Getting stronger. Part 2

Drifter saw the physio! Hurray! He’s feeling much better now, although it’s clear from his work that he’s lost muscle strength while he wasn’t moving properly. I haven’t had a chance to ask for too much yet, as he was on light duties post treatment, but it will need some work for us to get back to a nice balanced horse who can work nicely, bent or straight, on each rein. And I have no idea what to expect from the canter! It’s a bit frustrating that if he’d seen the physio when she was first supposed to see him he wouldn’t have had much muscle loss, but it can’t be helped.

I realised that we’re both in the same boat, he and I. We’re both going to be rebuilding lost muscle. Things we used to do are harder now, but we can still get back there. It’s just another part of our journey that we take do together.

I’m really starting to see the strong pattern of when he gets bad – it’s usually just after I have a cold or some other reason why I’m not maintaining his usual exercise patterns. I always make sure he gets out of his stable every day – if it’s not a day he gets some turnout then he will be either ridden, lunged or hand-walked, but it’s obviously not enough. I think I’m going to have to be quicker to put my hand in my pocket to get him schooled. At the moment if I have a cold his week might look like:

Saturday: Turned out for a few hrs
Sunday: I get on and force myself to make him do something for 20 min.
Monday: handwalked for 15 min.
Tuesday: Turned out for a few hrs
Wednesday: Schooled by staff (30 min., incl. tack up & untack)
Thursday: Turned out for a few hrs
Friday: I make a half-hearted attempt at lungeing him in a head-collar because anything else is too much for me. He goes like a bored antelope but hey, he’s moving, and he’s out of the stable and those are my targets!

I’ve never thought this was “enough” exercise, but I have hoped it was enough to stop anything bad happening, just while I get through another cold. When I feel better and expect him to work properly again, he’s all stiff and awkward and just can’t do what I’m asking for. People think I’m being over fussy and tell me it won’t hurt him to stand in his stable all day, but it does hurt him! With the single annual exception of Christmas Day (that’s a whole other kettle of fish) I never let him stand in all day and night. Even through all my health issues, by hook, crook or not inconsiderable expenditure, I have made sure he gets out of the stable every day. And it’s still not enough.

The majority of owners on the yard don’t fuss if their horse is in for 24 hours, 48 hours or even more when the weather’s inclement and turnout is cancelled. I’m jealous that they can be like that and get away with it. At least one person who does that has a horse who still moves fantastically when she does get him out. I know all horses are different but it’s hard to be the (only?) one who always turns up in the rain, when I’m not feeling 100% or when it’s really inconvenient to me, to make sure he gets out of the stable, and I’m still the one whose horse is suffering because he’s not getting as much movement as he needs.

I can’t move him to a yard with more turnout because in every other way this yard is perfect for my needs. I have considered getting a sharer, but as Mr S points out, I would find that very stressful. I am a control freak and would almost certainly be perpetually upset by the behaviour of even the most considerate loaner, because they would not be me! He generously said that he’d rather pay for extra schooling costs than endure the extra stress on me!

Anyway, this is mostly just a whinge. The bottom line, which I already knew, is that Drifter and I need to do more exercise. For the next few months while he’s on Summer turnout patterns (weather permitting) it won’t put too much pressure on me, which is lucky. Hopefully by the time we go back to the dreaded winter pattern I’ll be strong enough and fit enough to keep up, as well as quick enough to book him in for schooling or hacking. If I’m not well enough to give him the proper exercise he needs, I have to pay someone else to do it. And I have to remember to get help with him rather than pushing myself when I’m not well because if I have a relapse that’s really detrimental to his exercise regime.

Whinges aside, I’m glad we can start working properly again. I’m going to try to gradually increase what I can do in the saddle, and balance it with in-hand work. The in-hand long walks will strengthen both of us while giving my riding muscles a day off and I can do a ridden session until I’m tired and then get off and extend the time he’s out of the stable with in-hand work without wearing myself out too much. When he’s a bit stronger I’ll re-introduce pessoa lunging as well. We’re back on the right track now, I very much hope!

Getting stronger. Part 1.

I am getting stronger. It’s really strange to me that now I can jog up the stairs to get that thing I forgot, but stranger still is that I go to bed every night with a very slight post-exercise feeling of muscle tiredness. And when I wake, I feel a tiny bit stronger all over. I’m not really doing that much exercise, but everything is exercise for the body that got used to doing nothing.

