Monday, April 19, 2021

Will I, won't I

 My husband suggested I sell Theo since it's been over a year since I last rode.  What's the point of paying for a horse that I don't ride and don't even visit?  I burst into tears and said I don't visit because if I do, I will get on and ride.  Well, he's coming home.  Now what?

Part of me is excited.  My pony is coming home!  I can brush out his ridiculous tail and dress him up all matchy matchy.  I had him 1.5 hours away to keep me from being tempted but that is going away.  While I have a lot of things that will be disrupted and upset by this, including potentially my health, I would be lying if I said no part of me was happy that Theo is coming home.  But that's the danger.  It's so easy for me to just slip back into old patterns with no real concern for the risk.  Humans are so good at rationalizing things they want.

I'm at increased risk.  No, it's not as bad as the neurologist was telling me and simple chiropractic care has brought the tic and the pain completely under control.  The pressure on my spine has been relieved and the curve of my neck has been changed.  Chiro didn't seem bothered by me riding but didn't want to see me getting thrown around (like, say, a horse bolting on the lunge line like a certain gorgeous beast likes to do).  But all of this improvement has happened without the trauma of horse back riding and the discs are still going to react badly to me being lawn darted.  And there's the collection of blows to the head I've had.  I'm not a twenty-something any more.  I don't bounce.  It's not the sport that's changed but me.

It's different now because I know I'm fragile and I know my horse has a mother of a spin.  Pretty big buck, too.  He's 17 now but showing no signs of slowing down.

From his Coggins, he has so many grey hairs on his head that they have officially added a star to his markings

My husband is not happy.  Neither is mom.  They don't want me to get on Theo right now. It's a fair request.  I'm still struggling with getting in contact with any barns.  The few that have replied have all been full.  I'm visiting a place this afternoon (the place he was at last summer) so I'm hopeful.  I've got two friends that are very experienced horse people there to help remind Theo of the rules of ground manners.  One is looking for a ride while her horse is recovering from an injury (Dorkzilla and Legs's owner) and she's sat far, far worse than Theo can dish out.  Premium WB mares have mad skills.  We could potentially get him less feral and still send him off to Trainer Z when she has a spot.

I love this horse too much to just dump him as a cheap sale.  Would I free lease him to an experienced dressage rider with a trainer I know?  In a heartbeat.  A little polish and he could go right back to being a Second Level horse that is knocking on the door to Third.  But people aren't looking for horses like Theo that require very regular work and still only get 5.5 or 6 for a medium.  And don't have a consistent change.  Even as a free lease, there's no market for him.  Hard pill to swallow but there it is.  He has no value outside of what I see in him.  People looking for mid-level dressage don't want to deal with a horse that occasionally does his impression of a land porpoise unless they're getting amazing scores.  His scores are good, not amazing.

As my husband said, Theo has the attitude and behaviors of an upper level horse and needs an upper level rider.  But he doesn't have the scores to support an upper level rider's ambitions.  Go figure.

Will I go back to riding?  I don't know yet.  This sudden change is still settling into my brain.  I want to ride him but I have to be smart about it. Either way I'm getting my truck and trailer ready to go pick him up.  Truck needed $3k of work, go figure.  New tires are on the way for the trailer.  Theo's spring shots and Coggins are already done and the paperwork is in hand.  Come May, I will be managing the most amazing tail in the region.  What the rest of the horse is going to be doing?  Who knows.  But come the heat of July when he doesn't even want to move, you might find me sitting in the saddle again.

Monday, April 12, 2021

A New Hope

 Trying to find boarding in April/May is complete balls.  It's so bad.  Everything is completely booked up, anyone with any chance of dealing with a bronc has a full dance card.  I'm starting to think putting Theo in my garage may be the solution.  Everyone keeps saying 'it can't be that bad, let me ask so and so' and then finding out yes, it really is that bad.  Spring is when people bring their horses in from having a winter off.  Everyone wants to knock off the rust and get show ring ready.

I wouldn't wish barn shopping in April on anyone.  

