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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What I did today



Thursday, May 26, 2011

Puppy prizes!



I'm finally getting caught up on some of the important things in my life (getting that PPD test read, address changes...) and can start on some of the fun stuff! Like mailing out the prizes for the puppy name contest winners!

Aarene and Carolyn (my mom) jointly won the puppy naming contest with the suggestion of "Tess". They will each recieve a copy of the "A Horse Farewell" and a dog toy (one of Tess's current favorites - but in a new/non chewed and slobbered on version). Yes, Aarene, the purple one is yours.

"A Horse Farewell" is a poem that my cousin, Karla Thompson, wrote and illustrated. She was with me the night I euthanized Minx and that experienced inspired this poem. At the urging of family members, she recently had the book printed and it is available for sale. I think it's perfect as an "extended sympathy" card when a friend loses a treasured horse, with perhaps a personal written note on a blank section. Now - neither of my winners have lost horses (my mom would have first OWN a horse - but since the author is her NIECE, she will probably enjoy the book regardless), but I wanted to share it anyways. Feel free to regift the book as you feel led.

If any of my other readers would like to get their own copy of "A Horse Farewell" for themselves or a friend, e-mail me and I will give you Karla's contact information.

Thanks everyone for participating in the contest! The names you came up with are absolutely awesome and don't be surprised if you check back in a decade and I'm continuing to use names off the list!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The puppy is sleeping, thus I post

Do you have ANY idea how hard it is to compose a blog post with a young puppy running around? Everytime I get myself settled, up I go! "Leave it!, Here's your toy, Go out side, Come in the house, Kennel, Go outside, Let's go, Come on, Don't bark at the cat, Reed are you going to take that from her?, eat your food, sit.". It's the best thing that could have happened to me this summer. I can't get too fixed on what I'm doing or too obsessed about one project because if I'm not breaking my focus now, I certainly will be in 20 minutes.

I'm learning the rhythm of the day. When we go out, when we come in, when we nap, when we play. Dogs are really amazing creatures. I'm not convinced that they win over horses.....but I may be a wee bit biased and really, they serve 2 entirely different purposes. One of my gifts from work was a book: " Inside of a Dog", by Alexandra Horowitz. If you, like me, enjoy an overanalyzing perspective of something common, I highly recommend it.

So, considering the above, I'm going to cheat. I'm going to post a slightly-edited-email that I sent to a friend who asked a question, which also happens to answer a question asked in the comments a LONG time ago, that I always meant to get around to.....

The question in the comments was:

Mel,


So when and what factors would lead you to consider that a prospect is "KAPOOT", a deal breaker, or otherwise washed up to the sport?

~E.G.

I've had to consider whether my horses were still suitable for endurance. Most notably, Minx, but recently I've also had to consider whether Farley continues to be a horse that should continue to compete in endurance.

Minx had trouble staying sound with the work and had a couple weird non-pulsing down issues at one ride, and then later mild colic (non-ride related).

Were these isolated problems that I just needed to work through and give them time, or was it the start of a trend and downward spiral? The problem was, she was my soul-mate. I loved that horse. I also loved endurance. I wanted to do endurance on HER. Emotions make a cool-headed rational decision hard. In my opinion, an isolated incident is not usually a reason for me to give up on a horse. However a repeat of the same issue is a time when I should be reconsidering my choice of career for a horse - especially one as strenuous as endurance. I managed to get and keep Minx sound long enough to complete 3 rides our second season, however little stuff that continued to happen. At our last ride (a pull), she had a weird pulsing/gut sound issue. That was the last straw. If I wanted to continue to do endurance I had to get another horse. At least for the present, Minx was "Kapoot". That being said, I did have plans to do some easy LD's on Minx to see if we could reach a compromise between my wants and her needs, but she passed away before I could do so. So you can see, that even though I can SAY that she wasn't suitable and I should have found something else, I still couldn't quite let go of it, even at the end.

When Farley tied up, I had to face the same issue. Based on the fact it was a single incident, I didn't feel like I had to find a different sport. As long as there are no other incidents, I feel comfortable continuing to compete her. HOWEVER, I'm now facing the decision with a different issue - the left front SDF tendon. When Farley came back with a SDF bow in the early stages of endurance, I rehabbed her through it and decided that we would still go for it. Again, isolated incidence, by all indications completely healed . But now, 3 or 4 years later, I'm faced with a reinjury. As this is a second occurence, I'm considering carefully whether to put her back into endurance competition and in a year I will be critically evaluating whether I'm comfortable. The decision will *probably* be - 50's yes, 100's no. Just like when Minx had multiple incidences of lameness, I decided: LD's maybe, 50's no.

