Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Post Expedition Lingering and Repeating Thoughts

The sweet acquisition of heart and soul on an equestrian journey happens and blades of grass become clear and focused. Crickets seem to start to whisper the secrets of the world at 3-4 miles an hour.  Gives a reason to think about the "why ride" all the time.  It changes with each mile and each memory.

Usually I would arrive at a hosts house as a stranger and leave as family or family therapist. The backbone and spine of America and every equestrian journey no matter the country is woven within the tapestry of each family we have met and all because the nature of the horse opens doors to people.

The person I saddled up with on the way has not been the same person who arrived home.  There is not such thing as going back to yourself on a journey this size.

Sometimes, we arrive as mysterious as the wind and sometimes for those we meet,  we are in some way that "thing" that they have been waiting for, a "miracle" in their lives...and to ourselves, I am just me doing what passionately comes natural to me.. giving hope & love to the world, setting others free from their own emotional hell or giving life to their dreams.

They see we are the embodiment of hope, future and everything else that may manifest their authentic selves... all because of our horses, our journey..

More than anything else, the best part about an equestrian journey is the journey inward toward ourself.

Conventional Life is impossible to get back to once this is over.  Re-acculturation to the world is alot like coming home from War.. has a similar feeling. Once an equestrian journey is over, a conventional life will never return. I have seen this with several dozen equestrian travellers.  For many, The ache to be back out on the road always haunts us for good. It never. goes. away.  For some, one time is enough. For those who ache to get out on the the road, we seem to be always planning another journey and seems to never be far from the surface to forsake conventional living and head out again.  This is the most bittersweet heartbroken-ness one can experience, in my opinion, in the world.

My emotional journey has been profound since I started taking a horse out on the road almost seven years ago.  What is required of us to acquire our own souls out there is patience, determination, grit and perseverance and for me,  a mighty faith in God (especially when I was directed to leave my tent at home).

On an equestrian journey, sometimes we have to take ourselves by the scruffs of our necks and shake our very self to the core remove our own obstacles, short comings and what not so we can see the deeper meaning  of the "why" we are riding or doing "X", whatever "X" is: determination to keep going.   God was always close by..I could hear Him "better" or at least more clearly on my rides.. His mission was "go I am sending you..."

Having serious health challenges,  I have learned that after shaking and taking myself by the scruff of my own neck (with others help) that I have learned that I can do something that I was told I couldn't do, that sometimes I was not willing to do because I was feeling under the weather. Regardless of health or weather.. moving on was a must! Unless my horse was injured.  Daily miles day in and day out became natural. Travelling 18 miles in 6 hours became customary and getting back to normal car travel I have to admit was quite scary after not using one for several months!

We all have our own place on this planet, our own niche, and belonging. Some of us are lucky enough to find that calling and when we do, we hang on to it because love, acceptance and belonging are at the very heart of inspiring hope and connection to others on the planet. These equestrian journeys of mine taught me this at the very least.

I feel that none of us have the right to monopolize and control others by defining their passions.  Our passions and experience are as unique as each human finger print.  Unfortunately, the human condition has paradoxes, rules, standards and that serve, supposedly, as a checks and balances system so that we do not experience chaos within ourselves and among others during our short time on earth.

What does this have to do with horse travel?  This is the stuff that I hope many riders discover on the road, or many adventurers, for that matter.  The adventurers mind is different than those who take up a hobby sport.  I would like to think that we are here for the journey and not the miles, not the membership, not for anything else but what we were designed to do in living our passions while employing ourselves in acquiring our own souls.

At the end of the day, when we are all old and gray (and in my case, grayer), the legacies we leave behind are the memories and lessons we give to other people. People will not remember us by what we did, but they will remember us by how we made them feel.

It’s not about earning the stripes and gaining membership status, or other statuses, or about living by other’s definitions of what they believe is true or not true for us.  When we live by other’s expectations in what we are passionate about, we miss the point.

