Somehow, impossibly, Jammer is seventeen.
He has always been an old soul, and now his body is catching up. His spine dips. His joints warm slowly. His mane has thinned.
This is the horse who carried me 100 miles in a day, on more than one occasion. He cleaned up for several seasons on the endurance trail. We won things. He won me.
And then, the headshaking. Strange symptoms finally coalesced into a diagnosis. I retired him early. Sadly. A piece of me retired with him.
In the years since, I've ridden him from time to time. We even top-tenned at one, last 50-miler in 2020. It was the best thing that happened, that Covid year. The worst thing happened, too, when he colicked a couple months later.
He pulled through, but I retired him for good. And he has aged. Perhaps it's being without a job, or just without enough movement.
He is sound and sane, as kind a gentleman as ever.
But the headshaking is insidious. Though managed, it causes stress. All those vertical flicks have hollowed his topline, so lovely in his prime.
I don't know how long we'll have. Probably many years, but fewer than we would, if not for that chronic syndrome.
So, I have decided. I'm going to ride Jammer regularly again. Get his body moving. And his mind. And mine.
Like many endurance horses, Jammer is tremendously experienced, but he is also perpetually green. We always focused on conditioning, not training. I hadn't yet committed to more advanced work under saddle.
It's never too late. To give us purpose and direction, I'm going to take Jammer right through all the basics. Soften him up laterally, then vertically. Practice some sidepasses and patterns. Perhaps he's up for flying changes.
To keep things interesting, I'm going to do it bareback.
Well, why not? We'll keep rides short. I'm not going to ask his high-mileage hocks for anything crazy. We'll use a nice bareback pad and a plain, old snaffle.
Besides, I could use the practice.
It'll be like learning ballroom dance with my spouse in our seventies. We'll improve our balance and strength. Exercise our hearts. While we're both still here.
A little girl lives a quarter mile up my road, on a three-acre plot with a battered farmhouse and tumbledown fence. She runs to the mailbox when I ride by, and she calls me "her Highness" when she thinks I cannot hear.
It is embarrassing, but sweet. After all, I have not quite been adult too long to recall how an imagination, just ten years old, might transform a neighbor woman with long hair and a gray horse into a princess astride a milk-white steed.
"You know what?" the girl asked one day, when I paused to let her stroke my noble charger. "Horses are my favorite animal." She cradled this truth in conspiratorial voice, as if it contained a wish too great for hope.
I understood. Oh, I understood!
That was two summers ago, but I thought of it today when I passed that house to discover in the pasture something like a pony. It's an awkward little beast of indecipherable heritage, stitched together of breeds that ought never to meet, yet blessed with a coat of palomino dapple that I'm sure its young mistress believes is solid gold.
I've smiled all afternoon, thinking of that girl. Though stifling hot and thunder torn, today is, for her, that perfect day. It is magic, but it is real!
She knows nothing of devastating colic, mysterious lameness, a crushing fall. She's never borne the weight of a thousand training hours destroyed by one bad step, a gate left open, a twist of wire buried in the weeds. She sees nothing in that pony but her fondest dream come true.
I had that magic once. We all did. And yet, somehow, it slipped away. The travesty struck in silence by the same, subtle shift that degraded running and jumping from play to exercise, contorted sleeping on a friend's floor from adventure to necessity, and ravaged the sensuality of meals with stomach-turning guilt.
Conditioning our horses has become a duty. We want not so much to ride as to have ridden. Because we are supposed to. Because we said we would. We focus so hard on the minutiae of tack fit, of hoof care, of speed and feed, that we forget to cast our hearts over the horizon and ride to find them.
And so, our hearts are simply lost.
I was recently gifted another chance. Two weeks after our last endurance ride, Consolation tied up. It was my fault; I cut her grain ration while she vacationed post-event, but I should have eliminated it entirely. The excess carbohydrate crashed her system only a few minutes into our first warm-up as we started back to work ~ and the result was a month of no work at all.
Disaster! Disappointment! The angry slap of goals thwarted again. Again. Again! All the things of which my little neighbor is innocent, because she knows things that matter more.
Consolation is recovered now. Today, as we trotted beneath shifting skies with wind abluster, I pondered that girl and her shambles of a pony. I may have finer horses than hers, newer tack, stronger technique. But she has something better still.
She has, in full measure, that which I clasp like water in my hands: The sunshine sense that a horse ~ any horse! ~ is spun of purest joy. And to have one of your own? Such is heaven, most of all.
[Originally published in The Barb Wire, July 2010]
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If I needed proof that I am, in fact, getting older, I got it this week.
My shoulders hurt to the point of struggling to extricate myself from my sports bra (more than usual, I mean), and my knees protested when descending stairs.My intensified workout schedule caught up to me.
Is it affecting mobility throughout the day? Getting worse instead of better during warmups? Yes? Then it's time to recover.