Obviously, I'm not giving anyone absolute advice on what to do for YOUR particular situation, I can only share what I've been able to decide for me personally, a relative newcomer to the sport.

If I decide that Farley can't do endurance will I get another horse? Probably. I'll be sacrificing lessons, shows, and maybe the saddle I want to do it, but endurance is that important to me. I've gotten a lot accomplished only having the finacial responbility of one horse, but I'd rather do endurance on a shoe string budget on a bareback pad, than be able to take all the lessons in the world and have matching biothane tack.

One reason I might risk a return to endurance with Farley where I wouldn't with Minx, is because Farley absolutley loves this job, where Minx was indifferent to it. However, a 3rd reoccurence for the SDF on the LF with Farley would be the last, as I wouldn't probably risk it after that.

Things are never as black and white as some people would like to make it seem. This is the advice I would offer someone trying to work through their own woes: make the decision you would be able to live with if the worst happened. That's what I'm struggling with now. Farley will be very sound from this re-injury, and absolutely suitable for whatever riding I want....but endurance will increase her risk of injurying yet another time. And the next time might be serious enough that she's never sound enough for even light riding or an alternative sport. At the end of the day, how much am I willing to risk and what decision can I live with, if the worst happens?

Doing stuff with horses is always a matter of risk - there is no guarentees that if you retire a horse from endurance that it then won't have a freak accident in the pasture the next week and have to be put down - but that same horse may have been sound for many years on the endurance trail! Or it goes the other way - you put a horse back to work and that's the last straw and now the tendon is so destroyed, or the organ failure is for real this time and the horse has to be put down, where it could have lived many years on pasture and light work.

So be sure you are making YOUR choice, there are no guarantees of tomorrow - which I have recently been reminded of in my non-horsey life.

On a related note, consider the often said expression on the definition of insanity - doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If I do decide to return Farley to the endurance trail, it will only be after a critical look at my training program and ride day plan - much like the overhaul I did to my horse management plan after the tye up. I either had an suitable training program or an excellent horse, based on our performance in the 2010 season - and the reality is I probably had a bit of both. Nothing perfect and the learning the tweaking can and will continue - and I would argue is MANDATED anytime something untoward like this happens. So, when making your decision of the "Kapootness" of your mount, make sure you are putting thought into what and how you will make changes to the plan.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Endurance Memory Book

Recently someone encouraged me to share how I organize my ride photos and other momentos from endurance rides.

When I first started in endurance, someone told me I would regret not buying the ride photo from each ride I went to. But I was determined only to buy photos of the rides that I completed.....of course I realized how foolish that was after I didn't complete any rides my first season. My family had taken pics of me in camp, but it was different from having that trail photo of me and my horse in all our glory movin' on down the trail....

I really enjoy looking through the pages and looking at what has changed over the years. See! That breast collar! That was its first ride. Oh yeah-that's right, I bought a new helmet right before that ride. Just looking at the pictures helps me to remember the whole ride better - the people I rode with, the adventures we had. It's less of a documentation of my completions, or a "victory book" (which I think is what I had in mind when I started), but a memory book (which is vastly more entertaining).

I have it set up for me own viewing pleasure, but also in a format that I can easily take with me to rides when I have large crews with lots of down time (like Tevis).

The book as it stands represents my first one thousand miles on the trail with a few LD's and endurance non-completions sprinkled in.

The simple rule is: 1 pic per ride - because it's easy for me to have 4 or 5 pics I REALLY like from a ride - but it's not has interesting if there's a lot of very similar pictures from one ride, so I put 1 pic in the book, and the rest go in a pile to be used for xmas cards or other projects. However, there are exceptions. For Tevis I allowed myself to put in as many pics as I wanted. When I finally completed American River, I allowed myself an entire page.

As time has gone on and I've started receiving mileage patches and certificates - those went in the book too, along with a few dressage show photos sprinkled in, in chronological order between the rides. I recently came across my old AERC membership cards and decided to put them in the book at the beginning of each ride season, as a way to mark the years.