No matter how many times as a rider I have been out there by horse with this style travel,  I am forever being transformed, and thrown through life’s and God's screen onto the potter’s wheel and re-molded into something different. Sometimes better in some ways and sometimes in ways that are not as nice or pleasant.

The more clarity, I feel, that I have learned about life on these expeditions, in many ways, the more authentic I get with people. Being more dead honest sometimes has taken people by surprise.  Being authentic with my words still means I have to be soft with my heart and constantly speaking the truth in love.

Without our own embrace of what and who we are and our own definitions of what we do – by not embracing  relative truth…but THE truth which is to ourselves- we will not be able to inspire others to do the same and hope the best for them...ultimately thwarting the ability to pass our legacies onward as we pass into the next life leaving behind that which meant most to ourselves and then on to others.

An expedition by horse is not for everyone...the bittersweet ache of the road follows me every where I go now. My last expedition was a two and a half years ago.  I can say this though.. I can never go back to being the same person I was before I headed out.. God has transformed my heart and for this I am grateful..(and to Evangeline my horse) she is the one who inspires me to be more like her.. my equine partner and soul mate. I have a closeness with her that is indescribable....

I can taste the adventure right around every corner and every breathe I take is encompassed with "when can I leave next." I learned to be content in my current circumstances, no matter what they might be at the moment because they change minute to minute on the road.  I have learned to be content that I probably will never set out on an equestrian journey again.  But God forbid I am told the last time I can ride a horse or breathe in their aura of intuitiveness and understanding.

And at the end of all these journeys: I knew who I was and who I was not. I was not shading my own reality or illusion of some altered truth about myself.  At the same time, I can't describe how at easy I became with being totally vulnerable in the elements for days on end.  And at the end, at least for me Dr. Luke had the best orders.. which made it easier.."Go I am sending you. The Harvest is plenty and the workers are few."

The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams...and thankfully, I have made all my dreams come true from the back of a horse who said couldn't be ridden who bears the name "Angel Messenger".

Have an amazing day...and if you can dream it, you can do it!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Buffalo Moon Expedition 2014

Press Release 2014

Buffalo Moon Expedition’s message is simple.  However, the long-distance delivery of that message has a most been most unusual and sometimes unfathomable even for horse minded folks who trail or endurance ride.

Megan Gist is the founder of Buffalo Moon Expedition, an organization that preserves equestrian travel which carries out a social mission via horseback.  Buffalo Moon Expedition was founded in 2008. 

Megan Gist’s last and 9th expedition in 2012,  took her and her horse Evangeline 576 consecutive miles through Texas over 82 days, on a horse trekking journey to help those with emotional need and also celebrate life and share faith and hope as she travels down the trail.      

How did Buffalo Moon Expedition get its start?  Her first journey in 2008 was a large portion of Historic Route 66 from Oklahoma to Chicago but turned into nine separate expeditions over the next five years.   

Since then, each journey has been over 210 consecutive miles with her greatest and most recent being 576 consecutive miles through the state of Texas.Her total miles to date on expeditions like these are close to 1500 miles. Lifetime miles, she has ridden around 25,000 over 30 years.  

In relative terms, that would be equivalent to riding the equator all the way around the world –plus 100 miles. 

Gist also has been helping people heal emotionally the majority of her career. Her graduate degree in Adult Education is all fine and well, but her life is not all about book smarts either. She has had her share of life loss and horses have been a way for her to get through her toughest times.    

These expeditions are all attempts to make it from A to B.  Whether Gist makes it to her final destination is unknown as she says that she is not in charge of this journey in so many ways.   However, Gist’s positive attitude and faith keep her moving down the road.

 “The harvest is plenty and the workers are few,” Gist uses as her Biblical mantra of Luke 10 analogy that more people need to hear hopeful messages in their lives and that their God given purpose is closer at hand than they think.

In 2012,  Gist questioned herself about doing her last Expedition at all, so she turned to her favorite book – The Bible – to help her figure it out.  She stumbled upon some words of wisdom that have given her specific instructions about her journey, what to take with her, where to stay and even what to eat.