In my opinion, recovery is like anything else ~ that is, it's best approached with intention. Here are some keys I try to bear in mind:
Three Keys to a Productive Recovery Day
1. Decide Ahead of Time
You know that tendency to feel guilty about taking a recovery day? The niggling doubt that you might be "recovering" just because you don't really want to keep your date with the gym?
I even go so far as to plan specific recovery activities. That way, I feel productive rather than wimpy when I do yoga instead of hill sprints.
Incidentally, this decide-ahead rather than decide-in-the-moment idea also applies to other disciplines. If I'm going to open a bottle of wine with dinner or skip a horse's training session, for example, I like knowing that I made a considered choice to do so.
2. Honor Your Habits
Wouldn't it be easy to throw away the usual, allotted gym time on a bit of social media scrolling? So easy! And yet, so not the point of a recovery day.
I also kept up my daily recovery activities, including red light therapy and meditation. I also maintained my usual level of general activity, including farm chores and a ride on Bellalunaa. I would have thrown in a hot bath with Epsom salts, but alas, I didn't have time.
Not only does sticking to my usual routine ensure that I actually do the recovery activities, but it makes it much less likely that one or two recovery days will lead to a week of lounging. Keep those habits habitual!
2. Feed Your Healing
Taking time off from the gym? Boo-yah, baby, let's have a cheat day. Eat all the pizza!
Personally, I don't attempt to cut calories on a recovery day. I might choose extra non-starchy veggies instead of a sweet potato because I don't need to refill glycogen stores, but I'm not going to stress over it.
For what it's worth, I'm coming from a context of being lean and wanting to build muscle and improve running performance. I could make an argument for lowing calorie intake a little on a recovery day if I were trying to lose body fat. But not much. Regardless of long-term goals, recovery always requires plenty of nutrients to make the necessary repairs.
Are You Recovering, or Just Resting?
I just made the sad discovery that the Whole 9 blog, once run by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig (although they went separate ways years ago) has been taken down. Sad face. I was hoping to share with you a couple of their classic posts. One of them was titled Are You Recovering, or Just Resting?
That title has stuck with me for many years. The article noted that while there is nothing wrong with resting, just resting isn't the same as recovering.
Recovering means taking intentional action to support your body's healing: Engage in light activity. Eat well. Break out the foam roller and massage gun. Enlist professional help for persistent pain. Get extra sleep. Go outside and enjoy nature. Skip the alcohol. And also, enjoy a bit of rest.
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Y'all know that the more focused I am on something, the more I dive into content about that thing. Health and fitness are always on my hot-topics list, but I'm especially focused on them right now as I shift into a new fitness cycle.
Here's where's I'm putting my content-absorption time these days:
Nerdy Health & Fitness Podcasts
I listen to a lot of podcasts on the subjects of nutrition, fitness, and mental and physical health. My standards are high. I want knowledgable hosts who are willing to change their minds based on the evidence. I want to question and expand my knowledge rather than sitting in an echo chamber of comfortable "truths" or poking into unrealistic "bio-hacks." Here's a small handful of titles that are presently stretching my brain:
The Peter Attia Drive -- Peter Attia is a former surgeon and active physician who focuses on longevity. He and his team produce extraordinary content, specializing in roughly 2-hour, long-form interviews, listener Q&A, and topical podcasts with extremely detailed show notes. Attia drills down on research-supported facts in a context of experienced observation of real people. Biohacks are not his thing. This podcast is about the details of exercise, nutrition, lab work, etc. for listeners who are serious about maximizing longevity and healthspan.
Attia is pleasant to listen to, extremely knowledgable, and willing to change his mind based on the evidence. He does get pretty technical at times, so be prepared to pay attention and even commit some time to watching the video so you can follow along with graphics.
A limited scope of Attia's content is available for free, but full access will cost you $19 per month. It's worth it.
FoundMyFitness -- Dr. Rhonda Patrick is another very bright, deep thinker on the subject of longevity and healthspan. While Attia's content leans a little more in the fitness direction, Patrick is more likely to explore alternative (but still not bio-hacky) therapies. Her 1-hour plus episodes are long enough for thorough interviews and exploration, and her style is relatable enough to help us lay folk absorb the more technical content.
FoundMyFitness podcasts are free. Paying for a premium membership will get you access to an additional podcast, Q&A's with Patrick, and other perks.
Pushing the Limits -- Lisa Tamati is an ultramarathoner whose fascination with optimizing human performance shines through in her in her hourish-long podcasts. Usually via conversations with other experts, Tamati explores ideas ranging from research on human metabolism to intriguing methods of (legally) enhancing athletic ability. Though some of her fascinating topics are out of reach for the average person -- or at least the average budget -- she remains grounded in the basics tenants of mindset, health, and longevity that apply to us all. Plus, her kiwi accent is fun to listen to!
