Friday, August 31, 2012

Just When I'm Feeling Better.....

I get stung by a wasp!  And, I developed an allergic reaction.  It didn't require a trip to the ER, luckily, but my left arm is currently twice the size of my right and very, very sore.  It is starting to feel better though, with the help of antihistamines, acetaminophen and mimosas.

Hopefully I'll be back riding soon, as I plan on taking Spider out to a schooling show mid-September.  And I sort of need to ride between now and then.  That generally improves your scores, I've found.

But, even more importantly, I need to figure out what to do with Spider's mane.

I'm not really into grooming.  I was never one of those girls who spent hours and hours at the barn fiddling with manes and tails and polishing hooves.  I brush where the saddle goes, run my hands down the legs, pick out feet and then throw on the tack.  I only trim manes and tails before a show, I never pull (having had waxing done to myself, I think pulling a mane or tail is just barbaric) and I absolutely hate braiding.

Which brings me to my conundrum.  Spider's mane is quite long, as he hasn't shown since July of last year.  I really don't feel like cutting it.  But, I have to braid it.  Well, I don't have to for a schooling show, but I wouldn't feel right just leaving it like this for a dressage show:

Maybe for a Western Dressage show...

Now, I've seen some of the Baroque horses and draft crosses sporting a "running braid", basically a french braid down the neck.  But, I don't know how to do that.  I don't even know if Spider has enough hair to do it.

So I ask you, Oh Wise Interwebs Folk, Would I be able to make a running braid out of that?  Would Spider, a Thoroughbred, look completely ridiculous with a running braid?  How does one even make a running braid? 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Where Have I Been?

So, I posted some nice pictures, everything was looking so exciting and interesting, and then I dropped off the radar with my training.  What's up with that?

Well, I dropped off the radar because I haven't been riding much lately.  It's a shame, because I just had a breakthrough, and things were going so well.  But, then I had a setback.  Me, not the horse, not the training, but me personally.

So, I suppose it's confession time.  Followers of this blog will probably remember that I was badly injured in a fall (broke my spine), but that is not the full story.  I also have an auto-immune disease.

I don't talk about my disease much.  Partly because I have always tried to negate it's influence on my life.  I don't want it to define me.  But, also, I don't talk about it because it's awkward.

I have Inflammatory Bowel Disease.... Who wants to talk about that?  It's an ugly, icky conversation no matter how you approach it.  It doesn't help that most people don't understand it, either.

So, let's just get the misunderstandings out of the way right now....

Misunderstanding 1:  It's not caused by stress.  I don't need to just "chill out".  It's not "all in my head".  It's a real disease, with a real pathology.  My immune system attacks my own body.  If I could fix that with the power of my mind, don't you think I would have already?  C'mon... this is me we're talking about.  I've defeated spinal injuries.  If it could be cured with meditation and a positive attitude I would never have gotten the wretched disease in the first place!

Misunderstanding 2:  Yogurt will not cure me.  I don't care what Jamie Lee Curtis told you in that commercial.  Just shut up about the yogurt.

Misunderstanding 3:  This is not just a case of "Montezuma's Revenge".  Honestly, the GI symptoms are easy to manage.  It's the "secondary" symptoms that kill me.  Arthritis, fatigue, rashes, sinus issues... they all combine to make me extraordinarily miserable when my disease is active.  And the secondary symptoms persist long after the GI symptoms subside.

What I have is a chronic condition.  My body has decided to recognize parts of itself as an "invading foreign army" and it mounts a full defensive action.  That action involves destroying my stomach, intestines, sinuses, joints and skin.  There is no cure, and treatment options are limited (and mostly sucky).

Now, I'm not disclosing all that to garner sympathy.  Sympathy doesn't help me at all.  Mostly, it just pisses me off.  Everybody has something in their life that sucks and gets in their way, I'm not any different in that regard.

I decided when I was first diagnosed that this disease would not define me.  My disease is not who I am.  My disease is just a physical manifestation:  I am female, I have brown hair, I'm short, I'm skinny, I'm Caucasian, I have IBD.  Not a single one those descriptions tell you anything about who I am as a person.

I live on a farm.  I like photography and gardening.  I am an avid horseman.  Those are the things that define me as a person.  Those are the things that make me who I am.  Not my disease.

