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!

In the saddle

I have been back in the saddle on a regular-ish basis over the last 10 days and hope to see that continue. It’s weird how it’s so much easier and less tiring to sit in the saddle (at halt or walk!), with no back support, than on an ergonomic-ish office chair. I suppose it’s a sign that my weight and balance are holding me up more in the saddle than on the office chair – that I am truly sat on my seat bones with everything above them pushing down like a plumb-line.

Trotting is hard. Rising to the trot is hard. Lacking cardio fitness and core muscle tone that I used to take for granted, the theory of the energy of the horse creating the rise is all well and good, but it’s being proved to me that the rider has to do some work too – work I never noticed I was doing before! So I can rise, but badly. I’m forever getting left behind his rhythm or bumping him – not surprisingly his trot work is not what it used to be, because I’m hindering not helping. So what about sitting trot? There’s always sitting trot… except that I never really got the hang of that, which is a bit of a pain right now. I mentioned in a recent post that I’ve had minor breakthroughs on that of late, but they are pretty minor still. I can’t maintain a good sit for any decent distance at a time so it’s not that useful, although it does give me a break from rising. Also, because the sitting muscles were never worked like this before they get tired even quicker than the rising muscles! So we’re trotting less than I would like. I’ve tried introducing interval training (trot for 2 min, walk for 2 min, repeat 3 times) but it hampers the quality of the trot. I’m more focused on the clock than on getting a good trot out of him and for most of the trot time I’m too busy looking after myself to correct his bend or get him rounder. I’m not sure whether I’m going to continue with it or not. It might be better just to instigate the rule “when you feel like stopping trotting carry on for at least 30 seconds longer” or something. While it’s great that riding is exercise, a horse is not a gym machine.

The canter is of course exhausting too, but we’ve never been ones spend massive amounts of time in canter and we never found it that easy so I don’t feel the difference there so much. Also, I think we are actually making some progress with the quality of the canter, but he’s not used to working properly in canter so I’m trying to ask for very short high quality canters rather than asking for longer and losing the quality. So we have little canters usually followed by a walk-on-a-long-rein rest which we both appreciate. I’m aware I need to start increasing the duration at some point for both our sakes, but I feel like I’d rather put my effort towards trotting until my stamina increases. Some of the improvement in the canter is definitely down to me. Hurray! I’m making so many more constant little adjustments: inside leg for bend, outside hand to stop him falling flatter, outside leg to stop a drift, massaging the reins to remind him not to lean, core to stop him rushing… all of these are coming in time to do their job now. I am busy busy busy in the canter! But that’s what he needs. Naturally, left to his own devices, I don’t think he’d canter much*, so to improve that canter he needs constant reminding and supporting.

Another factor that I hadn’t considered is because I’ve been ill since the summer, now that I’m back at work full time it’s the first time I’ve had to ride in the dark. All of our schools are lit for night riding, but what a human considers suitable and what a horse who hasn’t been ridden outside in the dark for almost 12 months considers suitable may be different! He’s fine about the indoor school in the dark, and we have been in there without any huffing and puffing, but when I ride after work it’s peak time, so I might not always get in the indoor school. The first time we went out in the dark I didn’t think anything of it. It took me a little while to wonder why he was so twitchy while I took my stirrups down, etc. Then I worked it out. I managed the warm-up to avoid pushing him instantly into the spooky corners furthest from the gate – in walk we did a 30 m circle by the gate, then one in the middle and then went large before circling at the spooky end. We did hear a creature rustling in the bushes but it was obviously a small creature and D handled it well. We repeated on the other rein and he settled down nicely. At the end of the ride I usually give him the buckle**. Considering his nerves, the breeze and the darkness I thought about skipping this and cooling down on a long-ish rein, but he tugged at the reins to ask for more (I know, it’s rude, but I gave in … after making him wait a little). I gave him the buckle, but kept both hands through the reins and through the balance strap attached to the front of my saddle. If anything was going to happen I was going to be prepared! The thing that happened was almost certainly a bird, because nothing else makes a flapping sound like that. Quite what a sizable bird was doing flying out of the bushes after dark  I don’t know, but we were off! Feeling pretty smug about the two hands on the balance strap I just pulled myself deep into the saddle and waited for him to slow down, which he did quite quickly. As we bowled along away from the monster I realised we were travelling in a ridiculously fast trot – part of my reason for thinking that D doesn’t canter if he can avoid it! I took my reins back short and we went to investigate, proving that there were no monsters in the corner any more and that he is quite brave really.