“It was an ancient Doctor’s wisdom that guided me to head out throughout Texas on this last journey in 2012.”  The doctor she is talking about is Luke. 

 “You See, Luke was a Physician” Gist’ proudly asserts.  Gist’ also carries a gift of bringing or at least offering emotional (and sometimes physical) healing to those she meets along the way.

Dr. Luke – or known to many as the Apostle Luke - the Evangelist and Disciple of Christ - confirmed through scripture she was supposed to do this.  Not so much for herself, but for those out there who were in need of emotional freedom.   Here are the ancient words of wisdom from Luke, 10: 2-18  and they go like this:

                    “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. 5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your  peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. 8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near."

Imagine Gist and her surprise when she read these infamous words that said "GO! I am sending you out...."  She also doubted the Bible’s prescription to take essentially nothing but a toothbrush.  She thought to herself, "God must be crazy to ask me to do this!!!!" 

She said that the spiritual direction seemed preposterous at first.   More scriptural confirmation came when she read the story of Moses had Aaron as Moses' spokesperson and ambassador.  But who was to be Gist's ambassador?  That was an easy answer -- her HORSE… Evangeline!

On top of that she questioned God about what to take. On the other expeditions she usually carried 15 pounds of gear.  But this last expedition, she was being lead to carry only the clothes on her back, a sleeping bag and a few other belongings weighing in at a tiny 3 pounds.

Gist’s biggest spiritual test came when a new saddle came on board making it impossible to carry a tent or a sleeping bag.  The saddle was a Stuebben Saddle with no dee-rings to fasten gear on the saddle.  “I couldn’t believe that circumstances were leading me to leave my only shelter behind: let alone ride hundreds of miles in a Show Dressage Saddle!  I hadn’t needed that tent yet, but having it with me was a good feeling of security," Gist’ says with a smile, “So with some skepticism, I left it with a host-turned-new-friend in Tyler, Texas at mile marker 379.”

If you readers wonder what happened after that, well, Gist reminisces, “God provided – one million percent- without the tent.”  She continued to whittle down her gear to basically the clothes on her back and deodorant and a toothbrush.  Gist continued to ride on faith and what happened over and over again?  “God provided,” she says.

“Words fail me when I think of all the Hospitality and the kindness of folks in this world.  Words fail me MORE when I think about this leap of faith I was taking and how I just went with it,” Gist says, “Sometimes I get tears in my eyes just reflecting upon how it all worked out so perfectly beautiful. God’s provisions were flawless and He was forever faithful right down to the last mile.”

Gist didn't have but one troublesome host – but she said laughing about it in hindsight, “I went against Luke’s words of wisdom.  You know the part that says not to greet any strangers on the road?  Well, I met a stranger on the road and they offered a place to stay.” 

Megan usually makes arrangements with others a few days in advance through other friends.  But this time she took a chance.  She recalls, “They were upstanding citizens in the community, had good references and were great horse people: philanthropists, too.  But the man of the house became inappropriate when his wife left me there with him.  He started drinking and getting belligerent.  Thank God, I was able to get out of there after my husband made an emergency trip to my location at 10pm. I ended up riding 6 miles bareback with my horse to another stable at 2 in the morning.  I will NEVER greet another stranger ON THE ROAD again!”

Gist’ swears that these instructions will guide her on this next expedition and will lead her where she is meant to go.

Each day of this ride, she looks forward to doing the work she loves best from the back of a horse and living out her trademarked life motto, “Emotional freedom starts on the trail.”

“There are so many people out there who are hurting emotionally and just as many who want to share and celebrate their lives on an adventure like this,” Gist reflects, "Vibrancy comes with sharing our life stories as does hope which creates meaning in our lives.”

Buffalo Moon’s pace is steady and their progress is slower than what most people expect. “We ride a maximum of 15 miles a day at 3 miles per hour.  This and any of Buffalo Moon’s previous expeditions were/are not about setting any land speed records; these expeditions are about savoring each moment and the meaning of it all.

