Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Seven Things

I've learned in the past year . . .

1. Weight

This is something that is going to be an issue with me for the rest of my life. Being over fifty means that my metabolism has slowed down and I am going to struggle to lose weight. My hormones are out of whack and I am perimenopausal. Although I feel no sorrow for my lost monthly visitor, I do know that my expected balancing of hormones has not happened. My metabolism has not kicked back in, and although I could get help in the form of creams or synthetic hormones, I am pretty committed to doing this the natural way. Taking Clomid to help myself become pregnant effected my body in ways that the doctors never mentioned, and I'm a little afraid of that happening again. Getting older sucks in a way you can't begin to imagine when you were 20, or 30 even.

In my mind I should look like I did at 20, but that's not what my reality is now. Until I took Clomid, I could eat anything I wanted, and as much as I wanted without worrying about my weight. That all changed in my late 30's. The toll of childbearing, clomid and my age are all working against me. I think the thing that is the most frustrating is that I am eating less, exercising more, and making better and healthier food choices and nothing has changed. Nothing. Ok, that's not entirely true, I am stronger and more fit than I was two years ago, and I have lost some weight, but it has not reshaped me back to my earlier body. I could try working out, but 1) I hate that, 2) I honestly don't have any extra time so I would have to exchange time with Ashke for time at the gym and what sane person would want to do that, 3) I already feel guilty about taking time away from J and T two nights a week to go to the barn. It would be even harder to justify going to the gym. Whatever calorie burn I get will be from spending time grooming, riding and hanging with my horse.

I could choose to cut calories, down to 1200 a day and lose weight. However, that's not a long term solution. I managed to do that a year ago and dropped some weight, but it was a struggle every day with hunger and anger and being cranky. It also involved fixing two meals, one for me and one for J and T. T is struggling to consume enough calories (oh, if only I could borrow a tiny bit of his metabolism) to fuel his burgeoning adolescence and so his meals need to have items I can't eat on 1200 calories a day. I try to prepare healthy food, with lots of fresh veggies and fruit, organic where possible and feel like our meals are nutritious and good for us. Almost all of our meals are home cooked. We don't eat fast food at all and try to limit our meals out to one time a week at a decent restaurant. (We haven't eaten McD's in ten years). I limit my portions. I am doing all of the things I know to do, without actually dieting. There are too many factors I am fighting. I've made the choice to be as healthy as I can and not worry about the weight. Either it will resolve itself or I will stay the weight I am.

Finally, I have to recognize that my weight does not define my ability to ride, get stronger or be more fit. The muscles that support my back, that add strength to my core, are getting stronger with each ride. Riding in the arena and working on all the gaits is forcing my body to strengthen and adapt. I can ride for several hours at a time, without being completely done in at the end of the ride. Just as I am requiring Ashke to do some movements that are difficult for him, so do I ask myself to ride for a length of time or in a gait that challenges my ability. Both my stamina and my overall strength are improving and I believe Ashke and I will be able to continue together on this path. I am pretty happy with my continuous improvement and my increased ability to ride the canter. Slowly, but surely, we will get there.

2. Endurance

When J and I first talked about me getting a horse, I really felt like I needed a goal or a job for us to focus on. That's what you do as an adult, even with horses. You find a "job" that interests you and then you work toward being successful at that job, whether it be dressage or equitation or endurance. I picked endurance. It was the one discipline, the one job, that I knew I could do on an Arabian. I had no real life understanding of what riding 50 or 100 miles would really be like, I just knew that riding for long periods of time over country I had never seen before would be the ticket for me. That was before I was introduced to pulsing down, vet checks, trails where horses could fall to their deaths, hot and rocky rides. I have no doubt I could get Ashke strong and hale enough to compete. He is a competitor in his heart. I just don't think I can do it. I don't think I can do it mentally or physically. At least not at the level we are talking about. 

I should have started this when I was much younger. I am not willing to risk myself or my horse in an endurance race when I am still this broken (I would say old too, but there are plenty of riders out there who are as old as I am who are competing. To quote Indiana Jones, "It's not the years, it's the mileage".) There are other things we can do and places I can ride. Maybe competitive trail rides or working equitation will give us a home. Or even, some low level dressage. Or maybe we will just focus on finding new places to ride to from our barn, new loops for us to ride. I love to explore our options and I know we have barely scratched the surface of the options available to us in our area. That presupposes we never trailer out, which I know I really want to do at some point in the future. There are lots of options and lots of fun riding to be had, with less structure and fewer goals, but good all the same.

3. Training

My memory must be faulty, because it seemed to me that when I trained Queenie it only took a winter and then we were done. I know that can't possibly be the case, because I rode and showed her for five years in 4-H, adding classes and patterns as we progressed. Then I did posse work and competed in rodeos until I was twenty. I drove cattle. But mostly I just rode for hours on end with no real goal in mind, just enjoyment of my horse and the freedom she represented. I luxuriated in my riding ability.

If you would have asked me a year ago, I would have told you Ashke would be trained and finished within 90 days. That is not the case. He is really good, but there are things I want him to be able to do that are going to take more time to learn, practice and perfect. It may take another year or two or who knows how long. It may even take some lessons with a trainer on my part to be able to do what I envision us doing. I understand, now, why they talk about Dressage in levels. It's because it takes time and effort and training to achieve the movements that Dressage requires. I think that is key when thinking about working with Ashke: there is no rush. We take what is good on each ride and try to add to it on our next one. It does help to have some goals or ideas of what I want to work on, but the most important part is to keep working.

4. Fitness

When Diane announced that Ashke was sound way back in March, I really thought my work was done. Ha! There is a lot that goes into making a horse balanced and muscled and strong and fit, above and beyond being sound. Yes, he can go for long trail rides. Yes, we can go up and down hills. Yes, we can walk, trot and canter. Is he equally fit on both sides? No. We are rough at the canter on the right lead. We struggle to move from the right to the left (pushing out off the right hind foot). There is weakness in his haunches at times when I feel him give out just a little from underneath me. He still needs work and working him means working me. I get stronger as he gets stronger.

The idea of training a horse in a specific manner or direction or through a particular riding sequence was completely foreign to me prior to this last year. Committing to work on the hard, difficult movements that will help him gain strength and fitness is something I never considered as a kid. Or even the last time I had a horse. I read a lot more now about how to work with horses, techniques and suggestions that will help with muscle and strength development. I provide balance and challenge both in managing expectations with Ashke and in goal setting. And probably  most important, I listen to him when he is communicating to me. I watch N work with Cassandra and try to apply what they do to what I am working on with Ashke. And I recognize we have some things that take time to correct. I try not to get in a rush. I try to be reasonable in my expectations.

5. Pain

I have accepted that I am going to have pain. Lower back pain, primarily, but also sore muscles and joints, especially after a significant ride. Seven years ago when the disc ruptured and the pain was overwhelming and treatment didn't include pain management other than ice and advil, I didn't want to do anything that would cause me to feel that level of pain again. I told J I would never ride again, because I was tired of it hurting. I was tired of being in constant pain. It took almost two years to become consistently pain free. Even then, I was hyperaware of my disc, afraid that a wrong step or movement would tweak the disc again. Pain in my lower back had been a constant companion since I was thirteen and I had finally experienced what it was like to not hurt. To not hobble out of bed in the morning unable to stand upright, feeling broken and weak.

I have taken an active approach to managing both my activity and the pain I am experiencing now. I wear a BoT back support (suggested by N) when I ride to help give my lower back the support it needs. I use ice and ibuprophen to help manage inflamation and  have changed how I sleep to support the muscles during the night. That has probably been the hardest thing, since I have slept on my stomach since I was little. Sleeping on my stomach causes a curve in my spine, which in turn puts pressure on the disc. Learning a new way to sleep that supports my back and allows the muscles to rest has been both frustrating and difficult. More than one night was spent sleeping in my recliner, because of the support it gave my back. I also use the BoT during my work day if my lower back is feeling especially strained. I have found, though, that as I get stronger, my need to wear it during the day has decreased.