With no training options and very little in the way of arenas available, the reality is that Theo will not be going back into work when I get him.  He'll be sitting in a pasture getting fat and lazy.  My hubby so politely requested I not go get on the bronc when my chiro is still not happy with my C7.  It seems a reasonable request.  So with a lot of tears I realized that Theo was going to be parked in a field and do nothing.  At 17, he was done for no reason other than bad timing and the wonky discs in my neck.

Then Trainer Z reached out to me.  She doesn't have a spot now but she will this summer and she knows what she's getting into.  She's seen first hand the heights Theo can reach in his temper tantrums.  Heck, she might even be able to finish installing that flying change once he's back in shape.  I certainly wouldn't mind Theo becoming a Third Level horse.  One day he might be old enough and sane enough for me to safely get on, it would be cool if he had all the moves installed.

The current plan is to park him in a field starting in May and leave him to just be a horse until Trainer Z has a spot, probably in July.  A couple months off will probably settle his squishy little brain.  Trainer Z also thinks that being less fit is a good idea.  Considering how high he can get up in the air when he's fit?  Yeah, I can see why she'd want that.

The last time Trainer Z got on Theo

I'm still struggling to find a field for him.  Why do barn owners not return communication?  Like at all?  There's a barn about 7 minutes from me that has pasture board and it would be perfect.  We've traded emails, she wants to talk on the phone.  I hope so. I really hope so.

If Theo lives in my garage, that means I don't have to mow my yard . . . 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Reversion complete

 Oh hey, who thought you'd see something from me?

I got the dreaded but somewhat expected email today:  30 days for Theo to vacate.  Papi has been out from under my thumb for almost a year and the 'behaviors' have become a problem.  He bucked off some kids this winter and got pulled from the lesson program.  Since then he's started damaging the stall and bolting with people on the ground.  He's bolting with the trainer in the saddle and has had multiple sessions with the behavioral expert on the ground.  The ground sessions are not sticking.  He knows what he's doing and knows it will work.  He's only getting about 3 days a week 

He's got their number and he's reverted to old Theo completely.

I have 30 days to find him a new boarding situation and step back into my role of completely managing him.  Which is EXACTLY what I was trying to not do.  I now have a dangerous, bolting horse that needs to be put back into regular work.  I will be getting dragged around and probably thrown off while fixing what's happened.  But I can't let him continue to be a dangerous horse.  He's starting to mow down people on the ground.  My chiro has my neck pain and symptoms under control but I don't know how well that is going to hold up when dealing with Theo bolting and dragging.  To say nothing about spinning, bolting, and bucking if I'm in the saddle.

The scramble is on to find a place that will accept him and for me to get a plan together to get him back into work.  Hopefully without finishing off my neck.  Thank goodness the warmer weather is coming and I'll have a fighting chance.  But I haven't been in the saddle in a year.  I'm not even in shape for this.  I've been riding my bike a lot but that's not the same muscles.  I am very genuinely concerned that I won't be able to manage this without injury.

Ideally I can land him with a trainer that can handle him for a month to get through the worst of it.  Trainer Z would be my first choice but it's spring and show season is coming on fast.  I doubt she has a space.  She manages WB stallions and knows Theo well enough that he recognizes her voice.  His antics wouldn't rattle her a bit and Theo associates her with serious business time.  If that isn't an option, there's a facility that I know that offers training for horses with behavioral issues.  They're more working equitation and western dressage focused.  That could be an option if, again, they have a spot.

I had a non-horsey summer all planned out with biking events on the weekends since I get my second vaccine shot on the 20th.  I'd even considered starting a doctorates in the fall.  All of that is now being thrown out the window.  I gave them a very nice show horse, I'm getting back a monster.  I'm absolutely pissed.  I'm about to turn my life inside out to fix what happened and keep Theo from becoming 'that horse' again.

I didn't want this to be how I got back in the saddle.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Moving Day

 Today was hard.  While moving Theo only an hour away isn't that big of a deal, what it represented was a very big deal.  I've handed Theo over to Trainer D to manage.  Until further notice, she's completely in charge of his schedule.  She'll be riding him and using him in lessons.