In so many ways I find that I’d forgotten how my body used to run itself, and now that the old ways are returning it’s rather strange but rather wonderful.

Of course now I’m watching my muscles filling out again I realise things like how much more my right arm gets to do in normal life compared to my left arm, which is still skinny and flabby. When I groom Drifter I’m trying to use my left arm some of the time, but that’s too big of a challenge to do for more than a very brief time. What it can do is crochet: I am now an ambidextrous crocheter … although I have to admit my right hand knows a lot of stitches and my right hand currently only knows one. You might be surprised to know there’s actually a crochet technique that utilises alternate right and left hand rows. Here is an item I created using the technique.

Yes, I posted a picture of my beaver on the internet. (Why do I feel that anyone searching for those terms might be disappointed?)

Anyway, this is my first attempt at tapestry crochet worked with alternate hands and I have to say I think it’s not bad at all. I’m going to do another panel by the same designer in the same technique and then add borders and join them to make a cover for our large coffee table. These pattern charts are available for free which I think is amazingly generous because they are such beautiful designs. Also they work for quite a few different techniques so you don’t have to work with alternate hands unless you want to!

Just ticking over

Unfortunately the physio stood us up on Friday. To quote Forest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

So how is Drifter? He’s still very stiff. He’s awkward turning in a small space and struggles walking downhill. I haven’t tried trotting under saddle for a while because it scares me. Going for long walks in hand really seems to help, although if they get too long it’s too much for me and I end up with swollen ankles, achy legs and (after prioritising dry feet over comfy ones the other day) blisters. Sigh. But if I’m feeling energetic he’ll trot in hand fairly happily.

The really positive news for him is that it’s officially summer on the yard – we’re on Summer Turnout now! Hurray! The weather’s not been that clement, but nevertheless they’ve been out for 17 hours overnight, every night rather than a measly few hours 3 times a week. This has really taken the pressure off me to keep him moving and I definitely think it’s helping him.

Work has been quite interesting lately, which is great, but it’s been really hard to keep it from taking all the energy I have. How are you supposed to slow down when there are deadlines attached and the things that you’re doing for the deadline are actually fun?! This past week it’s been very hard to do anything outside of work so I’ve been really lucky the horses were out overnight.

We had a walk together on Saturday and it was quite windy. There’s no way I’d hack on the roads when it’s windy but in-hand I had a wary confidence rather than all out fear. He was quite jumpy as we left the yard because, in addition to the wind, a newish mare pony decided it was awful that he was going without her and they called to each other half way up the road. We got to the first T-junction and a plastic bag was “running” along the grass verge in the wind. Drifter suggested that we go home, sharpish. I voted for standing still and looking at it, and in a very short space of time Drifter was ready to follow it curiously to see what he could learn from it. It blew up and flew in front of us, travelling along the middle of the lane, and we followed it at a safe but curious distance. Eventually it descended to earth for long enough for me to get a foot on it and defeat the monster. I’d have liked to get him to sniff it while I had it pinned down, but there was a car coming so I had to scoop up the bag and hustle D into a passing place so we weren’t stood in the middle of the single track lane, blocking the way and sniffing an Asda bag that might or might not eat horses. We continued on our walk with no further incidents.

If we can cope with monsters and cars in quick succession, even a windy day holds no fear :)

Back on the rollercoaster. A long post.

Unfortunately Drifter still hasn’t seen the physio. That’s a story I’m not going into. While we wait, we’ve carried on with gentle rides where I ask very gradually to see what he can give me while we keep him moving to avoid stiffness. We went for a lovely in-hand walk at the weekend as well, this time going through the village.

The Village Hack, as it is known, is shorter than The Belfry (which is the way I usually go) but I very rarely do it because I hate the parked cars by the village shop, which go around the corner with a nasty blind bend, so everyone is on the same side of the road with blind corners and it does not make me happy. I hate being a vehicle there, whether I’m in my car or on my horse. Apparently though, I’m absolutely fine with being a pedestrian. It’s really odd, but going through that part of the route I felt fine as a pedestrian with a horse in hand, striding down the middle of the only part of road available. As we carried on through the residential bit afterwards I felt so proud to be out in the sunshine with my shiny, beautiful and obedient horse. I never feel proud when I’m hacking. I feel scared and embarrassed and somehow in the way, even when there are no other road users in sight. It was really nice to be out enjoying the sights and sounds and sunshine with my shiny horse-boy for company.

But I had to get back on the next day to get him to work a little. After a busy Monday at work I was not in the mood for much riding – I planned to hop on, do a very little work and hop off again. Hah. Fate heard me again.

