in conversation about horsekeeping in the Tryon/Landrum/Campobello area. I want to know what narratives about land management, horsekeeping and TIEC are present here, and how I can blend these narratives together to paint a more complete picture for Tryon horsekeepers to use and learn from as they see fit.

I cannot wait to enjoy the remaining weeks I will spend here at Ladybug Farm, I cannot wait to continue my project work into the fall, and I cannot wait to watch TIEC grow and thrive in this already horse-obsessed community. After all, I’m practically a local, now.

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My girls and I love the weekends, when we get to hang out at Tryon International Equestrian Center and their families come to visit!

 

*If you are the owner or manager of an equestrian boarding operation within an hour’s drive of the Tryon International Equestrian Center and would like to help me with this project by taking my survey, please contact me by commenting below! Thanks so much.

“Therapeutic Horse-man-ship”

Natural horsemanship from the eyes of a therapeutic riding instructor

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Every Thursday afternoon, I leave campus straight from class – stopping for coffee on the way – and spend the rest of my day at HALTER. I teach twelve students every week, each as inspiring as the next.

I’m 20 now, but I was only 18 when I started the process of instructor certification through PATH Int’l. I’ve been working at HALTER since May of 2014, and I’ve learned more about horses in a year and a half than I had in ten years of previous horse experience. Before coming to HALTER I knew very little about natural horsemanship, and it was there that I was introduced to the Parelli program. Since then, my understanding of horsemanship has changed drastically and my skills have skyrocketed. I’m still learning, especially from my students: whether they know it or not, my Thursday kids teach me something new about life, horses or riding every week.

I became a therapeutic riding instructor because riding is my therapy, too, and I have a huge heart for sharing horses with people who would otherwise miss out on the joy of riding. Participating in most traditional sports is physically impossible for me, but riding has always been my passion and horses help me stay fit. From the moment I got my horse, Dancer, I wanted to share her with as many people as possible. When I found a therapeutic riding center near my barn in high school, I was hooked. This desire to share horses with others is what brought me to love therapeutic riding and natural horsemanship as one entity – “therapeutic horse-man-ship” is a big part of my life.

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Photo by Mark Olencki.

Here’s what I get to see from the middle of the arena:

Yes, it takes a special horse to be a therapy horse, but let me tell you: the horses these children ride are saints. They can handle almost anything, and they do their job every week even if they aren’t feeling their best that day. They form deep connections with their riders in ways that I rarely see in other lesson programs. They can adapt to various riders, from the most timid four year-old to the independent walk-trot rider. In all of this, they manage to maintain their quirks, opinions, and integrities – they are anything but machine-like, “broken down” horses. I credit this to our use of natural horsemanship.

Unlike most therapeutic riding programs I’ve encountered, at HALTER our riders spend time working with their horse both on the ground and on horseback. My students use groundwork games and challenges to prepare them for the lessons we are teaching them in the saddle: the touch-it game can get a rider thinking ahead and planning in a way that helps her follow a sequence of instructions, for instance. Knowing the friendly game allows us to have discussions about energy when the child is not being so friendly. Sending the horse to/over/around an obstacle changes the way the rider thinks about transitions, and riding becomes less about force or strength and more about energy and communication. Victories in these games say to each child: Yes! You can communicate complex ideas – maybe even without words.

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The results are phenomenal. I’ve seen my riders gain muscle tone and coordination, speak full sentences and communicate more clearly than ever before, dramatically increase confidence or learn how to follow a sequence of instructions.

One of my classes of three riders can all trot independently as of a few weeks ago, with no help from spotters. When I first started teaching, these riders were just learning to trot with lots of support and for short amounts of time – small circles on a lead line or a few steps along the rail with sidewalkers, for instance – and now they’re capable of changing their horses’ speeds, managing their spacing, balancing and steering all at once! They can use the zone 3 driving game to practice transitions on the ground and lateral flexion to practice their emergency stops or changing direction with an indirect rein. It’s beautiful to watch. Despite their various disabilities, they are learning skills from their horses that translate to their everyday lives.

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A student shows off her groundwork for a camera crew – they were so impressed with her relationship with her horse!

Still others are learning to walk unassisted by crutches and walkers, managing their emotions, increasing their capacity to focus, improving balance or any combination of the above. Not every day is perfect. If you are involved in therapeutic riding in any capacity you know that the work is hard and plans rarely go how we imagined they would. But the tiny miracles that keep us going are always happening.

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I get to see our volunteers learning skills and gaining confidence, too. I still remember the moment a child spoke his first full sentence while I served as his sidewalker four years ago. I still remember the smile of a rider that trotted for the first time as we ran along the fence. My time as a volunteer was incredibly impactful for me and I get to see this in the volunteers that serve with me at HALTER, as well. Learning to “think laterally” is good for anybody!

Finally, I get to see how proud the riders are of their accomplishments. When they run back to their parents and say (or sometimes, yell across the arena): “Look, mommy, I did it!!” – My heart melts. One of my favorite parts of teaching is to brief parents after a lesson… to tell them all the wonderful things their child(ren) can do.

At HALTER, there is no can’t, and I have yet to find the limit. These riders (and horses and volunteers) can do anything. I’m so grateful to be a small part of that, and to share in the magic that these horses give us.

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N. B.: Originally published in the HALTER e-newsletter in an abbreviated form. Pictures from HALTER Facebook page except when noted otherwise.

Straight outta parking

Here’s a recent article I wrote for the Old Gold & Black’s first issue of the semester! Be sure to check out the entirety of the paper at woffordoldgoldandblack.com

Wofford College

By: Sarah Madden, Senior Writer

When students arrived on campus this fall, it quickly became evident that parking would be a challenge – as evidenced by creative parking jobs and a dramatic spike in tickets written by Campus Safety.

While some students were angry about the situation, senior Zach Morrow decided to make light of the situation. He posted on Instagram that Wofford is “Straight Outta Parking” – showing the mound of dirt that will eventually be replaced by the new Greek Village.

“Hopefully the Cummings Street lot will handle the excess volume of cars once completed, even if the location is sub optimal. I’m trying to stay positive,” says Morrow. “The parking situation provides a bonding opportunity for the Wofford community, an element of surprise– ‘what are the odds I find a spot here?’– better Fitbit stats and a chance to engage with the Spartanburg community on the perimeter of campus.”

President Nayef Samhat sent out an e-mail thanking students for their patience and encouraging them to enjoy…

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Here’s a Favorite

Photo taken from wofford.edu/newsroom
Photo taken from wofford.edu/newsroom

I write a lot of news releases that end up on Wofford College’s homepage, whether or not my name is associated with the piece, and I love it. I love sharing the accomplishments of my fellow Terriers, from athletes to professors to students with published research or super cool community involvement.

I also LOVE Interim (our January term) and I really love seeing what independent projects are proposed and completed each year. As an environmental studies major and lover of the land as a whole, this project was right up my alley! My favorite piece ever (thus far!) is called Wofford students create film to share lessons learned on the Appalachian Trail, and while it was originally a newspaper article a few months ago, it’s been featured on Wofford’s homepage and included in the Wofford Today magazine (see http://www.wofford.edu/woffordtoday/summer2015/AppalachianTrailDocumentary/).

After you read the article, watch the documentary hereSeriously, it’s awesome and will make you want to go hiking this weekend, all summer, or all year. Either way, it’s worth your time.

Happy trails, horses or not.