Well, this has been an interesting week. Mr. Sweaty and I spent Wednesday night in the ER with a family member. Everything turned out okay, but let's just say we all got a wake-up call on the hazards of long-term alcohol consumption. Everyone knows about the liver, but I'm here to tell you that your pancreas has an opinion as well. Not a good one.
In fact, Mr. Sweaty and I have decided to embark on an experiment in nixing the booze. We both tend to nerd out on health metrics and such, so it'll be interesting to watch the impact on everything from sleep to skin to body composition. Stay tuned.
The other thing about spending a night in the ER is that you don't get any sleep. Plus, I managed to aggravate a spot in my back that tends to go into spasm. All that gave me a chance to explore how I could adjust my workout plan to accomodate reality. (Look at me learning to accept setbacks in my old age! Instead of pushing through no matter what, I actually honored my need for recovery. Yay, me.)
I'm a fan of intentional recovery, as opposed to just rest. There's a big difference between spending an easy day foam rolling, walking, and taking an Epsom soak versus lounging on the sofa with a bag of Cheetos.
I took a cue from this oldie-but-goodie All Banged Up post by Whole 9 and focused on anti-inflammatory nutrition, bodywork, and gentle movement. I did more yoga and less strength training than usual. My running mileage actually came in about the same; I just bumped the days around a bit. And (not reflected in my tracker), I also walked a lot.
In other news, we met with the excavator at our new property. Despite a foot of snow, he was able to give us the good news that our ideas for the house and barn area will play nicely with the land itself. Hooray!
We're currently waiting on the building designer to bring back draft house plans. In the meantime, I need to sit down with a map of the acreage and plan for fences. I'm thinking of creating three pastures of roughly 10-12 acres each. (File that project under Reasons to be Fit!)
Speaking of being fit, I finally managed to get Ledger out for a walk-trot in hand. This was dual-purpose: I need to get my body ready for an off-treadmill 10K in late March, and Ledger needs to ease (mentally and physically) back into work. We're limited to the roadside for now because everything else is made of ice and mud, but he sure seemed to enjoy the diversion. That makes two of us!
It was 1980s human potentialist Marilyn Ferguson who said, "Fear is a question: What are you afraid of and why? Our fears are a treasure house of self-knowledge if we explore them"
I don't think the real horseman exists who hasn't been afraid at one time or another. Author Mary Twelveponies breaks the fear of horses into three, common categories:
I've felt all three at various times, usually more than once and sometimes for extended periods.
But the others...they must be faced squarely, evaluated, and addressed. Through education. Through creativity. Through graduated exposure. And sometimes, through good, old-fashioned "getting back on the horse."
Fear is a question: What are you afraid of and why?
Originally published in The Barb Wire, May 29, 2011
For the first thirty years of my life, I didn't consider myself an athlete.
I was the kind of kid who preferred books, animals, and blackberry picking to any kind of team sport. I had good parents who made me try all the things: kiddie soccer, basketball, ballet, softball, swimming, track. I liked some better than others, but nothing stuck. By the time I hit high school, I had no interest in trying out for any kind of team.
In undergrad, I became what I'd call an "exerciser." I jogged or went to the gym, maintained a healthy bodyweight, and had no trouble meeting the demands of farm life. I rode horses and rowed rafts and spent a lot of time outdoors. I even completed a half marathon once, but that was mostly about running away.
For the first time in my life, it dawned on me that I felt like an athlete.
An athlete! Me!
But...was I really? My only official sport was endurance. Try as I might, I couldn't get comfortable with the notion that distance riding, in and of itself, was what made me an athlete. In truth, endurance riding was one of the easiest wilderness challenges (physically speaking) that I was engaged in at the time.
I also noticed that, for whatever reason ~ advancing age, cumulative injuries, chronic illness, family responsibilities ~ a lot of riders made it through distance events on grit and knowledge, despite an absence of noteworthy fitness.
That's not a moral judgment; it's just a fact. And it made me consider: If someone who doesn't especially condition herself can do as well or better than a fit person in the same event, then simple participation in that event does not make me an athlete.
Back in my "exerciser" days, I was reasonably fit. But I didn't intentionally train to improve my physical stamina and skill to better engage in sport. I wasn't an athlete yet.
On the flip side, one of the athletes I respect most, ultra runner Tommy Rivers Puzey, recently spent months in a hospital bed, enduring a grueling race against a rare cancer. He could scarcely open his eyes, let alone run, but he was an athlete still.
That said, I think it's fair to say that fitness and athleticism do tend to correlate, especially over time. An athlete may not appear fit at a particular moment, but he or she will usually manifest change in that direction as months or years go by.
Indeed, this sport is special because it allows non-athletes of all ages to play a thrilling, glorious, risky, challenging game. It is a gift from the horses, really, that most of us cherish and none of us deserve.
But what if you do want to approach riding as an athlete? What does that look like? What does it mean? What would it cost, and what might you gain?
We equestrians have a way of getting prickly about the physical demands of our sport. We brag to our officemates about pushing wheelbarrows and hefting oats. I've even heard riders compare posting 25 miles to doing squats for hours at a time. (To that one, I'm just going to say it: If you really believe that, sister, you're either posting wrong or you're squatting wrong, or both.)
Ouch. I know. Ouch.
I'm not saying that endurance riding isn't hard. It is. It takes knowledge, persistence, and courage. Riding 100 miles in a single day hurts like hell. But I'll bet it doesn't hurt like doing about any other sport for the same length of time. (Except maybe golf. Or baseball.)
Hell, I'm middle-aged, short, and about as genetically average as it's possible to be. I can't imagine running or swimming or rowing or sailing or cycling or climbing for 20 hours straight. But even I can ride that long.
Being an athletic rider means that I eat well, I sleep lots, and I cross-train hard. Hard enough to build my body, my character, my feel. Hard enough to honor the effort with which my horse honors me.
I run for my horse. I lift for my horse. I stretch and fuel and recover so that I can be there for him ~ really be there ~ in the dark hour on the mountain when it's just the two of us surging over unseen trail, my hands in his mane and his body in my mind, melting together into a single, sweat-soaked creature that is worthy of being called Us.
What kind of rider are you?
There's no wrong answer, as long as you're fair and inquisitive and kind.
If you happen to be the type who wants to be an athletic rider (or even if you're just athletic-curious), the upcoming series of posts on Building a Better Rider is for you. Over several weeks, we'll explore how endurance riding benefits from running, strength training, yoga, and nutrition. (In case you're wondering, it has almost nothing to do with weight loss.)
You can follow The Sweaty Equestrian on Facebook, or use the little form in the right-hand sidebar to subscribe and never miss a post.
Well, boys and girls, here we are. Two weeks of 2022 are already in the books. How is your year going?
I feel like I've been super focused on a handful of different things. As usual this time of year (when it's too slick and muddy outside to do much with the horses), fitness gets a lot of attention. Here are my stats:
I didn't muster the attention to subtract out my warmups and cooldowns from my runs, so my paces are still skewed to the slow side. Maybe I should put a notepad on the treadmill to help me remember. My weekly mileage already nudged above 20, but I'm feeling great so I guess that's okay!
