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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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?
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