Lunging, riding and a smart re-clip

I was delighted to find that the sharp new clipper blades had been employed to good effect. As usual the photography is poor, but it’s hard to get a picture of a large animal in a very confined space after dark on a not-too-great mobile camera and I tried my best. You’ve already seen one of the not-quite-what-I-intended photos as the Halloween post.wpid-20131026_184118.jpg

This time they took more off the tummy and sides, which I’m really pleased about. I wanted to keep his legs and back end fully fuzzy, but he did still get quite hot after the first clip, so this seems like a good compromise. I do love his leg-warmers, which is why I’m posting this otherwise terrible picture! – to show you the thickness of the furry legs!wpid-20131026_184037.jpg

As mentioned previously, because of the physio & chiro rest days I haven’t been riding much. On Saturday night I got him groomed and pessoa-ed up for a lunge. It was dark and windy. We started with plenty of easy walking and stepped it up to trotting with some trot/walk transitions (these are much easier in the pessoa than side reins but he still has a tendency to keep trotting and trotting). He was getting much more confident trotting in the pessoa, so as we went on I tightened it gradually, thinking we would do a few more sessions in trot and then we could think about trying to introduce the canter, on the easy rein first. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, it was very dark and really rather windy. We were in the big school which has a large tree alongside it. The big tree did what big trees do in wind – it waved itself suddenly and (apparently) very alarmingly just as he was passing it. Drifter tried to put his head in the air and get away from the tree-monster with a canter stride or two. Of course he found that his head was tied down and his back end tied in. As you would expect in this situation, he started bucking.

I have spent some time watching YouTube videos of horses in pessoas and of them bucking in pessoas. In every one of these bucking videos I’ve seen, the horse does handstands while kicking out the back legs to free the back end from the strap around the hocks. There’s even one video in which the horse has got the hand of freeing herself and manages to get the back end off.

Not my little boy.

He went pronking. Yes, that’s a word. In case you’re not sure what it is, here’s a picture:Springbok_pronk

If a picture’s not doing it for you and you need a video, here’s the footage that introduced me to the concept of pronking in the first place.

I’m not sure wetting yourself with laughter is the approved response when your horse is bucking on the end of a lunge line, but honestly, he was hilarious. He pronked neatly for about 1/3 of a circuit, never putting any extra tension on the lunge line, keeping a neater circle than he usually does in his regular gaits before settling back into a fast trot. I put him straight back into the transitions as if nothing had happened and it was indeed as if nothing had happened.

I left the experience rather amused but thinking that perhaps it would be better to try an official canter attempt sooner rather than later, so that we would be better prepared for any more unexpected canters. I wanted him to be doing a little better in trot but I didn’t think we were far off a first little attempt, even though it would be a while before I’d regularly ask him to work in canter in it.

When I rode next I was pleasantly surprised with our mutual responsiveness. We were alone in the newly surfaced sand school but it was very deep and churned up so I thought maybe it would be best not to canter but to work in walk and trot. With our new-found abilities to move our bodies freely, we feel a little like a new horse and rider getting to know each other. Previous givens are no longer as they were. So walk and trot were more than enough to keep us busy. In fact, had it been only my interests I had to please, we could probably have done the whole session in walk, but he needs the chance to move out, so of course we did plenty of trotting too. In walk and trot he was forward, round and better balanced than I’m used to. I was focusing on how he moved, mainly going large with the occasional circle, centre line, serpentine or shallow loop. Then I thought I’d try running the walk-trot dressage test, which we hadn’t touched since August. It was hard. When it came to putting the movements together all our good form fell away. He rushed, I was unbalanced and struggled to steady him. He lost his roundness and bend, I overcompensated and ended up affecting directional control trying to get the bend back. Hmm. Not quite ready for all that yet are we? Back to mainly going large, and trying to do one good circle once he’s moving well on the straight.