Buffalo Moon Expedition uses community resources to help them travel from point A to B. There is no time frame, no schedules to keep.  Gist always believes in the welfare of her horse first and says,  "We get as far as we get and travel as far as we go.”

Gist says that sometimes it would take her 10 hours to ride 15 miles as she likes to stop and get her message out to as many possible as she travels along the way.

Buffalo Moon Expedition’s travel style is similar to that of the Old West. With less than 3-6 pounds of gear, the duo travels from town to town at a leisurely pace of 3-4 miles per hour.

All horses are not created equal when they on this type of journey.  Some horses really can't stand the daily changes (and are too domesticated in some ways) this type of expedition demands.   

Her gear is always very light.  No heavy western saddle..just a found pounds of gear and a saddle that fits will take Gist on these journeys into the unknown.

“Without my horses, these expeditions wouldn't happen; they are the heart and soul of all our adventures. I always take exquisite care of my horse on our journeys. Their welfare is first."  Megan realizes the amount of effort that goes into care-taking a horse and always goes at their horse’s pace--- not her own.  

The duo will rely on help from hosts and sponsors as they venture the trail. Hosts often by transport gear to the next host, and give them a place to shower, eat and rest.

“It’s not the miles, it’s the meaning,” Gist emphasized again.  " We are here for the journey and not the miles, not the membership, not for anything else but what we were designed to do in living our passions while employing ourselves in acquiring our own souls.  And this time, we are looking forward to having those we meet share their lives to give us meaning."

And for Buffalo Moon Expedition, time and time again, that’s just what the doctor ordered!

Support Buffalo Moon Expedition as they make their way on their route.   Megan would love to have you join her on her Facebook age at www.facebook.com/equestrianexploration

Sunday, May 5, 2013

What Matters Most


I would like to think that we are here for the journey and not the miles, not the membership, not for anything else but what we were designed to do in living our passions while employing ourselves in acquiring own souls.

At the end of the day, when we are all old and gray (and in my case, grayer), the legacies we leave behind are the memories and lessons we give to other people. It’s not about earning the stripes and gaining membership status, or other statuses, or about living by other’s definitions of what they believe is true or not true for us. Even though those are valuable to an extent that we all want to feel like we belong in our world, the catharsis of ourselves is within the experience and in making the memory, and the sweet acquisition of our souls on a daily basis. Sometimes these moments are huge but most likely, we are able to gain awareness and personal insight when life whispers our names and we draw close to those whispers rather than the earth shattering rock my world moments that come about sometimes.

Journey 2013

Megan DuBé’s message is simple. However, the long- trail distance delivery of that message has a most been most unusual and sometimes unfathomable even for horse minded folks who trail ride. 

In 2012, DuBé and her horse Evangeline travelled 576 consecutive miles through Texas, on a horse trekking journey to help those with emotional need and also celebrate life and share faith and hope as she travels down the trail.

DuBé’s message and trademarked byline since 2008 has been “emotional freedom starts on the trail.” 

DuBé is the founder of Buffalo Moon Expedition, an organization that preserves equestrian travel and American heritages.  She is a semi-retired psychologist who also has been helping people heal emotionally the majority of her career.  Her life is not all about book smarts either, she has had her share of life loss and horses have been a way for her to get through her toughest times.

Du Bé has owned her own equine assisted psychotherapy practice in the past.  Buffalo Moon's Expedition allows Du Bé  to continue to do what she loves doing best- counseling and facilitating healing for others from the back of her horse.

This year’s expedition is extra significant.  DuBé has done another emotional rescue --- of the equine variety.   Megan has adopted and retrained a Rescue horse from True Blue Animal Rescue out of Brenham, Texas this year.  A Tennessee Walking  Horse named Jazzy.

 “Most of the media portrays rescue horses who have been severely neglected and seized like Jazzy, “ DuBé states.  “But in many cases, horses are surrendered to rescues when family circumstances change financially.  Most of these rescue horses have been family pets and well- loved at one time or another.   I feel that the social responsibility of any horse community is to give these horses a second chance.”