After a quick groom and tack up, I mounted near the H/C corner and we walked along the short side towards the C/M corner. This walk was tight and uncomfortable. Drifter was definitely not happy, but perhaps he’d relax into it? We reached the C/M corner and instead of turning around it to proceed, he stopped. I nudged him and he bucked. And bucked. And bucked. Not with any great force, but with a consistent insistence. If I asked him to come out of the corner, which was the only way to go, he bucked. I wanted to get off, but the fence was there on our left hand. I couldn’t get down unless he came out of the corner and he seemed quite firm that he did not want to come out of the corner. So I held onto the saddle, asked and he bucked his little bucks of refusal. I didn’t feel in any danger of coming off, unless he was going to ramp it up a lot more, but it was not a great situation. I could hear a staff member within shouting distance so I asked her to bring lunge line and whip (deja vu anyone?) so if I managed to get off I’d be able to assess him from the ground.

For some reason, this request seemed to be the trigger he needed to get out of the corner. He set off suddenly in a panicky trot, interspersed with a few tiny bucks. I was not letting go of the saddle, because I had no idea what was going to come next and sat in to wait untill he stopped, doing little in the way of asking for anything apart from suggesting he come away from the fence. Eventually we negotiated a stop away from the fence and I got off.

Lunging gear arrived, I ran up the stirrups, swapped the reins for the line and started lunging on the left rein; he was stiff but not awful and not bucking. So I switched him over to the right rein. Head up, he squealed and immediately went into “running away trot.” So I had a horse that couldn’t bend/turn right, but could manage left. That explained why we got stuck in the corner.

What could I do now? I knew I was supposed to keep him in ridden work, but I was not happy to get back on a horse that was obviously only able to turn in one direction. I took him out of the school to find someone for advice.

A staff member who I don’t know that well suggested I trot him up for her and then suggested the saddle might be a problem. “Oh no”, I said confidently, “It’s only two and a half weeks since we had [the saddle fitter] out.” But as I spoke her hands were under the saddle, finding a tightness over, (did you guess it?), the right shoulder.

I felt really stupid for not finding that myself, and have given myself a sharp talking to about it. I do trust my saddle fitter. I do believe she is very good at her job and I will still use her again. I also believe even the best of us make mistakes or have off days, and I think this is what happened here.I do not believe that in less than three weeks he put on much weight, particularly as I reduced his food two weeks ago and the grass in their field is eaten so short there’s virtually nothing there.

I took the saddle off. I lunged him in each direction. He was a different horse. He still didn’t move brilliantly (but we know he’s sore at the back) but he was so much calmer. In fact, he didn’t want to move. When I tried lunging in the saddle he wasn’t interested in walking because he needed to run away. Without the saddle he just wasn’t interested in moving at all, but in a lazy way that was far more positive than the panicky trotting.

So, the saddle. Choirs of angels sang the praises of the Bates adjustable air flocking system. I knew that when we saw the saddle fitter she’d inserted a pair of inserts and I knew how to get them out again. Once I had tracked down a suitable screwdriver to borrow from the yard (I keep meaning to buy one to keep with my stuff in the tack room but it hasn’t happened yet) I opened it up and had a look. She’d put in 8mm inserts. Rather than just whipping those out I switched them over for some 4 mm ones we’d used before so the saddle would be that little bit wider at the front pads. I put everything back together and tried it on him. It looked good and felt good.

I got back on. Once he got over his initial expectation of discomfort Drifter relaxed. What a relief. We were back to just having issues at the back-end, which we know about and can deal with. We had a decent-ish ride. I am supposed to try for all three gaits, so we had a little canter in each direction, even though it’s rather unbalanced and unpleasant to ride. Unfortunately on the left rein he had a little stumble. It wasn’t enough for either of us to fall, but after it he was reluctant to do much more work (he was happy to slob around on a loose rein, but resisted my shortening it, which is not like him), so I suspect he may have some soreness from the stumble now as well. Argh! To be honest though I’d had more than enough myself, so we just wandered around on the long rein for a bit so he could stretch everything out.

I’m used to horse owning being a rollercoaster, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been up and down so much in one evening!

