On convalescence

This is not good writing. It set out with good intentions but then I got tired. Also because I can’t sustain energy it’s been written in instalments at times when I had different things to say. Read it or don’t read it, but please don’t judge.

I rather hope that what I’m doing now can more correctly be called convalescing than anything else, although that’s based on my feelings rather than any medical opinion (medical opinion being mostly unsure as to what’s going on with me).

I apologise for being less than present in terms of commenting and responding to comments. It doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate your well wishes, because I really do, and it doesn’t mean I’m not reading your posts, because I am. But everything is exhausting and that certainly includes navigating the quirks of a mobile interface and strong-arming a touch-screen into publishing the words I want, not the ones it thinks I might mean. (This post is bought to you by Mr S’s tablet (which is bigger than mine) and his lovely solid keyboard and case combining the two into a pseudo-laptop.)

Asides aside, to return to my point…

Society doesn’t seem to get convalescing these days. Classic novels are full of rest cures by the sea, nourishing broths and jellies and tisanes. But these days? One is expected to be either all out sick or back in the thick of things. Or possibly both.

I suppose to a certain extent there’s a socio-economic factor here; a Jane Austen heroine has no pressure to go back to work after all, and the grooms were already exercising her horses, so no pressure there either.

I suppose the niggling disquiet that’s prompting this post contains the following features

  • I have no time scale for when I will be well enough to return to my usual energetic and tiring life
  • Until someone can tell me what’s wrong I harbour the fear that someone somewhere thinks I’m a) faking it b) imagining it
  • None of my limbs are dropping off, I am not passing out and not infected or puking, so by my usual yardsticks I am not physically ill … but there is something physically wrong preventing me from being well. So there’s a hole in my logic, which always upsets me
  • Because I don’t have a diagnosis I don’t know what I should be doing. Should I try to go for a walk or is that detrimental? So I’m learning by doing and it feels like any exercise no matter how gentle is detrimental to my well being. But then I feel like I’m not trying to get well.

But on a more positive note I’m so grateful for my tablet and smartphone. Having a tiny lightweight portal to the outside world is invaluable. I have the whole of the internet at my fingertips without even having to sit up. I can draw on it without needing to locate drawing materials. I can read without having to hold up a book and keep the page open. I can while away the hours with casual gaming, such as aquarium simulators that make no demands on me, and I’ve begun to keep a health diary in it so that next time a doctor asks how long I’ve been having symptom X I’ll have some reference points.

I cannot imagine convalescing without television and portable internet access. Honestly it’s no wonder our predecessors went to the sea for a rest cure – they must have been so sick of the confines of their homes, without the view onto the outside world that our screens offer. But were I an upper class literary heroine I’d ask for blankets and a supportive chair to be taken out to the front of the house where I could watch my horses be trotted up in hand for my entertainment by my grooms. Perhaps the next day I’d have the head boy ride them in front of me to show me their paces. But you know what? I’ll settle for watching another dressage video on YouTube.

This is boring now

I am so bored of not being well enough to ride.

I think D is pretty bored of it too. On the plus side it’s progress that I feel well enough to wish I could ride, but there’s still a long path before I can get back on and bring him back to work.

I’m really lucky we’re still on summer turnout (i.e. out 17 hrs every day) so he’s not cooped up inside. I can’t afford to pay for him to be ridden as much as I’d like, but when my nominated staff member rides him it sounds like he feels fit and eager, fully recovered from his own health issues.

He’s also spent a lot of sessions on the lunge. He’s doing very nicely in the pessoa now and canters without drama or tantrums. He’s also been lunged without the pessoa over poles, both raised and flat, to give him something different to do.

When I’ve managed to get to see him he’s been unusually affectionate. When he sees me every day he doesn’t feel the need to groom me, but if it’s been a while I get a back massage if I scratch his withers. It’s nice to know he notices when I’m not around. I hope that soon I’ll feel well enough to start driving again so I can hang out with him more often, even if I can’t do much with him.

Lee Pearson and the long-bodied mare

On Lee Pearson’s lesson day I’d said I wouldn’t hang around the yard hoping I’d get a chance to see him, and I didn’t. I didn’t have any reason to because not long after I’d arrived on the yard a friend who was about to go in for her ‘Leeson’ invited me to come and watch. So I did.