Tamati's podcast is free. If you love her style, you can check out her books and coaching services
As I noted, all three of the podcasts listed above are fantastic, but can be quite dense. If you're in a mood for something a bit easier to digest, try these:
Revolution Health Radio
Mind Pump: Raw Fitness Truth
The Healthy Rebellion Radio
Nerdy Health & Fitness Books
I don't have time to read as much as I'd like, but I do consume as much non-fiction as possible. Between tangents into adventure survival stories and equine physiology, I generally have at least one health and fitness book going. Lately, I've found the following titles both engaging and useful:
Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Endurance by Alex Hutchinson. Hutchinson's book Which Comes First: Cardio or Weights? is also a fun read (if you're a nerd, of course).
Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to do is Healthy and Rewarding by Daniel Lieberman. I also liked Liberman's book The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease so much I read it twice.
Burn: New Research Blows the Lid Off How We Really Burn Calories, Lose Weight, and Stay Healthy by Herman Pontzer
If you check out several of these titles, you'll find that the authors don't always reach the same conclusions as one another. Also, they'll all admit that, as much as we want answers, sometimes we just don't know enough to be sure.
I like that. The idea is to explore concepts, apply those that ring true, and don't get bogged down in the weeds of uncertainty. Eat real food. Move your body. Sleep. Love. The rest is details.
Well, that went fast.
Summer, I mean.
Mr. Sweaty just went outside in the dark (!) to drive to work. He texted me from the driveway: Brrr!
It's true. The horses are already fluffing out a bit, despite 85 degree days. I've been sponging their backs with warm water instead of hosing them down after evening rides. The last cutting of orchard grass is drying in windrows at the bottom of the hill.
Autumn serves me cocktail of emotions. Relief. Frustration. Melancholy. Excitement. Satisfaction.
The negatives are mostly because I didn't make it to the Autumn Sun Pioneer Endurance Ride over the weekend. Ledger might have been ready, but I wasn't sure. Between work and personal travel, I spent more than half of the past two months out of town, leaving his conditioning schedule fragmented at best. I didn't feel like it was fair to ask him for a 50 without proper preparation. So, I didn't.
On the bright side, I'm very pleased with both Ledger's and Bella's training. We're back in the swing of things now that I'm home for a while, and they're responding well to the consistency. (That makes three of us.) I ride them on alternate days during the week, and can usually make time for both on Saturdays and Sundays. Everybody gets regular work, and everybody gets regular rest.
Except me. Ha.
Meanwhile, I'm shifting into a new gear on my own conditioning. Having run my last race of the year at Crater Crawl a couple Saturdays ago, I'm putting running in the back seat for a while. My four-per-week running schedule is now aimed at edging my Zone 2 upwards and increasing VO2 max rather than mileage.
In the absence of long runs, I'm ramping up my strength training for the winter. I'll finish out MAPS Anabolic plus the Butt Mod (don't knock it 'til you've tried it), then work on MAPS Aesthetic through the end of the year.
In January, I'll scale back the lifting and head into another half-marathon training cycle. I have an eyeball on the Race to Robie Creek. Robie is a tough, springtime challenge that is love-hated by the Northwest's trail running community. Until this year, I never considered entering. How things change!
Anyway, all this focus on the physical has me tuned in to my nutrition and recovery, not to mention a curated selection of books and podcasts that have my braincells doing the backstroke in a pool of nerdiness. I'll share some favorites later this week.
I've been thinking about Bella. As I mentioned yesterday, her feet have gotten a bit sticky. Although I appreciate her level-headed, low-reactive nature, it comes with the flip side of (gasp!) laziness.
Laziness? I'm not sure that's the right word, but I'll leave it for now.
Anyway, another word with which I'm not quite comfortable -- despite having used it it capital letters in yesterday's blog -- is RESPECT. I got a good reminder last night when a friend commented on a social media post I'd shared months ago.
That post, written by Kathleen Beckham of Ethos Equine, questions whether horses are even capable of experiencing the complex, contemptuous emotion that we humans label "disrespect." She observes that horses act either out of instinct or training, including inadvertent training, and that feeling we get of the horse being disrespectful is actually a reflection of how we feel, not how the horse feels.
Some people have very negative feelings about the word "respect" as it pertains to horses. Personally, I'm not allergic to the idea. I think the problem is not so much in the word itself as in how it can influence our attitudes and behaviors.
What if, instead, we addressed (vs. attacked) the behavior (vs. problem) with a confident (vs. aggressive), teaching (vs. whip-into-shape) mindset?
In her post, Beckham writes, "I choose to replace the word 'disrespectful' with the word 'disregard' if I have to use a word for it. Many, many, many horses have found humans to be inconsistent, confusing, emotionally incongruent and unhelpful in critical ways, so they develop a 'disregard' for the human. In other words, the human is so difficult to make sense of that the horse simply dismisses them. If pushed, this horse will cycle through flight (try to get away), fight (kicking, biting, striking, pushing) and freeze (locking up)."
