Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Cervical spondylosis and an indefinite hiatus

I really, really thought I was getting back in the saddle.  But a long delayed neurology consultation has brought that process to a screeching halt.

 My horses have always brought me so much joy

Way back in the winter I went to my PCP because I was concerned about some pins and needles problems in my hands and feet.  Fleeting, not impacting my life, but it was unnerving.  While I was there, he observed a twitch that I'd developed but had been attributed to my anxiety by my previous doctor.  It was the first time a medical professional actually saw the way my head will occasionally tic the the side all on it's own.  My little 'tic' went from anxiety quirk to real problem very suddenly.  I wasn't concerned, surely it was anxiety.  Wouldn't there be something other than a tic if I had a real problem?

Best picture of me on a horse ever taken, of course it was with my princess

I went to my consultation and got a pretty thorough examination.  My balance and coordination were overall given an A.  I had a bit of trouble with the 'touch my finger touch your nose' test but I could do it.  Just took me a second to convince my hand to hit the small target.  And he noted my range of motion in my neck is limited.  I shrugged.  No pain, my chiro has taken care of any pain and already told me that I have some bony changes.

He immediately said I was going to go get an MRI of my neck.  Apparently my little 'tic' is actually neurological.  My many years of being lawn darted by naughty ponies is coming home to roost.  My chiro mentioned that my neck was pretty screwy after she took an x-ray but I wasn't actually concerned because I had no pain.  I went to her for my SI pain (which she got completely under control) and I only noticed a difference in my neck when my sleep improved.  Apparently my neck is a bit of a big deal.  A very big deal.

The meathead taking me around my Training level eventing debut

Here's where it gets hard.  I need to avoid irritating my neck while my chiro gets things under control.  She's made a lot of progress while I've been on my riding vacation.  She's not exactly eager for me to go back to beating my spine up by sitting trot.  My neurologist is throwing a flag on the play because I really shouldn't be taking a blow to the head and neck.  Theo is wonderful but he's got a mother of a spin.  It would be very easy for me to have a violent interaction with the ground.  The word 'paralysis' was brought up.  I really, really don't want to be paralyzed.

Mi papi has always been a handsome dude

Theo is going to be heading to a new barn near Trainer D.  She will be keeping him happy and in work.  He's really bonded with her and she loves him.  He will, frankly, not miss me a bit.  He's got a very nice lady that sees him five times a week and thinks he hung the moon.  He'll teach some kids to jump and some nervous ladies to canter.  Trainer D wants to take him to some shows and I can play the part of supportive owner.  I'll wear a sun dress and a big hat.

Best dressage pony

As for me?  I'll keep running (approved activity) and road cycling (approved activity).  I'm allowed to do some mountain biking but I need to buy a neck brace in case of unplanned dismounts.  Full suspension bike is actually pretty easy on the neck and the chiro would rather have me on the mountain bike where I'm more upright.  Neurologist is a mountain bike rider himself and thinks the road is better for avoiding dumb crashes but the neck brace is a solid compromise.  It's almost like he knows what I'm going to do while I'm goofing around on trails . . .

Regional championships

I'm heart broken, no lie.  It's been very difficult for me to accept this.  Will I get back in the saddle in the future?  I don't know.  Posting trot and cantering out of the saddle are not a problem and Theo is settling with age.  It's quite possible you'll see us in the future doing 2' hunter courses with my fanny never really touching the saddle.  My chiro is feeling good about my progress and doesn't think I'll be so limited in the future.  If he completes his transition to perfect school master, he'll be perfect for letting me put my foot in the stirrup again.  But that's not today.  Today, I am starting to pack up his gear and bringing my dressage gear home.

Reviewing our tests at a show

This wasn't the ending I'd planned for my dressage career but we achieved so much, I can't be too disappointed.  I certainly won't throw myself into a desperate attempt at getting those last scores at the risk of more neurological damage.  I'm only 41.  I have a lot of years to plan for and if I play my cards right now, those years will be pain-free and active. 

Champion at New England Western Dressage Championships

So the blog will probably be on indefinite hiatus as it's a horse blog and I won't be in the saddle.  I expect to post the occasional update and if Theo goes to a show, I will definitely post pictures.  Maybe, one day, I'll get the green light and you'll see pictures of me in the saddle again.

