Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Short-Timers and the Lightness of Just Being

his is a tough week for blogging.  There are just so many good topics to choose from!  This month’s Horse Illustrated, for  instance,  holds a collection of articles about not counting out the senior equine athlete.  Leo particularly liked the photos of the older horses doing awesome things.  At 26, he’s nowhere near ready to lie down on the job.  Since I discovered that in my haste to accommodate his aging physique I’d taken to using a too-narrow saddle and corrected that error, he’s morphed from the model for Remington’s “End of the Trail” into the puddle-jumper he was before I got so terribly helpful. There's been so much written about elder horses (and their even more elder riders) lately that I fell into the Pit of Assumptions.  He's old, ergo his topline must be drooping and unfulfilled.  In reality, the medium width Pessoa A/O I'd used on him for years probably pinched even then, but he was too cocky to admit it.  Now he's like me.  He'll let anyone in earshot hear the litany of complaints he's harboring.

Leo, the Dapper Dude
Unfortunately he chose to tell me his troubles, and I wasn't really listening.  Once he made his point (by yanking me out of the saddle in an effort to stretch out his screaming back muscles), I switched him back to the wide tree Bates Caprilli, and we are back in business once again.  

Of course, the right saddle isn't the only thing keeping Leo dapper.  He's on a twice-a-day feeding of Triple Crown Complete, to fill in the gaps in his diet left by teeth that unfortunately do reflect his age.  What he doesn't get from the endless supply of hay and pasture, he gets from Complete (and would from probably any senior feed).  And a few years back (about 6, if memory serves), when his git-along had a serious hitch in the form of a back leg that wouldn't unbend after he bent it to step out of the stall, our vet suggested a supplement--Recovery Extra Strength--which has been a true boon to his arthritic hocks and stifles.  Two weeks into supplementation he threw a huge buck at the end of the lead as I took him to his pen.  No fanfare, just walk-walk-walk-BUCK-walk-walk.  He was back and wanted to be sure I knew that.  

In addition to making sure he's got the energy and the tack to do his job, however, I also scaled back some of the things that might increase the damage already done.  So, lateral work is basically out.  He does like to side-pass a little now and then, but no flying changes around the bending poles.  And collection is limited as well.  That puts tremendous stress on the rear suspension, and since we're not competing, he doesn't need to do that.  But his absolute love for popping over baby cross-rails in pure Hunter form is something that can't be denied.  We just keep it to 12 inches or less.  

Leo isn't my only geriatric horse.  At floating time, the dentist's new apprentice asked for an introduction to the herd, so I ran down the stats for him:  Pinky the One-Eyed Wonder App just turned 30 and has the teeth of a 25-year-old.  Then comes Leo, 26 with teeth to match his age.  Pokey, aka "Zips Mom", at 23 has great teeth.  Dakota, 20, has typical Appy teeth--rock-hard and perfect--and the typical Appy "You're not sticking that thing in this mouth!" attitude.  Zip, at only 15, has teeth to die for.  And Duke, the baby at 12, will happily share his teeth with you if you'll turn your back for a minute.

The apprentice listened, smiled, and said, "So this side [gesture to the right] is the nursing home and this [to the left] is assisted living!"  So true!  And he didn't even include me in that gesture despite the obvious addition of taller and taller mounting blocks at every spot on the farm where I could conceivably need to get back on a horse.

Which brings me to another point made in another article in HI.  If you are an OTD (Older Than Dirt) rider, there's no percentage in and you're not impressing anyone by rushing your recovery after you've had one of "those" rides.  Healing takes time even for the young and fit.  For the rest of us, it takes even more time.  Having taken dressage lessons with my left arm lying useless in my lap because I refused to let my injured rotator cuff heal was one of the least effective decisions of my riding life.  Oh, I survived, and I actually did fairly well overall, but the pain was excruciating and probably went on for months longer than necessary.  

There's a conflict here that I'm sure my OTD cohort recognizes.  Sure, it's best to let healing happen and resume in full health rather than dragging along half-assed just because you think you have to or want to prove to someone (like yourself) that you can.  On the other hand, every OTD rider has that nagging sense of burning daylight that younger riders can't appreciate.  As I wrote in an earlier post, eventually we'll reach the end of our riding careers.  Not today.  I'm riding today.  And probably not tomorrow unless today somehow goes wildly haywire.  But soon.  How depressed will we be if we spend three months recovering completely from something broken or twisted only to find that in the interim we've contracted beri-beri or developed the deadly Eastern Creeping Crud, and we're done right there and then?  We will have lost three good riding months...our last three months in the saddle.  

There's no easy answer to that dilemma.  

Moving on to less angst-ridden subjects and a possible suggestion to ease the transition, there is a TED lecture on how yoga instruction is a Booming business...that's a meaningful capital "Boom" there as it's us older types making it that way.  A more recent newspaper article said that yoga is one of the best things for arthritis.  Dr. Oz concurs, so that's pretty much carved in stone.  We aging equestrians have arthritis.  Oh yes, we do!  Geez!  It just never leaves us alone!  Mine has expanded from just my pinky fingers (all English riders can relate to that one) in my 40's to my thumbs (should be called Stallmucker's Syndrome) in my 50's, and now my lumbar and cervical spine (hit the dirt much?).  As luck would have it, I have been doing yoga for about 30 years, and I can absolutely say with authority that it not only helps, it also gives you the opportunity to shop.  What horse person doesn't have a raging shopping gene?  

If you are in the market for a new way to feel better and want to try yoga, I can assure you the clothing alone is worth the effort.  There's nothing like stretch pants to let your lower half breathe, and if you're in any kind of shape, yoga pants and the tasteful little matching tops, are sweet out in public, too.  Show off those thigh muscles!  

My favorite yoga stuff catalogs are Acacia for the clothing and Dharma Crafts for the cool accoutrements and for how-to-yoga DVD's. 
This is a very lovely little meditation cushion filled with some sort of beans or hulls or something.  Nice, pleasing colors and really comfy for sitting cross-legged while you meditate on your latest horse training video.  Okay...that's not really a good idea.  You should really let your mind go free.  If the video happens to start up because you left it on pause too long, your spiritual side can't be blamed.

  I have a smiling Jizo on my table in my exercise/yoga space.  It makes me feel as if someone thinks I'm not totally insane.

 How cool is this outfit?  

   Acacia workout clothes are the bomb!  And most of them are made of organic cotton or bamboo, so they're comfy as all get-out and double nicely for riding and napping, two of my favorite sports.  This hoodie is excellent with a nice Ariat tank under it.  Zip's honor!

So there ya' go.  This week's caveat, while not as exciting as the stuff about charity frauds, is probably of more use to more people:  Be One With the Universe and Happiness Will Follow.  You and your horse are old, but you're not done yet.  Not today.  


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