He was running slightly late and we came in to the tail end of the previous lesson. I lurked in the corner, keeping out of the way until Lee spotted me. ‘l don’t have you down for a lesson, do I?’ he called. I went over to his corner of the school where he was seated in his white Landrover to talk to him. l explained that I was having some health issues and couldn’t ride. He said that although ‘paras’ don’t usually let the able bodied turn in a sick note he’d let me off this time. I asked if it was OK to watch the lesson and he was very encouraging and welcoming. l retreated to my corner and sat on the mounting block out of the way.

As usual the atmosphere was distinctly jovial and nothing was taken too seriously. There was banter about drinking champagne from pint glasses and about an innuendo that had Lee laughing his head off at the WEG in the warm up area. He remembered and teased the riders about things they’d said in previous lessons.

Also seated in the car with Lee was another dressage paralympian: Ricky Balshaw. Seated beside Lee, anyone seems quiet; so too did he, but he has a smile like the sun coming out.

The friend having the lesson is a small lady with a big long-bodied event mare. The problem she asked to work on was that in tests with a lot of canter she can’t get the downwards transition to trot when she needs it. The main focus of the way Lee approached this was by working on the nature of their canter; taking it from a long strided cross-county type canter (that the mare likes) to a collected canter (which she doesn’t). He encouraged my friend to add more ‘hand’ to her leg-hand balance and to rebuke her mare for powering on rudely through downward transitions. He had them work in a much slower canter than they are used to.

Every horse and human works hard in a lesson with Lee. That is a given. Neither horse nor human are allowed to get away with the bad habits they may not even know they had. Consequently you get a lot of sweat from both species. What I had not realised before is that you also get a lot of shocked expressions from both as well!

My favorite part of the lesson was when the rider was getting to grips with not letting her horse get away with rudely ploughing through downwards transition. After a couple of transitions where she didn’t get away with it I saw the moment where the mare’s eye suddenly changed as she realised that things had changed and she wasn’t going to be allowed to do that any more. The next downwards transition was perfectly obedient.

lt was fascinating to see the vast improvement over the 45 minutes. By the end they looked so different; the long horse looked so much shorter and the outline was lovely. It’s a shame that even with mirrors a rider can’t see what eyes on the ground can. I wonder whether next time I have a lesson with Lee perhaps I could get my husband to video it, assuming Lee is OK with that.

Sparrowgrass on location

I’m at the conference in Oxford. Here’s the view from my hotel window:


That’s also the same building that the conference is being held in: the examination rooms. Convenient!

This morning we had a gap in our schedules and wandered to the Bodleian Library where we saw an exhibition of 1st World War documents and then visited the shop and l bought a few postcards.


Last week I realised that I wanted to bring my tablet to the conference to make notes on, but then I wondered what bag to carry it in. Could I crochet one in time? What would I make it from? -It couldn’t be anything too stretchy or it wouldn’t be safe for my tablet. I settled on using string as being robust, cheap and non-stretchy. Being quite thick it would work up fast. But could I do it in time? Err… no.

But I didn’t let that stop me! I managed to do enough to have a basic bag and shoulder strap before l left home. I was travelling by train and stood on the platform with the strap around my neck, the ball of string in the bag, adding rows to the bag even as I wore it! By the time we arrived in Oxford the bag was finished enough to use at the conference the next day. I still wanted to add thickness (extra rows) to the strap, and worked an extra row on Monday night and was happier with it today (Tuesday). I may yet add more to the strap – l haven’t decided. Here it is in its current form.

The string gives the fabric enough weight that the flap hangs shut without needing a fastening. I would have liked a slightly longer flap but that ball of string ran out and I didn’t want a join where it might be visible. I’m really pleased with the way it’s come out. If time had not been a factor I’d have worked the strap differently but I’m still proud of the finished object.

Of course while I am away in Oxford I am missing my little black horse, so is it any wonder when l saw this postcard I had to buy it?
Despite the busy schedule here I’m starting to feel much better than I did a few days ago. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer before I’m well enough to ride.