The next he was turned out but not ridden. When I got on the day after that he felt really weird. I felt like his right hip was really coming up and forwards under me but the left side wasn’t moving much. I walked for a bit to see if it would go away, and then got off. In hand he was stiff, particularly turning, but trotted up sound. Actually I think he hides it better in a trot up than in a walk, but all advice was to get back on and take it easy, which I did, and the oddness did reduce over the ride as he moved through the stiffness. I know that when the physio comes she will wave her magic wand and he’ll be back to feeling fabulous, but the waiting is not easy. Hopefully next week…

I suppose the silver lining is that this is stopping me from overdoing it in the saddle. Meh. The chance would be a fine thing!

Two types of bucking

Someone told me something yesterday. It goes like this:

There are 2 kinds of bucking under saddle:

1) I have a problem, so I cannot do what you are asking.

2) Get off my back you evil **** !!

I hope to always respond helpfully to the first kind, in order that my chances of meeting the second kind are heavily reduced!

Nothing new except my perspective

I started drafting this over a week ago, so it’s a bit out of date, but here it is anyway. Some of it needs a rewrite, but it’s not going to happen any time soon, so I’m just posting it as is.

I got another cold, which is why I’ve been a bit quiet. The good news is that this one didn’t affect me too much and I continued to be mostly functional throughout. That said, I did outsource D’s exercise and get him schooled.

So after a few days’ break I came back to the horse I’d left feeling as healthy as [insert comparison of choice] and found him … grumpy as hell. I got on board and we had the following gears, all as a response to asking for a warmup walk: tight little walk, hollow grumpy trot or “I’m about to buck” weird movements. He did not actually buck but after less than a lap of the school like this I needed a new plan.

I knew one major factor in his foul mood was that it was dinner time and he was in the school rather than being fed. When I am at work, several times a week he gets fed late so I can ride on those days without waiting for him to digest. He’s never liked this, but usually once we start working he sighs and forgets his bad mood. However because it’s so very long since I regularly worked full-time, and hence delayed his dinner, I wasn’t surprised that he was cross. Also, I know at this time of year if he’s not very well exercised he’s going to have to do something with all the energy, so I put his behaviour down to a bad mood powered by a lot of excess energy.

I got off. I have no illusions about my sticking power should the buck threats become actual bucks and I have no desire to have him learn he could remove me from his back if he put some effort in. We stayed in the school, because if we left the school he’d won, and from there I called for a member of staff to bring me my lunging gear (I did apologise and explain why).

I lunged him to get the sillies out. Unexpectedly, there was not much sign of temper or excess energy on the lunge. He was pretty sensible … although not going well.

I got back on. And immediately he was tight and unwilling. He didn’t bother with the buck threats but the walk was dreadful – tiny little steps. He responded to any leg with a hollow crappy trot. I stayed on for a bit, to see what he had, and then I got off again and started looking for pain in his right hind quarter. Yup. He’s sore again. With hindsight I should have seen the signs on the lunge, but I wasn’t really looking at how he went, because I was expecting him to be a bit of a nuisance behaviour-wise.

Oh Fates, why have you determined that this horse and I should never be fit and well at the same time?!


Actually I’m not upset. It’s annoying, but we know we can manage this. Hopefully he’ll see the physio tomorrow and she’ll work her wonders on him.

Between the diagnostic ride above and the time of writing we had a couple more rides. He’s always prescribed exercise to fix this, so I don’t have to worry about working him, and I know to revise my expectations. I don’t expect him to properly step under and take weight towards his back-end, because that’s what hurts. I do expect him to listen and try. I don’t expect the full range of exercises I would ask for at other times. I do expect him to try to trust me not to break him.

So for these rides I’ve been totally focussed on asking him to relax and trust me. If I have a muscular issue, the worst thing is tensing up for fear it will hurt. The only way to ease out the muscle is to relax and let it stretch. I can’t imagine it’s any different for him. I realised I was riding in such a way as to try to help him to yoga himself. If he didn’t trot in relaxation, back to walk and try again. If I asked for anything and he gave a non-relaxed reaction I cancelled the request and I think over the course of the rides he started to get the message that I cared more about him doing things with relaxation than doing them “well” or instantly. Each time, by the end of the ride, he was stepping under himself far better, without me having demanded he step under at any point. He’d just relaxed enough and stretched enough that now he could step under much better with the sore leg. At the beginning of the first session every aid I gave was met with “I can’t! I might break!” but I kept asking him to trust and not to panic, and eventually he found that he could trust, he could relax, and he could stretch and step under a little more.

Hopefully he’ll get fixed again quickly and be back to feeling on top of the world. But until then, we can work on trust and relaxation. It’s all a part of the journey.