As trainer in my area, Dana Lovell, says, "Your horse isn't giving you a hard time; he's having a hard time."
Beckham advises labeling the horse in terms of "comfortable" or "uncomfortable," rather than assigning more complex emotions that are more likely to be our own. Framed that way, I can describe Bella as uncomfortable moving out with more energy. The word "resistant" comes to mind as well. When pushed, she tends to stall out or protest rather than speed up. This is most evident at the canter, but also true in other gaits.
Whatever you want to call it, the next question is what to do about it.
I don't want to swerve into the camp that views horses through a hyper-empathic lens and never actually makes progress because they're afraid to trod upon the horse's sovereignty as a living being. That lens, like the "disrespect" one, skews anthropomorphic.
In her podcast episode #47 on Locking and Unlocking Traits in Your Horse, Stacy Westfall says, "I think a lot of times people are afraid of intimidating the horse or patterning the horse, and...they don't allow that horse to learn that respectful foundation of following simple directions without complaining."
So there's a balance, right?
In Bella's case, I believe swift departures and energetic gaits instead of sluggishness and crowhops is a fair, simple expectation. Fine. My job is to help her to be comfortable giving that swift, energetic answer to my cues.
Taking further leaves out of books from both Clinton Anderson and Stacy Westfall, I went into today's lesson with an intention to reestablish the expectation of "move your feet now." I made sure that I raised my own physical energy and made the work both more intense and more brief than usual. It went like this:
1. Warm up (unsaddled, with halter) with the Lead Beside exercise. I chose this because it suits the theme of keeping up with my requested pace while being familiar and appropriate for a walking warmup.
2. Lunging for Respect Stage 1 (unsaddled, with halter) in the round corral. I focused on transitions rather than changes of direction, particularly from trot to canter to faster canter back to trot. In the interest of keeping her physically fresh -- especially given the hot weather -- and mentally relaxed, I gave her frequent breaks while doing a bit of desensitizing, head-lowering, etc.
3. Lunging for Respect Stage 1 (saddled and bridled) in the arena. I followed the same trot-canter-fast canter-trot pattern as before, again with several rests.
4. Ridden Transitions. I hopped on and followed exactly the same pattern from the saddle, for a total of maybe 10 minutes. Maybe even less. This was all about moving the established expectation from groundwork into ridden work, letting her succeed, then quitting while she was in a good place.
Overall, it went well! Bella still had a touch of resistance under saddle, but much less than before. I think she even had a little fun with the fast canter part, which isn't something I'd encouraged until now.
Here's what's interesting: I don't think the mechanics of the training session -- that is, what we actually did -- would have changed depending on the word I used to describe Bella's behavior (disrespect, discomfort, disregard, resistance, whatever). However, I do think the attitude with which I approached the session benefitted from giving the words some thought. I arrived as a teacher, not a dictator. Bella surely knows the difference.
We'll keep at it over the weekend and see how things go. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on RESPECT...or any other name?
I can't believe this, but... I have an arena!!!!!!!
Anyone who has been to my place knows that I have five acres on a hill. The only two level spots are just big enough for my house and my round corral. Everything else is on a slope -- and it's not a slight grade, either.
For most purposes, the slope is fine. It's the reason we have a beautiful view, and the horses (not to mention the people) get great exercise trudging up and down it all the time. But for training? Ehhhhh, not so much.
You might recall that I'm using the Downunder Horsemanship (DUH) Method to train Bellalunaa and Ledger. I managed to get a good start on Bella with just the round corral and trail riding on the canal banks, but let's face it: there are some DUH exercises that you simply can't do in a small corral, on a narrow dirt road, or on or a slope with questionable footing.
So, after about 16 years here, I finally did it. I hired someone to level part of the pasture for a 90 x 120-foot arena. It was quite a project!
It's hard to tell from the photos, but that's about a 12-foot carve-out at the top of the hill and nearly that much of a drop-off outside the arena fence on the downhill side. Wowza.
But let me tell you: Game. Changer.
It has only been done for four days, and our summer afternoons are too hot to work horses hard, so I've had time for just two training sessions in there with each horse.
Prior to the arena project, Bella had progressed to Intermediate riding and groundwork exercises, but to get there, we had to skip or half-ass a few Fundamentals. Now that we have proper facilities, I'm taking her back through everything.
Predictably, I've found a few holes -- most notably, sticky feet. Not outright refusal to move forward, but sluggishness. Especially as she gets tired, Bella gets grouchy about being asked to move out. She's even crow hopped a few times when she thinks it's time to quit cantering during the Cruising Lesson.