I need to go buy some trail running shoes. My plan is to slowly add mileage in the great outdoors to prepare for that trail 10K in March. The treadmill is great, but I know it's just not the same! I'll start with paved roads due to the weather and move to trails ASAP.
Speaking of ground: Exciting News!
Mr. Sweaty and I closed last month on 40 acres of land. It's an hour's drive northeast of our current farm, nearly adjacent to thousands of acres of public land. My little distance-riding heart is about to explode! We met with the builder last week to start on on designs.
Here's a sneak preview:
We're headed out there today to start figuring out where horse facilities and fence lines might go. Lots to do, gotta go!
Earlier this afternoon, Stacy Westfall offered a webinar that resonated with my own preoccupation of the month: Setting Goals and Overcoming Obstacles. I glean nuggets from Stacy every time I hear her talk, so I jumped at the chance to attend. Here are my notes:
Stacy started out with the obvious question and answer: Why set a goal? Because, as Zig Ziglar famously said, "If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time."
It still rings true, doesn't it? If we don't even try to get what we want, we are essentially choosing to live without it.
Then why do people stop trying?
Stacy Westfall on Failure
Stacy observed that the most common reason people stop trying is failure ~ either fear of future failure or the pain of past failure, or both. Sometimes, this fear is so crippling that people give up.
Anyway, Stacy suggested that anyone struggling with goal setting take time to explore their past failures. Are those failures getting in the way now? What could you do differently next time?
She also encouraged listeners to examine their own thoughts and judgements regarding their failures. A question she asks herself is, "What am I making it mean when something isn't going as I wish?" The meaning we impose on failure is often more impactful than the failure itself.
Stacy Westfall on Change
Next, Stacy explained that changes is uncomfortable because our brains are hardwired for all things safe and familiar.
Sometimes, it helps just to understand what is happening at a physiological level. If nothing else, we might give ourselves a little grace and be in a better frame of mind to try again. We can also anticipate when diversions are imminent and strategize to stay on track.
Stacy Westfall on Dreams
Stacy threw out a couple questions to help listeners define their dreams:
Stacy observed that they are really the same question. Are they? I only partially agree. To me, #1 is more freeing on the dreaming front, while #2 offers a dose of reality that somehow makes the dream itself seem more courageous.
Stacy Westfall on Overcoming Obstacles
Prior to the webinar, Stacy provided a workbook to help listeners plan for overcoming the obstacles that are an inevitable part of goal-seeking. (I believe the workbook is still available for free on her website.)
Each failure, then, leads us to an opportunity. We may need to gain knowledge or build skills, or simply pay more attention to practical ways of planning ahead. "Understanding and accepting failure as part of the journey," Stacy said, "frees up my mind to be present."
And being present ~ not hung up on the past ~ is key to starting again.
I think I'm ready to solidify my goals for 2022. Getting to this point has involved much daydreaming, scribbling, cringing, and parsing of my whats and whys.
2022 Theme: Curiosity
What if I pursue my goals with curiosity rather than urgency?
Will I get fitter if I let myself explore the value of time spent on mobility rather than a few extra sprints? How will my feet respond to running on the street and trails rather than indoors? Might Bellalunaa react better if I explore different reasons she exhibits certain behaviors, rather than assuming the problem is disrespect? Am I willing to risk many hours of specific training to see whether it's what Ledger needs to calm down in a race environment?
So, what are the actual goals I'll be pursuing with that attitude of curiosity? Here they are, presented absent any color commentary:
2022 Fitness Goals
2022 Horse Goals
Okay, 2022. You're on!
As a bonafide nerd, I consume a lot of content related to horses, fitness, productivity, and nutrition. (Also interior design and true crime, but those are topics for other places.) Here are some of the best bits that have caught my attention lately:
Free Webinar by Stacy Westfall: Setting Goals and Overcoming Obstacles - 1/15/22
Stacy Westfall is a talented horsewoman and educator. I've been using her approach to goal-setting for 2022, so I jumped at the chance to hear her focus more on the subject. The free event is coming up this weekend! You can register and download a free workbook at Stacy's website.
Free Webinar by Old Dominion: When Shit Goes Wrong at a Ride - 1/18/22
The Old Dominion Endurance Ride folks are hosting a free webinar on "how to handle when shit goes wrong and bad things happen." Why hasn't had that kind of day? Mark your calendar for 7:00 - 9:00 pm EST. For the Zoom link, e-mail Sonja Knecht-Hoshi at firstname.lastname@example.org and she'll send it your way as the webinar date gets closer.
Strongest Year Yet: A Free 2022 Health & Fitness Launchpad by Mark's Daily Apple
Mark's Daily Apple and I go way back...back to before "paleo" was cool...back when MDA had few enough readers that I actually won some stuff in the early blog contests there. Mark Sisson was one of a handful of folks who got me on fitness and nutrition track that I credit with keeping me healthy and strong for the past 15+ years.
Strongest Year Yet is a primal lifestyle introduction and support structure for women over 40. It may be a bit basic if you've followed that stuff for a while, but it's a great place to start (or re-start) if you're focused on aging well this year. You can join Strongest Year Yet for free at Mark's Daily Apple.
Centaur Biomechanics Blog
Last week, I stumbled across the website for Centaur Biomechanics. Based in the UK, this company is "dedicated to bringing the latest biomechanical analysis and interpretation to horses and riders of all levels with the goal of optimising equine health and performance as well as improving the ridden interaction between the horse and rider." [Quoted from the Centaur Biomechanics website.] Their blog offers many posts on issues that affect the comfort and performance of horse and rider, from perceived vs actual rider symmetry to how hoof shape influences saddle fit.
Free Endurance Ride Web Pages for Ride Managers
You may have noticed some changes to The Sweaty Equestrian website. I've done some cost-cutting in support of my decision to not charge ride managers for web pages this year. Instead, I'm offering to build the pages for free and asking managers to pay it forward by giving a half-price ride entry to a junior or new rider.
The idea is to give back to the sport, both by encouraging future participants and supporting ride managers. I'll take on as many as I can manage, first-come, first-served. Feel free to spread the word to the ride managers you know. Click here for details.
Podcast Recommendation: Marathon Training Academy
You don't actually have to be training for a marathon to enjoy this podcast. (I'm not, either.) MTA is a well-produced show offering two episodes per month on topics that are relevant to most runners. A couple of my recent favorites are Interview with Sally McRae: Keep Your Heart Up (posted 12/9/21) and Issues Faced by Slower Runners (posted 11/11/21). Search your favorite podcaster or there MTA website for more.
That's it from me. If you've found something cool lately, feel free to drop a link in the comments!
My first week of 2022 has been a balancing act. In the gym, it was a case of injury vs. ambition. I'm excited about chasing some new running goals, but it's sooooo easy for me to add too much, too soon.
My problem (which is, as Clinton Anderson would say, a good problem to have) is that my systems are fit enough to overstress my structures. And that's exactly what I did during the last week of 2021. I did a hard, fast interval run that gave me an exhilarating aerobic push -- just what I was looking for -- but also woke a familiar pain in my shins.