The state of the onion

Drifter seems to be doing quite well. I say seems because I’m not really well enough to ride him. I’m having post-viral symptoms that, while I’ve had them before and I know they will pass, are going to be something I have to live carefully with over the next few weeks. I did ride on Sunday (before I’d realised what was going on with me) … and paid for it on Monday, so I won’t be trying again just yet.

Although I was a bit floppy and useless when I rode on Sunday, D was really rather good. The swelling had reduced and we had three gaits again. Each gait was not as good as it could be, but the improvement since Tuesday was astronomical.

I’m a bit hazy on what I did on what days, but I have been lungeing him. The first time I lunged him just in a headcollar to see how he’d move. The second time I lunged him over a trotting pole, which I was really pleased with because we hadn’t done that before and I imagined he might just go around it but he was very good. The third time I lunged in the (quite loose) pessoa in walk and trot, then took it off him to have a little canter. While he has cantered in the pessoa in the past he doesn’t have much experience at it yet and having barely cantered at all in the last couple of months he needs it to be easy and to be able to pick his own frame and balance. It’s hard enough that I have to keep him on the circle.

It was really interesting to see how much easier it was for him to be lunged naked compared to the pessoa, even in walk and trot. It is hard for him to work in an outline and it’s good for me to have that reminder. I expect it now when he’s ridden, but he’s still having to work to keep it for me although I might not always be mindful of that. Lungeing him in a headcollar was easy for both of us because the transitions were easy for him, so he obeyed my requests in a timely manner without me having to threaten or insist. Once the pessoa’s added everything’s harder for him, so the lunger needs to work harder to get him to change gaits.

Another unexpected lesson: next time I need to replace my lunge whip or my schooling whip I’ll make sure I get one in a different colour. I felt pretty stupid when I’d got out to the school with horse, lunge line and … oops that’s my purple schooling whip not my purple lungeing whip. Doh! Handily there was one I could borrow rather than traipsing back for mine.

It’s frustrating that when D’s back to a fitness level where he can work in three gaits, I’m not well enough to ride, but at the moment I’m too tired to care massively. Hopefully soon I’ll get back on soon if only in walk and trot at first.

On other matters, the tiny dot on his D’s sheath has not changed at all and I’ve seen similar little marks on other horses’ faces at least one of whom has had that dot on his face for years with no incident, so although I’ll continue to monitor it I’m a lot less concerned.

Sudocreming his sheath does seem to be cutting down the fly bites although some are still getting through. It also leads to an extremely greasy tail and I can see a lot of shampooing in my future!

I don’t have a Lee Pearson lesson this Saturday, which is just as well. I cancelled it some time ago because of D’s issues and I’m really glad I did now my health is like this. Much better to have cancelled with good warning than drop out at the last minute. On the other hand it would have been really nice to see him so soon after his triumphs at the World Equestrian Games (another 3 gold medals to add to his collection). Maybe I could drop in on him between his lessons but I’m not sure – at the moment I’m not feeling like hanging around the yard all day on the off-chance that I’ll get a chance to speak to him when I could be at home resting. He’s one of the few people who make me wish I was on Facebook – if I was I could send him a message instead. Currently top of his feed is that he has one lesson left on Saturday. Yep, that was mine originally!

I’m relieved that D’s doing so much better because I need to leave him for a few days to go on a conference for work and it is such a relief to know that he’s OK to be ridden normally now so I can just book him in for schooling. The staff member who’ll ride him knows all about his recent issues and not to expect him to be on his A game, especially in canter.

Apologies for the stream-of-consiousness style of this post. I don’t have enough energy for editing or clarity of thought! Also I’m aware that my sense of humour is doing wierd things – it’s not my fault, I’m sick. Normal service will be resumed … probably … at some point.

About a boy, or, The post where I focus on his sheath

To those of you not so much interested in the gentleman’s portion of the male horse, this post may well contain too much information. But as a lot of my thinking over the last few days has been focused on this area, so too is this blog post.

For any who are not clear on these matters, the horse’s penis, when not in use, telescopes back into the body and is contained within a pocket of skin known as the sheath, where it is protected and out of the way. Only the outer layer of skin on the sheath is exposed to the environment when the penis is fully retracted.