I'm very proud of myself that I didn't cry while dropping him off or setting up his new locker.

His western tack is with him since her son is trained to ride western and in love with Theo.  I can see him happily jogging around with a nine year old that thinks he's amazing.  It's a reining barn so I won't be surprised if his western dressage training gets some use.  He's an incredibly cool horse to ride in western tack and I hope someone else can enjoy that.  I think Trainer D is looking to branch out a bit and she couldn't find a better partner than mi papi.  If she wants to dip her toe in the ranch horse or western dressage ring, Theo is perfect.

I caught part of one of his lessons today and he helped a young lady finally achieve her goal of cantering.  Perfect walk to canter, keeping the beat like a vaulting horse while she grinned.  He's getting to help so many people reach their goals now.  I have to take a break, but he's still at work.  A job that he now seems to love.  Trainer D is there every step of the way to protect him and that makes all the difference.  He's a beloved partner, not the Thigh Master that people dread being stuck with.  He goes for trail rides and jumps the jumps and gets all the cookies.  If someone needs to learn to jump or canter, he's the boy.  Carefully, with big releases.  Trainer D is very protective of his mouth since she intends to show him herself once the pandemic is over.

Five years ago I took him to our first two-phase and was proud he stayed in the dressage ring.  Today I handed him off so he can do his thing while I figure out how to get my health back in order.  I finally have a pretty good idea of what happened and while it's still degenerative, it's long term.  I can't hang with him right now because I start to think that one ride wouldn't hurt.  I could just swing on, I wouldn't do much, surely it would be safe . . . 

Nope.  The more time I spend with him, the more I want to do the dumb thing and ride.  This is for the best.

I didn't take any pictures today.  I didn't have it in me.  He was happy to get in the trailer and very happy to find a new stall full of hay.  I don't expect this to be a big change in his world.  Same trainer, many of the same students, just a different stall and turn out.  And arena.  He might be squirrely for a bit as he gets used to the new outdoor rings but Trainer D knows what she's in for and she's ready to take it on.  I left all of his lunging gear, just in case.

Hopefully, next spring, I'll be able to put my foot in the stirrup again.  In the meantime, I've got a half marathon to train for and a garden to manage and a whole string of bikes to exercise.  I might even put Peyton back in obedience classes to fulfill my competitive tendencies.

I miss him already.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

My new string

 So what does a tack ho do when there's suddenly no tack to buy?  They become a cyclist, obviously.  And if you think there's a lot of tack for horses, you have not yet flipped through a bike catalog.

Shopping for bike stuff has the down side that you are forever trying to figure out if something will work with your bike.  It's nothing short of a full fledged research project to try something like wider tires.  Because then you need wider rims and is that going to clear the frame?  Does it come with the right attachment for your brakes?  Is it the right size hub?  Is it thru axle?  I usually chuck the laptop at the husband and tell him to pick things out for me because that's just way too many dang numbers.

The clothes are also a bit . . . odd.  I'm used to lots of spandex in my clothing and thinking that it's really just the worst idea but who the hell designed road cycling clothes???  At least in the equestrian saddle I could sit on the more unpleasant looking bits and then sit up straight.  Not so with cycling.  There's really nowhere to hide with road bike clothing.  Thank goodness for mountain biking clothes.

But similar to horse math, there's bike math.  I had one bike at the end of 2019.  ONE.  An old mountain bike I bought back in 2007 that I thought was going to help me lose weight and improve my cardio.  But having terrible cardio meant that it was no fun to go for a ride and I had zero skills off road.  I hated that thing and it sat in a garage for years.  I would occasionally bust it out to ride around a park or something with my husband who's an avid mountain biker, but it sat and did nothing for many years.

The husband in his happy place, wearing a jersey about drinking and his beer socks.  I don't know why I go places with him.