Often confused with shin splints, compartment syndrome causes pain due to expansion of the muscle beyond what its inflexible fascia sheath can accommodate. It initially impacted me on endurance rides. Trotting downhill was especially brutal, and I'd end races with my shins so swollen the skin was shiny. I'd hobble around for weeks afterward, feeling as though my legs had been beaten with a 2x4.
Foam rolling, custom orthotics, and compressions sleeves all but eliminated the issue...until that interval run. Since then, I rekindled my relationship with my ice pack and The Stick. I also kept running, but I dialed it back a bit.
Here's my weekly wrap:
Total: Just shy of 18 miles, which safely within the 15-20 mile range that I'd like to maintain most weeks throughout year. I kept myself to one V02 max workout (you're welcome, shins) and added a weekly long run. Well, long-ish. Baby steps.
The average paces look even slower than the really are because my warmups and cooldowns are included. Calculating this way is easy because the treadmill keeps track for me, but it's a bit demoralizing. I'm slow, but I'm not that slow! Maybe I'll actually do my own math next week.
Happily, I stuck to my mobility goals. I ended the week feeling better than I started, shins included, without compromising my workouts overall. I did cut the lower body work out of one strength session due to a tweaky knee, which I'm pretty sure was compensating for its neighboring shin.
Speaking of systems (respiratory, circulatory, etc.) and structures (bones, ligaments, etc.), my own experience this week serves as a good reminder as I look ahead to spring conditioning for the horses. They, too, build aerobic capacity much faster than their tissues can remodel. It's my job to throttle them back.
After all, I'm supposed to be the one that knows better.
One more thing: Mr. Sweaty and I both signed up for the Owyhee Off-Road Challenge 10K. It's not until late March, but I'm already excited! The course includes a very long uphill section, which motivates me to do plenty of incline work...starting as soon as I get my shoes laced up.
Did you ever get up from a chair or reach for a dropped object and think, "Damn, I'm moving like my grandmother?"
Yeah. Me too.
My joint mobility is actually pretty good. (Ignore the ice pack on my knee. Really. It's just and old ski injury that flares up on occasion.) My real battle is with posterior chain muscle tension. It shows up most in my hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
This is particularly noticeable after a long or fast run, or when I increase the weight on my back squats or deadlifts. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to ignore it until it gets quite bad. Why do I do that?
I explored that question as I was doing Stacy Westfall's 5 Steps to Blow Your Own Mind exercise (podcast episode 159). One of the steps is to list the reasons you haven't achieved a particular result before now.
#4 is, admittedly, more of a time commitment. Yoga makes a massive difference in how well I feel, not to mention how well I ride. 25 minutes is shorter than most of my runs, so it takes my running slot on non-running days and I still come out ahead. (Also, goodness no, I don't have time to drive to a yoga studio! I use the Down Dog app.)
One more thing: I'm making a point of getting to my chiropractor/soft tissue guy at least monthly. Not only is the regular maintenance good for injury prevention, but it helps keep those old twinges (ahem, knee, ahem) under control.
That's it! Habit formation is underway, and I plan to end this year feeling better than when I started. How about you?
Dr. Aaron Horschig of Squat University demonstrates his quick shoulder warmup
Movement Enhanced demonstrates a deep squat with thoracic rotation exercise
Adam Schafer of Mind Pump explains how to perform a 90/90 hip stretch
Free Printable Quick Mobility Flow and Muscle Activation Warmup Sheets
Can you believe it?
For most of my life, I rejected the notion of New Years resolutions. Surely anyone who was serious about a goal wouldn't wait until January 1, or their birthday, or even Monday! I still feel that way, actually. Nevertheless, my fortieth decade finds me rather more contemplative as winter solstice whispers past and the calendar turns.
In recent weeks, podcasts have been keeping me company while I slog through farm chores in a foot of melting snow. I've been listening to Stacy Westfall, making a second pass through her year-end series on past and future goals.
My brain must work a bit like Stacy's, because her thoughts on the subject usually resonate. I've spent considerable time pondering her list in Episode 159: 5 Steps to Blow Your Own Mind. You should really give it a listen because her delivery is so thoughtful, but here are the bones of it:
Stacy Westfall's 5 Steps to Blow Your Own Mind
I found this an excellent structure on which to hang my rumination about what I want to accomplish in 2022. My mind went to the usual places: fitness, horses, productivity. And, as Stacy predicted, I got a little tangled up in the "what" and the "why."
Have you ever noticed that your initial assumption about "what" you want to do is actually a manifestation of your "why?" Realizing this may lead to a reframing of your "what." Stacy uses the example of a goal to ride your horse bridleless. Perhaps, in exploring your "why," you discover that what you really want is more effective communication with your horse. You might then adjust your goal to reflect the desire for effective communication instead of bridleless riding.
For me, this iterative way of considering "whats" and "whys" dovetails nicely with Episode 162: Leave Room for the Magic. In this one, Stacy talks about our tendency to either lose sight of our dreams in the mess of nuts and bolts that it takes to get us there, or else never implement the nuts and bolts because we're too busy dreaming.
I'm still parsing out my whats and whys, my outcome goals and process goals, my dreams and my nuts-and-bolts. Only some of my goals (the ones to do with horses) have those Disney-style dreams attached. Others (the ones to do with fitness) are typically in service of being able to chase the horse dreams and other lifestyle benefits. It's interesting to think about.
I'm not just thinking, though. I'm also embarking on the nuts-and-bolts implementation. Ever notice that you can start on a road trip without knowing your exact route? As long as you know your general direction, you can make progress while you research the details.
One step at a time, right?
Hay is expensive! There’s nothing more frustrating than watching your horse toss his meal out of the feeder onto the ground. Not only does that behavior lead to waste from trampling and wind, it also increases your horse’s risk of sand colic.
What Makes a Good Horse Hay Feeder?
Over many years of horse ownership, I’ve searched for a solution that:
Having struck out on commercial options, I came up with a way of modifying a bunk feeder from my local farm store to meet the above criteria. I made two of them last spring. Since then, they have been tested by at least six, different equine personalities…and approved by me.
I needed one more, so today I took pictures as I pulled it together. Take a look at the final product, then I’ll show you how to make your own.
What You'll Need
To make your feeder, you'll need:
How to Make Your Waste-Less Horse Hay Feeder
This is really easy, I promise. It took me about 30 minutes, including finding the right drill bit and pausing to snap photos.
STEP 1: Drill holes in your bunk feeder. Fun, right? It's easiest if you tip the feeder on its side.
The red arrows in the photo below show where the holes need to go. Hint: The mid-point between the legs is at the 9.75 inch mark
You'll put three holes on each side of the feeder, just below the lip. I find that this spacing works really well. It's easy for me to slip flakes of hay between the crossbars, but hard for the horse to throw them back out.
STEP 2: Thread both ends of one of your sections of paracord through one of the holes. Leave enough of a loop to clip on a carabiner.
The purpose of the carabiner is to keep the paracord from slipping through the hole. You could use something cheaper, like a large washer, but I like the carabiner because it doesn't have any sharp edges to wear on the cord, and it's easy to unclip if I ever need to remove the crossbar in a hurry.