The biggest priority for me was that the book was easy to maintain. If I had to write or print or create or decorate, I would delay doing it and eventually the book would get out of date and I would feel pressure to update it, instead of pleasure of picking it up and flipping through the pages. The flexibility of whole pages that are adhesive is nice- I can include other things besides photos as I wish.

It seems a bit weird as I look through the pics and read my commentary - after all *I* am in all the pics and technically it's a photo album of myself....but truly when I look through the book all I see are the horses and the rides, It's like I'm not even in the photo at all.

I've included a pictures of a few pages to give you an idea of how it's organized.

Here's the book

Here's what the first page looks like. I try to get the contact info for all the photographers whose photos are in the book in case I want reprints or permission to use the photos somewhere. There's also the poem book that my cousin wrote and illustrated when Minx died, and the sole pic I have of me and Minx on the trail our first season. She's lame on the second day of Wild West (3rd ride of my first season) and I'm walking her in with a forced smile, all the while not knowing if that was my last ride on that horse, or even the end of endurance for a very long while.

Here's a typical page. The rides are in chronological order with each photo here representing a single ride.

When I started to receive my mileage patches, I thought a good place for them was in the book, placed approximately where they were earned.


Tevis is when I broke my "1 pic, 1 ride" rule - special rides and special achievements merit more! Below are the 2 pages devoted to Tevis 2009 (the year I did not finish). The 8x10 was on my wall for a year, until I have a Tevis 2010 8x10 to replace it!

After I completed my first hundred, my parents and the ride manager of the ride sent me cards. I decided to include those here as well. The right hand page was my American River 50 completion. This was a big deal for me, so in addition to to the picture from theridephotographer, I did a home print out page of photos that my mom took during the ride.


Here's another example of "big deal" ride for me - the 100 that gave me 1000 endurance miles. I included 2 pictures of the ride - including a pic of me and another rider that I really enjoyed riding with.


And finally, here's the last page of the book so far - Farley's certificates from the 2010 season, and the pic from 20 MT. Let's hope there are many more pics to come!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Responsbility

I'm beginning to discover just how much animal experiences growing up is influencing my animal experiences as an adult.

I remember trailering Minx home for the first time. Minx was given to me in the beginning of 2006, but it was September before I graduated from college, bought a trailer, and found a boarding stable next to my new home.

Minx was my first horse, the trailer was my first trailer, and Minx was the first horse I ever pulled in a trailer.

As I drove the 2 hours home with my horse, the realization started to sink in. I was responsible for this living creature. She depended soley on me for everything she needed to survive and be happy. It was up to me and me only. There was no one else to turn to, no one I trusted in the area to give me day to day advice. I had ridden other people's horses and learned as much as I could about management as a teenager and young adult in college, but I did not grow up riding and managing family horses.

It was extremely sobering and I recognized the responsibility I was committing myself to.

This was very different from bringing my first cat home as a young independent adult. I had owned cats as a kid. Well, that's possibly putting it a bit strongly.... The kids in my family "owned" animals, which meant mom tried to make us as responsible as possible for feeding and caring.....but in the end we all knew for all intent and purposes they were family animals. If we didn't feed, Mom was there to nag (I errr....mean remind....) us. Still, I must have learned something because when I got my first cat as a single adult, I felt very confident in my ability to take care of it - I knew exactly what needed to be done, and was very conscious about doing so (a far cry from my preteen and teen years...). It was familiar. Very different from bringing the horse home.

I must enjoy driving long distances to pick up the animals in my life, because for Tess, Matt and I made a 1 day drive to Burns, Oregon and back (almost 1000 miles round trip). I had plenty of time to contemplate what the heck I had gotten myself into! The taking care of a dog part I had down - again going back to what I grew up with as a kid, there was usually a dog around most of the time. The responsibility of caring for the animal didn't hit me, instead the realization that it was my job to TRAIN this animal did! Again, as a child, I did not grow up with young puppies. everything was close to a year old or a bit older. Not all of them were good citizens - but most of them had figured it out by the time we got them, or had such bad habits ingrained that there was no fixing them. I've never gotten a baby horse, a baby dog, or really any kind of baby that had to be TRAINED....just sorta "guided". While there are some traits that are ingrained by breed or personality, a 9 week old puppy has the potential to be just about anything I want- and it's my responsibility to make sure that I turn her into a animal that lives in harmony with humans and other dogs and is a good canine citizen.