Then I picked up running.  My cardio and strength improved quite a bit.  When I hopped on that old mountain bike again, it didn't suck nearly as much.  I started following the husband around some basic trails.  Cycling didn't bother my knees the way my constant running did so a plan started to form for cross-training.  I visited my brother, an avid cycling racer, and saw his indoor training set up where he could basically play a video game with his bike including simulating hills (Zwift).  I was sold and ordered the basics in December 2019.

I've upgraded a lot since December, it now moves side to side and the thing at the front simulates going up and down hills

Heck of a lot more fun than running on a treadmill all the time.  And then the pandemic hit, the snow piled up, and I didn't have much of a choice.  Ride the indoor rig or bust.  It didn't beat up my knees like running so I could ride the bike five days a week, no problem.  I did workouts, group rides, even did a race.  I came in last but hey, it was an experience.  The snow melted and I wanted to take my new found fitness outside.

Riding outside is HARD.  There's potholes and hills and cars and squirrels and omg.  The road bike I bought for my indoor trainer was terrible when I took it outside.  It was really not my size though it was the smallest frame the company made.  I had to adjust it to fit me and that made it 'twitchy'.  Like an OTTB having their first cross country school of the spring, I spent the whole ride waiting for it to unload me.

Bad bike, no cookie.  I miss the lack of traffic from lockdown.

I got smart and did research on what I would actually need to ride outside.  Then I discovered that bikes were selling out across the country due to the lockdowns going on.  Ugh.  But I had an ace in the hole:  I'm tiny.  The only bikes left for a lot of shops were the odd size ones, like size XS.  Enter the unicorn.

Complete with the perfect pink pedals I found for her

This beauty is my 2020 Liv Avail Advanced, size XS.  It's a carbon composite frame, disc brakes, Ultegra groupset, and all the other stuff my brother said I should get.  I dunno.  All I care about is that the brakes are very effective, it's actually the right size for me, and it's super pretty.  So, so pretty.  The paint is actually opalescent when it's in the sun.  The ends of the handlebars are anodized metal so they're rainbow.  This beauty is steady as can be and faster than I care to go, but a lady about it.  It's a bike that will serve me well for many years and I have so much fun on it.

But having this dreamy road bike made me realize my old mountain bike sucked.  Again, too big for me.  Also had picked up a weird squeak in the front fork.  So the mountain bike was sold to a (tall) teenage girl looking for her first grown up bike and the unicorn was soon joined by the beastie.

This is my Liv Intrigue, size XS.  Just like when saddle shopping, if you find a company that fits, stick with it!  Especially with mountain bikes it was painful to find something small enough for me.  I tried some other brands and while the numbers said they would fit, riding them was kind of terrifying.  You could tell they were designed for men that are taller than me.  My Liv bikes are actually my size and it's wonderful.  Compared to the unicorn, the beastie is a big, heavy, burly beast.  This is the bike I take to the mountain bike park and on wanders all over NH.  It's also super pretty.

No horses allowed, what a waste.  Perfect place for doing hill work and long gallops.

The final addition to my string is for commuting.  I live in a very hilly area and as I start to venture into the office again, I don't want to be stuck in my car.  It's only 10 miles to get to town, totally reasonable on a bike and a very pretty route.  But those hills are so painful.  I don't mind doing them when I'm out getting some exercise but I don't want to show up at the office as a puddle of sweat.  And then try to do it again on the way home after a long day at work.  So I got my cheater bike.

This is a Trek Super Commuter+ 7, an e-bike.  Yes, it has a motor.  I still have to pedal but it gives me a little assist or a lot of assist if I turn the settings up.  According to the heart rate monitor, I'm still getting the same workout I get from a 2 mile jog over my 40 minute commute so I'm still working out but not showing up to the office completely worn out.  And if I get to that one damn big hill and just can't deal with it?  I crank it up to 'Turbo' and fly on up.  I've loaded it up with bags for my laptop and a change of clothes which makes me extra thankful for the assist.  All loaded up, it's approaching 60 pounds.  I didn't want an e-bike but now that I have one, I only need my car once or twice a week.  Win!