The next time we rode we were again stuck outside, this time in the smaller outdoor school which is darker and spookier and boggier. Drifter was in a foul mood about being ridden at food-time and it was windy as well and the footing was pretty unappealing. Oh great. I got on and we started to warm up. He was not happy about going to the spooky end; not happy about one corner in particular. That corner is universally agreed to be the spookiest corner of the spookiest end of the spookiest school so I wasn’t that surprised, or that understanding to be honest. We survived 3 or 4 passes round that corner on each rein before an unexpected thing happened. The first my sluggish human reactions knew was that I was standing in the left stirrup with my left foot, with my right foot stepping down to the ground. Then I stood by his shoulder in perfect balance on the ground, facing his shoulder with my reins still in my hand as we stared at each other in utter incomprehension.

The only explanation I can imagine is as follows.

There was a monster. It attacked. In response D drew on hitherto unknown magical skills in order to teleport about 50 cm. to the right. Consequentially all of me was now to the left of the horse and gravity encouraged me downwards. So astonished was the horse by the unexpected behaviour of the rider that he stood stock still also.

Onlookers had no better explanation. One second I was riding a horse and we were both in motion. The next we were standing next to each other, perfectly still but totally confused. My first instinct, trained into me, was that I must instantly remount. I overruled it and took him back to investigate the spooky corner in-hand. After initial concerns he passed it again a few times on each side in-hand and I got on again. He did not at any point settle and after a very short ride I decided to call it quits because I felt that at any time I might part company with the horse again, but it was unlikely to be such a balanced dismount. Also, if he wasn’t going to work properly there wasn’t any point trying to achieve anything beyond staying on, so why bother?

Over the course of the second part of the ride I felt sure there was some problem in that corner. When I got off we went back to investigate again. This time my goal was not to march him back and forth and show him nothing would eat him, but to get him to show me what was the problem. Also to get him to be brave and, at his own speed, face his fear. The culprit turned out to be a substantial bit of polythene which had blown up against the fencing of the school. In itself it was almost invisible in the darkness but when the wind, which was gusty and frequent, moved the polythene the reflected flood-lights of the school ran back and forth across its surface, as if running at him out of the darkness. I gave him time to look at it and he eventually approached and sniffed it. Carefully I pulled it out. He was not sure about this, as I was moving it (!) but once I held it he gave it sniffs again and was calmer. Continuing to be careful and very much aware that I had a horse in one hand and a horse-eating monster in the other hand, I took both out of the school and got someone to dispose of the monster. It’s a shame that I didn’t manage to identify the monster the first time I had him in-hand, after the unexpected dismount, but I’d kind of assumed there had been some fleeing creature that triggered the reaction, so I wasn’t really expecting there to be anything to see at that point.

I have to say that this has left me somewhat nervous about riding outside in the evenings. This was the first time I have been detached from the horse (I can’t call that a fall!) outside of a lesson, which is also a confidence knock to my solo rides. It’s rather bad luck that these two sessions which D needed to be uneventful to build his confidence about the dark have both involved monster attacks.

Few of my posts are written in one go these days and this is no exception. Since writing the above we’ve had another little ride…

We had time for a quick ride before he saw the equine physio (she had 10 horses on our yard to do this time!) but only if I got on immediately. I wouldn’t be able to ride after he was treated so I needed to get on now or not at all.

I did a quick survey of the schools and found only the spookiest darkest outdoor was free. 😦 Do not want. 😦 But then someone pointed out that the lesson inside was about to finish and then that would be free 🙂 While I was tempted by the golden light of inside, I thought, no, we will go out in the dark and be brave for a few minutes knowing I can come in at any point. As we walked round to the school, me somewhat apprehensive, a wheelbarrow attempted to independently descend the muck-heap ramp at us as we walked past. This did not do good things of either of our nerves although Drifter was very brave considering. Other horses on the yard would have gone bonkers – he just bounced slightly and goggled at it.