Melinda as a horse owner has turned out just fine, so I assume I'll get over the awe and wonder of it all, and Melinda as a puppy trainer will turn out fine too. Maybe the next step is to combine the two and get a baby horse? I say "no way" right now, but again if you had asked me a couple of years ago if I would have a purebred puppy, I would have said "no way" too. My feeling that I'll continue to prefer the "older" youngsters (6-7 years old please!) with at least 30-60 days of saddle time on them - but nothing is set in stone.

Do you find that your adult animal experiences are influenced by your experience as a kid? Do you find "holes" once in awhile that make you appreciate a certain responsibility more as an adult because you are not inured to it as a kid?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

They followed my instructions.....


Yep. 
 
To the letter. 
 
Here's a slice of my work life since my let's face it - this week is all about work!  (last day tomorrow). 
 
My exact instructions were that the going away party was to be casual.
 
No speeches
 
No fancy clothes
 
And above all....NO BIG CAKE WITH MY NAME ON IT.  Since in my mind, the cake EPITOMISES everything I hate about formal parties. 
 
And then, because I wasn't sure that someone else might convince my manager that she misunderstood and cake was a NECESSARY item, I told everyone else that I could think of that MIGHT have something to do with the planning of this party.  NO BIG CAKE WITH MY NAME ON IT.
 
And my manager was true to her word.  No big cake. 
 
Just lots of cupcakes.
 
With letters that happen to spell my name......

Monday, May 9, 2011

Un-Title-able

Hi everyone.

Boy am I glad to see you.

You cannot imagine (or you probably can….endurance really does a wonderful job preparing one for “real” life) what my life has looked like the last couple of days.

Every time the drama of saying goodbye at work becomes too much, I think of Tevis 2010 and how I made it to the START line after nearly being told I couldn’t go by my company the day before.

Every time I feel like completely dosing myself with vicoden to the point of senselessness because my arm is KILLING me at the end of the day (I’m a light weight, so that would mean taking the recommended TWO, instead of just one…) I remember 20MT 2009 and how I managed to ride 35 miles in more agony than I’ve ever experienced to date (and doing it for a coffee mug!).

Every time I feel like throwing in the towel and turning into a vegetable and hiding underneath my desk for the rest of the day, I remember my first 50, and how I trudged on, far beyond 12 hours, with the soles of my boots flapping where they had separated from the upper, and plunging through waist deep water ditches without even really noticing what I was doing.

Every time I feel like I cannot do ONE MORE LITTLE thing over and over and over and over…..I remember American River 2010 when I had 40+ boot failures in 50 miles, but continued to replace them, and I succeeded where before I had failed.

Every time I’m scared because I’m turning my life upside down and doing all sorts of major changes at once, I remember how questioning my shoeing practices and taking a chance led to a radical change in thinking and more success in one season booted than I could imagine in my wildest dreams.

Every time I think that I cannot restart my life again, I remember how my “backup” horse Farley, when given a chance, took me on the ride of my life when I “restarted” after failing dismally with Minx.

Every time I look at my finances and how much $$ I’m going to have to borrow and think, “this can’t possibly work”, I remember how I scrimped and saved every penny to do endurance in that first year out of college – and how much joy and satisfaction that investment has repaid me over the years.

Every time I feel like the most current obstacle to moving forward with my life is insurmountable, I remember the countless times that I had to face the unknown and pick myself up and deal with horse issues, not knowing whether I would be successful – A bowed tendon that was a freak accident, 2 weeks after purchasing my new “dream” horse; a tye up weeks after accomplishing my life long endurance goal; a colic on xmas eve; double bowed tendons that were my fault; a phobia of a horse slipping and falling after an accident on the canal bank; a dismal first season that was humiliating and netted only tears – and later empathy and knowledge.

Sometimes, you write the blog post you need, rather than the one you planned. Such as it was today.

The plan was to write the first 2 paragraphs as they appear in this post, and then move onto how much my arm hurt, how much it sucked to have a migraine the night before moving and not be able to take medication, how tiring and life-draining moving was, and how there are about 40 million things that need to be done this week and time to do approximately 23 of them.

But now, I don’t feel like b*tching about any of it. It’s life. It’s an adventure. And it’s fun. It’s a wild ride, and this weekend included, I’m enjoying every second of it. Are you?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Wow!

I know a bunch of you read Mugwumps, but did this statement stand out to you of you the way it did to me?