The next time we met it was back on the lunge. Again the weather was poor and the school was soaking, but he was doing well enough in trot that I thought I might ask for a canter transition and see what happened. Only on his happy side, of course. So what did happen? Proper handstand bucking pulling me across the school happened initially, but only for a few seconds. Then he got into a very quick canter while I praised, soothed and tried to slow him down. Was it the way I’d want him to work regularly? No, not at all. Was I proud of him for getting it quickly without making more of a fuss? Yes, I certainly was. It’s hard for him to canter on the lunge, even without the pessoa, even on his happy rein, so he did better than I expected. Some of the excess speed was from the startling feeling of striking off in the pessoa, but some of it is just his usual “I don’t feel balanced so I rush and rush”. He stayed in canter for quite a while (I’d been asking for him to slow down almost since he’d got his canter, so this was not a case of me keeping him in canter!) and when he came back down the gears we started the cool down. I considered taking everything off and cantering him on the difficult rein without the pessoa, but decided against it. Now I intend to let that session “sit”. He’s done it now, so he knows he can canter in it. I don’t think he’s ready to work that way yet, but if we have another spook related incident in the pessoa he now knows how to canter in it. We’ll work in walk and trot with it until he’s stronger and then reintroduce the canter in the future.

Next time I rode. Again, I found walk fascinating. As I mentioned in the previous post he has a habit of leaning on the rider’s arm through the left rein which I had been not feeling because of the stiff part of my upper left back. I think I’d just been setting that unfeeling stiffness against his leaning. This ride, for the first time, I managed not to do that at all. All the time I was riding I was mindful of that part of my back and keeping him from doing that. For the first time I had the feeling my instructor described where you feel like you’re holding directly onto the bit rings rather than to the reins. I really had the feel of his mouth as if I was that directly joined to him rather than through the reins. It was hard. For both of us. He struggled to carry himself because he wanted to lean on me and I wouldn’t let him. I had to have a constant focus on it. I found that when we were on the track and I was asking for a slight inside bend, regardless of direction, he was OK with that (perhaps suggesting I’m letting him lean on the outside rein while asking for inside bend?) but when I tried a centre-line, 3/4 line or diagonal he really struggled to hold himself and be straight. I found this really interesting and would have loved to work longer, but after 20 min. I  felt that I couldn’t really carry on because it was exhausting me. At the time I felt like a wuss, as I cooled him down on the buckle, and wished I could have worked for longer.

But a couple of hours afterwards I was really glad I stopped when I did. My left shoulder was really painful! I’m pretty sure that throughout the 2 yrs and 6 months that I’ve been riding, every time I rode I’ve taken the weight of the contact through that stiff bit of my back. The muscles that should have been working in that shoulder and strengthening every time I rode had never worked before. No wonder after 20 min. I felt like I couldn’t do any more. The wonder is how I managed a full 20 min of hard use on those muscles before I stopped. I iced the shoulder and went to bed.

In the morning it was sore enough that I was mildly worried I’d done more than just overwork it. It really hurt and there were certain positions in which I just couldn’t hold the arm up with it. But I thought it was probably just extreme muscle soreness and spend large portions of the day consuming protein to rebuild it, and planning to ride again that night. Driving from work to the stable  I was begging lights to change so that I wouldn’t have to move my left arm to change gear, and planning my route to minimise gear changes. At some point on the journey I decided that riding like this wasn’t going to do anything constructive for either of us. Much as it galled me not to improve on the work we’d been doing, and much as I wanted him to have a work out after the short session the day before, I had to accept I just wasn’t capable. It was particularly galling because if I’d realised earlier that I couldn’t ride, I could have gone out straight from work for drinks with a friend. I have to say I really feel that he hasn’t had as much exercise as he should this week, but I suppose it won’t hurt for just one week. It will get easier to increase his exercise as a) the physio’s happy with his progress and doesn’t want to see him again for 3-4 months, so he won’t be on light duties again (touch wood) and b) I suspect that dropping my chiro sessions from twice a week to once a week will be happening very soon, so I’ll have half as many days in the week when I can’t ride from that point of view.

The next day, today, my shoulder is feeling much better. It’s still very painful in certain positions, but it’s just muscle soreness that will heal itself quickly enough. I won’t be riding today but lunging again because I saw the chiropractor again this morning. He’s pleased with my progress and my next session with him will be an assessment of how far I’ve come since I started with him a few weeks ago. Honestly I don’t care whether he’s pleased or not – I’m delighted. Yes I think there’s still room for improvement, but the benefits have been so much greater than I would ever have dared hope. I feel like every day now I get up out of the right side of the bed. I feel like the best bits of a relaxing holiday without having to travel anywhere. I’ve turned into a chiropractic evangelist! Now if I can just get that shoulder stronger so it doesn’t try to drop off every time I ride for 20 minutes, I’ll be pretty impressed with my body.

