Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Diagram of the vertebral column from Gray's Anatomy
If you're not familiar with the titular acronym, it is a military expression that essentially means:  "Not a good situation". 

My x-rays were not good.  Ironically, I have avoided seeing doctors for several years because they all said the same thing: "We can't fix you", "You need to stop riding/gardening/doing the things you love."  And this time was no different. 

Followers of this blog are likely aware that I fractured my L-5 vertebrae five years ago.  My x-rays showed that in the past few years the disc between L-5 and S-1 (os sacrum) has degenerated.  I expected that.  The degeneration has caused my lumbar (lower, L) spine to curve significantly to the right (scoliosis).  The scoliosis has caused my Th-9 vertebrae to twist and the disc between Th-8 and Th-9 to begin degenerating.  My upper thoracic (Th) spine has been compensating for the lumbar scoliosis by curving to the left, which is causing degeneration of my Th-3/Th-2 disc.  I was not expecting all that.  I have three discs degenerating: one in my lower back, one in the middle of my back and one in my neck.  That really stinks.

So, I can't be fixed.  The chiropractor thinks I can be made more comfortable, though.  We are instituting a plan of chiropractic adjustments and physical therapy.

What does this mean for my riding?  Not a damn thing.  I have gotten this far against the wishes of many doctors, and I'm not giving up now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I Smell Like Ben-Gay

I have reached that awkward age where I am no longer young, but I can't really complain about being old yet. Which stinks, because I'd really like to complain about being old.

Why complain?  Well, I've injured my neck.  I wish I had a really good story about how I did it, but unfortunately I just woke up with it.  Yup, that's right..... I injured myself sleeping.  How does that even happen? 

I saw the chiropractor yesterday, he took a bunch of x-rays and we'll go from there.  In the meantime I'm taking it easy,  longeing Spider for conditioning, and working walk and a bit of canter under saddle.   Walk and canter don't bother my neck, but trot is a little.... jarring.  Spider has a typical Thoroughbred trot, very up and down.  It's OK for posting, but spine jarring if you get out of sync with him while sitting.  Sitting that trot may have had something to do with my neck injury, come to think of it. 

Until the x-rays come back there's not much to be done.  I ice it, rub on Ben-Gay (I prefer to think of it as "people liniment", sounds less "old" that way) and whine.  Whining makes everything feel better.  So does wine, come to think of it.  I should combine the two. 

In the meantime, I set up a little cavaletti grid for Spider to work through.  I had noticed that, while his overall muscle tone is good, his hips look a little hollow.  The muscles of the hips lift the the hind limbs upwards and forwards, so work over raised cavaletti will help build up those muscles.  Hill work would also help, but I am rather lacking in hills here in southern NJ.  I'll have to remember to get a picture of Spider for a "before and after" comparison...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Equine Therapy

I have this cat.  He's awful.  Even by cat standards.  He pees on things, makes a ruckus in the middle of the night that wakes me up, hides at the top of the stairs to whack me on the head as I go up and is just generally loud and annoying.  But, my daughter loves him.  And so, I put up with the awful cat.

Awful Cat

A few days ago the awful cat got out of the house and ran off. My daughter was heartbroken.  She asked for him every day, especially at bed time.  The awful cat used to sleep with her.  Because my daughter was heartbroken, I was heartbroken.  Stupid cat.

Needless to say, it had been several stressful, tear laden days in our household with my daughter sobbing over her lost cat and me tearing my hair out.

And then last night I heard a noise on the porch.  I opened the front door in time to see the awful cat dart down the porch.  I ran to the back door just in time to see the cat run around the garage and through my arena.  I turned all the floodlights on and ran after him.  The stupid cat ran off into the woods and wouldn't come no matter how much I called him.  But, Spider came up.  I hadn't ridden him in a couple days, the weather here has been awful with storms and high winds.  As I stood in the arena, with all the floodlights on,  eyeing the western end of an east bound cat, I thought to myself "Hey, it's pretty bright out here.  I bet I could ride."  So I did.  And as I rode around all my troubles melted away.  It's amazing how a good ride can make you feel better.  I don't think there is a problem in the world that couldn't be solved on the back of a horse.

