Monday, February 24, 2014

Not much, how bout you? The one about Phil.

Phil is fantastic.  

When I hurt my neck for work I took 3 months off from work and riding.  Phil got worked during that time, but I couldn't afford for him to be ridden as much as I would have if I'd been riding.  I was completely thankful for the help but I wanted to ride! 

As soon as I went back to work, I went back to riding.  Sadly, right around this time the owner of our barn passed away, and I had to move barns. That really throws Phil for a loop and our first few rides were a bit rough while he got used to the place. Then the arctic freeze hit Ohio and much of the Midwest/East Coast, so I had lots of days where I just couldn't ride.  I know lots of people did, and that there is a huge debate on how cold it can be and still be ok to work your horse.  

Here is the problem when it gets cold.  It's not him I'm worried about, it's me.  Since I have cold induced asthma, riding and exercising when it's that cold sends me into quite an alarming asthma attack.  I've been on a horse before and have had to stop because I was gasping for breath.  Not really fun, let me tell you.  So I've set a rule for myself that if it's less than 25 degrees outside I won't ride. Chances are at that temperature it's warm enough in the barn that I can still ride.  So far this rule has served me well.  

Because of this long stretch of really cold weather I wasn't even going out to the barn.  Just being out in that extreme cold makes my lungs seize up.  It's quite uncomfortable.  Therefore, I missed a whole lot of riding since the beginning of the year.  I was able to ride random days here and there, but our training was disturbingly uneven. 

This past week we had a warm up in the weather, so I decided it was time to get things done.  Phil had finally settled into the new barn, and had gotten used to all the noises that the barn and arena make.  So I decided it was time.  I was finally going to teach Phil that he could accept contact. 

For a long time I rode him with very little leg because he would shoot forward when I used my leg.  He also didn't like it when I took contact.  I spent most of my time trying to fix the front end with my hands and some with my seat, but really what I needed was for Phil to go to my hand and make contact when I put my leg on. Easier said than done with a horse that is over sensitive to the leg and avoids contact with the bit! 

Tuesday's ride was difficult for both of us. I decided a while ago that above the bit was not acceptable, but I tried very hard not to fuss with his his face too much.  Instead I just put my leg on and drove him to my accepting hand (at least I tried my best to). Well, Phil thought this was a terrible idea. It was a rough ride for both of us. Thursday was better, but Phil still was resistant to actually making that contact. Yet he was a tad bit lazy off of my leg. 

Friday, I put the spurs on. Phil is surprisingly accepting of the spurs, and we actually had a great ride. I forced myself to not fuss with his face, and relied on my leg and seat to drive him into my hand. I'm not saying it was a perfect ride because we both made our mistakes.  But Phil was finally going to my hand off of my seat, and I was finally leaving his face alone.  

Plus the leg yield to the left is getting much better.  We get four to five really good steps before he loses the rhythm and his haunches fall behind.  The leg yield to the right still needs work.  He is resistant to go to the right at first so it starts off a bit rough. He can do it, but it's not very good.  Yet!

He gets the idea of shoulder in very well. However I feel like he's a little too bunched up when we try it.  I'd like it more if he would take some bigger steps during the shoulder in.  

The canter work is coming along really well.  I need to remember to actually sit my butt down in the saddle and relax my legs.  It's hard because his canter can be quite big and I still have memories of him taking off with me, so my body reacts with a gripping leg without me thinking about it.  I have to constantly remind myself to relax my legs, use my seat, and make my core work for me. We've been doing shallow serpentines at the canter (or a shallow loop if you want to call it that, where we go from the corner across the diagonal to X then back to the corner on the same side). His balance is quite good, and I can tell when we come across the diagonal he is waiting for me to tell him what to do. Sometimes we do the turn at X and continue the canter the same direction. Sometimes we canter to X, come to the trot, pick up the other lead and continue across the diagonal.  Sometimes we continue across the diagonal and keep the lead and counter canter a lap or two.  And sometimes I ask for a little haunches in across the diagonal at the canter.  Little beginnings of canter half-pass. I can feel him trying to love the haunches over.  We are certainly not there yet, but he gets the idea. 

Phil has improved so much since I got him.  He really wants to be in the program (as long as the program doesn't include whipping). He tries really hard and is super smart.  Now we just need some consistency and we may actually be ready for some shows this year! I know I said that last year but I didn't feel ready. I think I may never feel ready, so I just need to go and do it. 

I'll keep you posted if we enter any shows. I'm excited about my little grey horse!  

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Not much, how bout you? The one about Kaswyn

Kaswyn, the wonder Arab. 

He's been feeling surprisingly good lately. And I almost fell off him a week ago. 

I've been following my typical routine of riding him bareback and in a halter. We have just been trotting around a bit, and he's really felt decent for such an old fart.  He's no stranger to the mounting block. However, he's been getting very excited about every ride.  While I understand his enthusiasm, it's imperative that he stand still at the mounting block.  