These expeditions are all attempts to make it from A to B.  Whether DuBé makes it to her final destination is unknown as she says that she is not in charge of this journey in so many ways.   However, DuBé’s positive attitude and faith keep her moving down the road.

 “Rescue horses need a second chance, just like people.  Sometimes we rescue people, sometimes we rescue horses,” DuBé states with a smile. And this year, Buffalo Moon Expedition plans to do a little bit of both.

The Versatile Tennessee Walking Horse- The Basics

Gaited horses outnumbered trotting horses almost 4 to 1 in the 17th century.  Gaited horses have been around for much longer than most folks realize.

The Tennessee Walking Horse breed's beginning started in 1885 when a Morgan Mare named Maggie Marshall was crossed with a Standardbred out of the Hambletonian Standardbred Family.  The offspring of this pair was Allandorf, who would later be known as Allan F-1.

But what is this way of going "gaited".  Being gaited is a birth defect. When we realized that this defect was a pleasure to ride, we began to selectively breed for it many many years before the Tennessee Walking Horse became known as a breed.

Once perfected and over time, we came to know and love the way of going of these horses and for the purpose of simple identification, the Tennessee Walking Horse became a breed of its own.

Dangerous Intruder - AKA- Trudy

The Tennessee Walking Horse or Tennessee Walker  (Tenn Walker) is considered a light horse breed. Their beginnings were founded in middle Tennessee whose bloodlines consisted of the Narragansett and Canadian Pacer, the Standardbred and later Thoroughbred, Morgan and American Saddlebred bloodlines were added to refine and mixed into the breed.

These horses were originally bred as a utility horse and agriculturists used them as plow horses.  On their "off days" from the field, because these horses where a pleasure to ride, they would use them as "Crop checkers" and thus the term "Plantation Horse" was born  Vast amounts of land had to be checked upon daily, so a sure footed smooth riding horse was needed to check fence, crops and also be the family cart horse.  The Tenn Walker did it all, with style, a relative amount of speed and with class! 

The Tennessee Walking Horse performs three distinct gaits: the flat foot walk, running walk and canter. These three are the gaits for which the Tennessee Walking Horse is famous, with the running walk being an inherited, natural gait unique to this breed. Many Tennessee Walking Horses are able to perform the rack, stepping-pace, fox-trot, single-foot and other variations of the famous running walk.

These gaits have a variety of speed...much much faster than the quarter horse who travel at a rate of 1 mile per every three hours.  Tenn Walkers can travel up to twice as fast at the walk but usually at about 4 miles per hour.  Their running walk can be as fast at 15 miles per hour. Some Tenn Walkers who rack can "Speed rack" up to 23 miles per hour without breaking into a gallop!

Running Walk - Molley, TWH - age 27 here
In fact, I plan on dedicating an entire blog entry on the natural rate  of the Tenn Walker as many misinterpret their speed for misbehaviour.

Having had Tennessee Walking horses all my life and some other gaited breeds, I can say if they were human, they would be the engineer get 'er done personality - they are all business, friendly, willing and possess a 'professional' work ethic at all times.  They are fun to be around and endear themselves to their riders for their intelligence, versatility and overall steady disposition.

The thoroughbred and Morgan blood in them give them incredible stamina.  They burn fuel differently than a quarter horse would which makes them incredible mounts for long days on the saddle and endurance riding.

It was common for farmers to hold match races with their Tennessee Walkers, which they also used for plowing fields. Even after the coming of the automobile, many Tennessee communities kept their Tennessee Walkers to manage the poor roads of the area.

And lastly, our own Captain Kirk, William Shatner owns a successful Tennessee Walking Horse breeding farm in Kentucky....  Perhaps he will be a stop along the way...

Next up - The Mind of a Tennessee Walking Horse... their not just your regular ole' quarter horses: no way, no how..

For Gaited Horse Training Call - 630-589-2721

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ne Jamais Oublier...

