Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Chicken-Egg Situation

The Rider's "Catch-22" - Horse Collaborative

It's going to be spring soon.  I noticed the other day that my thighs have gone all to pot.  No matter how much mucking, shoveling, hay-tossing, and snow removal I do, no matter how many minutes I spend on the treadmill, balance board, or yoga mat, I get February Thighs.  It's not just the appearance of Shar Pei Knees that bugs me; it's that I know the first time I go to hop (there's a joke for you!) on one of my horses, I'm going to have a moment when getting my leg over that saddle will be iffy.  I can do knee bends and thrusts and lift weights, and still not be able to get those thigh muscles up off my knees for the push.

,The iJoy Human Touch board.,
my go-to for everything that ails me.

There's where the chicken meets the road.  I'm out of riding shape from not riding.  I can't get back to riding until I'm in better shape, and I can't get in better shape until I can ride.
This looks like a hug, but
it's a stretch for tight
neck and shoulder muscles.

The thing about riding is that it's an athletic event, not just a hobby.  I've written before about whether we ride to get fit or need to get fit to ride.  The latter is definitely the case.  Riding helps us stay in shape once we're there, but any beginner will tell you that there's considerable pain and effort involved in those first few rides.

The horse feels the same way.  If your equine buddy has spent the winter indoors as a stall captive, he's going to have no muscle to speak of.  It takes only two weeks for muscle to begin to deteriorate into flaccid tissue.  In a month, he's going to start to look a little limp in spots.  He'll need to be worked back from the ground first before you saddle him and ask him to carry your weight.  If he's been turned out in a big pasture all winter, he won't need as much work to get back into shape, but the longer he's gone between rides, the more you'll need to work him back at least to the extent that you don't just hop on those weakened back muscles and head out for a round of jumps or a long trail ride.

Fitness is a relative thing.  I don't expect my seniors (which is all of my horses...and me) to ever get back into the shape they were in when they were competing.  But the time invested in keeping them fit is well worth spending, because it minimizes down time due to soft tissue and joint injuries and keeps the vet bills minimal.  I generally use the rehab schedule my vet gave me when Zip (and Dakota...and Zip again) had pulled suspensories and needed to be stalled and on limited turnout for what seemed (to me and to them) like an eternity.  I start with making them walk, either under saddle or on a longe, for a few minutes a day and work up over a three-week period to a longer period and add in a trot.  With both of them, because the injuries weren't serious and the treatment was, they were back to reasonable fitness for riding in 4 - 6 weeks, and full fitness in a few months (because I'm overly-cautious and I don't have an indoor, a fact which prolongs pretty much everything horse-related).

Even the short horse needs
some stretching exercises.

But if your horses have been cooped up for an entire winter or tend to be stall-kept all the time, then a longer, more specific program would be better.  This one, for instance, from the Atlanta Equine Clinic.  This program does not permit full-time turnout in a big pasture until the whole 60 days' work is completed, so adjust for your personal horse's needs.

Then there's us.

I can say from my own experience that the areas in which we most quickly lose fitness are:

1.  Hip flexors and extensors

2.  Hip, knee, and ankle joints and tendons.

3.  Everything else.

We love videos, so here's one for you:  Success in the Saddle

There's a lot of focus on core muscles in most of the fitness programs for riders, but I can attest from my own 50+ years of experience, that if you're mucking stalls, sweeping floors, and do a little yoga between shifts with the occasional ab crunch set thrown in, your core will stay pretty firm.  Aging, however, steals the flexibility from joints and makes a lot of weight-lifting routines more pain than gain.  If a rider of a certain age works a muscle group to failure, as is required for real building, failure will remain in place for days, if not weeks.  The old 36-48 hour recovery thing goes the way of the built-in saddle bags on our hips and the boobage that seems determined to wind up confined by our belts: Seriously South.

So I've found that basic yoga (giving up periodically on poses that requires things like actual functioning tendons) with a smattering of side leg lifts and lunges helps keep it all toned and flexible without making the parts seize up like the suspension on an old car.  We don't have grease fittings, more's the pity.

If you're willing to part with a few dollars, The Rider's Fitness Program book is worth buying.  I like it mostly because it has a variety of exercises and full programs I can pick and choose from and modify to my little heart's content.  And the exercises work.  That's key.

So, have at your spring makeover while it's still winter and you can jump-start your attitude along with your body.  You can let your horse hang out until you're good and ready and the ground has thawed and the temperature is above minus-hellhasfrozenover.  By then you'll be hot to trot and you can really get into the whole partnership exercise routine.