Somehow, one evening, he decided that trotting off while I was 25% on his back would be a good thing.  

It was one of those "Oh no, oh NO, I'm going to fall off OH SHIT HORSE STOP!!!!

I said WHOA! I hollered his name. I swore a few times.  He did not stop.  I grabbed mane. I used my lead rope as leverage and steered him towards the wall.  That was the thing that stopped him.  I was able to shimmy my butt onto his back and avoid hitting the dirt and making the walk of shame back to my loose horse (LOOSE HORSE!! LOOSE HORSE!!). Even though I saved that particular situation, something had to be done. 

Time to be tough about the mounting protocol! Now when I get on him, I make him face the wall. I tell him to WHOA and pull the lead rope to make him know I mean business.  So far the's been pretty good.  

The problem is that Kaswyn has a sense of humor.  He's the funniest horse that he knows.  He thinks it's funny to pretend to bite me.  He thinks it's hilarious to grab my coat in his teeth and yank me around. He thinks it's the funniest thing ever to grab the halter in his teeth when I'm trying to put the halter on him. 

Don't get me wrong, I love his shenanigans. When he's feeling good, he goofs around.  When the goofing around stops, then I know he's hurting somewhere, somehow.  

So I hope Mr. K keeps up with the silliness, because right now that old boy is feeling GREAT.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Not much, how bout you? The one about me.

Actually, quite a lot has been going on.  

Let's start with an update on me.  Just because it's the most boring. 

I took three months off to recover from neck problems due to work. It was really hard because of a few factors. 

First, I like to get things done.  I'm not one to just sit around. But that's what I had to do for three months. People may think "Three months OFF? That sounds AWESOME!" but for people like me (obsessive and hyper vigilant) it's a very difficult thing to get your head around.  It's even harder to actually DO it.  

Secondly, the guilt.  Oh my, the guilt. Guilt about not being able to work and help my team mates at my job (whom I know were put under excessive stress due to my absence). Guilt about not being able to help out with my family (because to heal I needed to rest completely). Guilt about not riding my horses.  

I did get my trainer's assistant to ride Phil, which was really really great. But it still made me feel bad. I couldn't help tack up. I couldn't help put him away. Or clean tack. I needed to do nothing if I ever wanted to heal my neck. Which I did to the best of my ability.  

Lastly the pain. Let me tell you, labor pains were easier to deal with than this neck thing. Shooting pains down my arm, nonstop aching pain in my neck and shoulders, back spasms, oh and I was super grumpy. So there was that.  For three months.  Imagine how pleasant I was to be around. NOT VERY.  

I'm now back to work, and back to riding.  It's been going well, but not wonderful. I don't think my neck will ever be the same. There isn't much I can do about it.  Surgery will solve the immediate problems in my neck, but due to my job I will be likely to have further problems because of any surgery I choose to have.  I was fortunate that the physical therapy was successful in reducing my pain and allowing me to return to work.  

Will my neck ever be the same?  Nope. I have some days where I have pain after work. Then I just have to deal with it. I do neck stretches and exercises daily. It helps, but I will never have the same robust neck that I used to.  Riding helps a lot, actually, because dressage does a great job of aligning your spine/neck in the proper position.  But there are some days that, after work, I'm in too much pain to ride.  

And this winter. Don't even get me started. Trying to ride in Ohio this winter has been completely a waste of time and effort.  Because of my asthma I can't ride if it's colder than 25 degrees outside. Unless I don't care about breathing, which I do very much. So I feel like this winter has been mostly a waste as far as training goes. It's sucky, but it is what it is.  

Next up, what's Kaswyn doing? 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Two under the seat

Well, I've ridden Phil twice now.  He's been absolutely fantastic.  Calm, willing, attentive, submissive.  I'm super pleased with the work that my trainer and her assistant have done while I've been off from riding.  My neck feels great, as does my right arm.  My abs are sore though cause they haven't been used in three months!  

I'm going back to work on Monday the 30th.  Hopefully my return to work will go as well as my return to riding.  I have the exercises, stretches, and cervical traction that I need to help keep my neck and shoulders in good shape when I return to work.  

Wish me luck!  

Happy Holidays to all. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

The current situation

Finally an update! 

I've been extremely lucky and the combination of my time off and intense physical therapy has improved my neck problems and has, for now, helped me to avoid surgery.  If I keep up with my exercises, stretches, neck traction, and physical activity in moderation I can stay relatively pain free.  I'm at the point where I am starting to return to my regular activities such as doing laundry, grocery shopping, and walking.  I will have pain if I overdo it, so I'm working on finding my limitations. I am planning on going back to work before the end of the year. 

I am also planning on easing myself back into riding my horses.  I have always said if I'm well enough to work, then I'm well enough to ride! My trainer and her assistant have been riding Phil for me and it's been great to keep him going.  But I feel like I can start with short rides and gradually work my way back up to longer training rides.  I do very much miss riding!  