So we continued round and I got on. I was really grateful that we could go indoors soon – we’d had snow (since melted), copious hail (ditto) and some rain since our previous ride out there and the surface was drowned. If I hadn’t been determined to walk around in the dark I’d have given up then, but knowing that we could do walking outside and then go in for other gaits helped. There was no way I would have wanted to trot him in that footing. Ironically the best drained corner was the spooky corner. We were absolutely fine. He was pretty calm about everything. Considering he hates standing water, he tolerated the water in and on the surface very well and he didn’t bother about what was in the bushes / outside the school at all. We squished around for a bit and I took him in. We did a very short ride inside and went back out to wait for the physio. It was just the confidence builder I’d been hoping for.

As for the physio, she was very pleased with him. We saw her a fortnight ago when he trotted up slightly high in the right hind-quarter and had stiffness in the right lower spine as well as the quarter itself. This time he trotted up beautifully and during treatment she found only a little stiffness near the spine. She declared that she doesn’t need to see him again for at least a few months – when/if I feel anything odd. Excellent. Previous times when he’s needed treatment it’s been regular sessions for months. These days I can spot things much quicker and get it nipped in the bud. If I’d been able to ride more over the last months maybe we’d have been able to avoid this, but who knows? Maybe it would have happened anyway.

It’s so nice to have the clean bill of health on his movement – now when we ride I won’t worry that any resistance in him comes from soreness and I can focus on getting us back to regular work as best I can.

Foolish it might be, but I’ve booked a lesson with Lee Pearson for a few weeks time. Am I in any shape for the lesson? Nope. But last time I saw him he said we could look at walk-only work if that’s what I needed. While I know he might push me and I need to be ready to say no to things if it’s too much I really wanted a lesson with him. If I can’t last the time in the saddle I’ll have to cut the lesson short. I’ve made sure to book the day after it off work to recover as well. I did think maybe I could ask if he’ll do me a shorter lesson than his standard 45 min., but somehow it felt disrespectful. He’s given me loads of free and valuable advice while I’ve been watching other people’s lessons when I was too ill to ride. If I pay for some lesson time I can’t use that’s all part of the cosmic balance.

 

—–

*I suspect a wild or feral D would consider that most objectives can be covered by either trotting really fast or breaking out the gallop, so why bother with that wonky three-legged weirdy gait?

**I.e. ride him so that he has the full length of the reins and no contact on them. Sometimes I keep a hand through the reins, often I just let them lie on his neck.

 

My horse it has three gaits, three gaits has my horse!*

I’ve gone and given it all away in the title again. Yes, we cantered, but to rewind and tell things in order…

When I last posted about his progress we had the trot back, with some roundness and a right bend but an absence of left bend in trot. Shortly after that post I started getting that left bend back too. Overall he didn’t feel straight, but he felt like he could move better than he had. We didn’t increase the time of the workouts much – we’d been doing 20 min. of walk with a tiny bit of trotting, and we moved that up gradually to spending the majority of the time in a good trot with lots going on, and improving the quality of the walk too. I think it was Wednesday of last week, for the first time, I thought, “This is a trot I could think about cantering from. I wonder how far away we are from that?” On Thursday in a corner with a good trot, Drifter gave a little lift to say “How about a canter?” I declined, because we were seeing the physio again on Friday and I wanted to get the green light from her first, but it felt great that he was offering it.

When the physio came she was delighted with his progress. The trot up looked much better (and it’s so much easier to trot him up now we’ve done all this in-hand trotting and he’s used to the idea and how I ask and what I expect) and during the hands-on portion she was similarly pleased. She was happy for us to start introducing a little canter again and to start increasing the length of the rides. She also reduced the pole work to twice a week, which was very welcome.

I was a bit apprehensive about cantering again, our canter history being a bit chequered, and our last canter together ending in him falling over. He had the Saturday off to let his back settle from the treatment and then on Sunday I went out thinking, “If he feels good, we’ll try that canter. If not, it will wait.” He was full of beans and he felt great under me. He felt much straighter and he was clearly happy to move. So we had the canter. Only about 5-10 meters in each direction and back to trot, but on both sides we had a nice transition up, the correct leg and a rather smooth little canter. Awesome!