STEP 3: Thread one of your sprinkler risers onto the paracord.
The purpose of the PVC riser is to keep the horse from getting tangled in something more flexible (like chain or uncovered paracord). It's also not particularly interesting for most horses to chew on, and it's smooth against their faces as they root around inside the feeder.
STEP 4: Thread both ends of the paracord through the hole opposite the one you started with. You should have a few extra inches on the other side, which will make it easy to tie a simple knot to close the loop. Be sure you pull the cord pretty taut before tying your knot. Mine ended up with just enough slack to expose about an inch of paracord on each end of the PVC riser.
Clip on another carabiner to keep the knot from trying to slip back through the hole over time.
REPEAT STEPS 1-4 to add the remaining two crossbars. Ta-da!
STEP 5: Use the cam straps to secure your new feeder to the fence. This way, it's easy to detach the feeder for cleaning, but your horse can't push it all around his paddock.
That's it! For less than $150, I have a bunk feeder that is the best combination of easy use and effectiveness that I've managed to find yet.
How well does it work? That depends on the horse. I'd say it keeps 90-100% of the hay off the ground for most of my horses most of the time. My determined hay-tosser occasionally gets up to half of his hay out of it, but usually much less. I call that a win.
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Mr. Sweaty and I had a fantastic time at Old Selam 2021! The ride was well managed, as always, and full of friends supporting the SouthWest Idaho Trail & Distance Riders (SWIT&DR).
As you may recall from The Worry List, I was planning to ride the Day 1 50 on Starfish, then do a day or two of LDs with Ledger. Unfortunately, my concerns about Starfish played out and I decided not to ride her, after all.
So, Ledger got to go instead. You can read the ride stories here: Day 1 and Days 2-3. I didn't have room for all the fun photos (mostly taken by Mr. Sweaty) in the stories, so I tossed the rest of my favorites into the slideshow below. Enjoy!
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Alrighty, then. Having survived Day 1, Ledger and I donned our tights and tack for Saturday's LD.
I'd made a tentative plan to ride with my friends from the day before ~ the ones with the young Arab and the adorable mule ~ having first extracted a promise that they wouldn't wait around for me if I needed to work Ledger through some challenges.
We started with groundwork again and waited for the crowd to leave. As agreed, our friends went on ahead. The trail began just as on Day 1 ~ with a sharp turn back toward camp just a quarter mile out. This time, I was prepared for fireworks!
But, none came. Bonus: I didn't have to wade across the creek.
Sure, Ledger was excited. No, he didn't want to walk. But we didn't have any crazy antics ~ and blessedly, no more half-rears. Yesterday had taught us that neither the leverage of a junior cowhorse nor the gentleness of a mullen mouth was ideal for him in this situation. I really wanted a regular, d-ring twisted wire snaffle, but I didn't have one along. So, we made do with the non-leverage ring on the junior cowhorse.
Loop 1 featured the usual assortment of youngster shenanigans: Trot too fast, try to canter, get denied, try again. Try really hard to trot too fast. Catch up with mule and spend a couple miles with muzzle buried in mule's tail. (May the heavens rain carrots down upon Applejack the Mule. He is my hero.)
The last couple miles of the loop found us a hundred yards or so behind another rider, who was taking it slow. Ledger still had plenty of spark, but this was a perfect chance to make him deal with going my pace despite seeing another horse ahead. We walked ~ or tried to ~ and yielded into a one-rein stop every time he broke gait. Over and over. Until finally, he got it.
We walked in on a loose rein. Good boy!
Now, the vet. Ledger had been quite an embarrassment on Day 1, fidgeting, half-heartedly swiping at the vet with a hind leg (GASP!), and running me over on his trot-out. This time, I did a little extra work before getting in line: I thoroughly patted down Ledger's belly and flanks looking for ticklish spots (none found) and reminded him of his head-down cue.
We finished with all A's. The vet said we were good to go for Day 3, if we wanted. I did want to, of course... but ...75 miles in a weekend for a first-time horse? That sounded like an awful lot. I want to build this horse, not break him!
Not one to pass up an opportunity to build on his improvements, however, I volunteered to pull ribbon on a 12-mile loop. We could do those miles slowly, I figured, and just mull over our lessons learned.
Back to the one-rein stop. Yeehaw! Ledger folded around and stood still, shaking. I tried not to let him see me laugh. He absolutely refused to go back up that hill. I got off and showed him the way, but not without stopping to document his bulging eyeballs as he skirted the cemetery with flanks aquiver.
Friday, September 3, 2021. In the forest near Centerville, Idaho. Early.
Breakfast goes down on a queasy stomach. I slept some, between long bouts of tossing and turning. I'm not super nervous ~ Ledger has good training, I know these trails, and we're only going 25 miles ~ but first rides are first rides, and anything can happen. So I'm a little nervous.
Ledger has cleaned up his hay overnight. He stands quietly for tacking up, with the help of Mr. Sweaty and a bowl of Outlast. The temperature isn't too far above freezing. Ledger shivers despite the blanket draped over his rump. I do, too.
My plan is to trot straight out of camp after most of the field is gone. Ledger will protest about leaving Starfish, but a little smack on the butt should be all it takes to keep him moving. Once we're out of earshot, we'll be golden.
Reality isn't quite like that.
It starts out well. A little reluctance, a little weaving, a little piaffe that's better saved for the dressage ring...but we're out of camp without much trouble. Hooray!
And then, the ribbons lead us sharply to the right. So sharply that Ledger reckons we're headed back to his buddy. That's when he loses every marble he has.
I feel him gather as if to run. One-rein stop! That shuts down the speed, but not the tension. He spins around. Stops. Gets light in front. Uh-oh! Disengage hindquarters NOW! We spin and spin until I find a split second in which to dismount.
On the bright side, I'm not cold anymore.
Ledger has turned into a dragon. His whole being is electric. He wants to run, to buck, to rear, to get back to camp, to catch the other riders. He wants to do pretty much anything except lead like a nice boy.
We try anyway. A few stragglers come up behind and pass, asking if we're okay. We are. More or less. We're just going to go in hand for a bit.
So of course, there's a creek crossing. Knee-deep on both of us. Ask me how I know.
Squish, squish, squish! Both of us press water from our boots as we walk and trot up the hill, across a paved drive, and into the trees. It takes a good mile for Ledger's brain to reinstall sufficiently that I decide to mount up. He's still a live wire. We negotiate. Trot, but not too fast, and I'll stay out of your mouth as much as possible. No, we aren't whirling around to find your buddy. And you really need to concentrate going down this hill!
He nearly falls on a steep decline because he isn't paying attention. I dismount again. I am a card-carrying member of the I Choose Life Club, folks. Happy to walk when I need to. Besides, Ledger's front boots are already twisting. I forgot the athletic tape (gah!) and the fit is imperfect. We pause to re-set the worst one, but it twists again within minutes. We'll just have to do our best.
He settles, eventually. More or less. I ponder the rearing thing, and realize that the junior cowhorse bit we tried at home -- in a much lower pressure situation -- may be too much for him. It doesn't have much leverage, but it does have some. I'll switch at the check.