Sigh. It's always disheartening to have a horse come along so well, then have to go back and patch holes. At least, that's my initial, emotional reaction -- but not a particularly helpful or necessary one. I'm reminding myself that this is a normal part of the training process and there's no shame in taking as many steps back as necessary to build a stronger foundation. Refusing to move out, even to the point of crow hopping? Spotlight on R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
For the record, I did ponder whether this issue could have a physical origin. However, I think that is unlikely. Bella has been in regular work plus hilly pasture turnout for months, and I think her fitness level is appropriate. Her back isn't sore. Her legs remain cool and tight. She is sound and free-moving both under saddle and at liberty. I'm pretty sure this issue is all about attitude.
I spent some time thinking it over, and I figure groundwork is the place to start. We'll do a bunch of Lunging for Respect I & II, with a particular focus on moving out NOW when asked. (Throwback to the Bucking a Bad Habit NWC video from March 2012!) Bella knows this stuff, but it's obviously time for a reminder.
It's also a good reminder to me of the importance of continuing to review and build on groundwork, including lots of backing, bending, yielding, etc. as part of every session. It's so easy to get lax on requiring snappy responses, especially when I'm in a hurry or feeling worn out by the heat. But you know how horses are...always learning...and whether they learn the right thing or the wrong thing is up to us.
Ready, Bella? Let's make it right.
Want to know what happened next? Go to Respect By Any Other Name.
Thanks in part to fuel prices, my summer plans have adapted to focus on training, rather than competing. Ledger is well-positioned to continue physical conditioning while broadening his training, and Bellalunaa is just blossoming from blank-slate status.
I have time for a solid session with one horse nearly every day. Sometimes, I can fit in a second lesson with the other horse, even if it's just a quick one focused on a single exercise. Alternating between horses is working pretty well for everyone.
Making it happen, of course, involves flexibility. I'm presently exploring:
I'm also training with a more deliberate strategy than I've used previously. I'm working through the Downunder Horsemanship Method. I'm watching the videos and applying the exercises, in order, as best I can without complete facilities. (What I'd give for an arena, some days!)
I know Clinton Anderson isn't for everyone. He isn't even for me, a lot of the time. I like his earlier work, such as one finds in the classic training series. His more recent "ego-tude," as I call it, rubs me the wrong way -- but that doesn't make his Method invalid.
I do think there’s risk associated with applying a canned method to every horse. Rote application of prescribed exercises regardless of the individual will work...sometimes. Other times, it'll just piss the horse off.
Clinton acknowledges that "feel" is important, and I think he means more than just the appropriate timing of a release. I'm pretty sure he means that each horse should be approached thoughtfully, by a trainer as willing to learn as she is to teach. It seems to me that the exercises can (and should) be applied somewhat differently depending on each horse's physical, mental, and emotional status both overall and during a particular session.
Anyway, I'm pleased to be learning the Method properly after having been exposed to it in bits and pieces for years. Ledger is the second horse who has come to me after being started in this way, and I must say I like the solid foundation and clear "buttons" it puts on a horse. It's a good fit for me right now.
For those of you who are familiar with the Method and interested, here's where we are:
Bellalunaa is a little more than halfway through Intermediate on groundwork. She's almost done with Fundamentals under saddle. Her strong points are retention (seriously, she has the most amazing retention!) and softness. We're still working on a tendency to crowd into me when sending or circle driving outside the round corral, as well as picking up her hind feet.
I don't have an arena (or any land flat enough to create one), so we do all our work either in the round corral or on the trail. Around home, "trail" means mostly rural roads and canal banks. It's not always ideal, but if we let that stop us, we'd never progress at all.
It's gratifying to watch both horses improve day over day, and I have no doubt that all this work will pay off when we get back on the endurance trail!
Well. This is becoming a strange year, isn't it?
With inflation and uncertainty running high, a lot of us are re-thinking our summer plans. Social media is full of lamentations about scaled-back endurance ride entries -- and even event cancellations -- in the face of maxed-out feed and fuel budgets.
I'm fortunate not to be badly affected so far, though we have put our house-building plans on hold. Even so, I've decided to pass on crossing state lines to attend rides this year. Coggins, health certificate, and 600 miles worth of diesel just seems like too much when my horse is only ready for one day of competition.
Between that and scheduling conflicts, it looks like Ledger and I won't make it to another endurance ride until September. Maybe I can have him for for two 50-milers. Then again, preparing for that effort will involve a lot of trailering to the hilly trails on weekends. $25 in fuel per conditioning ride sounds ridiculous!
So, I've been thinking. How can I make this into a great year with the horses despite little opportunity to compete? My answer is both obvious and enticing: This is a year for training.
It couldn't have come at a better time. Ledger came to me with a fantastic start but a lot of brio and intelligence in need of direction. Also, I picked up a six-year-old, un-started mare. Why not spend this summer exploring what magic can happen in their minds?