Since then we’ve had two more rides. In the first we cantered about 30 m. in each direction, had a rest in trot and walk and then did that again. The second, this morning, we did quite a lot more because he was so full of energy he would not come back to trot! He was a lot of horse today. The wind was whipping around, the mares in the field (one of whom is in season) were all calling constantly and he was calling back and he had so much energy. We had a 25 min. ride, as I had planned, I got off and did the trotting poles (in a fan, for a change), during which I tripped over a pole and he spooked at that and pulled out of my hands and ran off to the far end of the school, luckily not breaking the new reins although he did tread on them. He freaks a little when he trips over a pole but apparently if I get my striding wrong that’s a much more scary thing for him! Once he’d realised there was actually nothing scary he responded to my voice and stopped for me to get him and sort him out. He still seemed to have so much energy that I got on again for another 10 min. Energy-wise I think I could have finished off with 20 min. lunging and he’d not have been worn out, but rehab.-wise I didn’t want to have him doing any more. He was swapped onto a field with marginally longer grass this week so perhaps that, together with the wind and the mares, has him buzzing. If it lasts I’ll be cutting his hard feed for a bit, but he’ll get a chance to prove he can calm down before I do that.

I mentioned the new reins… I love them. They’re more solid than my old ones; less floppy. I feel much more definite with them about whether I’ve got him in my hand or not. I love the way they feel in my hand; the way they help me be firm on what rein length I want to give. I think they look better than the old ones and, the icing on the cake, they’re even easier/quicker to clean. I could not be more pleased with them, so I’m really thankful that D didn’t destroy them this morning!Twcrosse, Shepworth & show clothes 139

It’s already hard not to give in to D and go straight into cantering everywhere like a crazy beast, but at least for a few more rides I want to show some restraint with the canter. I’m really pleased with the way the trot’s coming along now. I think we could rock a walk/trot dressage test tomorrow, assuming we warmed up carefully, and no one would know from watching that only a few weeks ago we couldn’t trot for more than a few strides. Hopefully before long we’ll be able to start really working all three gaits again, but for now, I’m just happy to have them!

———–

*And had he not three gaits, well he’d still be my horse.

“Tried to make me go to rehab, but I said neigh, neigh, neigh”

When I last posted we’d just got Drifter’s “prescription” from the physio, namely a little light riding and lots of in-hand raised trotting-poles.

So I was going to be carting cavaletti* around on a daily basis. I was apprehensive about whether other people would be using the schools and cavaletti at the times I needed them. On the first day of the new regime I found an available school and went cavaletti hunting. I found one where it should be, in the jump store by the big outdoor school but where were the others? I checked near the indoor school but there were none. After recruiting a member of staff we discovered the remaining 4 cavaletti were all in the dog agility area. There is now a new dog business running out of the yard and the agility field is a recent addition. Apparently it’s OK for me to use the cavaletti as long as I put them straight back afterwards except on Tuesdays (when outside people can book the dog agility field).

At first this displeased me. Surely the horses have priority over the dogs for equipment that was bought for horses?! But then I realised if I use the little outdoor school it’s actually a shorter and easier distance to move the cavaletti from the dog field than from the jump store, so I grabbed the silver lining and went with it. It’s no problem for us to have our rest day on a Tuesday.

So I set up my cavaletti as instructed by the physio – three of my strides apart and about mid shin height, which I decided was best expressed by the maximum height of the cavaletti. I went with three in a row because I couldn’t be bothered carrying any more than three.

Then I came back with D. I got on. It was not good. He felt really bad. I couldn’t explain what was wrong, just that it was really bad! Also he was a little reluctant to go in the spooky corner.** As directed, I stuck out the full 10 minutes, which felt like a life sentence, and I included a tiny trot on each rein. The trots were scary because he was leaning so much on his forehand that I felt we were both going to fall on our noses. At not a second over 10 min I dismounted and we eyed the cavaletti as I put his stirrups up out of the way.

How was this going to go?

I got him trotting and headed for the line of poles.

He went around them.

We tried again with me jumping over them closer to the middle so he couldn’t go around them.

He jumped the first one and stopped.