We went shopping in TKMaxx after we’d been to the chiropractor, as I was in need of an evening dress or 2. I got 3 as it happens, all reduced and all more in the cocktail dress line of things rather than full length. Mr S goes to a surprising number of evening events and so I have to be kept in dresses so as not to let the side down. Anyway, to get to the point of this apparently off topic digression; as well as feeling much better, I think my body looks much better. Trying on various dresses I felt that every one looked much better on me than they would have in the past. It’s no great surprise that one looks more like the classical ideal of beauty with level hips and shoulders, with a straight upright neck and generally with everything lining up, but it’s another very pleasant side effect. Before my first session I read the brochure, “What to expect from your treatment” but nowhere was I warned that side effects might include feeling unusually happy and beautiful!

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Physio for him, chiro for me, rain for everyone

So he had his physio session last week and, somewhat unexpectedly, I managed to be there for it and therefore got to speak to the physio.

I told the physio that I was seeing a chiropractor and that he’d found patterns of stiffness in me that correlated to what she found in Drifter last time and she agreed that would be making life harder for us but that she didn’t think I’d caused his problems, which was nice to hear.

So we trotted him up. I was proud of how much better we managed this – when she asked me to trot him up when we first met her I really struggled to convey to him that he was expected to trot with me, not watch the silly human run beside him while he walked fast. This time I asked with voice and body language as I would ask on the lunge and got the right response immediately. It’s the little things that make the magic.

As before she declared him sound and we went into his stable for the treatment phase.

Unfortunately during his treatment the horses around him were being served dinner, so he put more effort into trying to get away from her to stick his head out of the door than into standing nicely, but we persevered.

The hind quarter in question was indeed stiff and sore, just as I had detected, but pleasingly the shoulder had virtually no issue and there was very little wrong in the neck. This encouraged me that we have made some progress. I asked whether the hind quarter issue is likely to recur and she said she believed it would and that she’d like to see him every 3 or 4 months regardless of whether I thought there was a problem. Sigh. She said it was an accumulation of stiffness, not something that had happened, which made me feel better – it wasn’t back because I’d pushed him too hard or because he’d stumbled or something.

Again the prescription was trotting poles and oodles of transitions, but I mentioned carefully to her that I’d got the pessoa style lunging aid and had been getting him used to that. I approached it carefully because I’d had such negative reactions from the staff on that day and also because I know some people feel strongly about gadgets, but she seized on it with great enthusiasm and said it was just the thing for him. Phew! I’d thought it would be a good idea to help keep his hindquarters freely moving and that’s why I got it, but it’s really nice to have it approved by the professional. She also suggested that I mark the ropes so that I can have a setting for warm-up and then go a bit tighter on it and know that how I set it is consistent or progressive from one week to the next, which seems like a great idea to me (although I have to say I haven’t got round to doing it yet).

As before he was on light duties for the next few days – in hand walking for the next day, light walk/trot work the next and then back to regular workouts after that.

So we walked in hand … and got drowned in the rain. Had a little ride the next day … and got drowned in the rain. And then it was time for a proper workout … in the pouring rain.

But meanwhile… I went for my first treatments at the chiropractor. I have to say I had been looking forward to it greatly, but it did exceed my expectations.

First I lay on my front and he stretched out my lower back by holding it still with his left hand while he lifted the part of the couch with my legs on down and up repeatedly. NB, this guy needs to be strong to do his job! I’m sure that the couch is designed to make this easier for him, but still I was impressed with what a physical occupation chiropracting seems to be.

Then he had a feel along the brick wall below my left shoulder blades and “scrunched” it with a great deal of noise and relief.

I was asked to turn onto my back, which I did with a sense of “but I’m too comfy to move!” and he “scrunched” my neck a few times, to even greater noise. He had sort of warned that this might be unpleasant, but I didn’t find it so.

Now the part that he warned might be painful… a psoas release. Psoas?! I exclaimed delightedly. “There’s something wrong with my psoas?!” He, somewhat bemused, explained that my left psoas is very tight and preventing my pelvis/lower back from moving freely. I explained to him that the psoas is crucial in sitting trot and if he can fix an issue with my psoas then perhaps there might be light at the end of my sitting-trot-tunnel. He stopped looking quite so confused about this point, having had an ex who rode to high competitive levels and thus understanding that horse people sometimes see things in unexpected ways. I’m sure it was the most positive reaction he’d ever received when telling someone they needed a painful adjustment.