How about you? How is your summer agenda adapting to reality?
Well, hello! I have not dropped dead. I have not even dropped the ball. I've just been too busy doing All the Things to write about them.
I still feel like I'm too busy, truth be told, but I have a new multi-tasking plan that I think will help. So. How about a quick update in today's post, and I'll try to pop in more often after that.
After a brief exhibition of airs-above-the-ground at the start, Ledger and I took off with my friend Karen and her appaloosa Rio. Rio made an excellent roadblock for the first 20 miles or so, which helped Ledger chill out. He wasn't bad, though -- all that work we've been doing on maintaining my requested pace on a loose rein definitely paid off.
Sadly, he was slightly off on his right rear at the finish, so we didn't get our completion. We did, however, get all the miles and training we came for...everything but the T-shirt. I'm super proud of how much he's matured since our adventure at Old Selam last fall. His minor lameness evaporated within a few days, and I'm really looking forward to his next 50 -- probably at Autumn Sun in a couple months.
The upshot is that I'm not feeling quite as ready as I'd like to be for the rapidly-approaching race. As of two days ago, I hadn't run more than 7-8 miles at a stretch since March, when I ran 10 miles on the Greenbelt in the rain.
Cue yesterday's long run. I put in 10 miles on trails similar to the race course. My focus was on what I'd call "long, slow distance" in endurance riding parlance. Very little anaerobic, which meant hiking up the steeper hills rather than running them, just getting in the miles without over stressing my systems and structures.
I managed the workout without trouble and feel great so far today, which makes me feel a lot better about the upcoming race. I'm not going to break any land speed records, but I'm confident I can finish.
Horse Training Update
My beautiful Bellalunaa is doing so well! She went on her first couple trail rides this week and proved remarkably level-headed in the face of duck fly-ups and traveling in new places without a buddy horse. This represents a massive leap forward from the defensive behavior we had to work through on our way to this point. More on that later. It has been an interesting and heartwarming journey.
My fitness priority is to get ready for that half-marathon! Strength training will take a backseat for the next few weeks while I commit my limited time to training (but not overtraining) for the race.
After that, my plan is to maintain a solid 10K-capable base while shifting my priority back to strength training. I'm planning to work thorough the MAPS Anabolic program for starters, then MAPS Aesthetic. All this while continuing to include mobility work, of course. It helps. A lot.
In the horse department, I am really looking forward to spending more time with Bellalunaa. We'll continue to get out on trails, which she seems to enjoy, while also working our way through Clinton Anderson's "Fundamentals" riding exercises. Some of them (like the Cruising Lesson and Diagonals) are tricky to implement without an arena, but most can be accomplished either in the round corral or on the trail. It's hard to make time to watch the videos, but worth it -- and I reckon even if I only introduce one or two new exercises per week, we'll still be well ahead of where we'd be if I just trail rode and called it good.
Ledger, meanwhile, has one more week of rest on his calendar before we go back to conditioning. We have plenty of time before Autumn Sun to continue his CA "Intermediate" training exercises, in addition to conditioning.
Am I really on the cusp of having two endurance horses again?! It feels like it...knock all the wood... !
Oh, and meanwhile, the garden is growing strong.
Early morning. Dark outside. Treadmill whirring. I'm halfway through my warmup when *ZING!* Pain stabs my forefoot. It's familiar. Dreaded. My old demon, Metatarsalgia.
This isn't a running injury, per say. In my case, it's a chronic condition caused by an unfortunate genetic cocktail of bunions, arch construction, and long toes. (Seriously? Long toes?) Most of the time, I keep it under control with custom orthotics, stiff-soled shoes, and an anti-inflammatory diet. But occasionally, it flares.
We all have something, don't we? Whether it's periodic acute injuries or aggravated chronic ones, there will also be times when pain gets in the way of our goals. As I sit here with my foot wrapped in a frozen clay pack, I realize that age and experience have improved on my skills when it comes to maintaining fitness while managing injury.
Here's what I've learned:
#1 - Know When to Fold 'em
Kenny Rogers was right. Sometimes, it's better to give up than to push through.
When my metatarsalgia attacked mid-run, I seriously considered finishing my planned workout anyway. It was only a recovery run! Just 4.5 miles of undulating hills! Maybe if I stretched my forefoot a little? Nope. Ran with my toes curled? Nope. Ignored the pain? Sure.
Right on cue, my online trainer started saying things I already knew. Ignoring our bodies' whispers will, eventually, force them to shout. What could have been a minor injury requiring a few days off may blow up into a serious problem that decimates race plans and wipes out months of gains. He was right, of course.
Sadly and brewing with frustration, I did the hardest thing. I stepped off the treadmill.