The 4 yr old used-to-be-a-stallion-until-quite-recently in the next field was due to be fetched in. And he wanted to play. Boing, buck, run, jump, stop, go, leap, twist, hurray! It was a beautiful thing, but it was not a constructive thing. And Drifter took his lead. Suddenly I had a horse in hand who had three gears: stop, gallop and buck. And I was leading him from the reins. I did a lot of telling off and smacking. I stopped the clock on our 10 min of raised trotting poles and had to work on getting his attention back on me. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. I tried heading for the poles again but the when I asked for trot I got an on-the-spot-bouncing. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. He absolutely refused to go in the spooky corner so I didn’t try again until he was calmer. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. At some point during this the young horse stopped for a poo and the staff member took the opportunity to catch him while he was concentrating on his bowels. By the time I had full attention from Drifter and he was going into the spooky corner without argument we were on our own and ready to try the poles again. We managed to go over the poles, not round them and approach in trot, but it was not very successful. He either jumped them (not doing his exercises!) or trod on them and scared himself.

We had a few unsuccessful tries and then I dropped the height of the cavaletti. This seemed to help and we got one or two successful-ish goes, but still quite a bit of jumping, looking confused and walking. I gave up, exhausted.

On day two I set the poles at the slightly lower height from the beginning. I got on. He felt awful again, and I realised that what I was feeling was a horse with his usually forward attitude but taking really short strides really fast. It felt like having a piggy back from a woman wearing substantial heels and a hobble skirt, and almost as insecure! I knew I was supposed to do a little more than 10 minutes, but I was very reluctant, so we would do 11 minutes! We tried our little trot slightly earlier than the previous day, and although it was awful it did have a positive effect on the walk afterwards, and towards the end of the time I could feel he was moving more freely than at the beginning.

We didn’t have the young-horse dramas to contend with, so the poles were much calmer. He looked at them and over we went. I trotted nicely over. He went “tiny jump”, “tiny jump”, tiny jump”. Hmm. Very neat, and clever but not “doing your exercises”. I moved the poles closer together. With a concentrating air, once again he very carefully jumped each one, landing between them as tidily as you could ask. Amusing. But not what we were there for! On the next try I ran faster with him, shouting “Trotting” just before he reached each pole. It worked! I gave much praise. I wouldn’t say he got it every time from there, but we certainly got a lot more successful goes and less jumping!

In subsequent sessions I have been starting to see and feel his movement improving. When I’ve got off after the riding stage he’s looked towards the cavaletti as if he’s interested in doing them, and we have more successful passes over them. The relaxation towards the end of the ride is improving and I’m getting better with the tiny trots. I’ve learnt that if I sit UP and channel my inner Carl Hester, engaging my core ferociously, everything goes a little smoother. It’s also quite marked that one trot diagonal is much easier for him than the other.

There’s still a long way to go but we are seeing progress. And while he initially said no to rehab, he seems to be coming round to the idea now. We’ll continue like this for another week and see the physio again next Friday.

 

*For those that don’t know, cavaletti are jump poles permanently attached to a wooden X at each end in such a way that they can either lie flat on the ground, stand about a foot above the ground or somewhere between the two.

**All horses in the yard agree that if that school has a spooky corner it is that one. There are bushes to wave in the wind and the field alongside has a log in it. Gasp.

Feeling better? Possibly too much detail about our health

I think I am finally free of the nebulous virus that’s been sapping my strength. Mr Sparrowgrass and most of my office have also experienced it and it’s manifested in such various ways* that it’s taken us all by surprise and it’s hard to be sure if it’s really gone, but I am feeling better and that can’t be bad!

Oh sorry, you wanted to hear how D is? Well thanks to all of you who kept your fingers crossed for us, we saw the physio this afternoon. Hurray! Even better, she was running late and I got out of work early so I was able to be there during his appointment, which I though might not be possible. (It also saved me £5 because staff didn’t have to trot him up or hold his lead rope while he was treated.)