Speaking of the vet check, it's...interesting. Ledger stomps his hinds as if to threaten the vet (ACK!!!). Or is he just annoyed by his boots, like Jammer tends to get when we're standing still? Speaking of standing still, Ledger doesn't. I apologize to the vets, who are very understanding of my first-time-pony woes. Ledger proceeds to run me over during the trot-out.
Okay, so there's room for growth. I swear we practiced ahead of time. We'll practice more. And we'll leave his buddy home next time, because that seems to be where all his brain cells have gone.
At least he gets all A's.
He eats. I find a mullen mouth twisted wire D-ring snaffle and make the switch. Mr. Sweaty brings me food to eat as I change both my boots and Ledger's. He drinks. I drink, though not the beverage I might have liked to enjoy. Just water, alas.
And then we're off. In a bubble, thank goodness, no horses in sight. We bob and weave our way out of camp again, then hit a steady trot as Starfish's hollers fade. Ledger is still pretty wound up, and I'm dismayed to catch up with a group of riders just a couple miles along. A few more come up behind us, compounding the potential for overexcitement. Oh well, he has to learn sometime!
I stay aboard for more of this loop, but still walk plenty. Ledger does not lead nicely. He wants to GO! I get tired of his bad manners ~ not something he's displayed at home, but we all know rides bring out new behaviors! ~ and start making him back up the trail every time he gets rushy in hand. He does a lot of backing.
Some strangers on a four-wheeler ask, "Aren't you supposed to ride him?"
"Ride him?" I say, "I'm lucky he doesn't make me carry him!"
It's an old joke borrowed from an old friend, but it still makes me smile. Actually, I've smiled most of the ride. (Hike. Whatever.) I went into this knowing I'd probably have my hands full, and I'm content to deal with the situation as it develops. I'm not in a hurry. And for all Ledger's fire-breathing nonsense, I'm really loving what I see.
Back to the trail. By mile 20, I have decided that if the junior cow horse bit was too much, the mullen mouth isn't enough. We need a happy medium. Where's Goldilocks when you need her?
One week from today, I will (knock wood) be riding at Old Selam, which is Idaho's longest-running endurance ride and one of my favorites.
Old Selam has been a ride of many "firsts" for me:
This year, I hope to add two more:
But you know how it is. With firsts come worries.
Well, okay, ALL endurance rides come with worries! But firsts are the worst.
Instead of downing a handful of Xanax, I'm trying to identify the individual sources of my generalized anxiety. That way, I can strategize to mitigate them as much as possible, and maybe even get some sleep the night before.
So, here we go:
Worry #1: Starfish's Nervousness
Here's my plan:
Why the SmartDigest Ultra?
Well, I've found that when horses' tummies gets grouchy, they often respond rapidly to a dose of Equerry's Electro-Probiotic Paste. Within 15 minutes, their appetite returns and they resume life as usual. I've had this work in several horse, and I always keep a few tubes on hand. Naturally, I considered including it as a preventative in Starfish's race-day protocol. It doubles as an electrolyte source, too! BUT WAIT...the paste contains sodium bicarbonate.
Maybe the Equerry's paste doesn't contain enough bicarbonate to matter, but I'd rather err of the safe side. So, I went looking for a product that offers similar probiotic and other stomach-soothing ingredients without the sodium bicarbonate (or any substances that would violate AERC's drug policy). I landed on SmartDigest Ultra Paste. The ingredient list compares favorably to the Equerry's paste in terms of probiotics, and it has even more soothing ingredients like pectin, kaolin, and l-glutamine.
Overkill? Maybe! But I'd rather be sure she's comfortable all day long.
Anyway, back to my worry list.
Worry #2: Ledger's Boots
The problem with "almost" is that it usually isn't quite good enough for a long trail ride. The 1s stay on and, after some hoof touch-ups with my rasp, they aren't twisting anymore. However, they do have just a bit of a gap at the quarters that makes me wonder if we'll have trouble with them coming off once we throw in a few creek crossings and steep embankments. I'll keep working on the trim and bring along some athletic tape, just in case we need to wrap his hooves for a better fit.
We're also trying to figure out interference protection. He doesn't interfere badly, but he did knock himself in the front once before his shoes were pulled. For now, I'm putting fetlock boots (the kind designed for hinds) on all four, which looks a little odd but offers the protection on want in front.
In the rear, I'm watching carefully to see whether his near-side boot rubs on an old wire scar that bumps up on the front of his fetlock. If it does...well, I'm going to have to get creative.
Worry #3: Behavioral Unknowns
Will they settle in camp? Will he eat while she's out on the trail? Will she get anxious at the start? Will he be racy? Will she cross mud? Will he cross water?
My mind could spin in these circles forever. Or, I could put as many tools in our toolkits as possible and know that even if we have some trouble, we'll be prepared to deal with it. I've been focusing a lot more on groundwork than usual -- running the horses through Clinton Anderson's Method properly, in order and without skipping anything.
My original reason for doing so was to lay a foundation on the ground for dealing with specific issues under saddle with Starfish. I wanted to have all the "buttons" installed to help me redirect her when faced with her nemesis: boggy ground.
I'm definitely not above dismounting to deal with a sticky situation. I call it joining the I Choose Life Club. Ha ha.
Some people worry about getting off because the feel it rewards the horse for bad behavior. Stacy Westfall addressed this in one of her podcast episodes. Her solution? "Get off more." The idea is that if you dismount frequently, regardless of the horse's behavior at the time, the horse won't associate the dismount with his behavior. Clinton Anderson's take is that as long as you deal with the behavior, it doesn't really matter to the horse whether you're mounted or on the ground.
All things considered, I think we're ready. Mostly ready? Ready! We've practiced vetting and trot-outs, climbed hills, watered at canal banks, dialed in diets, tested tack, and packed the trailer. Now, it's time to do our best and see what happens.
As I reach the end of my last bucket of Buckeye Perform N Win, I find myself on the hunt for a new electrolyte product to use during conditioning. (I normally use something with higher concentrations during 50-mile or longer events, when replenishment is more urgent.)
Perform N Win was popular among endurance riders for its sweet taste and gentleness on equine tummies. I wrote to Buckeye to ask about the discontinuation and rumors of an upcoming re-formulation. They responded quickly and kindly with the following:
I also asked on social media what other AERC riders who used to use Perform N Win are using, and thought I'd share the jist of the responses here, since that post will soon be buried.
This is hardly a scientific survey, but the most popular electrolytes among respondents to my post were Mad Barn's Performance XL and Kentucky Performance Products' Endura-Max. Some riders were also using Kentucky Performance Products' Summer Games, the product suggested by the former maker of Perform N Win.
I pulled the comparison information below directly from the product labels. The companies format their analyses a bit differently. (Note things like sodium and chloride breakdown vs just salt, and chlorine vs chloride.) Being neither a nutritionist nor a chemist myself, I won't attempt to elaborate or interpret. Instead, I included complete ingredient lists for a fuller picture. If you're knowledgable on the subject, please do add your thoughts in the comments!
A couple of the analyses include additional nutrition information. For example, Summer Games offers copper, iron, manganese, and zinc; Performance XL offers vitamin E and ascorbic acid.
Most riders who commented on Mad Barn's Performance XL noted that their horses love it. A couple said they (the riders, that is) didn't care for the smell of the product. One noted that while it doesn't include a buffer, it is not caustic. This makes sense, given the relatively low sodium concentration.
The KER article notes that well-respected endurance vet and rider Dr. Garlinghouse combines equal parts electrolyte and kaolin pectate in a blender to make a smooth, tummy-friendly concoction that can be syringed into the horse during competition.
In the interest of thoroughness, other favorite electrolytes cited by riders on social media included: Apple-a-Day, Perfect Balance, and DAC. One rider also mentioned Endura-Max Plus, which is a paste version of the same KPP product. It includes a buffer but, at about $10 per single-serving tube, is considerably more expensive than the powder.
I'm thinking of trying the Mad Barn product for use during conditioning, as its lower concentrations should be easier on the horses' stomachs.
For competition, I like the idea of buffering Endura-Max with kaolin pectate (which can be purchased by the gallon for $10-20, depending on the vendor). My horses typically eat their electrolytes in a mash, so I'll have to test whether they'll mind a bit of kaolin pectate in the mix. Stay tuned.
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Well, maybe he will and maybe he won't. Only time will tell. But, he has potential!
This is A Knight's Tale, affectionately known around our farm as Ledger. (You've seen the movie, right?) I found him in southwest Oregon, having been nicely started by an owner who didn't quite have the time to meet his demands for a high-energy job. He's seven years old, 15.2 hh, kind, and a little bit too smart.
Before I go on, shout out to his seller for doing things right. She advertised him 100% honestly: He's not for a rider who wants to go slow. He needs regular mental and physical work to stay out of trouble. He has some old scars from tangling with a fence as a youngster. Speaking of fences, he doesn't always like to stay in them.
He's also sweet, sound, and sane, and the seller insisted on a 30-day trial period to ensure a good match. She internet stalked and interviewed me, and included a buy-back and first right of refusal clause in his sale contract. We're now friends on social media, and I love having her support as I launch into his new career.
I brought Ledger home five weeks ago. The drive was a beautiful 450 miles across central Oregon. I spent nearly 12 hours on the way back, easing my precious cargo through the twisty mountain highways. We arrived home tired, but none the worse for wear, and spent our first few weeks getting to know each other.
Ledger was trained using Clinton Anderson's Downunder Horsemanship Method, with which I have some familiarity because I had another horse trained that way a few years back. When a "testing" behavioral issue cropped up, his seller was very helpful in advising me on the specific groundwork that would punch the right buttons in his brain. It worked...and that got me thinking about revisiting the Method to refresh my memory. More on that later.
As Ledger settled in, his personality and athleticism burst out. As promised, he loves to go down the trail and appears to be the kind of athlete that eats workouts for breakfast. He bounds up hills like a jackrabbit. He's fitter than I expected -- a happy surprise -- though I was aware that his seller had been working toward a September LD. I suspect he's the type that would let me work him too hard, so my present mode is one of cautious progression. I don't want to take advantage of his strong aerobic system before his structures are ready.
I got his teeth done and had my favorite vet/chiropractor look at the funky kink in his loin. He doesn't seem to have any pain or limitation associated with it, and goodness knows he can get his hindquarters under himself! The vet assigned me some bodywork exercises to see if we can smooth out that bump, but said it doesn't seem to be anything to worry about.
After our successful trial period, I led Ledger down to my neighbor, a retired farrier, to get his front shoes pulled. I'd been prepping his hooves with Durasole and was pleased to see that he walked out nicely on pavement and gravel immediately after the shoes came off.
I did some trimming to balance his feet and was quite pleased by the progress. (Sorry, I forgot to take an "after" photo.) Size 1 Easyboot Gloves fit him fairly well right off the bat. It's not perfect; they stay on but twist a little, so we may need to do the athletic tape wrap thing for his first event.
Assuming no surprises, Ledger will be coming along to Old Selam in a couple weeks. I think he could probably do a 50. However, I'm going to play it safe since I have a thorough knowledge of him and his fitness history. We'll probably try for the LD on Day 2. If he finishes looking stellar, we can always do a second LD on Day 3.
And now, the sun is up and coffee is gone. It's time to ride!
By the middle of July, all the talk of tough 100's and buckles had my attention. Too many years have passed since I made it to all the rides, rode all the days, dreamed all the dreams.
Yes, there was one thing and another. Injuries (me), syndromes (horse), fires (house), change (career). But now I have ~ god willing and the crick don't rise ~ two sound horses and a fairly cooperative physique.
I also have the realization that I've kind of let myself settle. Settle into the ease of conditioning when I could (which is to say, not enough) and prioritizing other things.
There was a time when I simply couldn't get my head around how people could be content to do only a handful of rides per year. They wanted to do other things, too. Go to family events. Travel. Garden. Whatever.
I didn't understand it then, but I understand it now.
I've always been the hot or cold type. I'm in or out, on or off, black or white. In attempting to find a healthy balance between trying hard and accepting things beyond my control, I managed to put myself in the unfamiliar gray zone of half-assing it. Unfortunately, in this sport, half-assing it isn't enough.
Tired of sitting on the sidelines with a not-quite-ready horse, I decided to buckle down.
Step one was to identify my highest priorities. Here they are, in no particular order:
Step two was to make sure my partner was on board. I told him what I wanted to accomplish with the horses, what it would cost in time and focus, and how I intended to balance that with other priorities. His support meant I could proceed without guilt or resentment.
It still looks like that, and you know what? It's working. My days are very, very full, but they are also very, very satisfying.
While cleaning paddocks or sorting hoof boots, I often listen to Endurance Horse Podcast. I've been struck lately by the tenacity of riders who stuck to their dreams despite family, health, and economic challenges. Some of them slogged through years of setbacks, but eventually they found a way.
They are who I want to be when I grow up. So today, I buckle down.
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2021 AERC Convention Notes: Nick Warhol on What Makes a Great Endurance Horse, and How Do You Get One?
You know Nick Warhol, right? Over 13,000 miles in 13 years of endurance, 30-plus 100-milers, ride manager, former AERC board member, and storyteller. Yeah, you know the guy. His talk at the 2021 AERC Convention was worth the price of admission. (You can still access all the Convention sessions through the end of March!)
Warhol began with a disclaimer: All opinions are his and could be argued by others.
I reckon that’s true of anyone trying to sort out what makes a great endurance horse. We all agree on good feet, correct conformation, and all that…but Warhol’s focus went more than bone deep: His #1 most important trait for an endurance horse: its mind.
Warhol listed a variety of mental attributes of a good endurance horse, noting that some are trainable, and others are not. Here’s his list:
This is about the point where Warhol began spinning stories. Those were the best part, but you simply have to hear them in his voice. I’ll just capture his practical points here.
Spooking (the phantom type, not the occasional honest spook) is problematic and even dangerous. Warhol said that, in his experience, spooky behavior is best addressed through relationship rather than training.
Okay, I can’t resist. I’ll pass along one story:
Warhol had a gorgeous, talented mare. She was fabulous, but he clung on as he rode her, afraid of hitting the dirt (again) on one of her dramatic spooks.
A friend finally advised, “Don’t ride her like she’s gonna spook. Ride her like she’s not!”
He added that no matter what horse you buy, it’s possible her personality and mindset will change when you start doing endurance. Your unicorn could turn into a dragon at the starting line. It is, quite literally, the nature of the beast.
When asked how to prevent race brain, Warhol answered like a card-carrying member of what I call the I Choose Life Club: “Go ahead and get off until they calm down. When the frenzy stops, get back on.” Cheers, Mr. Warhol.
Of all the talks during Convention, this one resonated with me the most. I’m currently searching for my next "perfect" endurance horse. No, I’m not shopping. I’m assessing a couple mares that are already in my pasture.
Neither is perfect, but they both have so many strong points. Some of their weaknesses can be trained away. Some of their strengths may evaporate under the pressure of an event. Only time will tell.
I’m working with the pair of them. Listening, watching, asking questions. Where do they shine? What imperfections can I live with? Are the good things about each horse good enough to make up for the bad ones?
Here's the thing: Those mares are watching me, too. They're reacting to my strengths and weaknesses. The difference is that they don’t have a choice. They’re stuck with me. So I’d damn well better give them my very best.
You might also like:
Dr. Stephanie Seheult on How Your Body Works with your Horse
Dr. Langdon Fielding on Electrolyte Problems in Endurance Horses
Dr. Melissa Ribley on Riding in Different Conditions
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I always enjoy presentations by Melissa Ribley, DVM. Her talk at the AERC Unconventional Convention on March 6, 2021, was especially effective in sharing her passion for traveling to endurance rides all across the country. My notes capture the highlights, but there's no substitute for the full video, now available from AERC through the end of the month.
Dr. Ribley is an extremely experienced endurance vet and rider. Not only does her AERC record span well over 20,000 miles, it also reflects her love of traveling with her horses. Competing in different regions means implementing good hauling practices and being prepared for all types of climate and terrain. Dr. Ribley shared tips on all counts.
Five Reasons to Ride Out-of-Region
Dr. Ribley started by sharing some enticing reasons to explore endurance rides in other regions:
I've only made it to one out-of-region ride in the past, and it really was fun for all the reasons above. Dr. Ribley got me thinking about doing more, but I'm not sure how I can pull it off on a practical level. My vacation time doesn't go as far as I want to! Maybe in retirement. Stay tuned.
Tips for Traveling with Your Horse
Dr. Ribley provided excellent advice that can reduce stress for both horses and humans on cross-country treks with the trailer:
Tips for Riding in Diverse Terrain
Once you get to your destination and give your horse some rest, it’s time to ride! Dr. Ribley offered thoughts to bear in mind when riding in different types of terrain:
Tips for Riding in Diverse Climate Conditions
As both a vet and a rider, Dr. Ribley is well acquainted with the impact of climate on horses’ ability to perform. She shared some excellent advice for keeping our equine partners safe in all conditions:
Dr. Ribley took some extra time to focus on hyperthermia. Horses whose temperatures exceed 103 degrees Fahrenheit are in danger!
Do you ride out of region or in diverse conditions? Are there tips you'd add to Dr. Ribley's list? Share them in the comments.
You might also like:
Dr. Stephanie Seheult on How Your Body Works with your Horse
Dr. Langdon Fielding on Electrolyte Problems in Endurance Horses
More conference notes are on the way! You can subscribe to receive email notifications when new posts are published. Just fill out the mini-form in the right-hand sidebar.
I love seminar notes. Rarely can I take the time to go back and watch an entire presentation, but I do re-read my scribbles for a refresher on the key points. I hope that sharing them here will be helpful to you as well.
Of course, I can’t possibly share all the details from this stellar session by Langdon Fielding, DVM, MBA, DAVECC, DACVSMR, and self-proclaimed electrolyte fanatic. To really take advantage of his generosity, register with AERC to access the 2021 Unconventional Convention content, which will be available through the end of March 2021.
Sodium in Endurance Horses
Dr. Fielding began by sharing a typical lab panel taken from an “Ain’t Doin’ Right” horse at an endurance ride. The panel showed higher than normal sodium and lower than normal potassium, chloride, and calcium. He posed the question: Is the problem here too much sodium or too little water?
Because sodium is all about the balance between electrolytes and water, identifying which side of the equation (sodium or water) got the level out of whack is key to preventing a repeat performance.
Potassium in the Endurance Horse
Moving on to potassium, Dr. Fielding said so much of this electrolyte is lost in sweat that low levels are common on lab panels taken during endurance events. Some horses tolerate low potassium better than others, and it’s not always problematic. However, low potassium is common in horses that are struggling or require treatment.
Dr. Fielding added that although weakness is a classic symptom of low potassium, this can be hard to differentiate from normal fatigue in an endurance horse.
Calcium and Thumps in the Endurance Horse
Dr. Fielding noted that although calcium is clearly tied to muscle and heart function, it is less consistently associated with endurance horses that are having trouble.
Low calcium, typically in addition to loss of potassium, chloride, and sodium (in Dr. Fielding’s words, "lots of electrolyte abnormalities colliding"), can contribute to synchronous diaphragmatic flutter, or thumps. Interestingly, thumps may be observed in a horse that is otherwise fine, as well as in a horse that is exhausted.
Dr. Fielding noted that feeing a horse alfalfa (which is high in calcium) can help thumps resolve within an hour or two, but cautioned that giving electrolytes to the horse could be risky if the horse is dehydrated. He said a vet would generally treat thumps with IV fluids including calcium.
It is possible – though this has not been rigorously tested – that feeding a low calcium diet during conditioning, then offering alfalfa just before the ride, can help prevent thumps. Dr. Fielding cautioned against doing the reverse; that is, eliminating alfalfa at a ride if a horse is accustomed to consuming it.
Dr. Fielding wrapped up his presentation with a reminder that problems in endurance horses aren't always about electrolytes…and when they are, the answer isn’t always about changing products or administering more.
Did you get a chance to listen to Dr. Fielding's talk? What did you find most interesting?
You might also like: Dr. Stephanie Seheult on How Your Body Works with your Horse
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Was anybody else thrilled to see that both days of AERC’s 2021 Unconventional Convention start with a focus on rider fitness? It seems to me that interest in this topic has increased recently. Maybe it’s not my imagination!
Dr. Stephanie Seheult kicked things off with a session entitled “How Your Body Works with Your Horse." Dr. Seheult is a Doctor of Physical Therapy with a Bachelors in Health Science, as well as an active equestrian. Most of her clients at Advanced Physio are also riders.
Dr. Seheult described two, common causes of pelvic imbalance:
Dr. Seheult also emphasized the importance of the gluteus medius muscle for lateral stability in the saddle. She said one side is usually stronger than the other. On the weak side, your hip flexor must compensate for your inactive gluteus medius, forcing you to use your hamstring to lift your heel to get your leg on the horse. Whew!
My favorite part of the presentation was the self-evaluation exercises. Dr. Seheult encouraged us to try a few tests in real life as she talked:
Anyway... Dr. Sehult had one more test:
After the self-evaluation exercises, Dr. Seheult was joined by Jeanette Henry, owner of Positively Pilates. The two of them work together on Ride Advanced with Positively Pilates.
I won’t even attempt to recite the nuances of the gentle pilates session Ms. Henry talked us through. It focused on the neutral spine and a rider’s ability to keep the pelvis centered while rotating the legs outward. I found the pilates exercises easy and pleasant, and can definitely see the benefit of looking more into pilates as a way to further strengthen and balance my core.
Access to the videos is closed during the duration of the convention (March 6-7, 2021), but my understanding is that AERC will reopen registration next week. If you didn't get a chance to catch this session the first time around, I highly recommend taking the time to watch the video and try the exercises.
It always seems so much more productive to run, spin, lift, ride, or write. But I know that's short-sighted. Like strength work, mobility work is key to athletic longevity.
How about you? Did you watch Dr. Seheult's session? What did you get out of it?
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Sixteen inches of snow fell on my farm over the weekend. They turned my regular farm chores into a sweaty affair involving trudging through drifts with armloads of hay, swapping out horse blankets bedazzled with icicles, and digging out the truck in case of veterinary emergency.
In this weather, everything is harder and takes longer. Chore time winches up from ten minutes to half an hour. Eventually, I stomp back into the mudroom, dragging my coat and brushing damp hair back under my beanie… and go change into my workout gear.
What is it that compels me to maintain official workouts even when daily life offers exercise aplenty? What, in my nerdy little brain, separates "workouts" from "general activity?"
For me, this is different from general activity.
Now, general activity can certainly confer the benefits of physical exercise. It’s arguably the most natural way to stay fit. Just doing stuff – trudging up hills, pushing wheelbarrows, carrying posts, digging holes, heaving feed bags – it all makes me stretch and strengthen, bumps up my heart rate from time to time. What’s not to love?
I’ve certainly dragged inside after some exhausting days of building fence. I’ve enjoyed putting my feet up after riding a tough 50. At these times, I may consider myself to have gotten plenty of physical activity, but I don’t credit myself with a workout.
Splitting hairs? Probably. But I find value in the distinction.
On a related note, as beneficial as general activity is, very few of us do enough of it. I often hear riders claim they don’t need to work out because they get their exercise taking care of their horses. After all, just feeding and grooming and paddock scooping earns them more steps than your average Joanne!
I’ll grant you that. But is Average Joanne the right benchmark? “Average” these days is pre-diabetic with chronic back pain and mood swings. I don’t want to be average.
I could probably maintain reasonable health on farm chores and a decent diet. I could certainly still ride long distances. People do it all the time! But I wouldn’t get any better. You know what Henry Ford said: Do what you’ve always done, and you’ll get what you’ve always got.
I want more. So, for me, general activity – even when it gets an extra boost from snowfall or unexpected groundwork with a frisky pony – is only a baseline. I’ll spin and run and lift my way up from there.
All the best riders I know make their own fitness a priority. Can you be a distance rider without working out? Yes. You can be a knowledgeable horseman and get your horse fit and make it through 50 or 75 or 100 miles. But will you be the best rider you can be?
What do you think? What is a workout? Is there a different definition that works better for you?
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Despite its challenges, nothing could have been better for my personal fitness than this pandemic.
Working from home saves me about 90 minutes of commuting. By the time I add that to my usual workout allotment, I can put in over 2 hours of gym time most days ~ especially while winter keeps her thumb on my riding opportunies.
Since our new treadmill arrived in early December, I've found myself on an unusually cardio-heavy binge. Don't get me wrong: I still believe that strength training is queen, especially as we age. Nevertheless, I have really been digging the cardio.
The great thing about having extra time is that I've allowed my usually-overzealous mind to settle into a very gradual building phase, particularly in the running department. I've been a casual runner since undergrad: did a half-marathon once, incorporated hill sprints for HIIT, enjoyed some trail runs.
Over the last year, though, I've battled foot pain courtesy of bunions, flat feet, and (my podiatrist informed me in a frustrated tone) longish toes. Seriously? Yeah. Apparently, my toes are long enough to place extra burden on my already-taxed forefeet. Awesome.
Anyway, orthotics are helping. I've spent the past two months reintroducing running to my repertoire...veeeeeery gradually. By "gradually, I mean that I started with one-minute jog, one-minute walk intervals and took 8 whole weeks working up to 40 minutes at a 12-minute mile pace.
Not fast. Not impressive. But right where I needed to be.
As I walked and jogged, day after day, Rivs talked about systems and structures. Our systems are things like respiration and circulation; our structures are our muscles, tendons, and bones. Both need to be brought along slowly enough that we don't injure our weaker bits because the rest of our components feel strong.
You know what? It feels fantastic. I love the exhilaration of stepping with confidence onto a foundation that was built slowly enough to be solid. Feeling my lungs and muscles burn with effort, not with pain. Layering capacity on those systems, those structures, one tough workout at a time.
Of course, I never complete a single run ~ nope, not a single one ~ without the horses on my mind. Their turn is coming. Spring lies just beneath the four inches of snow that fell last night. I can feel it.
I've been spending time with my new mare lately, touching up her feet and lunging her a bit in the round corral. She has the foamy sweat of a seasonal pasture potato, but the energy of a spring wind. It would be so easy to climb astride and ride too fast, too far, too soon.
I'm grateful to have the benefits of long, slow distance freshly drilled into my brain. In the coming weeks, all the hard workouts will be for me. My mare will get the easy ones, week by week, until what once seemed hard is nothing at all, and what once seemed impossible is only a stretch away.
It’s February already! How are your 2021 goals coming along?
We all know how common it is for early enthusiasm to wane in the face of everyday life. Ambitions bow to apathy, and soon we find ourselves saying, Well, I’ll start on that next Monday. Or next month. Or next year.
And yet, some people manage to do great things. Whatever “great” means. They lose 50 pounds, ride 100s, raise kids on their own, finish triathlons, write books, recover from illness, step away from the rat race, master public speaking.
“Great things” are the things that matter to us, as individuals. Are we making them happen? Today, are we doing something to make them happen?
Like Rivs, I’m a big fan of process goals.
Want to get that challenging filly trained? Spend some time with her every day – even if you can’t ride, at least get out there and pick up her feet an whisper in her ear.
Want to run a 10k? Lace up your shoes and go outside – any pace, any distance – just get out there. Everything counts.
Want to lose bodyfat? Choose to cook salmon instead of ordering takeout tonight. Not for the rest of your life, but just tonight.
If you’ve fallen off the wagon on some of your 2021 goals, so what? Hop back on. Zoom in from the end goal to the process. Doing something hard doesn’t mean every step needs to hurt.
Today is the day to replace inertia with momentum: Just do something. Then, keep doing that.
The only key is consistency.
Thanks for dropping by! I'm an endurance rider in the northwest region of the United States. This blog is about distance riding, training, and the practice of being my best self for my horse. I hope you'll come along for the ride.