I will miss you Acadiana - and the Queen City of the Bayou Teche.. You as a people and as an area revived my ability to acquire a second language almost fluently, again - with a savvy linguistic twist!  You have taught me about a thriving equestrian heritage, oppression and succession of a people, tenacity, and Comment parler cheval en français! But most of all.. .Evangeline still your people's heroine, Cajun is still your birthright and heritage....and on a Saturday night, out of Vinton, Louisiana, the Fais Do Do radio plays the history of a people through its music.  

Merci, Acadiana... Vous m'avez appris beaucoup!!!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Heavier Riders Guide (Geared for Gaited Horses but Useful for all Breeds)

I always wanted a more accurate way to determine how much weight a horse can carry under saddle.  The Cavalry has said over and over it's 1/5th or 20% of the horse's weight.  But what about the consideration of bone mass?

On Gaited Horses' website they give this little tidbit about heavier riders which considers bone mass to some extent by measuring cannon bones.  Here is what they say... I feel this is a another option and a viable way (pun intended) to determine more closely how much weight a horse can carry during equestrian travel.

The Heavier Riders’ Guide 
to Comfort and Safety with Gaited Horses 
By Beverly Whittington and Rhonda Hart-Poe

The U.S. Calvary published “The Cavalry Manual of Horse Management”, by Frederick L. Devereux, Jr., in 1941. He recommended that the collective weight of rider and gear not exceed 20% of the total weight of the horse. These were horses in top condition whose riders’ very lives depended on the horse's ability to carry them long miles, often at speed. It stands to reason that if they were to incorporate a margin of error, it would be on the side of the horse being overly capable of carrying its rider, rather than less so. 

 Comparably, a study of 374 competitive trail riding horses compared horse/rider weight relationships. They concluded that these horses can easily carry over 30% of their body weight for 100 miles and not only compete, but compete well. As would be expected, good body condition and bone structure were found to be paramount. Bone structure was evaluated using the front leg cannon bones as representative of general structure.  


Measurement Test 

  1. Add up the total weight of the horse, rider and tack. (See TGH Summer 1998, page 37.) Our example: Damascus, Lady + tack = 1188 pounds. 
  2. Measure the circumference of the cannon bone midway between the knee and fetlock. Our example: Damascus, 7.5 inches. 
  3. Divide this total weight by the circumference. Our example: 1188 ÷ 7.5 = 158.4 
  4. Divide the result by two.  Our example: 158.4 ÷ 2 = 79.2 
Scores on Results

Values near 75 are great, below 75, even better.

Values from 75/80 are acceptable.

Values over 80 indicate weaker legs and a need to train carefully, especially downhill.

Values over 85 suggest you need a horse with more substance.

Damascus rates near the end of the acceptable range, but should still be able to carry Lady comfortably. 

*Note that cannon bone circumference (as overall bone substance) increases with the horse's fitness level, so if he is borderline, like Damascus, it doesn't necessarily mean you're too big for him. By “racking” up Long - slow - distance (LSD) miles, which builds up bone over time, he may measure up yet. Be patient: it can take up to three years for bone to remodel. But don't expect a miracle either.  This is a slight variance from the original bone mass.  Just as if a person where doing bone mass building exercises the changes are small overall.

Condition Your Horse 
Obviously no horse should be ridden if he is unsound or in pain. Add a heavy load on his back and the horse must be more than just sound, he should be fit. 

The overweight or out-of-shape horse must be conditioned, slowly, prior to carrying a heavy load. Consult with your trainer or vet for the best way to condition your individual horse. Unfortunately, the average “back yard horse” is generally not in any better condition than the average “weekend rider”, which includes a lot of us. Such horses should not be expected to carry more than 20 to 25% percent of their body weight. Add a rider who is heavier, and possibly less balanced and/or athletic, and it becomes obvious that the stouter and/or better conditioned horse will be more able to carry the load comfortably, safely, with less chance of injury. 