Recap on the situation with D:

A couple of months ago D fell over in canter. Common consent is that he wasn’t quite right beforehand, although there was nothing you could put your finger on. Post fall – walk was dodgy, trot was a no-go. The physio declared him sore in both withers and one hamstring and put it down to jarring injuries from hard fields. Gradually I bought him back to work until at the beginning of last week we were working happily in all three gaits again.

On Tuesday we were suddenly back with a bump to a dodgy walk and a no-go trot. What happened?

Well back at the original physio visit I remember telling her, “I imagine it’s unrelated, but his sheath is pretty swollen from fly bites.” She agreed it was probably fly bites and didn’t think it was related. It subsided as the weather changed and the flies were less of a problem as it was cooler with a lot of wind. But when the weather got warmer and the wind dropped the flies came back, they bit his sheath and it swelled. On Tuesday it was suddenly very swollen again. It could be a coincidence that on Tuesday he was suddenly unridable again, but I suspect not.

My theory, such as it is:

Flies bite sheath. Sheath swells in reaction. To avoid soreness, D stands with his weight over his front legs and his back legs in awkward positions and remains in these positions for hours, and walks funny when he moves, resulting in abnormal use of his muscles, leading to stiffness and soreness and being unable to trot safely with a rider aboard.

What to do?

Of course we had to have a thorough sheath cleaning to ensure it was just fly irritation and there were no foreign bodies tucked up inside him. Since that was ticked off the list I’ve spent a while cold hosing his sheath to bring down the inflammation, and getting him moving to aid his circulatory system in getting rid of the swelling. In terms of preventative measures his allergies to commercial fly repellents make things more difficult. Ideally I would use a fly-repellent-cream on his sheath but can’t really make one of those at home the way I do his fly spray. So we’ve started slathering his sheath in Sudocrem (a thick antiseptic cream marketed mainly for nappy rash but often used on the yard for cuts, minor skin ailments etc) in the hope that it will be a barrier that the flies won’t get through that easily. Some bloodsuckers are still getting through but I think it’s greatly reducing them. There also is something quite amusing about a black horse with bright white cream highlighting his nether regions!

I have spent so much time staring at his privates, and at those of other horses for comparison in the last few days. I am fortunate that he has no issues these days with my handling his junk and, considering his dislike of water, he’s been very good about the cold hosing.

The physio was supposed to come out on Friday but she was unable to make it because her own horse needed to see the vet. She’ll reschedule when she can. Not ideal but I can’t fault her excuse!

Unfortunately, all this intent inspection of his male anatomy has revealed a tiny area of concern. On the underside of the black skin of his sheath there is a tiny white growth, the size of the head of a pin, which is proud from the surrounding flesh. My fear is that it is a sarcoid tumour.  My hope is that it’s just an innocent wart. I photographed it today and will check it daily. If it starts growing or changing I will be getting the vet out to it sharpish. Sarcoids are a type of skin cancer thought to be caused by a virus transferred in fly bites and they are not uncommon. The tumours do not spread beyond the skin but they are difficult (and expensive) to treat and can be horrific. Based on the images on the internet (warning, do not image search it unless you have a seriously strong stomach and are feeling particularly brave and even then think twice, seriously) this does not look like any of the various types of sarcoid, but I will be watching it very closely. A friend whose horse has several sarcoids has looked at it and agrees that it might be, but equally it might not be. Because it’s on the underside of the sheath it’s not a place you usually see, so I’ve got no idea whether it’s just appeared or whether it’s been there for a while.

So if you see me bent down and staring at the underside of a horse, don’t be surprised – that seems to be my normal posture of late and I’m definitely going to be keeping an eye on things over the coming days and weeks!


P.S. I’m feeling a bit better myself and so more positive than when I last posted. Thanks for all your good wishes. I still haven’t felt well enough to try riding him again yet, but hopefully tomorrow I’ll be ready for that.

Oh for ****’s sake!

Rode last night. For unknown reason we have gone back to square 1. Dodgy unrhythmic walk, no left bend, terrifying or non existent trotting. He nearly fell on his nose when I asked for trot on the left rein.

To complete the picture and underline the return to where we were however many weeks ago l also have a cold, just like I did the first time.

Me: rest & blanket time. Retreat from world.
Him: Physio again Friday

Over & out