6. Fear

I've been inordinately afraid that riding will reawaken my back injury, probably because that is what the chiropractor told me. It makes me stiff in the saddle and prevents me from letting my legs and back flex in time with Ashke's movement. Relearning to ride has been at least 70% learning to let go of the fear of pain and accept that this is something I have to go through in order to achieve what I want, which is to ride for hours on my horse. Riding out at speed, in walk, trot and canter, is a challenge. I have to actively focus on what we are doing, not on how my back is feeling. I need to ignore or not panic, at least, when I feel my back twinge. I need to identify the difference between muscle pain and nerve pain and not overreact to every little twinge. The muscles can and will get stronger, if I remain consistent in the work.

I have also worked through being afraid Ashke will throw me. Or bolt. Or buck. Or trip and fall on my head. Or behave in a way I wouldn't be able to handle. I wasn't afraid of falling or being fallen upon when I was young, but that was years before I had a son who needs me as his parent. I have so much to live for and to do still. I think my earlier lack of fear was at least partly a romance with death. It didn't matter to me then if I didn't make it to thirty. Now, I am more greedy and want at least a hundred. I want to see my grandchildren. Walk my son down the aisle. Watch him mature into a wonderful, sensitive, strong, loving, committed man, husband and father. All of that is lurking in the back of my mind every time I get on top of Ashke. I finally feel confident that not only can I effectively ride my horse, but I can also survive his moments of high energy and ants in the pants behavior. I know now his behavior isn't targeted at me, nor is it malicious in nature. It is just up.

7. Barn

I thought I had picked a great barn when I first moved Ashke to Colorado. It was clean and well-kept, with roomy box stalls. I knew I would need to stable Ashke separately from a herd, because he is so non-dominate when it comes to food. Otherwise, he would get beat up and driven away by the more dominate horses in the group. Ashke was a slow eater when I got him, which I thought was caused by his teeth needing floated, but now I think he just eats slow. At Christensen's, they really only wanted to feed four flakes a day, two in the morning and two at night. I don't think it was enough. He was also on the Amplify, which we provided, but I think the hay needed to be increased. Additionally, he was kept isolated in his box stall, which I never understood. Even when a horse was moved in next to him, it seemed to be temporary, a couple of weeks at a time, and then he would be alone again. The turn-out there was awesome and he was going out seven days a week with Cali and Stoli. That was the biggest thing I think both N and I miss about the barn. And of course, I met N there.

The things I like about TMR started with the Indoor Arena. It is everything we hoped it would be for riding indoors when the weather was bad. Ashke prefers to be outside and his favorite is a trail ride, but he is okay in the indoor arena as well. Once we moved in, Ashke was in a great run, with horses on either side of him. He can nuzzle and play under or through the fence with them. It isn't exactly a herd situation, but it's as close as we are going to get, because the boy needs to have his own feed. He still eats slow. One of the nicest things about TMR is that they feed four times a day, when you are in the barn, and three times a day if not. He can have up to seven flakes of hay a day and up to six pounds of grain. Right now he is on six flakes of grass and two pounds of Strategy. The grass is split between four feedings, with two flakes in the am and two at the last feeding at night. This system seems to suit him completely. His body looks awesome. We also haven't had any colic scares since we moved, which is great, since I think we had three when we were at Christensen's. There is plenty of room to ride and everyone there is super friendly. The judgement and hostility I felt at Christensen's is completely missing from this barn and I feel like we have found a home.

I was going to try and find 10 things to touch on, but I am out of ideas and have been working on this post for days. So we will settle with seven.


  1. I feel your pain on #1. It's a constant struggle for me too, and I'm trying to get it under control while I am still young so things don't spiral out of control later... just very hard.

    1. I think I'm in a state of disbelief, because I never expected to find myself here. And it is incredibly hard. But I won't let it define my riding. Or my relationship with my horse.

  2. Know your limitations and then do your best to push your limits, that's what I always try to tell myself.

    1. And stop judging myself based on other's expectations. I should be impressed with myself. I hadn't ridden a horse, with the exception of one trail ride in Yellowstone, in eighteen years. I have taken a horse that one trainer announced "can not be broken" and turned him into a decent riding horse. By myself. So here's to pushing my limitations some more!