Still on my back, my left leg bent so my knee pointed to the ceiling, he dug around just to the right of the top of my left hip bone and then applied considerable pressure to the psoas once he’d discovered it. Holding that pressure he asked me to slowly extend the leg until it was lying flat beside the other. I could feel the muscle being squeezed under his pressure as it lengthened. It put me in mind of squeezing paste through a narrow opening to get the lumps out. I was fascinated to feel this muscle that I’d never consciously felt in action before. It felt rather strange but intense and interesting and I didn’t find it painful. We repeated it 5 times, he moved the pressure to a different point in the muscle and again repeated 5 times. Googling it later (other search engines are also available) I found most people of the opinion that it hurts. A lot. It appears I am abnormal in finding it an intense sensation but not to or even near the point of pain. I’m not sure whether the chiropractor thinks I’m brave or a masochist but I’m not lying – to me it just doesn’t hurt! To me it feels a bit like weight training – that intense and sometimes fascinating awareness of one particular muscle.

After this I stood up and he corrected my standing posture  (mostly straight, much better than previously, but with some rotation that’s probably a result of habit that needs unlearning).

So I let this adjustment settle and Drifter’s settle and we had our first workout together. It felt really really good. We had some steering problems, based mainly I think on the fact that my pelvis was no longer blocking him on one side and he could use his right hind quarter better to respond to my right leg – I needed a lot more left leg than I’m used to to keep him going where I wanted, but that’s good news. I had previously felt that my right leg had been working harder than was fair, to the extent that in one pair of half-chaps the right is horribly worn while the left looks relatively new.

Everything felt like it was moving well for both of us. He was somewhat on the forehand and we weren’t as together as we are sometimes, but I was pleased. I even had a go at sitting trot. I would love to say the psoas work had been a miracle cure and I could suddenly sit like a dressage diva, but that would be a lie. What I can say is that I got the feeling that now I had a reasonable starting point from which to learn to sit the trot. I felt like there was movement available to me that hadn’t been there before, but I’d need to learn to channel and control it. For the first time since I got him I felt that I could take my stirrups away and have a chance of staying on (except in the lunge lessons when I was holding onto the saddle for dear life so it doesn’t count). He is a horse whose default reaction to something worrying him (e.g. bad sitting trot) is a super fast trot with his head in the air, which I would almost certainly have fallen off if I’d tried to sit to it before. Now I felt that it was worth me having a go. So I crossed my stirrups over his neck and wrapped my legs around him. Walking was fine, of course, and I got him nice and round before gently asking for more … and we had a little trot. There was a point at which it got bouncy enough that I tried a little rising-without-stirrups which I haven’t tried on him before. I found it quite hard, which surprised me. On other horses even without stirrups I’ve always found it easier to rise than sit, but whether because of his motion or his shape, I struggled, and ended up lengthening the rein enough to hold the saddle and pull myself into it to stop the bouncing and let him come back to a walk. I had stayed on, he hadn’t been massively freaked out, and I felt like it had been useful. We had a little canter on the easy rein. I really wished there was someone around to watch so that I could have a go at the right canter and see if we got it, but without a spectator I didn’t want to risk accidentally praising him for being wrong or failing to praise being right, so I didn’t try it and we cooled down and called it a day.

That was Monday, and on Tuesday night I had another chiro session, which was virtually identical to the one before. Tuesday is a night when he must be exercised (as he’s been in all day) but I didn’t want to ride straight after the chiropractor, so I planned to lunge him in the pessoa-alike. When I got there, in the pitch black night, the electrics were out to our stable block. I assumed a fuse had blown but no, the wiring was half-way through being redone. I slipped into his stable and did not feel particularly safe because of the dark. Whether that was sensible or irrational fear I don’t know. Just something primal saying that being in a confined space in the dark with an animal larger than you is a bad idea? I know that a horse’s awareness of me is far more than just his eyesight, and he can hear, smell and feel me, but I felt that I would get squashed or trodden on, so I put his headcollar on and led him to a part of the yard where there was some light. Nevertheless, grooming a black horse in the dark felt rather challenging! I did see the gleam of light on a freshly filed nail-end and realise that the farrier must have been as he had new shoes on. Happily it wasn’t actually raining while I groomed.

We remember summer days when everything didn't get soaked every day...

We remember summer days when everything didn’t get soaked every day…

There is no lunging in the indoor school as it has been resurfaced, so we had to go out to the very squishy it’s-been-raining-for-about-a-week-straight outdoor schools. Someone was riding in the larger so we had to go to the smaller one which has much poorer drainage. I did hope it wouldn’t be possible for him to pull off one of those new shoes, and luckily they all remained firmly attached.