I even had time for a quick groom before she got there. I didn’t expect to have to do too much as I had bathed him the previous day. However, his back legs were gunky on the inside again. His “gentlemen’s area” seems to be slightly swollen which I think is a mixture of fly bites and the heat, and I think as a result we have an increased gunk production compared to normal. I will keep an eye on it and give it a rinse regularly but I’d be interested to hear from anyone experienced in the ways of geldings as to whether this is usual in periods of extended hot weather or not. It doesn’t make me think “infection” as it is normal gunk, just more of it. Maybe if there is irritation it might make sense for the body to produce more natural lubrication?

So I quickly scrubbed off what I could and apologised to the physio for that which remained on his legs!

We began by walking and trotting up. D is not a fan of trotting in-hand, but as he’s not been ridden he was full of energy and quite cooperative. The physio did not comment on his movement, which I imagine meant she agreed with staff that there was nothing you could spot. We headed in for the massage. Here his energy was less useful, but he is not a troublesome horse, so while he needed reminding to stand nicely, reminders were all that was needed. He did flinch from her attentions more than in previous visits, but we knew he was sore and she was unlocking the muscles. I think that horse and human alike we flinch from the soreness of muscle work while at the same time feeling that it’s a positive pain working for good in that spot that’s been nagging at us.

Originally I thought his issues were in a front leg; later my opinion shifted to it being back legs. Verdict from the physio: two sore withers and one sore hamstring. So that would be 3 out of 4 corners of my horse that were sore. I told you we had a problem! There was also tightness through his chest and neck as a result of the other issues. She said that in addition to the fall the pattern of soreness was exacerbated by the hardness of the ground – she is seeing a great deal of soreness in similar patterns in many horses at the moment. While I don’t ride on hard surfaces the turnout is rock hard at the moment, and as we know, he did go crazy in the field when the mares wound everyone up.

So what should I do with him, after the session?

Rest day tomorrow, to recover from treatment. Then 10 min very light ridden work followed by 10 min of in-hand work over raised trotting poles. Gradually, day by day, increase the ridden work and as that takes over cut down the pole work until it’s only once a week. He’s to see the physio again in a fortnight and we’ll review his progress then. The point of the pole work is to keep him free through all four corners of his body.

I was really pleased that a) I was right – he was sore and needed help b) he got help and c) we had a “back to work” plan. Not so pleased I’ll have to lug poles around in this heat, but if that’s what it takes then that’s what I’ll do!

So she left, and once I’d faffed around with the anti-fly-malarky I turned him out. Usually he is very calm to turn out, but sometimes if he’s very keen to get to the grass, he will turn around straight away and trot purposefully to a preferred grazing area. Today was a purposeful trot day. Very purposeful. In fact, as soon as he was a polite distance away from me, he channelled his inner bronco. He bucked his little socks off with the release and joy of feeling better. I’ve never seen him buck like that. The happy bucks and kicks turned to  a gallop, turned to a canter, a few more little bucks, a bit of a trot and oh there’s my grazing zone, head down, grass in, satisfaction.

At first I was flabbergasted and then I was delighted for him. Obviously he got so much value from that session. It really made my day.

His pasture companion did not get beyond flabbergasted. If horses could speak that one would have being saying WTF? His pasture companion is rather a grumpy old man, who pushes D around only because D never answers back. Suddenly D was cantering towards him with limbs flying. Of course D didn’t come into his space, but honestly this horse looked as surprised as a human would if their cat spoke to them. It was hilarious.

So I think he’s feeling better!

I did have one other high point in my day which doesn’t fit in with the rest of this post at all, but I wanted to share anyway. So if you prefer a well-edited post you should stop reading before you read this paragraph. Oh. Too late, huh? Well doesn’t that just prove my point – it’s badly edited!

It was our annual work afternoon social event/BBQ. They often have some games of some sort. In previous years there have been pugil sticks, inflatable sumo wrestler suits, etc. This year there was crazy golf and … a mechanical rodeo bull. I have always wanted a go on one of those. Yay, I get to play on the bull! No. Because I am wearing a dress** and I have a policy about not showing my underwear to my co-workers, and especially not to management who might have some say in my career progression. Maybe I could go on despite my policy because I really want to play on the bull. Maybe not.****

And then, a bolt from the clear blue sky: I came here in my car and my car usually contains… jodhpurs!

So, transformed from my starting outfit of work-chic girl in my formal-yet-cool black dress, I returned to the party wearing two-tone blue jodhpurs, a purple tee-shirt and a big grin.