And that's how I ended up riding my horse at 10:30 at night.

It was a good ride.  Thanks, awful cat.

By the way, the awful cat is back as of this morning.  I have mixed feelings about it, but my daughter is thrilled.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Dandelions blooming in my arena.
It is with great hesitation that I even write this:  I think spring may have sprung here.

I probably just jinxed myself right there.  Bring on the snow storms!  The picture in my header was taken April 7th, 2006.  It was Spider's second dressage show.  The wind was blowing a gale and it snowed on us during our test.  Snow!  In April!  So, I don't expect our current good weather to last.

But, we have been having good weather and I have gotten quite a bit done with my horse.  I am officially making this the year that we conquer 2nd level.  We've been dancing around 2nd and 3rd levels for what seems like forever.  I've been noodling around far too long.  Spider knows the work.  I am confident he could actually do 3rd level with no problems if I would get off my bum and work with him consistently.   He has a good flying change, the collection is there (albeit mostly untapped because of consistency issues with the rider).  Our biggest problem is actually the counter canter.  It's iffy, at best.  It isn't a matter of him not being physically ready to do it, either.  It's a training issue.  Spider was a jumper, he was trained to change his leads automatically.  I imagine that in his day he was a pretty good jumper, too:  when I got him he would change his leads exactly when he was supposed to regardless of the rider's input! 

But, that's an excuse.  And I'm going to declare April as another Month Of No Excuses.  The fact of the matter is that I can control his leads when I am actively riding my horse.  When I lose my focus and fail to set him up things get wonky.  And so, we have been working on counter-canter a lot.  I started by asking him to take the wrong lead on the long side (That was actually my trainer's idea.  He also kindly pointed out that the reason we were having so much trouble was because I was collapsing my core and leaning forward in the canter.  As he put it: "See, it's not a problem.  You just need to ride like a dressage rider."  That was a part of the ass-handing I posted about before.) 

I digress.... I started out by asking for the wrong lead on the long side.  As I said, with Spider it's a training issue.  He will take the "correct" lead unless the rider makes it crystal clear that the counter-canter is desired.  Since I'm the rider, that means that his failure to take or maintain the lead I want is my fault.  This means I need to concentrate, set him up and make my aids clear.  We prepared by trotting the short side.  As we approached the long side, I flexed him in and out of the circle a few times, ending with flexing out, then asked for the counter canter.  By only counter-cantering on the long side (straight) I also eliminated an opportunity for him to second guess me.  Spider wants to change his leads when he changes direction.  The mistake I was making was by going whole-heartedly into the canter serpentines (called for in 2nd level test 1) without first making sure that my horse understood what I wanted.  He needed to understand that I really did want him to canter on the "wrong" lead.  By asking for the "wrong" lead on a straightaway and then being preemptive, asking for trot before he had a chance to change, I reinforced the idea that the counter-canter was what I wanted, without having to resort to punishment (immediately asking for trot after an unwanted change, and then counter-canter again, what many trainers suggest for this type of problem). 

Spider responded to this tactic nicely.  So nicely that we stepped it up a notch.  Once I was happy that he would take the wrong lead when asked, and maintain it until I asked for the trot transition, we graduated to 20m circles.  In the past, I have attempted 20m circles in counter-canter by taking the correct lead on a circle, then attempting a figure eight or serpentine with no change of lead.  It wasn't really working for me.  Some days we got it, most days it failed.  With this in mind, I asked for the counter canter on the circle.  Not a change of direction with no change of lead, but actually asking for the "wrong" lead on a circle.  To prepare, I flexed him into the circle, then flexed him out.  On the "out" flex, I asked for the counter-canter.  Now, it wasn't perfect.  He picked up the "correct" lead on several of our tries.  When he picked up a lead I didn't want, I immediately transitioned down and the asked again until he got it.  When he picked up the lead I wanted, we cantered two full rounds on the 20m circle, then took a walk break. 

We'll keep going with that, until he consistently takes the lead I ask for.  Then, after I am satisfied that he understands that I do indeed want him to canter on the "wrong" lead, we'll graduate to the 2nd level serpentine. 


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