But, I can't say that my disease doesn't effect my riding.  It does, in insidious ways.

I found out last year that my spine was degenerating at a rapid rate.  The Orthopedist blamed it on my previous injury, I suppose because he didn't really understand how my auto-immune disease works.  My GI doctors also never said anything about how my disease could effect my spine, but I suspect that was because they didn't know, either.  Plus, I never mentioned my spine issues to them... it didn't seem relevant.  The Orthopedist knows about my autoimmune disease because it effects what kind of anti-inflammatory drugs I can take, but I never really thought to tell the GI doc about my orthopedic issues.  Until this year....

I finally switched to a GI doctor closer to where I live (I had been going to Philly).  During the initial exam he asked if I had any other medical problems.  I mentioned the issues with my back.  He nodded and said, "That's pretty common with your disease, your spine will most likely fuse eventually".  I was floored.  I had never put the two issues together before.

I was pretty upset and depressed for awhile.  Then I decided to be pro-active about it.  I'd gotten this far by just taking my meds and ignoring it, what could I do if I actively tried to change it?  I have a friend with arthritis issues who follows the Paleo diet with good results, so I started researching that.  In my research, I found a diet that was tailored to those with GI related auto-immune diseases.

And so I found the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.  The idea is that many auto-immune diseases are triggered by the over-abundance of sugars and starches in our modern diets.  It is very strict and totally different from my formerly pasta-centric Italian diet, but what did I have to lose?  I had hit rock bottom.  My life, as it was with so much pain, wasn't worth all the pasta in the world.  So, I cut it all out cold turkey... No more more pasta, no more potatoes, dairy, chocolate, rice, or sugar.  I ate only fresh, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, seafoods and meats.  And I felt great!  Seriously, I felt better than I had in years.

And then I got cocky and cheated.  I felt great, so I wanted to treat myself.  I had done so well in my diet, and surely just a bit of "no-no" food wouldn't hurt, right?  But, it did hurt, and my disease became active again.  And, when it did, I said "$*@%  it! If I'm going to feel bad, I might as well go for broke!" and then I ate other stuff that I shouldn't have.  

And that's where I'm at now.  I'm back on my diet and hopefully will be feeling better soon.


    "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food"

Monday, August 20, 2012

Proper Position

"Sit up straight!"

"Toes forward!"

"Elbows at your sides!"

If you've spent any time taking riding lessons, you've heard these phrases before.  I've been hearing them for years.  Particularly "elbows at your sides".  I'm short, my arms are short.  It's very hard to keep your elbows at your sides when you have stubby Tyrannosaurus Rex arms!  I've been told to "pretend that my elbows were glued to my waist".  I've even had instructors who had me hold my whip looped through my elbows behind my back to keep my elbows in position.

My current trainer always tells me I need to put my hands more forward.  This is rather at odds with the "elbows at your sides" dogma for those of us with T-Rex arms.   For years we've been going around and around with this.  He would say "Hands forward!' and I would inch them out a little bit, then realize my elbows were no longer at my sides and snatch them back.

One day he finally got annoyed with me and said, "Put your hands in front of the saddle pad and keep them there!  You cannot have a giving, soft hand with your hands in your lap!  Go watch any of the top riders, and you will see that they all ride with their hands in front of the saddle pad."

"But", I protested, "I can't do that!  My arms are too short!  If I put my hands in front of the saddle pad, my elbows will be completely straight.  That's not correct, they're supposed to be at my sides!"

"Go watch Debbie McDonald ride," he said "and see where her elbows are."

Debbie McDonald is a former Olympian, and a very talented rider, who is about my height.  (Actually, I just looked it up, and she's three inches shorter than I am.)

Since I obviously couldn't just leap off my horse mid-lesson and look up videos of Debbie McDonald riding, I decided to just stick my hands out in front of the saddle pad and go with it.  And my horse went better.  So I stuck with it, even though it meant that my elbows weren't in "perfect position".  I never did bother to look up a video of Debbie McDonald riding, because it was working for me and that's what really mattered.

But, in light of my recent "If you want to be the best, watch the best" epiphany, I've actually spent quite a bit of time watching the riders instead of the horses.  And I've noticed that there are many riders who do not have their elbows at their sides, but all the good rides have a rider with his or her hands in front of the saddle pad.