I warmed him up a little before putting the pessoa on him. Once I did put it on I had it a little tighter than before so that it would be a little more for him to get used to, but still loose enough for him to have plenty of room to argue with it, if that makes sense.

It started raining again. A lot. Still, we persevered. His circles got less round, as he tried to keep the rain out of his eyes and he did argue gently with the pessoa a bit, which pleased me somewhat, as he was testing what it was asking him for and finding out more about what it was about. The footing was very deep, particularly on certain arcs of the circle although we were in the best drained part of the school, so I kept the working time shorter than I otherwise would have and walked him in hand to cool off rather than keeping him on the circle.

As I put everything away I reflected on how nice it would be if I didn’t have drenched horse, human and gear every time we did something together, but I also reflected that the rain was to keep him cool – an issue because of the speed his coat has grown back at and the relatively warm temperature. I’ve booked him in to be clipped again, but apparently there was a delay getting sharp clipper blades, so he’s waiting for those.

I spent Wednesday and Thursday feeling amazing after my chiropractor treatment. Moving was such a pleasure that I couldn’t sit still. Office politics passed me by as I skipped down the corridors and I felt happy. Really happy. Probably irritatingly happy, if you happened to be one of my colleagues this week. What an amazing pleasure it was to have a body moving in the ways it was supposed to and not carrying any old tension. Amazing!

On Thursday night I rode (having given us both Wednesday off). For once we managed to get a space in the indoor school, so we would be dry! We were sharing the school with the only adult livery owner less experienced and confident than me, and I wasn’t sure what that would be like, but it was very pleasant. It was a strange feeling to know that she saw me as the more accomplished rider. Her naughty pony was relatively well-behaved (i.e. he let her mount within a  reasonable time-frame – a real triumph for her, and I mean that completely free from sarcasm) but not what you could call forward. On the other hand Drifter, who had had Wednesday off and hadn’t been out all day, was all about the movement. He felt great. Following the pessoa work on Tuesday he was round and moving as nicely as I’ve ever felt him go. Everything was working well. Circles were round, transitions better than usual and we were generally in tune with each other. The steering issues we’d had on the last ride were gone and it was great. We had a little canter on the good rein, and he was in the mood for speed. I steadied him and he reacted well. I felt that it was worth risking the right rein canter. I think we did it. In an ideal world I’d have liked someone to check for us, but I felt that my fellow rider wouldn’t be quick enough or confident enough to quickly spot whether it was right or wrong, and I felt lucky ;).  After that success we did some more trot work before  I took away my stirrups. I warned my fellow rider that I might end up sacrificing my steering in favour of holding on and off we went. Drifter was keen to follow the pony, which did at least keep his trot slower than usual, so I went with it. Again, I didn’t fall off, and it felt useful. Again, I ended up sacrificing my reins to hold onto the saddle and unfortunately Drifter was still keen to follow the pony in front, so he didn’t want to stop! Luckily they stopped after a short distance and so did we! Then we tried to have a walk around beside pony-lady and have a chat. As I mentioned Drifter was very forward and pony was not, so this was an exercise in control for us! In order to let him stretch out eventually I had to give up on the chat as there was no way I could keep him that slow on a long rein!

All in all it was an amazingly good ride. I could feel things I hadn’t felt before, such as when he started leaning on the left rein. With the left part of my upper back previously a brick wall I couldn’t feel that. Now I could feel it and do something about it. My instructor has told me so many times about him leaning on it, but this was the first time I’d really understood what she meant.

I had planned to ride again on Friday but unfortunately by the time Friday night arrived I was so tired I decided it wouldn’t be productive. Today, Saturday, I was re-chiropracted so I don’t want to ride today. I’m going to go and pessoa-lunge him again once the schools are quiet this evening. The chiropractor was pleased with my progress and he seemed to have much less to do on my neck. Instead of 3 lots of major scrunching there today he did 2 lots, one of which just had a single click, so I’m pleased to find that is settling into better habits.

I really want a riding lesson so I can use my instructor to check if I’m getting the correct canter lead, but between my chiropractor visits which are currently twice weekly, and him getting physio-ed again next week, the only days I want to ride him next week are my instructor’s days off, so we’ll just have to wait. At some point my chiro sessions will drop to weekly and I don’t know if he’ll need a third session of physio or not so I’m sure we’ll manage to get a lesson again at some point in the next few weeks. Ah well, at least the money we’re not paying in lessons can go towards our relative therapies.