If you've ever been an athlete on a roll, you know it is terribly difficult to give up on a workout. You feel like you're violating your own commitment. Cheating. Wimping out. But think about it: Isn't it better to sacrifice a few miles today in order to avoid a month of missed runs? To skip those final few bench presses rather than taking several weeks off to nurse a nagging shoulder?
When injury strikes, base your decisions not on the workout in progress, but on the longer term. You'll achieve higher training volume overall by backing off early and recovering quickly than you will by pushing through. Injury will always call your bluff.
#2 - Focus on What You CAN Do
We left my tale of woe with me stepping off the treadmill mid-run. I was worried. I was irritated. And, I was prepared to shift gears. Instead of heading for the shower, I limped across the gym and switched my running shoes for cycling flats.
When we're hurt, it's really easy to bask in our misery. I'm going to lose so much fitness. I'll never be ready for my race. This sucks. What if, instead, we got creative?
It's perfectly possible to train around most injuries. Get specific about what you can't do (in my case, push off my left forefoot) and find challenges that don't involve that movement. If you can't run, maybe you can walk or cycle or swim. If you've tweaked your elbow, you can probably still squat and lunge. Sprained ankle telling you standing balances are out of the question? Skip the vinyasa yoga and do hatha instead.
You might even make some gains while you recover. For example, cycling has long been hailed as a beneficial cross-training modality for runners. (Now I have time to do more of it!) Even if you don't gain, you'll minimize loss. Research demonstrates that training your uninjured bits helps preserve muscle even in immobilized limbs.
#3 - Maintain Your Usual Routine
On a related note, sticking to your usual workout schedule ~ even if you're changing up the activities ~ has benefits of its own.
Have you ever noticed that, despite initial resistance to taking a break due to injury, our natural tendencies toward laziness still kick in? "I can't run right now" has a way of morphing into "I'm going to binge Netflix and eat all the Cheetos." Don't do it!
You've worked hard to establish habits and routines, so stick to them. I hopped on the bike again this morning at my usual running time and pounded out a HIIT workout. After lunch, my strength workout is still on the docket, though I'll be working around a hamstring that I pushed a little too hard on Wednesday.
Even if your injury (or illness) really is severe enough that you can't do an alternative workout, still set aside your usual gym time to focus on your health. Use the time to stretch or read up on current research about your chosen sport. Alternatively, engage in a contemplative practice. Research has demonstrated real mental and physical benefits from mindfulness activities such as meditation and prayer, regardless of whether they are secular or religious in flavor.
Keeping your usual schedule will help you remain focused on getting back in the game instead of letting the sofa steal your success.
#4 - Actively Treat the Injury
Speaking of focus, there's a big difference between resting and recovering. Sure, rest is usually an important part of recovery, but there's so much more you can do than sit back and wait for your cells to repair. Depending on the nature of your injury, taking an active role in your recovery may even make the difference between a complete fix and chronic problems.
Don't be afraid to enlist a professional. The right practitioner (whether in sports medicine, chiropractic, soft tissue therapy, functional medicine, or whatever) is one who understands your goals and has the knowledge to help you return to full function. If you have that person's number in your phone, consider dialing it.
Of course, there are a lot of common sense steps you can take on your own. Get out your ice packs, foam rollers, and therapy balls. Soak in an epsom salt bath. Modify supportive devices, if applicable. (For me, that meant adding temporary forefoot support to my usual orthotic, per my podiatrist's direction). Tend to localized and systemic inflammation using compression, more ice, extra sleep and diet.
#5 - Eat Even Cleaner
Oh yes, diet.
It can be especially tempting to treat ourselves to junk food when we're injured. Self-medicating with food is common, including among athletes facing the depressive tendencies that accompany setbacks. The problem, of course, is that these "medicating" foods are usually pro-inflammatory choices like pizza, mac & cheese, or cookies.
Instead, try to stick to food that really does contribute to healing. You choose quality fuel to support your training, right? Wouldn't your damaged body appreciate quality building blocks even more?
Personally, I've upped my veggie and fish intake while staying away from inflammatory foods like grains and sugar. At the very least, it helps me mentally to continue treating myself like an athlete rather than a slug.
#6 - Stay Positive
It all boils down to positivity, right? The mental game is at least half the battle, and all the strategies listed above contribute to it.
Personally, I find that curiosity and positivity go hand in hand. Recovery is an opportunity to explore new activities, read some research, and get creative. You really can maintain your athletic mindset throughout your recovery and out the other side.
Bonus Tip - Take This Advice to the Barn
Oh, horse people: Don't miss the crossover application to our furry friends! Having an injured horse can be just as frustrating to having an injury of your own...and it can also offer just as much opportunity.
If your horse is laid up, look for ways to spin his down time to your advantage. Work on a low-activity training issue, like accepting the bit, touching ears, or picking up feet. Learn some physical-therapy "tricks" like carrot stretches. Bond over extra grooming and hand-grazing in the sun. Get in some extra steps on a slow handwalks.