Previous bull riders had issues getting on. Good grief people! it’s in the middle of what is basically a bouncy castle – bounce on! It was so much easier than getting on a horse although I did consider the lack of stirrups might be worth noting. I also noted that rather than the pleasing concavity of my saddle, the back of a mechanical bull is ever so slightly convex, so as to afford minimal purchase.

And off we went. It was very interesting. Never have I focussed so much on feel and on which of my seat bones was taking more weight at any given moment. I lasted 42 seconds. I’m sure most riders could beat me, as my calm horse gives me so little practice in sitting to unexpected movements, but my 42 seconds was 1 second better than the previous best for the day so I was delighted. Also pleasing was that I sat about 3 sudden movements after I knew I was slightly off-center and would be off soon. My eventual dismount over the bull’s suddenly dropped “shoulder” was graceful and comfortable – would that all falls were onto bouncy castles!

Part of me wanted to try again later, but I squashed that feeling. I was happy with how I’d acquitted myself and I was glad to leave it on a high note. Also, I suspect that operators of mechanical bulls make it harder for those they know can sit reasonably to the more gentle movements, and I had no desire to try any more extreme settings 😉

Quite a few high level managers were indeed watching me, and congratulated me afterwards, so it was just as well I remembered about the jodhpurs. Managers like people who participate and those who do well. And those who come prepared with jodhpurs in their car ready for unexpected costume changes? Well that surely can’t be bad!

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*For those who like symptoms, different people have had various numbers of the following, with no two people displaying the same combination:

Headache
Inexplicable fatigue
Palpitations
Runny nose
Sore throat
Cough
Hot flushes
Sore arm-pit glands
Digestive upset

 

** This is not usual behaviour for me, but it is very hot. Especially in our office which could hardly have been designed to catch more sun.*** Hence use of dresses.

***Ironically it’s always freezing in winter.

****I hear that at least one woman in a skirt did show her knickers to all and sundry and didn’t seem to care. Perhaps not everyone has the same policy in this matter. Or perhaps alcohol overruled her policy. Who knows. I wonder whether unexpected rodeo bulls are sexist because men don’t have to worry about costume changes. I wonder if feminist theory would say it is a woman’s right to show her knickers if she wants to go on the bull, and how the situation relates to laws about public decency, and how they relate to men with their trousers at half-mast showing most of their underwear. I wonder too much. And sometimes that is the only thing I’m sure of.

Waiting for the physio

Drifter and I have been taking it easy. I’ve recovered from the fall now but his need for some physio is quite noticeable, so I’ve been keeping his exercise light. I don’t really know how to ride him when he’s like this; he needs to move to stop him getting even stiffer but I don’t want to push him when he’s not moving comfortably. If we had off-road hacking I’d take him out, daylight permitting, but while he won’t steer reliably roads are not an option. l can’t lunge him because circles make him even more uncomfortable, so we’re stuck pottering round the school, waiting for the day when she’ll fix him and we can start work again. We are managing still to have a little canter on each rein each session and I’m pleased to say that although he’s really unbalanced and l don’t have much in the way of steering, he’s getting the canter leads correct.

DSCN4622

l won’t be doing the jump class tomorrow, but l am hoping to go and watch. I felt like everybody would think I ought to do it; like it was wrong to miss the class after l fell off. But over the week l realised that nobody else rides my horse, so nobody else gets to make the call as to whether he’s fit to jump or not. Nobody else pays for my lessons (except Mr S of course) so nobody else gets to decide that I have to have a lesson. I doubt that the lesson would do him any physical harm, but we’re supposed to be doing it for our mutual pleasure, and jumping him when he’s unbalanced and uncomfortable is not our idea of fun, nor is it good for our relationship.

The physio should see him on Monday, so allowing several days of light duties afterwards l am hopeful that we’ll be back in the jump group next week.

Unfortunately on Sunday we’re booked in for a biomechanics session. We’re paid the deposit so I’ll go ahead with that but insist we take it easy. It’s a shame because I’d been really looking forward to showing Russell how much we’ve improved. I’m hopeful that we’ll still be able to get something useful out of it.