Oh, and when you're done with Day One of your joint fitness program, you might want to consider finding a massage therapist who does horses and humans.  Seriously.  You  need to live to ride another day.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

From the Manure Pile: Advice you don't need

Using the Bit that Works - Horse Collaborative

The Denny Emerson article above is interesting even if you've never evented, never wanted to event, and don't even know what eventing is.  It's interesting because the focus isn't really on bits, but on unwanted advice and the dangers thereof.  Everyone has something to say these days, especially on the beautiful Internets.

Choosing a bit or any other piece of tack, or a horse or any other animal, or a lifestyle or facsimile thereof is a very important decision.  So why are folks so ready to take advice from anyone willing to offer it?  Oh, sure, you probably know who the idiot is in your immediate circle of humans, and you're less likely to take to heart whatever comments that person makes...sort of.  Actually, you don't ignore any of it.  It seeps into your subconscious whether or not you open the door a crack, and the stuff resides there, festering, growing rancid and rank, and it colors your decisions in a very sneaky way.  But you can put up your shield a little and keep envisioning that person on horseback.  That's usually enough to dull the effect.

The woman (I can't bring myself to say "trainer"), for instance, who insisted that the only way to keep from ruining our new colt (that we had no business buying from her in the first place as we were total tyros) was to "knock him down, sit on his head, and beat some respect into him" did make us cry for a moment, until the day in the show pen when we were both doing the in-hand class side-by-side and her colt reared up and flipped over in front of the judge in a stunning "WTF!", horsey style.  That image was burned into my soon as I stopped laughing.
Only YOU can prevent
idiotic outcomes!

I grew up in a river of misinformation long before the World Wide Warp opened the floodgates to anyone with fingers.  So I wouldn't lie to you.  Really.  I wouldn't.

Or would I...?

Heh, heh, heh.

You can pretty much bet that I'm doing little more here than my usual, creating an odd melange of human psychology and horse ownership and humor and opinion strictly for the purpose of entertainment.  Mostly.  I do have an undercurrent of a theme of "leave the poor animals alone and stop pushing your crazy on them", but I have no stake in whether or not you buy into that.  I don't get paid for this (damn it).  Occasionally someone will buy one of my books, but I don't make more than a few pennies per copy.  So while you may not like what I'm saying, you can be pretty sure there's no hidden agenda.  Take it for what it offers and move on.

It's the self-designated experts who tend to cause all the trouble.

Sigmund Freud told me I was in love with my father, and not in a good way, opening the door to a whole passel of mixed feelings about my allowance.

Walter Farley told me I could save a horse who would eventually take me around the world on adventures and love me unconditionally and make my  hair long and flowy, leading to repeated entries into the Name This Filly contest that I (fortunately for all involved) never won.

Twiggy told me that I needed to de-boob and lose most of my body mass in order to look fabulous, giving me the incentive to develop a brief eating disorder that left me 20 pounds overweight as my disorder involved double cheeseburgers at midnight after starving all day (because calories hate the dark).

Teachers told me I could be anything girly I wanted, and what I wanted to be was a cowgirl, a drum majorette, or Wonder Woman, none of which worked out.

If the experts can't keep their stories honest, then why in the world are there so many people asking inept strangers for advice on problems with their horses/husbands/health/lottery numbers?

This subject started to really bother me this week because the monthly arrival of all of the horse mags brought the usual pages of "From the Mud Pit" stories by readers.  I'm sure it has ever been thus, but I swear the problems and comments are getting stranger.  It seemed to me that there were more people telling brief tales ("I was feeding my horse a ham sandwich and she bit my hand!") ending with odd conclusions ("I'll never buy another mare!").  Adding fuel to my personal fire were some posts on some social media sites by horse owners in need of serious guidance about their relationships with the Killer Whale they'd rescued/bought/leased that seemed determined to apply feng shui to a more appealing arrangement of its owners body parts.

You're taking advice from a woman
who did this to the dashboard of her Audi.
Most of these issues would have been better shared with a professional, in person, face-to-face, with the animal in question also present.  Some of them had the potential to be downright deadly if approached the wrong way.  And some of the responses from the rail birds ("web birds" might be more appropriate...consider it coined) who might or might not have ever set foot in stirrup as we're all pretty much strangers to each other, were so far-fetched and sketchy as to be humorous to everyone but the person desperately seeking surcease from the fray.

Shame on you!
So my advice today is to stop that.  Stop asking strangers for answers to questions that are vitally important to your continued existence.  There are a few notable exceptions, as in Denny Emerson.  But as the article linked above indicates, he's probably the last person who will offer advice on an unseen horse and an unvisited relationship.

Read texts on animal behavior (or whatever area is giving you trouble), go to clinics, learn from the best you can find  in person.  It won't be free, but at least it's likely to be less deadly.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

James Clear knows me!

Identity-Based Habits: How to Actually Stick to Your Goals This Year

He knows all of us.  He knows us better than we know ourselves, which is why he's James Clear and we're not.

Today we're going to ferret out those things that make us who we are while they stand in the way of us becoming so much more, especially when it comes to our work with and without horses.

No one really cares if part of your identity is that nightly glass of wine.  That trendy bit of your Self doesn't really impact much on your functionality in the World At Large.  No one cares if you'll only eat yellow lentils, read only Chaucer, or call yourself a potato in quiet moments.  I've written at length (some might say ad nauseum) about how we each write our own story.  Our lives don't happen to us; we make them happen.  This is that, again.

You want me to call you WHAT?
You're kidding, right?

Whatever story you're living, you have filled in the details of how that Person functions in society.  You know instinctively whether the Person you are being can tolerate change or hates it.  You made it up, so it's yours.  You know in your heart whether the Person you built is sensitive to others or hard-core self-absorbed.  You made that up too.

No one cares unless or until your Personhood inflicts some sort of damage, chaos, or irritation on the Person they've created.

It's obvious how this theory works in the real world of your career and family.  If the story you've written makes it impossible for you to learn to get interact effectively with others, that's a big road block to success at any level.  If your Person of Design feels above it all and unable to suffer idiots, your Person is going to be sadly disappointed and in a constant state of distress because, let's face it, idiots abound.  If your Person is not who you really are, you will be depressed and anxious thanks to the cognitive dissonance created by the gap between belief and reality.

The down side of all of this is that it's quite possible to fall in love with your Person and be unwilling to give it up.  Bummer.
Finding an identity is
a worthy pursuit.

The downside is that you can, at any point in time, change the story, and the Person will respond readily, particularly if there are cookies.

Now think about the animals you're working with.  No, not the guy in the next cubicle who eats nothing but cheese for lunch.  If you're here on this page, you're doing something with horses or other non-human species.  Those animals don't do what we do.  They don't create stories about themselves.  They try sometimes to hold onto a story that's been changed.  Oh, my, do they try!  Just watch a newly gelded boy horse rejoining his herd after his month or so of absence for hormone amelioration.  He'll fuss and fume and blow himself up to his full pre-surgical stature, and a couple of the lesser beings in the herd might even show him a little respect.  But the interesting thing about herd dynamics is that they are fluid.  He told his story, the other boys looked him in the eye and saw that the fire was burning low, and they pretty much beat him into the submissive position they know he now deserves.  He was gone, after all.  I watched a dominant gelding return to the herd after seven weeks of layup to be pummeled and driven off to live with the mares.  His ego suffered greatly because his story wasn't panning out as hoped.

But on the whole, horses and other animals just are.  They live in the moment in a more reactive condition.

The difference between the returning deposed king and your cousin, Bert, who has recently taken to wearing open-collared shirts and letting his freak flag fly in the form of a Saturday Night Fever slouch, is that the horse is only sticking to his original script.  He hasn't caught on to the fact that the story changed.  He didn't change it.  Now he's stuck with figuring out which character he's supposed to be.  He'll figure it out because his life depends on it, and because he has no ego involved in the fight.  Bert rewrote his tale all on his own.

So if you approach your horse training endeavors with a story that doesn't really suit the situation, a story that your horse doesn't understand or that doesn't lend itself to the level of goal-oriented other-directedness required by the training setting, you're done.  Walk away.  Take up something less taxing.  Otherwise, be that horse.  Your life depends on it.

Being human, you have the option of self-analysis and a rewrite.  Figure out what part of your identity-based behavior--the stuff you cling to because you believe it makes you who you are--isn't working and change it.  Make yourself the person you need to be to succeed.  Possibly the biggest conflict between humans and other species is our unwillingness to change and our intense desire to force change on other animals.

See yourself as others see you, and edit, edit, edit!

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Finding the Middle

Calling it Quits on a Horse - Horse Collaborative

I'm going to start you right off with another link.  Read both articles, then we'll go on.  This one is about Keeping Horses and Owners Together.

This pair of articles are two sides of the same coin.  In the first, Denny Emerson fields a question about failed horse projects he's undertaken.  We've all seen those or had at least one.  If we hadn't, we'd all still own our first horse.

A failed project doesn't have to mean a horse was injured or died or was so incredibly mean and dangerous it had to move along to a new home.  Look at Mr. Emerson's list of reasons for a horse-human pairing not to work in his part of the horse world.  He's competitive at the very highest levels, so naturally he would need the highest level of athleticism, talent, and mind in his horse for it to be a successful pairing.

How many people reading this fall into that category?
Not average by a long shot.
Definitely not me.

That's what I figured.  None pretty much covers it.  If there are Olympic-grade riders reading my blog, you're in the wrong place.  Mr. Emerson covers that base nicely by explaining that there are many reasons for horse ownership, and some have nothing to do with competition.  Just having a horse is enough reason for some people to do so.

So what constitutes a FAIL for the rest of us more lowly horsemen?  Well, if we're low on funds and really like to ride and even compete at low levels, a horse we can't ride might be considered a failed partner.  I've heard lots of rescuers opine that just being in the presence of a horse is sufficient.  They  mostly aren't in the presence of anything but a computer keyboard.  For most of us, there has to be a reward at the end of the effort period to make it worthwhile.  If we're pumping the mortgage money into keeping an animal, we'd better be enjoying it.  Riding, driving, breeding, training...those are the reward for the majority of horsemen.

That takes us to the second article.  David Ramey, DVM, is a great vet and popular blogger and social media personality.  He's all of that for a good reason:  he knows his stuff.  If nothing else, his article will give you a few smiles.  It's hard to imagine comparing owning a horse to owning a snake, but it's a worthy comparison.
Also not me, but closer.
My daughter eventing at a moderate

If you have a snake/owner relationship with your horse, you're not likely to keep him around indefinitely.  That's not a real high investment in time and energy or even money, but it is an investment.  This is likely to be that animal lounging in the paddock behind your house with the run-in shed you clean once a month whether it needs it or not.  You like showing off Fluffernutter to visitors, put the occasional child on his back for photo ops, but you're not ever going to ride him again.  That could be because one of you is lame, sick, broken in some way, or just disinterested.  You don't get his feet done except under duress.  A dentist?  Do they  have those for horses?  He doesn't need shots, you figure, because he never sees other horses.  Just rabies in case the neighbor's dog bites him.  The reward is as minimal as the investment.

If you have a dog/owner relationship, you're in it up to your earlobes.  Dogs are a lot of work--more than horses, in my opinion, since horses walk themselves--and can be expensive.  There's nothing like a picky eater dog to make an owner's toes curl.  You can't just throw the dog a flake of hay and be done with it, nor can you turn him out in a field and let him fend for himself.  This equates to those high-end, high-maintenance horses (and owners) who can't be turned out without adult supervision, who need special feeds and medications to keep them upright, and who are finicky about which other horses (and owners) they'll  negotiate with over space and attention.  The mare who runs the fence line for hours when her owner is riding another horse falls into this category.  The shoer and vet have a room at the barn where they just wait for the next disaster to befall this horse.

But in the middle is the average horse/owner relationship.  We ride when we can.  We don't overpay for boarding at fancy establishments.  We don't think "lesson" is a verb.  If we have a goal, it's to get through another day at work so we can go to the barn and hang out with our equine partner.  Keeping those owners with their horses isn't as hard as it would appear.  What's needed is common sense and a decent attempt at a workable budget for both time and money.  It can be done.
Back-yard horsekeeping at a mid-level

Last week I wrote about horse-keeping on the cheap and said there is no such thing.  I stand by that.  The owner/snake option above is the closest to cheap horsekeeping, and it still requires  enough land for the horse to graze without the addition of grain or hay, weather good enough to continue that year-round, and a stream or other fresh-water option that doesn't require electricity or manual labor.  I called that a $1200/year horse experience.  That's pretty close to accurate.

From there, we go up the financial scale until we squeak.  I appreciate Dr. Ramey's advice to vets to help their clients stay with their horses by moderating, as best it can be moderated, their financial burden.  Getting only the vaccinations that are applicable in the are where the horse is living helps a lot.  Not suggesting high-end treatments and being realistic in discussing the animal's workable future are more important.  Being willing to suggest alternatives, whether it's a different barn that's cheaper that the vet happens to know about or a trainer who seems especially in tune with horses in his/her care would be helpful.  Horse owners are short on resources of the informational kind even more than they are tight on the financial side.
This reason for horsekeeping

So read the articles, and find your middle ground.  It's there somewhere.  Expectations are a lot easier to change than a failed experience will be after the fact.