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.

Cantering to the right?

DSCN4334I expect this to turn into quite a long post … so don’t say you haven’t been warned. Drifter appears to be saying that long posts are not his cup of tea, but then this is a picture taken after I’d ridden him in my lesson and then pulled his mane, so I think he’d had enough of me by this point.

The quest to canter to the right has so far included three visits from the physiotherapist and quite a few schooling sessions, at least one of which was with my instructor riding him so that she could better advise me.

The phsysio has really made a marked difference. He is much more even to ride now. I am quite asymmetric myself, although this is an area I’ve really improved in, but both my instructor and I were blaming me for quite a bit of wonkyness that was actually the horse not the human. Since he’s had his sore bits loosened up suddenly I don’t feel like my right leg is floating around unconnected to the rest of my body. I no longer get 10 minutes into a ride and feel like one leg is exhausted and the other isn’t.  My “feel” for him has really improved. At first I assumed that was from the lunge lessons, but I wonder now whether it’s because it’s hard to feel a horse that’s trying not to use one quarter as much as the other. Now he’s moving freely we’re not using our energy disagreeing over whether he’ll use all of his legs equally, and have more energy left to think about everything else.

Showing the pulled mane and also the weight he's put on. And the pile of pulled-out mane is in the right of the shot.

The newly pulled mane. This also shows some of the weight he’s put on since I got him. And the pile of pulled-out mane is in the right of the shot.

The physio said that because of his weak side being very weak circles are hard for him and that we should do squares with round corners. This makes sense, and now I can feel that circles are hard for him. Now that I can feel his balance more I can feel that the basic walk trot dressage test is actually pretty challenging for him. It’s not just because of the rider that the circles weren’t round and the turns onto the centre line were iffy. I had my heart set on doing a walk-trot-canter dressage test as soon as we could. It looks now as if that might be a way off. I thought all our issues were about my riding standard needing to improve and hadn’t realised he was struggling as well. I imagine that he’s not been schooled that much or surely he’d be more even? I know he’s hunted, and I’m told his habit of looking to the outside rather than the inside probably stems from having been lunged a lot in the past, so perhaps his schooling has been neglected.

So he’s been getting some professional schooling alongside my efforts. When my instructor rode him she said that she found it much easier to get him to canter when he had lots of impulsion and roundness. So that’s what I’ve been working on. In walk and trot, mostly. I’m finding that hard enough to keep me busy without asking for the canter transition as well. As he’s getting schooled by the staff that means he can work on the canter without me and I can work on impulsion and roundness without worrying about the canter for the meantime, and then think about the canter once I’m more at home with how I need to get him going before asking for the transition.

The eye itself is better now, just a few scabs underneath still to heal.

The eye is better now, just a few scabs underneath still to heal.

For the first time I feel like I’m being taught how to ride him in a way that will improve him, rather than just how to stop, go and steer. But I suppose while I was struggling with stop, go, steer (partly because of my skill level but also, unbeknown to be and the instructors, because of this soreness  and weakness he was hiding) those things had to be sorted out first. I had felt like my riding wasn’t improving the way it ought to be, despite repeating endlessly to myself that everyone learns at different paces and adults are always slower than children and teens. Well perhaps most riders of my level of experience are on horses who find it much easier than mine does. The school horses I’ve met can all do walk trot tests in their sleep, even with very poor riders, because that’s their job. If one started struggling on one rein the instructors would spot it sooner or later and it would get sorted out. So when the teens ask me for the 100th time when I’m going to start jumping, I’ll take a deep breath and remind myself that we’re making great progress with the bodies and minds we have been given, his and mine both.

From time to time I wonder if I should have some lessons on a school horse, but it seems pretty pointless to pay extra to ride a school horse while paying staff to ride mine! If the not-yet-jumping starts to get to me I might try some jump lessons on a school horse, but if it gets to that I might if Drifter & I can try some tiny jumps in trot, on straight lines that won’t challenge his balance. I get the feeling that he likes to jump – if there are poles up he’s interested in them (although he does not like the look of some of the fillers at all). The instructor who teaches beginner jumping is more in the “chuck them at it and see if they hit the ground” school of thought rather than something more cautious. I would be more in the market for “tiny jump the horse can walk over to build some confidence about the whole thing in horse and rider”. But that’s all probably a long way off.

Unfortunately I’ve now got a virus and haven’t been well enough to ride this week, which is not going to help our progress.

Back to the cantering… at the end of my lesson last weekend we did do a little cantering. I might suggest you turn the volume down before watching because my instructor can be quite loud…