Have your veterinarian perform a thorough “soundness” exam. Explain that the horse will be carrying extra weight and ask him or her to be especially thorough in his evaluation of the horses back structure and the suspensory ligaments in the legs. 
Next, have a qualified farrier look at the horse's hooves. Be sure he watches the horse travel at a walk and in gait, moving straight and in a circle. The hoof should be balanced, as odd angles or heights increase the stress on his feet, legs and back. Many horses need to be shod to maintain a balanced foot, as they wear their hooves unevenly if left unshod.

Mount Kindly 
Be sure you can mount a horse fairly quickly without hanging on the side of the horse or "plopping" down into the saddle. Any rider who gets their foot in the stirrup then struggles up the side of the horse, puts undue stress on the horse's shoulder and back. Use a stable mounting block when possible to reduce strain to the horse, however, don't consider it the ultimate answer. Unless you have a physical handicap that precludes it, for safety and convenience sake, you should be able to get on your horse. 
Make sure you are mounting the horse correctly. DO NOT pull yourself into the saddle. Place your left foot into the stirrup, toes pointing towards the horse's head so as not to “jab” him in the side, push off on the right leg and raise yourself up in one smooth motion by straightening the left knee. Then swing your right leg over the horse’s rump and settle gently into the saddle. 
To dismount slip both feet from the stirrups, turn in the saddle and hop down. This requires some finesse on your part, but is much easier on the horse’s back that pulling all your weight to one side as you climb down.

Improve Your Seat 
A balanced seat means having your weight distributed equally on either side of the horse, while having your body aligned along the points of gravity. A plumb line dropped from your ear should intersect the point of your shoulder, the second sacral vertebrae, hip and ankle.  

One of the easiest ways to adjust your leg position to keep the proper muscle groups of the inner thigh in contact with the saddle is to 'roll' your thighs.  Sitting with the ball of your foot in the stirrup, reach down and grab the fleshiest part of the back of your thigh and pull it back and out. This rolls the flattest muscles of the inner thigh against the saddle resulting in a much more secure seat. If it feels uncomfortable at first, persevere. Your muscles are not used to being used properly and may protest. With practice you will find that the aches will go away and a more secure seat becomes easier to maintain.

Balance is Key 
Proper balance dictates that you carry your weight evenly distributed through the buttocks and thighs. Do not carry excessive weight in the stirrup. An old Calvary rider that I was fortunate enough to have as a riding instructor when I was very young, stressed that the stirrup was not there for me to stand in. He said to visualize a raw egg placed between the bottom of my foot and the stirrup. Keep your stirrups without breaking the egg. Use this visualization the next time you ride; you might find that you place too much weight in your stirrups. 

Stirrup length strongly affects balance. You cannot achieve a balanced seat if your stirrups are too long or too short. Allow your feet to hang out of the stirrups, then pretend you are Fred Flintstone. Yup. Remember how Fred stopped his car? He had to push his heels down and straight below him. Push your legs straight down, heel towards the ground, as if to touch it. The stirrups should hit you in the ankle bones, if not, adjust them. 

Balance is the difference between a good rider and a poor one, a safe rider and one in peril. It is also the division between a horse comfortably carrying a heavier rider and a horse straining under the load. Make sure you have your weight evenly distributed from one side of the saddle to the other, sit straight (but relaxed) and keep your shoulders even. A dropped shoulder often means a more heavily weighted seatbone on the same side. 

Weight and Gaited Horses
Often a heavier rider will cause a horse to become pacey. The extra weight causes the horse to ventroflex, pushing his back down and head up, a factor of the pace and to some extent at the rack (paso llano, tolt, paso corte, etc.). One trainer laments of a pacey horse which she had trained into a good fox trot for her owner, a fairly light weight man, only to see him give the horse to his wife, who outweighed him by a good 100 lbs. The extra weight coupled with the lack of expertise of the new rider, made the horse instantly revert to a hard pace.  

One of the reasons people seek out gaited horses is that they think they are easier to ride. Often these are people who are injured, not very athletic or merely overweight. However, to get and keep, many horses in gait requires skill, flexibility and athleticism.