I have three bikes that actually go places and the indoor rig.  They do a pretty good job of covering the basics for me.  My light, fast, fun road bike, my burly, go anywhere mountain bike, and my practical commuter.  And here I was thinking people just bought one bike.  Apparently not!  I certainly don't want to take my mountain bike on a long road ride, it's just too slow.  And I took my road bike on a trail once, it was funny but not ideal.  They're pretty specialized pieces of equipment so I ended up with a small string.

Of course I have my eye on another bike for gravel rides but between my string and my husband's (he's got a MTB, an e-MTB, a fat bike, a road bike, and his indoor bike), we're going to have to discuss storage systems before either of us add any more.  

Friday, August 7, 2020

Second Opinion

 I'm sure everyone can appreciate how frightened I was when I was referred to a neurosurgeon.  That's a certain level of 'holy crap' that's not fun.  Impingement of the nerve, degenerative disc disease.  I wanted to ask 'how much longer do I have, doc?'.  I was horrified, frightened, and not at all willing to talk to a neurosurgeon.  I had to do a project for work on the results of spinal procedures (I work for a healthcare cost transparency company) and lets just say, those numbers are not pretty.  40% of procedures aren't necessary?  18% are worse after the procedure?  Those are not odds I'm cool with!  And with multiple levels involved (C4 - C6 for those watching at home) and anterior and osteoarthritis, I was considered 'complicated'.  Ha.  Ha ha.  Ha ha ha.  NO.

Fast forward to me bringing a copy of my MRI images to the chiro. I didn't tell my neurologist, I just picked up the disc and brought it to the chiro.  Fun fact, they must release your images to you and they don't get to ask why.  They are yours and you can have them.  Do not listen to anyone that tells you otherwise, this is protected by law.  I filled out a form and they handed me a disc.  I didn't even see my images before this, I just got a phone call stating that I was being referred to a neurosurgeon.  I was frightened and not even sure my chiro would see me anymore.  That scared me a lot considering she'd ended my SI pain and I really didn't want that to return.  But who would treat someone that was so messed up that she might be paralyzed and needs a surgeon?  I brought her my images so she could decide whether or not to continue treating me.

My chiro showed me my images and . . . I'm not dying.  I have 3 bulging discs from C4 - C6.  C5 is right on the line of 'bulging' and 'herniated'.  It's pushing hard enough to deflect the sheath around my spine but my spinal cord is still traveling in a straight line.  My spine is irritated but not crushed.  She pulled up my x-ray and pointed to the bone spurs she'd spotted before around C5.  My MRI was exactly as she expected.  She's been doing this for 30 years, she's seen some things.  Am I injured?  Yes, absolutely yes.  Is my spinal cord impinged?  Yup.  Do I have neurological symptoms?  Sure.  Do I need surgery?  No, not yet.

Key word:  Yet.  One day I'll have to do something about this.  But considering what's going on, they're going to want to fuse part of my neck.  Which means I'm going to see problems above and below the fusion in the future.  I'm not in pain, I'm fully functional, why would we start that roller coaster before we have to?  So there's no surgery in my immediate future.  It's just chiro, PT, and some Advil for the days where things flare up. 

I'm still not supposed to do things that will accelerate the timeline.  No sitting trot, no broncing ponies.  BUT . . . things are looking up for my return as a h/j princess.  I'll never be able to go back to being the one that gets on the naughty pony without a care but everyone has to retire from that role at some point.  I can work toward loping around a 2'6" course with my butt out of the saddle.  Yes, there's a risk, but a reasonable risk.  At least it gives me something to work toward.

I do like to jump

Theo heads north in 9 days.  It's going to be tough but at least I have some real hope.  I do my PT, I let my chiro open up that space to take pressure off my spine, and I'll be able to put my foot in the stirrup again.  I'm not done yet.  It will be my jumping saddle but hey, that's not exactly a burden.  I do love jumping.

I think my neck situation needs a name but I haven't come up with one.  Wonky neck?  Damn discs?  There's so many options.

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.