Second level super star

Until then, give your ponies a hug and enjoy any chance to get in the saddle.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Exiting lock down

So there's this pandemic thing going on . . .

Yes, I'm fine and Theo's fine.  Back in March Covid-19 brought my state to a screeching halt.  My office went on mandatory work from home and all non-essential businesses were closed.  At first I had planned on keeping Theo in work through the lock down but as advisories changed I found myself in the high risk category.  I have a cardiac condition.  Fun!

I went into full lock down for six weeks.  I left my house only for groceries or for my chiropractor to keep my SI pain in check.  No barn, no visits with friends, nothing.  It was very hard and the cabin fever was real.  I redirected a lot of my attention into gardening.

I did not see Theo for six weeks.  He did stay in work since Trainer D was working at the barn to keep the stalls clean and the horses fed.  She worked him and let others working at the barn ride him.  I handed all control of him over to her.  It was a relief to be able to do that so I felt no guilt while staying at home and doing my part to flatten the curve.

The barn started to open back up but I found myself in no hurry to rush back.  2020 goals are not going to happen with all of the shows cancelled so what's the rush?  I'd already been having trouble with my motivation before all of this happened.  I left Trainer D in charge of him as her lesson program restarted.  I rode my bike and took care of my roses.

I got an email saying the barn was for sale but I didn't think too much of it.  Barns don't sell quickly and in this economy?  Could be quite some time.

Whoops.  Barn sold very quickly and I met the new owners tonight along with the rest of the boarders.  No changes announced, Trainer D is still in charge of training, but the day to day care will have a new face starting Friday.  Hm.  Legs's owner was there and goaded me about not coming out to ride for almost three months.

Three months?  How did that happen?  It's like I entered some sort of worm hole when I went into lockdown.  I blinked and suddenly it's summer.  Theo is dappled, gorgeous, and happy.  Everyone tells me how sweet and perfect he's been.  He hasn't put a foot wrong in any lesson and has quite the fan club.  Even an offer should I ever decide to part with him.

Of course he's still Theo.  I also got a bill for the three water buckets he destroyed when he went through a phase of demolishing any bucket that dared to be less than half full.  Also knocked over the barn owner and escaped before sunrise one morning.  And broke another halter.  Heathen.

I set the date.  Friday, I return to the saddle.  I have a big bruise on my butt due to a wipe out on my bike (clipless pedals are not for the klutzy) so I did not want to ride tonight while at the barn.  Theo got hand grazed and cookies instead.  I'll go back on Friday and see how much I've forgotten during lock down.  I tried to keep up on my cardio with running and cycling so hopefully it won't be too pathetic.  There's all new management, I can't be hands off mom while that's going on.  Maybe once I feel confident in the new management I can give myself permission to slack again but for now?  Time to be a helicopter mom again.

Please, Theo, be as nice to mommy as you are to those kids you cart around.  I have more cookies than they do.  And I pay for your food.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020


It's pretty easy for me to forget just how cool my horse is.  Yes, he has melt downs sometimes but most of the time?  He's just the coolest pony.

He jumps, he dressages, he does western, and he'll do all three while carting around a very nervous rider.  Since I took over his training and care, he's taught three different riders that jumping is supposed to be fun.  He was the first cantering partner for two nervous adult ladies.  This time I tossed on a new friend so she could try his western gear.  I hopped on her adorable little white pony (and realized her child sized saddle really does not fit my middle aged posterior). 

Theo showed her how a turn on the forehand works, how to back up nicely, and what a jog is like.  She went from being terrified of the huge horse to jogging around comfortably and giggling.  Compared to her short striding partner, Theo felt huge.  Theo, being Theo, put his head down and jogged around like the old pro he is.  When she struggled with dismounting from a western saddle, he stood like a statue and waited for her to figure it out.

The dichotomy with him is so striking.  He can be so very naughty but I trust him so much when it comes to teaching.  He knows his job and is perfectly happy to do it.  His new friend gave him cookies and lots of pats so it was a good night in his eyes.  Minimal work, maximal love.

I rocked around on the pony to try him out, he was a bit like a little sports car once I gave him a big poke with my western spurs on.  The jeans were not at all comfy in the jump saddle and my calves will have interesting marks tomorrow but it was fun.  I may need to kidnap the pony for a jumping ride in the future.  Very jealous of his autoswap.

I offered my friend to put her in Theo's dressage tack and show her how to go sideways.  She looked intrigued.

My horse is a treasure.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The great unknown

I went for a trail ride today.

I'm taking this as a victory.  I rode Theo out in the open in the middle of winter.  Like riding in corn fields out in the open.  I only felt like crying once and only begged for 'my mommy and vodka' once.  For the most part I did fine and even took pictures.

Theo didn't put a foot wrong during our school in the arena or during our 20+ minute trail ride.  Thank you, Theo, for being a damn saint even when your mom is convinced things are going to go wrong.  Let's be fair, I have a long history of Theo melting down when taken somewhere new and exposed.  But I've also been stuck in the role of 'advanced rider' which means Theo is in the front and has to cope with whatever meltdown is happening behind him.  It's not relaxing.

I'm sure it was confusing for my friend on Legs that knew me with Fiona.  Back when I was addicted to hunter paces and was known to do three or four hour trail rides.  All of a sudden going out for a trail ride with friends was outside of my reach.  I was genuinely terrified when they pointed to the trail we were going to follow.  No trees, no cover, and Theo had never seen it before.  Oh, and Legs had bolted on this trail in the recent past.  I nearly backed out but my friend gave me a look and I followed them out to the great unknown.  Which turned out to really be the great unknown because I didn't know about any of these loops or fields we can ride on.  H/J barn with trail riding?  Wow.

It was awesome.  Theo was so happy to get out of the indoor and just walk around.  About half way through I actually relaxed and let go of his face, earning a big snort and sigh from my patient pony.  With two perfect trail ponies for company, this was not problem for him.  By halfway through, it was no problem for me, either.

I guess I'll be participating in Saturday trail rides with my friends in the future.  Theo is thrilled.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Sneaky anxiety

CW:  Mental health and anxiety

The problem with generalized anxiety is that it can be so insidious.  It's not a single thing, at least not in my case.  It's a little spike of inappropriate fear, an obtrusive thought while driving, a little tightening of the chest when checking email.  When you've lived with it for a long time it becomes normal.  It's fascinating to me to talk to people that don't have generalized anxiety and realize that opening my email at work should, in fact, be a non-issue.  Huh.  Who knew?

Like most people I know, my generalized anxiety gets better and worse. Often things are good and I barely notice.  It's just how I am.  I prefer to not take medication most of the time due to the charming side effects and that's fine.  I'm the picture of high functioning and I've been taught lots of coping strategies.  Running and horses are really good for anxiety and accompanying insomnia. 

Then something happens and things are not okay.  I'm guessing this time it was the stress of the holidays, year end deploys at work, and my trip home to Minnesota that set me off.  I got back with a bad upper respiratory infection that kept me at home for awhile.  When I went back out into the world, I was freaked about everything.  Seriously, every little thing.  Every time I drove my new car I would swear I could hear something wrong with the engine and I'd spend my drive with the music off, trying to find that noise.  But I didn't notice that I was unusually anxious.

Problem is that when you're always freaked out about everything, it doesn't register as something being wrong!  It wasn't until my hubby noticed me reaching for something with a shaking hand that he raised the red flag.  I shouldn't be shaking just sitting in my living room.

Long story short, I'm on medication until further notice.

Why is this on my equestrian blog?  Couple reasons.  One, this has a major impact on Theo.  I have to imagine some of my avoidance of the barn is related to my anxiety about getting hurt.  Logically I know I can ride absolutely anything that horse throws at me but in the moment, I am out of scale terrified.  He's not even trying to unload me, it's just protest bucks.  I should be mildly annoyed, not looking to dismount.  It's also hard on Theo when I'm riding scared since I am less consistent and he feeds off of my emotional state.  There's a reason he's been so nervous in the 'spooky' end of the ring.  Because I've been tensing and waiting for the spin.

What are you spooking at, mom?

Two, visibility.  I don't see my anxiety as something to hide.  I have a chemical imbalance that sometimes gets away from me and I need to take medication to get things back in place.  Some folks need their medication every day, some are like me and don't always need it.  It's all very individual, just like most things we choose for ourselves.  I know other equestrians have similar battles to fight.  Just putting it out there that I'm fighting it too and how it's going for me.