Whatever you do, don't let an injury lay waste to your time or ambition. Recalculate your route and keep going!
Oops! Time got away from me. I neglected to post my Week 5 wrap, so I'll drop it in below with Week 6.
I may not have been writing about it, but I've certainly been doing the work. Here's what's up:
Horse Days Are Back
I feel like she needs some quieter, less challenging attention to ease some underlying anxiety. I've backed off from the usual CA Method progression to really listen to her and give her time to think. I started with simple grooming and have added daily bits of things she already knows: a little bending here, some hoof handling there, some yielding of hindquarters or run-up-and-rub, but nothing too intense or for very long. She seems to respond best when asked quietly, then left alone, rather than being drilled. Interestingly, this is consistent with what a few students of Arabian bloodlines predicted. It also fits nicely with my current lack of facilities, giving us productive, relationship-building time while the ground dries out.
My Running Goal is Set Too Low
...the one about running a 10k at a 9.5 minute mile pace, that is.
Why do I think it's too low? Because I finished this week's long run of 6.89 miles at a 9:47 pace. And it's only mid-February.
Don't hold me to this just yet, but I'm thinking of adding a half-marathon completion to my goals list. I have two, main hesitations: Can my feet handle it? and Do I have enough time? Time in the days, that is, for enough training miles. I'm not sure. But I'm pondering.
Since I'm on the subject, here's my Week 6 wrap:
It's hard to see without paying careful attention, but I took this week a little on the easy side. For one thing, I had the first-day-of-period blahs on Friday, so I gave myself a pass on the strength workout. I also did more hatha yoga and less of my usual vinyasa. I felt like I needed it to facilitate recovery from my Week 5 long run. See below:
8.66 miles! Okay, yeah, I know. It's not much in the broader running world, but it's farther than I have run in...well, geez...probably since I last training for a half-marathon in my early 20's. So I'm pretty happy about that!
I'm Bored with My Strength Programming
Since about October 2021, I've been using the Ketogains Novice 5x5 Strength Training Program. It was a perfect way to recommit to strength training after a few years of inconsistency. 5x5 programming is an old friend (it's what I started with some 15 years ago), and the minimal time commitment of about 35 minutes, 3 days per week, was attractive.
I definitely made gains. I've put on considerable muscle mass and strength, and only had one setback when my old SI tweak flared up. Adding regular mobility work at the beginning of the year has kept me feeling fantastic.
But, now I'm bored. Being bored of my programming makes me reluctant to train even though I know it's one of the most important things I can do for long-term health. So...time to mix things up!
I'm looking into some MAPS programming from Mind Pump. I've followed these guys for years and concluded that, once you look and listen past their "bruh" exterior, they're actually extremely knowledgable, experienced, and service-minded. They also happen to be having a Valentines Day sale -- 50% off all programs -- that I just learned about by signing up for their emails. Cool. Happy hearts day to me!
I'm Writing, Just Slowly
If anyone is wondering what happened to my thoughts on being an athletic rider, I haven't forgotten about the series. Writing anything useful takes a surprising amount of time, but I'm working on it. I think it's valuable stuff. Stay tuned.
If you haven't followed The Sweaty Equestrian on Facebook or subscribed by email (use the little form in the right-hand sidebar), today is the day!
And there we have it! Month 1 of 2022 is in the books.
I love this time of year because the weather, bad as it is for working with horses, gives me plenty of time to focus on my own fitness. Sticking to my 2022 Theme & Goals has been positively easy on the gym end. I've been 100% compliant with my plan -- including the hardest part for me, which is actually doing the mobility work.
My plan to include frequent, small doses of mobility exercises actually turned into a habit. I've stuck to those pre-run mobility flows, post-run foam rolls, and pre-life muscle activation routines. (There was one day I had to race to a work meeting right after my run, but I went back to the gym to foam roll right afterwards.) I think the key is keeping the mobility sessions short, short, short!
And guess what? My grouchy knee is hardly making a squeak. My lower back is pain-free. My shoulder is bearing up to increasing loads on the bar. And that makes me happy.
Here are the stats:
Want to hear something interesting? Since Mr. Sweaty and I gave up alcohol (as a daily thing, not completely and forever) after a family member's pancreatitis attack led to a night in the hospital, we have noticed the following:
No developments on the new property or horse fronts to report. Both remain on hold courtesy of snow and mud. I'm dying to get out there and work with the horses, but I know they are going to need consistency and moving-of-feet (even more than usual, that is) for the first couple weeks to get them back in the groove. I'd rather wait than risk injury on poor footing. Soon, though. Soon.
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.
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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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Thanks for dropping by! I'm an endurance rider in the northwest region of the United States. This blog explores the mental, physical, and technical aspects of being a better horseman, athlete, and human.
The Sweaty Equestrian