I'm hoping I can hop on Phil tomorrow.  I'll do a full round of stretching and warm ups before I get on, and afterwards too.  My physical reaction to riding will give me a good indication of what I can handle and what I can't.  

As far as work goes I also have a plan for being able to work and not be in pain.  It involves stretches and exercises throughout the day, plus neck traction at night after work.  It will be a few weeks before that starts, and until then I'll continue to do exercises to strengthen my neck and back to be able to support me at work and hopefully stay free of pain.  

In the meantime I'll be trying to stay warm and getting my butt back in the saddle. 

Yeah I'm excited! Woohoo!  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Lots going on, and none of it very good

Hey there peoples,

I've been updating my situation on Facebook and Twitter, but I finally have the time to sit down a write a post.  Here's what's going on, and it's fairly sucky.  

For those of you who don't know, I'm an embryologist.  I work in infertility, so basically I get women pregnant and they pay me for it.  Kinda sounds like pimpin but it's not.  

Anyhow, using a microscope is required for being an embryologist.  In fact, using a scope for hours a day is not uncommon.  Human embryos and sperm are too small to be seen with the naked eye, so basically every kind of analysis and procedure needs to be performed under a microscope.  

After seven years I developed neck pain and severe headaches. I went to the doc and he said that he thought it was related to the fact that when I look through a microscope with my head tilted forward, it strains my neck and over the years has led to headaches and neck strain.  

I had to fight Worker's Comp to get them to approve the injury and treatment.  The problem was that the treatment didn't fix the "sprain/strain".  The pain was much less during the eight weeks of treatment, but the pain came right back.  

As I was fighting for more treatment to control my pain and keep me working, I developed two bulging discs in my neck.  It got so bad that I was having brutal headaches, plus stabbing, shooting, intense pain down my right arm, as well as tingling and numbness in my arm and hand.  I tried to work through it, medicate through it, but eventually it was obvious that I couldn't work like that.  

So now I'm on medical leave, and won't get paid until I fight worker's comp to pay me.  The fact is that they don't want to pay for ANYTHING, and are going to make it as hard as possible for me to get paid or get any treatment paid for.  The whole thing just stinks because I like my job, I'm a hard worker, but my job hurt me, so I can't do it, but I can't get any compensation for it until I go to court and a bunch of medical exams.  It's the most frustrating thing ever.  

Here's another sucky part.  I haven't been on a horse since the middle of September.  I can't ride, not even Kaswyn, because I don't trust that my right arm will react like I want it to.  When it's numb it feel like it's filled with sand.  That's not very safe when on a horse.  So no riding until, well, I don't even know when. 

My fears are that I won't recover enough to do my job, so I won't be able to help support my family.  I'm also afraid that I won't recover enough to ride again. Sure, they say I can have surgery, but that scares the shit out of me.  What if the surgery doesn't fix it? What if there are complications?  

So I'm just sitting around, going to physical therapy, doctor's appointments, and court hearings.  Not working and not riding.  

Right now I'm sad and worried about the future.  I think I need chocolate. 

And bourbon. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The problem with the whip

I've written before that Phil has a huge problem when I carry a whip to ride.  I think his previous training overused the whip, and probably used it as a punishment instead of an aide.  So this has made him super nervous about me even carrying it, regardless if I’m using it or not. 

My trainer suggested at my lesson that I start carrying a whip because she thought I could really use a little more encouragement from behind in the leg yields.   I totally agreed with her, and so I started carrying a whip.

Phil thought this was a super stinky idea. 

For the first week or so it was like we were back to the beginning.  Phil was nervous, inattentive, and couldn’t begin to do things like be on the bit or control his speed.  It got really frustrating, but I figured he’d just work out of it.  However it didn't seem to be getting any better. 

I complained about it on Twitter/Facebook, and my trainer suggested that I use a jumping bat instead of a long whip just to get him used to me carrying something in my hand.  Well, that was a perfect solution.  The jumping bat that I have is so short that it doesn't even reach as far back as the end of the saddle pad.  Phil certainly knows I have it and he’s not as relaxed and steady as he was before, but he is certainly much better.  Plus I get the added bonus of some really nice leg yield work!  Once or twice I even tapped the saddle pad when I needed him to move his haunches a bit more and he was able to do it without losing his little mind. 

One other thing – I’ve been experimenting with some home made fly sprays.  I think I found one that really works well, except it loses it’s effectiveness on a sweaty horse.  At first I thought it smelled really stinky, but now I’m kinda getting used to it.  The first time I sprayed it on both Phil and Kaswyn they both turned their lips up.  Boy I wish I had my camera out because it was great!  Silly boys. 

Once I get a recipe I really like I’ll go ahead and post it if anyone is interested.  Of course I would come out with this at the end of summer.  Both my boys are shedding their summer coats already!!!

BOO end of summer, BOOOO!

Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr