Tuesday, June 23, 2015

You're Too Fat to Ride a Horse

No, no one has ever said that to me. And if they did I would make a mental note in my head to never have any contact with them again if I could help it. But I have heard it said to other people and it is apparently more common than one would think. I have also known people who were told they were too old to ride a horse or too weak to ride a horse. There is some truth in that if you are talking about a specific horse. I was talking about this to my trainer, Audrey yesterday while giving her horse, Ineke a massage and as I said that I added, "Well, there are people who are too weak to ride Ineke, I suppose!" Ineke is a fabulous horse and I absolutely love her (in fact, there was a period where I was taking lessons on her that I was begging Audrey to sell her to me!) but she is very big and very strong and very energetic. She's a big Friesan girl who is sweet and loving as can be, but also really enjoys life and movement and with the way she's built she has huge movements! So, if you don't have good balance and a strong core and really know how to ride a large, powerful horse it would be too much. But then I'd just put you on my Fjord, Geir who is also stout and very strong, but has a "babysitter" temprament and a long history of being a lesson horse so he knows how to just go slow and zone out and chill with a small rider or a scared rider who isn't very physically strong yet.

Much as I love my horse world that I live in, like everything else it is not perfect and there is a lot of competition between people and there are those who have beliefs about how things work that may not resonate with everyone. In fact, I'm sure my belief that anyone can ride a horse if it's the right horse does not resonate with many people!

I started thinking of this subject again over the weekend when it was brought to my attention that "when I'm ready" a person in my life is there to help me learn how to lose weight. I find that amazingly ironic since I'm a recovered anorexic. It kind of made me shake my head for a moment and wonder if I should mention, "Do you really think a recovered anorexic doesn't know how to lose weight??? Seriously???" It wasn't in the horse world, but it reminded me of people who have had experiences of being told they couldn't ride a horse well unless they lose weight.

Ah women's weight. WTF. As a chubby girl I can tell you with great confidence you don't have to be skinny to be a good rider. And I've seen some skinny riders who were very unbalanced and from a massage therapist's perspective were not doing their horse any favors. And yes, I've seen chubby riders like that too. But it's not the weight, it's the balance and core strength and you can have those two things without being skinny.

But if everyone just ate right and exercised we'd all be skinny! Right? That's what the diet companies say. That's what the diet magazines that masquerade as "health" magazines say. If Julia is chubby it must be because she eats poorly and doesn't exercise, right? Um. No. My day consists of getting up and going straight out to feed horses and clean paddocks before breakfast (often in my pajamas ...) then breakfast of toast with peanut/almond/or sunflower butter and coffee. Then a mid-morning snack of a piece of fruit, then lunch which is almost always non-fat plain Greek yogurt with berries and a half sandwich or salad. Snack is usually a granola bar or crackers and cheese. Dinner is usually a salad and some meat and sometimes some pasta or rice too. Dessert isn't every night but is something like a cinnammon roll or a cookie or brownie. My day consists of either riding my horses or (literally) running around after my students during lessons, doing work around the farm or garden, and cleaning up around the house or running errands. In the evening I try to remember to do planks (core strength is a big part of riding!) and attempt to do pull-ups (I have this ridiculous idea that I need to get strong enough to do pull-ups because I never have been). Yes, I could never eat dessert again, or not eat any carbs or stop eating fruit altogether and just eat protein and vegetables. And yes, I would be skinny. But I wouldn't be healthy. You can't just never eat carbs ever again. So, dieting is just not realistic for me and let's be honest, I don't "eat like a pig" and I don't eat unhealthy so why would I diet just because people think I'd have more worth as a woman if I were skinny again? Why would I want to do that to myself just because it makes some people uncomfortable with the fact that they will forever be dieting and I refuse to ever diet again?

Despite what Kate Hudson and other celebrities who go on about their "super-healthy" diets say, not eating carbs is so you'll be skinny, not so you'll be healthy. So, please, please, please people - stop equating how a person looks with how healthy they are.

In summary, you are not too anything to not try what you want to try. And I think it does not only other people but also yourself a disservice to look at someone and make a snap judgment on whether or not they are capable of doing something they really want to do. If you're sixty years old and have osteoporosis and not a lot of muscle strength I'm not going to send you to Audrey to ride Ineke, but that doesn't mean you can't ride a horse. If you can't mount a horse from a standard mounting block because of hip problems, or balance issues then you shouldn't go hop on a barrel racer or a straight off the track young Thoroughbred, but we can build a ramp for you to mount a quiet, calm horse and have a helper stand on either side for you to feel more secure if you're not balanced and it can be done. I hate to see people limited by being told they are too much of something or not enough of something and I think if there is enough of a desire to do something that is ultimately going to be good for you (like just about any form of exercise!) then it's worth finding a way to do it.

Ineke and me after our first lesson together last summer.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Matter of Perspective - Part 2

The two girls in the last post are both me - on a bad day and the other on a good day. I tend to have more good days than bad days, and honestly, my Girl One mindset usually only lasts about fifteen minutes and then it gets tiresome and I talk myself out of it. But I wrote them down because I've been thinking a lot lately about why I am generally happy and why I know some folks that nothing ever seems to go right for them. And when I say generally happy I don't mean all the time. I still was very sad when I had to put my horse down in December and grieved that and I get really pissed off if I watch the news and they're talking about politics, but I also appreciate that I have an exceptionally good life and there are things in my life I get excited about and every day has at least something I look forward to. I figure, if I could know how I got to this place of general happiness, maybe I could help others get here too? But I haven't quite figured out how I did so this is just another of my attempts to understand why some people tend to be mostly happy and other's don't.

One of the most valuable things anyone has ever said to me and it has helped me tremendously is that it does no good to base our happiness on something that has not and may not happen. A woman named Lucy Suzuki told me that years ago when I was still living in the city and I felt like I would never be happy until I was able to move to the country, which at that time seemed impossible because my husband had no desire to ever live anywhere but in the city. My life just wasn't what I thought it should be for me to be happy and it seemed like there were too many obstacles in my way to ever achieve those goals that would make me happy and therefore I was screwed and destined to a life of frustration and misery. Which really wasn't fair. Damnit.

But I took what Lucy said to heart and decided to try and make my life the way I wanted it right then and there with what I had. I dug up part of my yard for a garden, I got some chickens, I drove an hour each way to go out of the city for riding lessons and eventually was able to afford to get my own horse who I kept at a farm forty miles up north. And I made a conscious decision to find ways to be happy with what I had. And strangely enough it worked. I still think back fondly on my little "urban homestead" back in Seattle.

The thing is, even now living in the place that I thought would make me happy, I still have to work on my perspective every day to maintain feeling content with my life. It would be very easy to say "I can't be happy until I have an arena/a barn/a nice tack room/a truck/fancier horses" or "I can't be happy until there is a cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis" or any other number of things.

So today, you may have some really awful stuff going on, you may feel like without enough money or without being healthier or without having a better job (or even having a job) your life can't possibly do anything but suck. But just as an experiment, try to find something about your circumstance in this day to enjoy and be thankful for and entertain the idea that maybe you can achieve what you want with what you already haveeven if it doesn't look like your original plan.

As a concrete example, I'm taking a class called CERT which stands for Community Emergency Response Team, and today we worked on making splints out of whatever we had on hand. So my team mates made a splint for my leg out of cardboard, blankets, some scraps of torn fabric, and my KUOW messenger bag. And it worked just fine and the instructor said in a real situation it would work as a splint to stabilize a fracture. It's the same idea - work with what you've got and you might even have fun being creative with the scraps you find lying around in your life.

Here is a photo of my team mate, Laura Jean after saving me and my pretend broken leg.

A Matter of Perspective

Two girls move to farms at the same time - during summer when it is sunny and dry and beautiful and although there are obviously repairs that need to be made, both their farms are lovely and a childhood dream come true. Girl One is excited to finally live on a horse farm after a lifetime of dreaming of doing just that. But she came from boarding her horses at a long-time established facility with indoor and outdoor arena, ventilated tack rooms, hot/cold running water in actual wash racks and even more importantly, hired staff to feed and muck stalls. But hey, the work sounds worth it to have her horses at home. But as time goes on, she starts realizing this is a lot more work than she'd thought it would be. Feeding twice daily, mucking pastures (in mud and grass - which is much harder than mucking out a stall with shavings or a graveled paddock) trying to keep the tack in the old shed from getting covered in mildew within days of cleaning it, the rats - OMG the enormous rats!!! And the mud! Is the island sinking? How can there be this much mud and where did those ponds and that creek suddenly come from on the property? And is that a swamp? Because that certainly looks like a swamp appeared in that pasture overnight. The work to fix up this property that looked so nice in summer is never ending. And there is no where to ride her horses anymore! The trails are too wet, the yard is too wet and now her horses are at home and she can't even ride them. And it is so hard to get hay at an affordable price on the island, and why do the handy-men she calls to help with all these fixer-upper chores never seem to call her back. She's getting a repetitive use injury in her shoulder from picking poo and it seems like everything is covered in rust and moss and mold. Was this really her childhood dream? What's the point of following your dream if it's just going to end up sucking? It was so much easier living in the suburbs in a big house with a three-car garage and central air and forced air heat. Now the carport is something like 50 yards from the house and there are no lights so it is pitch dark once the sun goes down and having to carry groceries from the car to the house in pouring rain and pitch dark when you can't even see the trees in front of you? It's horrid! Add to that, her husband doesn't seem to want to help with the horses and when she asks for help it seems like just a trickle of help comes in but not enough to get her through everything.

Girl Two is excited to finally live on a horse farm after a lifetime of dreaming of doing just that. She came from boarding her horses at a long-time established facility with indoor and outdoor arena, ventilated tack rooms, hot/cold running water in actual wash racks and even more importantly, hired staff to feed and much stalls. But hey, the work sounds worth it to have her horses at home. And honestly, it is worth it.  The mud has been pretty easily remedied by planning out ways to replace muddy areas with layers of gravel and digging retention ditches. And both of those projects are kind of interesting because she and her husband had to do research the subject and learn as much as they could about mud abatement and drainage ditches. And thank goodness there are people on the island to hire to help with some of the hardest of the work. It takes some looking, but when you find the right person to help you it turns out awesome.  There is no arena to ride in but there is a forest literally right next door with miles of trails and even though it's kind of muddy it's still passable in places and it's a new adventure to get used to riding on trails more than doing arena work. And it's actually a pleasantly relaxing change (which the horses are enjoying too!) And it has brought up a whole new hobby - training to do wilderness equine search and rescue! Some of the work is really physically hard, but when she's run into periods of being too sore to do the work it's amazing how many neighbors are right there willing to help. The community of horse people in her new neighborhood is just amazing. It is so different from living in the city or even the rural suburbs and there is so much to learn, but it is so fun learning all this new stuff and it's become kind of a joke that she can't ever seem to get her hands clean. Her new theme song has become Red Clay Halo by Gillian Welch and that makes her so happy.

So, what is the difference between these two girls? Besides that it sounds like Girl Two has moved to a much nicer farm to begin with than Girl One? I'm curious to hear what people have to say about how these two girls could be in control of their situations and if they think Girl One could do something different to maybe make her life a little easier?

Here is a song for intermission before I go on to writing Part 2. And I really would like to hear people's ideas about this about their thoughts on Girl One and Girl Two's situations.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Reflections on Trying and Failure

I made the mistake of reading a couple of articles I saw linked on Facebook from personal trainers about "the real reason you're fat".  They were, I guess, supposed to be hard-hitting articles to challenge and motivate us folks who are not right where we apparently should be in the BMI.  The first one had some good information in it, and the second one was teetering on close to maybe having good information, but really the writer was having way more fun feeling superior to his subjects to actually get the big picture.  Speaking of big picture, I found a photo of him and he was overweight.  I'm not sure I want to take a lot of "hard hitting criticism" from someone about my being overweight if he is overweight.  But he was also covered in tattoos and still had all his hair despite being middle-aged.  And he had a hipster goatee.  So, apparently, all of that makes it OK.

But it got me thinking about the concept of "trying".  Both these articles said that if you have failed, and if you have not met your goal then you were not trying.  I like to think that we as a society had grown beyond the magical thinking that if you just will it hard enough it will be so, but apparently, we haven't (at least not in the world of weight loss - and also, I believe with horses).   I think the problem is not that people aren't trying hard enough, it is that often they are trying things that have been proven to not work but they know no other way, or that we are not seeing how hard they are trying.  The same can especially be said for horses because they can't directly tell us in our language when they are trying, we have to learn to recognize in their language what is going on with them.

I'm going to use weight loss as an example because it's something that I think a lot of people can relate to, especially when they're like me and in their late forties.  When I was young I was always skinny and it was pretty easy to stay that way.  Then I went through a phase of being anorexic and had the will power to almost starve myself to death.   I'm not proud to say that when one has that much will power, they do start to think "I haven't eaten since yesterday and I wear a size 24 in Levis and they're threatening to take me to the hospital - so what's your problem? Why are you fat?"  Well, as I grew older I realized that my will power wasn't from a source of strength, it was from a source of insanity.  And I gradually became sane and went to a normal, thin size.

Then I was pregnant with my daughter and gained fifty pounds, but figured it wouldn't be hard to lose.  And it wasn't for the first thirty pounds, but then everything got derailed when I had a horrible flare-up of Rheumatoid Arthritis and they put me on Prednisone.   After a year or so of bouncing around on other medications I got the arthritis somewhat under control and managed to lose that extra twenty pounds with a lot of hard work.  Then I came down with a rare illness called Subacute Thyroiditis and with my messed-up thyroid gained ten pounds rapidly over the course of a few months just by breathing.  Not long after that I broke my sacrum and back and was laid up for several weeks and gained more weight.  Now I'm back to being twenty pounds overweight (well, 15 pounds according to the BMI).   I eat better than most people I know, with two salads per day at meals, very little processed sugar, only whole grain carbs and most of my food is home-cooked/home baked so as to stay away from extra processing and preservatives.  I do pilates, I'm out twice a day doing farm chores, I ride horses, I walk a lot, and I have a part-time job where I'm on my feet the whole time.  My heart, blood pressure and cholesterol are great and other than my autoimmune disorder I'm a stunningly healthy person.  But to the weight loss community I am a failure.  And I'm a failure because I'm no longer "trying".  I'm not going to diet and I'm not going to starve myself.  Since I eat healthy and in perfectly acceptable amounts and am otherwise totally healthy I am just going to be "chubby" from here on out.  And that's ok with me.  But I really, really - did I say really?  - am tired of hearing it is because I'm not "trying".

Let me tell you something you may not notice when I'm hoisting fifty pound bags of feed over my shoulder to carry to the car, or when I'm mucking a large muddy pasture or dragging around fifty pound manure buckets or pulling a 100-pound stall mat across the barn.  I am literally in pain all the time.  I have been since I was about ten years old, when I first started having symptoms of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis.  I literally do not know what it is like to not be in pain.  I have a feeling if you took away all my physical pain I might go into shock and not know what to do with myself. I might actually miss it because it is so who I have been most of my life.  It might be like cutting off one of my feet if I had no pain.  Sometimes it's just a low grade pain like a mosquito buzzing around being annoying.  Sometimes it is a crushing pain that makes me stop  for a second and take a deep breath because it hurts so much to move, but if I don't move around the pain will just get worse.  Sometimes I can't sleep because something hurts so much, so I get up and move around because moving makes things feel better - but then I'm exhausted the next day.  Sometimes I stand up and my knees or ankles have locked and it hurts enough to make me want to cry to get them moving again and I kind of shuffle for a second like a robot whose joints have fused together.  And I try to play it off like "Ha! ha! I meant to do that!"

So, don't tell me I'm not "trying".  If I wasn't trying I would not be injecting these crazy drugs into my body just so that I wouldn't be crippled,  drugs like Humira and Enbrel and Methotrexate which much as I love them because I would be crippled without them,  they have a laundry list of potentially horrible side effects and long term possible issues.  If I wasn't trying I wouldn't make my life such that I am constantly forced to get exercise throughout the day (one of the tried and true natural ways to ward off being crippled by RA) and I wouldn't just be chubby, I would be obese.  And I would not be so healthy.   So, I try to remember that when I see someone that is obese or even chubby and not in such great shape.  Who is to say they are not trying?  Who is to say that they don't get up and function every day despite being severely depressed, or have a chronic illness, or just finished treatment for cancer, or their loved one is going through any of those things? Who is to say that most of the people we see who even though they are not rich, hot, skinny, or fashionable aren't actually trying extremely hard to make the best of their lives?

I see the same thing with horses.  Today was my first time having my trainer, Audrey, work with Maiden, the horse that I spent way too much time and money getting back from a bad situation that I made the mistake of putting her in to begin with.  Maiden had issues when I first got her several years ago, then they were resolving well with the help of my previous trainer, Karen,  then over the last nine months while she was at a different home, all that good training seemed to come unraveled again.  So, I wasn't sure what to expect with her lesson with Audrey.  And I was worried that Audrey wouldn't like her and was having some of that "Mom worry" about her giving Audrey a bad time.

I rode Geir over to the arena that we use to work my horses and Audrey rode Maiden.  Then I worked on Geir's walk, trot, transitions, bending, rounding his back, etc while Audrey worked with Maiden.  So, what it looked like to the outside observer was Audrey sat on Maiden's back while I rode Geir, then Audrey stood on the ground with Maiden, then Audrey sat on her back again.  To the uninitiated it looked like Geir worked really hard and Maiden and Audrey just sat there.  But honestly, I think that Maiden worked harder than Geir in some ways.  While Geir was doing what he does a few times a week with me, and is starting to get pretty good at it - Maiden was getting used to the idea of once again yielding to pressure - something that she was not too into when I got her,  got much better at, and is balking at again.

So, there was a lot of Audrey moving the reins just slightly to ask Maiden to bend, Maiden resisting, then finally yielding to the pressure and getting much praise.  But it didn't look like much on the outside.  But because of how self-protective Maiden is (and is even more so than she was before I stupidly gave her away last April)  it was a lot of work for her to just relax and yield to the pressure.  After a full hour of this though she was finally starting to trust Audrey and finally starting to remember how to do it and as Audrey put it, "We'll stop there before we fry her brain."  So, it didn't look like much was going on, but for Maiden there was an awful lot going on.  And she was trying very hard, one just needed to see the subtly of the situation to know that.

I try to think about that throughout the day as I deal with people and horses.  Who is resisting because they just don't want to deal, and who is trying harder than we see on the surface? And without knowing the full story, how could we possibly make the distinction between the two?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Oh, those evil gadgets!

(Edit note:  in the article I linked, what I call "draw reins" she calls "running reins" - just to clarify that distinction in phrases)

When I started training with my current trainer, Audrey, I was pretty anti-gadgets.  Not so much anti-the gadgets themselves but I had seen what could have happen if they're used incorrectly.  The exception is side reins, my old trainer, Karen had shown me how to use side reins when lunging to help a horse find the most beneficial way to use their body.  She also taught me what not to do with them, and there is quite a bit of "what not to do with them" that it seemed like a lot of otherwise well educated people were not aware of.

Needless to say, I was hesitant when Audrey suggested we try draw reins with my Fjord, Mr. Geir.  I was especially leery of their use because of the famous, nasty training method called Rollkur lots of folks have used as a "short cut" to get quick results for what is known as a "false frame".  Audrey knew I was leery of gadgets and acknowledged that and then explained what the point of using drawreins with Mr. Geir would be.  In his case, he has a habit of throwing his head up and back in order to avoid contact with the bit and when he does that his back hollows and he pulls himself along with his front end.  Audrey wanted to draw reins to keep him from being able to throw his head back.

So, we've been using them the last few rides.  For one thing, they're not very tight and I hold them with my regular reins just like I would when riding Audrey's horse with a double bridle.  Watching Audrey ride him with the draw reins I was happy to see that they did not pull his head down, but they did keep him from whipping his head up and back.  And when I'm riding him there are more times than not now that I feel him round his back and use impulsion from his hind end, which feels really cool.

I thought this article explained well the roll that "gadgets" can play in training.  
Just like the other tools for communication in riding, side reins, draw reins, dressage whips, spurs, etc. can either be training aids, when used by someone who truly understand equine anatomy and kineseology.  Or they can be painful and detrimental to the horse when used incorrectly.   I had the same experience with pilates,   I went to a mat class once at a gym and I tried to do the exercises correctly but no was working directly with me - the instructor was up at the front of the room several rows away from me.  Afterward my neck was strained and my lower back was wrenched.  I decided I hated pilates, until I tried again, this time with a one-on-one class with an instructor guiding me through the exercises on a reformer machine.  The second time it was still very hard work, and my core muscles were sore, but nothing was strained or wrenched and over time it has been very beneficial to the way I ride horses and use my body on an everyday basis.  Just an FYI for locals, that was Shelly Gossard in Seattle who is an excellent pilates instructor.  I worked with her until I moved to the Eastside and started working with Beth Glosten, who I also highly recommend.

So, Mr. Geir was out being worked with draw reins today during his training session with Audrey.  And I'm sure someone out there will be horrified by that.  But I feel like I'm giving him the opportunities I've had with pilates, when I've been in a class with Beth Glosten and she has stopped to help me by tapping my belly where I'm supposed to engage the muscle and touching my shoulder to stabilize it so I don't use my neck/shoulders to compensate, it is very similar to what Audrey does with Geir with taps and pulls and pushes to say "use this muscle instead - there you go - see how it's easier to move now?"  And Geir has that same excited "I did it! Did you see what I can do?!" glow about him that I have after making it through a pilates class.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Riding as a Therapeutic Activity

This is a follow up to my last post about visiting Beth Ness's facility with my instructor, Audrey last week.  In the previous post I talked about the change in Audrey's horse, Duvessa's back after a lesson with Beth where Beth had Audrey ride Duvessa in such a way as to help her work on using her body correctly for the upper level dressage moves they will be working on as Duvessa continues her training.   What had impressed me the most about watching this lesson was that I had checked Duvessa's back before the lesson and she had a stress point and quite a bit of tension in the left lumbar region of her back.  I mentioned this to Beth before the lesson and then left it at that.  After the lesson, I checked Duvessa's back again and the stress point was still there, but some of the surrounding muscles were less tight and a bit more hydrated and pliable.  These are the changes we aspire to as bodyworkers, and although I don't know enough about training (yet) to know the right physical exercises and drills to have the horse do in training to achieve those results, it is inspiring to see trainers like Beth who do.

I mentioned in the previous post how much it reminds me of myself and my pilates classes and how learning to use different muscles can feel like they don't actually exist when you're first learning how to use your body in a new way.  In the video you can see how Duvessa is struggling to figure out what Audrey is asking her to do at first, but near the end of the video you start to see how she's slowly starting to understand.  By the end of the lesson that day it was like someone had cut loose her hind end and it was moving in a much freer and more relaxed way.

So, it was very exciting to be able to see first hand how a professional trainer such as Beth can teach the rider how to tell the horse to do certain movements that are essentially acting as physical therapy - in that the movements themselves cause some of the same reaction as stretching and body work. I hope to always be learning about training throughout my career and it's always a pleasure to work on a horse who has such a good trainer working with her because the team of trainer/bodyworker can be a very beneficial one.  That said, it can also be challenging for bodyworkers when a horse is in training with someone who doesn't know how to help them use their body most efficiently.  But that is another post and luckily for me not something I've had to deal with yet.  It is a fine line because I know how a horse best moves for certain activities but I'm not a trainer myself, so it's a fine line to tread of what is appropriate for me to advise if I ever do have a client whose trainer's methods were hindering the client's horse's physical well-being. 

Luckily, so far in my experience I've met a lot of people who do things differently from each other but so far everyone has had the horse's best interest at heart and is doing everything to the best of their education and abilities.  For the most part (despite having volunteered at horse rescues and seen the worst of the worst of animal abusers - so I know they exist) the people I meet in the horse world may have different opinions, ideas and views on horse care, but they all appear to care a great deal about their horses and do the best they can for them whatever that looks like.  Whether it's the FEI level trainer with an amazing education on horse anatomy and movement and has a beautiful facility with wonderful comforts for both people and horses, or the backyard owner who knows her fuzzy little ponies are hearty enough not to need blankets in winter  (which is good because she can't afford them) and her fences are propped up and tenuous but her horses seem to be doing great despite her not being able to afford anything other than clean hay, a bareback pad and a decent bridle.  I think we all share a common bond of wanting the best for our horses and I think that's pretty cool.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

How You Ride Your Horse Matters

Today I had the opportunity to go to my riding instructor's riding lesson.  Yes, my riding instructor takes lessons too.   Even Grand Prix trainers I know take lessons at clinics.   Recently, one of my friends, who was riding my Fjord, Geir - the second time in her life she'd been on a horse - asked me why I still take lessons if I already know how to ride, and I realized that the answer is much more complex than just "I have much more to learn" expresses.  Well, yes, I know to a certain degree how to ride the walk, trot and canter, and of course there is a lot more to learn about the upper level moves like piaffe, passage, canter pirouette, etc.  but even more than that there is still so much to learn about the mechanics of how a horse (and rider) can best use their body. 

Imagine if you were watching a ballet and the dancers were straining to do the moves and they were pushing and forcing their way through moves without the proper base strength necessary - you would notice right away.  I'm learning that you can see the difference in horses too and it's not just a matter of how it looks when the horse moves, but of how sustainable it is for the horse to continue as an athlete.

Massage definitely helps a horse, as does chiropractic, but a huge factor in a horse's athletic longevity is how they use their body.  I'm not a horse trainer by any means so I am not the person to ask how to train a horse to use their body properly, but I had the opportunity to watch a trainer today who does know how to do that and as a bodyworker is was really exciting to see how much of a difference a trainer well educated in equine biomechanics can make.

My instructor has done a wonderful job training her Irish Sporthorse so far, but her mare is still young - seven years old - and still growing and she'd reached a little bit of a sticking point in their training.  I checked her mares back before she rode today and I noticed some stiffness in her lumbar region, with a stress point on the left side and the tightest of the muscles on her left side.  I off-handedly mentioned to my instructor's trainer that her mare had a stress point on her left side and was very tight then just sat and watched.  The trainer had her walk for the majority of the lesson and had her side stepping one leg over the other ... over and over again.  It ended up being exhausting to watch because you could tell how much the mare was resisting the movement.  It just wasn't the way she normally moved and trying to understand what she was being asked to do was a challenge, not to mention it was using her body in a way that is different than what she defaulted to doing.

If anyone has taken a private pilates class where the instructor really helps you isolate those core muscles we don't generally use in our modern lifestyles, you'll know what I mean.  You try and try to engage these muscles that you swear don't actually exist in your body, and the pilates trainer (or the reformer machine) helps support your body, or restricts movement of a part of your body so that you are put in a position where you need to use your core and then after enough support and enough instruction you finally find them and suddenly you are moving your body in a completely different way.  Well, that's what happened to my instructor's mare - right in front me as I was watching, I noticed her hips begin to open and get more swing and her back began to loosen up and you could see in her eye that she had discovered the muscles they were asking her to use.  When the lesson was over she stretched her neck out and stretched her back and let out the biggest sighs.  She was so cute, you could tell she'd really had an "a-ha!" moment in how she moved her body and it was all because the trainer knew what kind of repetitions to do and how much to do them (well, and of course my instructor rode them so well!).

After the lesson I checked her mare's back and the stress point was still there, obviously, but the muscles around her lumbar region were so much looser and pliable.  It was really a very cool thing to get to witness.   We're planning on me working on her later this week, and I already know that my plan is to relieve that stress point and give the homework of "do those exercises in the arena every time you work that you did with your trainer on Saturday".

I'll ask permission tomorrow to see if I can use a video from the lesson today and if I can use the name of my instructor's trainer because I think it would be nice to give credit where it is due.  It was a very fun day for me to get to be around such beautiful, sweet horses and watch some really great training.

For now here is a picture of my instructor's mare, waiting to get tacked up for her lesson.  She's a beautiful horse, and I love her big, sensitive eyes.