Intrigued, I looked up some videos of Debbie McDonald.  Her elbows are quite straight, her hands are in front of the saddle pad, her horse goes beautifully.

We are always careful to take the conformation of the horse into consideration when training.  Perhaps we also need to take the conformation of the rider into consideration.  

Elbows right where they belong, for a short person. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

How To Do Turn On The Haunches Without A Mirror

Turn on the haunches is required at 3rd level.  Plus, it's a good exercise in general.  But, it can be difficult to learn and train without the aid of a mirror or someone on the ground to yell at you when you're doing it wrong.  Luckily, I found asolution to that.....

I've been riding at night a lot lately, since it's been so hot here.  My arena has lights, but not super bright lights, as I've talked about before.  I always bring my phone with me, in case I need to ring for help (and for the iPod function).  I also frequently ride in jeans, instead of breeches, because they're a bit cooler.

They also have handy ventilation holes!  Very cooling....

So, the other night I was riding in my jeans and had stuck my phone in my back pocket.  Unfortunately, during some rather forward canter work in the warm-up, my phone wiggled out of my back pocket and landed somewhere in the arena.  The lights illuminate the arena enough to ride in, but not to find a phone in, and I didn't want to squish my phone.  But I wasn't ready to stop riding, either.  What to do?

Well, there is a bit of a pool of light on the near side of the arena where you can clearly see the footing, and I could see the phone hadn't landed there.  This area is about 20m long, and 6m wide.  I decided to work on turn on the haunches, because what else can you fit into that space?

As I worked, I noticed an interesting thing:  Spider's shadow was pretty clear from the angle of the lights.  I could quite clearly see him popping his haunches out in the turns.  Naughty boy!  So, I endeavored to fix it.  He wasn't happy with that, who knows how long I'd been letting him pop his haunches out.  That's the thing about only riding one horse all the time: you lose your sense of "correctness", it gets replaced by your "normal" way of going.  But, we worked through the awkwardness with the help of our shadow and came out with some good work.

At the end of the ride he was sweating more than he does when we work on trot and canter!  Oh yes, we'll be doing that again!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Final Thoughts On The Olympics

I haven't been this interested in the Olympics in a long time.  I blame the uncharacteristically hot weather on the East Coast for this.  I was holed up in the house forever, with nothing else to do than watch the Games.  So, I watched things I wouldn't normally be interested in. Things like swimming and bicycle stuff (I'm a terrible swimmer and haven't been on a bicycle in 20 years!).

I did find some inspiration in one of those events, though.  It was one of the earlier events, before the dressage.  I don't actually remember which one it was, I think it may have been swimming (or maybe diving?).  The sport itself wasn't that important, because the advice was good.  One of the contenders was talking about her journey to the Olympics, and said that her father had told her that "if she wanted to be the best, she needed to watch the best".  And that is what she did.

So, I spent a lot of time watching the riders in these Games.  I watched the horses, too.  But, mostly I watched the riders.  I hope to apply some of what I saw to my own riding.  I hope to avoid some other things I saw.

Most people watch the horses in the Olympic events.  I now think that's a mistake.  Most of us will never own a Valegro, a Fuego or a Parzival.  Horses of that caliber are out of our league, it's just not a realistic aspiration.  We cannot make our horses go like them.

But, even if we will never have our very own Olympic caliber horse, we can all try to ride like Olympians.  That is a goal that every one of us can aspire to.  It is something I aspire to.

I know I'll never ride in the Olympics. I know I'll never own a Uthopia.  I don't want my horse to move like that.  I know he can't move like that.  I know I'll never own a horse that has that level of talent.  So, I will watch the riders instead, because I want to be the best.  I want to be the best rider I can be for my horse.

If I want to be the best, I have to watch the best.

And if you know which athlete said that, please tell me in the comments, because I'd really like to credit her!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Can't Talk Now, Too Busy. Got A New Book.

I'm so excited!

I finally got myself a copy of Dr. Hilary Clayton's The Dynamic Horse.  I've been wanting it forever, but it's a bit expensive.  My husband noticed that it kept turning up in the Amazon search lists and bought it for me. That's why I keep him around.  He may not be that into the horses himself, but he is more than willing to enable my addiction!

So far, I'm really liking the book.  I am taking it slowly, though, because it's pretty heavy reading.  It's fascinating, but it's very, very technical.  There is none of the "melting candlestick, arching rainbow" visualizations in this book.  It is strictly biomechanics.  There are also no suggestions on technique.  It is not a "how to" book.  It is a "this is how things work, now draw your own conclusions book".

Essentially, it's a physic's textbook.  It has much of the same material in it that I found so painfully boring when I took actual physics in college.  But, unlike my boring college physics textbook that used dumb examples about trains and cosmic rays and other silly things, Dr. Clayton's book uses horses as the examples!

If this doesn't make angular displacement interesting, I don't know what will!

That, my friends, is how you make physics interesting!  (Are you listening Dr. Masur?  I might have actually showed up to your class if you used pertinent examples!)

Anyway, that's my review of The Dynamic Horse.  I haven't actually finished the book yet, but I don't think this is the type of book that you ever "finish".  It's more of a reference material, something that you can go back to and gain insight from throughout your riding career, much like Alois Podhajsky's The Complete Training of Horse and Rider.

Speaking of The Complete Training of Horse and Rider, Spider and I are up to many interesting things these days.  I haven't forsaken him to read my new book.  I'll get to writing about those things soon.  As soon as I can tear myself away from my new book, that is!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Congratulations to Charlotte Dujardin and Great Britain!

I just finished watching the Freestyle competition.  All I can say is "Wow."  

I have a super secret confession.... Don't tell anybody about this, because I'll totally lose all my DQ cred if this secret gets out.... 

I don't like musical freestyles.  I just don't.  I think they're a bit boring, slightly silly and don't do much for the credibility of the sport.  I spend a lot of time convincing people that what I do is not just "horse dancing", and then the musical freestyles get all the attention and I'm back to square one.  

I love to watch a well performed Grand Prix or Grand Prix Special test, but not so much the freestyles.  Many times the music isn't really my taste, and many times it's really not well suited to the horse, and most times I just find the music distracting. 

I will say, however, that Laura Bechtolsheimer's freestyle brought a smile to my face.  It was fun, lively and well suited to the horse.  But Charlotte Dujardin's freestyle really blew me away.  It was just incredible.  

I'll freely admit that when I heard her music start I thought "Ick, another boring one."  But, because I watched the freestyle after it had been performed, I already knew the score.  And I still wanted to watch her ride, just to see what that score looks like, and watch her and Valegro go around again.  As she rode, I got more interested.  I didn't particularly like the music, but she rode it beautifully and it wasn't distracting.  And then she had Valegro do those pirouettes!  Amazing!  I teared up!  It was just so perfectly executed and so meaningful, such a good representation of horse and rider.  

I'd never heard of Charlotte Dujardin before these Olympic Games.  She is many years my junior, but I can now say, without a touch of irony, that when I grow up I want to be Charlotte Dujardin.  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Olympic Fever

My son pointing out that Dressage is, in fact,  #1!
So the Grand Prix portion of the London Olympics is complete, and I just want to say "Wow!".  There were so many really great rides this year.  I saw a lot of soft, relaxed rides.  I saw many correct extensions (as opposed to the "toe flinging", short-behind extensions of years past).  I saw a lot of loose curb reins.  Overall, I thought the performances were mostly good.  But, I tend to be a "glass half full" kind of gal.

I saw the "other" rides, too.  I know the controversy surrounding them.  And I will say that I did not like those rides, either.  But, I understand why they were scored the way they were.  The judges cannot just look at the horse's head and neck.  The judges cannot just look at the rider.  The judges must take the whole picture into account.  Those horses performed excellent tests, in spite of their riders, and those horses deserved the scores they earned.  It's important to remember that there are two competitors in the dressage arena, and sometimes one of the competitors is carrying the other.

I'm really looking forward to the Grand Prix Special.  I think many of the competitors in the first round were dealing with some "New Venue, Holy %^&*$&! We're At The Olympics!, Is That An Actual Cheering Crowd At A Dressage Event?!"  jitters and will settle down and put in some really good tests in the second round.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Dressage is #1!

Good luck to all the competitors in tomorrow's dressage competition!

(But especially team USA!)


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