And how is it going?  Better.  I didn't notice how tense I was until it started to ease.  It's crazy how quickly people can normalize something.  I signed up to ride Theo in a jumping clinic so that's a good sign.  And I'm most of the way through the email backlog I let build up.  I'll just keep plugging along, pay more attention to my stress levels, and give myself all the support I need.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Rounding the bend

Trainer Z's visits are always memorable.

"He's holding you hostage up there!"

"I know you feel like you're about to die but trust me, you can ride this."

"Get it done or this is never going to stop!"

"I don't care if he bucks, gallop!"  "Of course you don't care, you're not on him!"  "Don't make me chase you because I will!"

"Feel that?  That is throughness!"

Potato vision!  But at least I have some media

The plan today was to pick up the pieces after our introduction to flying changes.  Theo was so far behind my leg he might as well have been in another state.  He weaponized his changes to keep me from getting him in front of my leg.  Swapping leads all over the place and bucking kept me from kicking him back up into the bridle.  Trainer Z was right, he was holding me hostage.  And I did not want to do what was needed to kick through this.  I don't particularly enjoy riding Theo's tantrums, he's quite powerful.  But as she said, if I don't do something, it will never stop.  So I sat up, sat back, took a deep breath, and kept kicking.  I ignored all of the drama going on underneath me and just kept kicking.  I'm back in my snaffle bridle full time while we pick up the pieces and rebuild.

It was a very sucky 30 minutes of convincing him that I was no longer going to back off due to his theatrics followed by a very productive 30 minutes with quality trot and canter work.  I got my pony back.  The one that has a rock solid counter canter and easy transitions.  The one that takes the bit with confidence and fills up the bridle.

We also rearranged my thigh blocks.  It never really occurred to me that my short thighs mean that my knees jam into my blocks at entirely the wrong spot.  She pulled them loose and twisted them so they don't force my knee back.  We then shortened my stirrups by a half hole and my legs settled in against his sides.  Well, that's a thing.  It's not a total fix but it did stop my saddle from forcing my knee off of his barrel and my heels into his sides.  I'm planning to pull my blocks completely off my saddle for a couple rides.  Assuming that's a step forward, I'll look into getting some smaller thigh blocks.  I'm also going to borrow a Prestige saddle from Trainer Z and I'm talking to EQ Science about a test ride.

I needed this lesson to start to rebuild my confidence.  And Theo's.  Trainer Z said something similar during our lesson.  We had to introduce the changes because he was so dang good at the counter canter.  Fine, that's done, now we go back and pick up all the mess we made.  He learned a lot and it changed his canter for the better.  Now I need to find some of the joy again and kick my way through all of the nonsense we've picked up along the way.

Mid-level dressage is hard.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Perfect timing

I rode two days in a row!  One day was a 30 minute ride in my western gear, one day was a shortened jumping lesson, but it's a start.  Theo was ridden three days in a row and he was slightly disgruntled about the whole thing, but he likes the treats.

While slacking off chatting during my lesson, I mentioned to Trainer D the struggle I've been having keeping up this winter.  I asked if she had anyone that needed some saddle time that would be a match for Theo.  As the fates have it, she has an advanced student without a partner right now.  Her two horses are retired and the horse she'd been riding just went on stall rest for soundness issues.  She's been catch riding a senior QH and a stinky pony.  Trainer D wants to put her on a horse that she can really enjoy and jump.  She's also got a very good seat so the occasional spook won't be an issue.  I know her and I've seen her ride several times on different horses, she's got really good hands and a soothing personality.

It's perfect timing.  I'll get two days a week where I know my horse is being worked in a controlled, professionally supervised way.  Theo gets to have an experienced rider jump him which he loves to do.  The student gets a horse that is safe and fun to jump so she can do things that are more fun than cross rails and trying to install brakes on naughty ponies.  Trainer D gets to work with Theo three times a week (2 lessons and 1 training ride).  Apparently Trainer D and Theo have been getting along like peas in a pod.

It's a weight off of my shoulders.  Theo is a horse that needs to be kept busy, now I can share that work with two other people.