Monday, January 28, 2013

Cold Enough To Crack Eggs

It's been ridiculously cold here for the last week.  But, according to my crazy hens, it's not too cold lay eggs.  Two of them have been laying every day since the solstice.  Unfortunately it's been so cold that the eggs have been freezing and bursting before I get a chance to collect them.  That's pretty bleepin' cold!

Ordinarily, I'd be annoyed by the cold weather.  It's hard to ride when it's cold.  But I haven't been riding, so I haven't really minded.  I decided to have the steroid injections in my spine, and I decided that was a good excuse to not ride in the current arctic conditions.  So far they seem to have helped a bit, but I haven't been doing much, either. Tomorrow it's supposed to warm up and I'll return to riding and doing things outside.  We shall see how well the injections hold up to my normal activity level.

Since I've been laid up, I've been reading.  I'm still working my way through Dr. Hillary Clayton's "The Dynamic Horse".  It's a pretty heavy read, best taken in small chunks with lots of going back for review.  I'm also catching up on my Dressage Today articles.  I've got three months of issues laying around that I haven't even opened, other than to look at the pictures.  And I've been perusing the internet; watching videos from the World Dressage Masters, not blogging, wasting time on Facebook and Failblog, not blogging and reading articles about Yoga.

I've decided to up my Yoga practice.  I've always noticed that when I do my Yoga daily I feel much better.  With this in mind, I'm going to try to do a quick workout three times a day.  By "quick" I mean 10-15 minutes, just a few poses to help straighten, lengthen and loosen my spine and pelvis.  I usually do a few rounds of Sun Salutations every morning and try to fit in a 30-45 minute workout a few times a week.  I'm hoping that the quick workouts will be a little easier for me to make time for.  Anyway, as I was perusing the 'net for inspiration in my Yoga practice, I came across this article.  Although it's about Yoga, and more specifically about sciatica, I found it to also be a really good explanation of how riders need to use their pelvis and lower back (the "seat").  It also has some good stretches for loosening up the "seat" at the end. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Physiatrist

So, I went to see the Physiatrist on Monday.  A Physiatrist is someone who specializes in rehabilitative medicine and pain management.  She noted the arthritis on my MRI and performed several physical tests.  She attributes my pain to the significant arthritis in my lumbar spine.  She wants to inject my lumbar facet joints directly.

This is the end of the road for me, doctor-wise.  The Physiatrist, the Orthopedist, and my GI doctor have all said that my spinal degeneration is due to my IBD.  I am not a good surgical candidate. There is nothing they can do, other than manage my pain.

But, I'm unsure about having the injections.  They're going to cost a fortune, and many people say they didn't work for them.  The first injection they gave me sure didn't work, and I don't know if I want to take a chance on another.

Other than injections, all they can offer me is lidocaine patches, narcotics and topical anti-inflammatories.  I can't take oral anti-inflammatories, because of my IBD, Chiropractors have never helped, and I already do physical therapy.

This really sucks.  I won't lie, I've spent several days crying about it.  It's not fair.  I've got shit to do, I don't have time to be bothered by a bad back that's only going to get worse.  And I don't know what to do.  I don't know whether to spend a small fortune getting injections that may not work, or to just keep soldiering on and hoping the pain will subside.

I do know that crying doesn't work.  It just makes my eyes all puffy and then I look ugly.

I also know that I'm going to get Spider to PSG, whatever it takes.  I've come too far and I've done too much to give up now.  Besides, my back doesn't hurt when I ride.  It's the tacking up, mounting and dismounting that do me in.

When I ride, my horse lends me his body for a little while.  I get to trade in my battered, broken, aching body for his strong, supple one.  That's better than all the narcotics and injections in the world.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Consistency Is Key

"Consistency" is one of the first concepts you hear when you learn to train animals.  It's drilled into you that you must be consistent.  But, what does that mean?

I used to think it meant riding on a rigid, frequent schedule.  That's what I was always taught.  "You must have the horse in a regular program of exercise to do well, a program such as:  Monday-Thursday arena work, Friday jumping, Saturday hacking, Sunday off!"  I was taught that this would make the well-rounded, well-trained, champion equine that we all want.  And it will, if you're a professional trainer or independently wealthy person who can set aside time for such things.

Most riders I know lament the amount of time they spend not riding their horses.  Most riders I know have other things that they must do besides riding their horse, usually working a job, or taking care of children or farms or some combination of all three.  A six day a week training schedule just doesn't suit their lifestyle.  It sure doesn't suit mine!

Luckily, "consistency" doesn't have to be about time spent.  It can also define the quality of the ride.

I don't ride 6 days a week.  I don't even try to anymore.  That is just not realistic.  I've got a farm to run, a household to run, two young children to parent, and a host of health problems.  I'm doing really good to get four rides in a week.  Sometimes a week or more passes in between my rides.  But, that's OK.  I keep moving forward.

What I do, instead of riding six days a week, is to really ride every step when I am able to get in the saddle.  My consistency doesn't come from the frequency of my riding, but from the quality I bring to every ride.  I don't screw around.  I don't make excuses.  I plant my rump in the saddle and make the most of it.

When you don't ride every day, it becomes easy to make excuses.  "I'm tired. "I had a bad day." "I'm out of shape." "My horse is out of shape."  "My horse has probably forgotten everything, he can't do the work."  Those excuses are inconsistencies, inconsistencies in training.

Every time we sit on a horse, we are training.  It doesn't matter if whether we sit on that horse once week or six days a week, for 15 minutes or for two hours, every ride is training.  When we make excuses, we train the horse that the work doesn't matter.  That won't get you anywhere.  And it certainly won't make your horse a willing, respectful partner. A willing, respectful partner believes that the work is just as important to him as it is you.

That's not to say that I'm constantly drilling arena work.  We go on trail rides and jump over logs in the woods.  I set up little jump courses in the arena.  We take gallops through the neighbor's hay field.  But, even when we're having fun, I make sure my horse is obedient and stays forward and round.  No falling on the forehand, no rushing around.... the work must be good so that he learns the the right way.

I don't always ride very long, either.  I often don't have time for more than 15 minutes in the saddle.  I make the most of it by doing transitions.  I ride figure eights or serpentines around the arena and do a transition every few steps (usually walk-trot-walk).  I make sure the transitions are quiet and soft, no head flinging or sucking back, then we quit for the day.  Those 15 minutes of transitions are an exercise in obedience, more than anything.  I'm not really building muscle or stamina in such a short time, but Spider remembers the lesson and, when I do have time for more intense workouts, he is much more willing and responsive.

Most importantly, I make sure that I consistently love what we're doing.  Even if we're just doing 15 minutes of transitions, even when it's raining or freezing cold or steaming hot, I am consistent in my enthusiasm and love of the time I get to spend my horse.  Of course, consistent training makes it a lot easier to love the time I spend with my horse....

There is a saying: "If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life."  Riding shouldn't be work.  Riding is an all-consuming passion, an addiction that never lets you go.  If it becomes work, it becomes torture.  I am a lucky person, to have a horse in my life, and I should never forget that.

For Leontien.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Adult Amateur Dressage Iniatitave

Once upon a time, in a galaxy, far, far away.....

I was a "professional".  I put that in quotes because I wasn't a very good professional.  I was a working student for a while, then a barn manager. I rode sale horses and exercised clients' horses for the training barns I worked at. I was small potatoes, just a cog in the wheel.... but I got paid to ride, and was therefore a "professional" in the eyes of the USEF.

Then I was injured, and not able to continue riding for (very little) profit.  I joined the ranks of the Adult Amateur.

I want to apologize for every time I disparaged the Adult Amateur when I was a "pro".  I thought you guys had it easy.  I was cleaning 20 stalls every day, handling 20 horses every day and riding 5-10 horses every day, and you guys were showing up for just a couple hours a few days a week.  Little did I know....

Cleaning stalls kept me fit, riding and handling all those horses gave me much-needed experience and kept me thinking on my feet.  It was hard work, being a "Pro", but not as hard as trying to train just one horse as an Adult Amateur.   That's a whole different game, with a different set of challenges.  Challenges that many within the dressage community refuse to acknowledge.

Every year I pay my USDF/USEF dues.  I get my Amateur card.  I get my copy of the rulebooks.  I get an email of current goings-on.  I don't have to pay an extra fee to show.  I can score a couple percentage points lower than the Pros to qualify for Championships, and that's pretty much all I get.  And that's kind of lame.

Adult Amateurs make up a majority portion of the membership of both USEF and USDF.  Why are we so under-represented in the organizations?  Why don't we have our own clinic series, addressing our unique needs, the way the Pros and the JR/YRs do? The USEF and USDF spend a lot of time and money developing JR/YRs and most of those JR/YRs go on to become AAs, why are they dropping them?

I don't know the answers to those questions, although I highly suspect it comes down to "money" and "sponsorships". The USEF Dressage Committee has recently gotten the ball rolling by forming an Adult Amateur Sub-committee, tasked with helping the AA community in dressage reach their goals.  It's a nice start, but we need more.  The AAs themselves need to start speaking up.  We need to start telling the USEF and USDF what we need.  And we have!

One of the Facebook groups I belong to recently started organizing the Adult Amateur Dressage Initiative.  The group was founded to lobby the USEF and USDF for quality development of the Amateur community. Our mission statement is this:

"This page is for the advancement of the Adult Amateur Dressage Rider. Our aim is to attract USDF and USEF members to this site in order to discuss and develop ideas that we will present, as a united front, to our national organizations to implement FOR US! We are working for greater recognition in the programing for, and funding of, the Adult Amateur Dressage Riders in the USA by the USDF and the USEF. We are lobbying our national organizations for parity in educational programs, funds, grants, transitional classes to rise through USDF and FEI levels, equal access to elite clinics, equal representation as riders in said clinics, and, consequently, in the recognized competitions. As the majority members, and the absolute economic base of these oganizations, we are committed to bettering the education, the riding, the training, the competition opportunities, and the overall quality of the American Adult Amateur Dressage Community. We are open to any Adult Amateur Rider, any Professional, Judge, or Licensed Official interested in supporting our Goals."

So, if you Facebook, get on over to and join the group.  We want to hear everyone's opinions on how to make the AA dressage community better!  And, if you don't Facebook, get with the times!  Even my 80 year old grandpa has a Facebook, yeesh!

Just kidding!  While this movement started on Facebook, and currently has it's entire web presence there, it will eventually move to it's own site.  I'll keep you updated on that.  Like all grassroots movements, it takes a little time to get things organized and moving in one direction.  But, I think that this particular movement is one with a lot of potential.  I believe in it enough that I got myself on the Steering Committee!  

Friday, January 4, 2013

A New Year

Happy New Year!

It couldn't have come soon enough!  Last year was rather a bust for me, what with being sick and messing up my back again.  But now it's a new year, and I'm looking forward.

I've got an appointment with a Physiatrist (a doctor who specializes in rehabilitation and pain management) set for the 14th.  The bruise on my rump from the steroid shot has finally healed and, while my back is still bothering me a little, it's not nearly as bad as it was.  Spider continues to be a Dressage Superstar.  This is going to be a good year.

Last year I set my goal as showing 3rd level.  And I achieved that goal, albeit not well (although, I should get bonus points for showing during the beginning stages of a hurricane!).  This year I'm setting a new goal: PSG.  For the first time since I broke my back, I really feel like I can do this.  I mean, really, if you had asked me back then if I thought I would be able to train Spider well enough to get through a 3rd Level test, I would have laughed at you.  Or possibly burst into tears.  Either way, I wouldn't have believed myself capable of it.  It took seven years to get this far, but I did it.  I'm confident that I can get him to PSG.  It might be during a hurricane, I might not do well, but I'm going to have that horse do a PSG test by the end of this year.


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