"When she (the horse) starts the day with the same attitude she ends with you’ll know you’re getting somewhere,”...

Felt like I'd been hit between the eyes. In this case the horse starts out bucking and twirling, and ends quiet with her head down. I'm lucky that Farley usually offers me a good attitude/behavior in the beginning of a ride that is at least as good as the attitude we end with. Occasionally there's an...interesting start, but for the most part I don't have to "ride out" my horse to get the horse I want. BUT, I won't always have that. The revelation that I've really got somewhere with my training when the horse starts the way they ends (in a good way) was a bit of a revelation. Probably a sad statement. Probably obvious to all of you. But we all know I'm easily amused.


For those of you that don't read mugwumps, here's the link.

And if my html linking is being difficult....here's the acutal link:

www.mugwumpchronicles.blogspot.com/2011/05/whos-scared-her-or-me.html

Tess at 8 weeks

Tess is on the LEFT. (this is an edit, because OBVIOUSLY she is the white one on the left....not the right!!!! I don't know my right from my left. All riding lessons have to be taught using "outside/inside"!)  I'm told she's independent, but loves to be held to.  I think she's absolutely adorable.  She comes home in a week and I'm excited to have a puppy to play with.  It's great timing because.....
 
Farley was rechecked today.  First the good news.
 
The suspensory lesion looks good.  Very very good.  It isn't the problem right now. 
 
The thickening that I felt in the leg?  That I thought was the deep digital flexor?  It's actually a reinjury of the superficial digital flexor (SDF).  We ultrasounded her ~4 days post injury and it didn't show up.  But the progression of the lameness and how it presented makes sense for it to be a flexor.  At this point, we think that the SDF injury was there from the beginning, but didn't ultrasound well (sometimes takes 2 weeks for an injury to become readily apparent), and with the finding of the suspensory, there just wasn't a reason to investigate further and try to find a bunch of alternate diagnosises.  The suspensory was definitely an issue, and it's good that we found it.  When a few weeks later I felt something else was also going on in addition to the MBSL, I decided that the treatment was basically going to be the same whether it was suspensory or DDF (or SDF) and decided to wait until the recheck was due to ultrasound for additional injuries. (A decision I'm still comfortable with, since nothing would have been done differently, even if I had known 8 weeks ago that the SDF was involved) 
 
I wasn't blogging back when Farley originally injured her SDF, so here's the short version.
 
Approximately 2 weeks (December 2007) after purchasing Farley, before she was an endurance horse, we were doing a bit of walk/trot on the canal bank next to the stable.  On this particular day, Farley decided that the cow on the there side of the big wooden fence by the canal was  very scary.  And ran forward.  At a high rate of speed.  The cow thought this was very entertaining and decided to follow along.  E-dismount wasn't an option, nor was turning her since canal = very large basin of concrete besides me.  So we did a sort of in control very collected errrr.....gallop to the end of the fence.  Afterwards, she seemed off, but I couldn't see anything or really even feel it.  When I got back to the stable I palapated her leg and found an ouchy spot on her SDF.  And off we went to the vet.  Sure enough, it was an injury to the SDF, probably a back hoof that caught her front leg.  After 3 months of handwalking and then riding, we were cleared to start conditioning again.  Ten months later we were cleared to do our first LD.  Periodically over the years I've had the SDF rechecked.  As a result I have a really good baseline on what this flexor tendon looks like.  I was told by one vet that the degree of healing that Farley was able to do within the lesion was in the very top percentage of horses she had seen.   I've never had a problem with this injury since starting endurance, although you bet I've kept an eagle eye on it! 
 
Back to the present.
 
Obviously a reinjury is much more troubling than a new injury.  On the ultrasound the fiber pattern actually doesn't look that bad - no big holes, not really any dark spots....just mostly a fiber pattern that doesn't look as even as it should.  And the measurements of the flexor diameter are bigger.  But, the fact remains that it is a location that was previously injured, and thus we need to take very very seriously. 
 
The vet looked at me and asked whether it would be possible to take her off for 12 months to give it the best chance to heal.
 
My response?  Absolutely. 
 
My gut says that she will pull out of this and be sound enough to do at least 50's.  Whether she can do 100's again will depend on my time availability to put that kind of conditioning on her, and the race against her age (she's 12 now).  A year off can work miracles.  To tell you the truth - I'm not worried about it.  She'll certaintly be sound enough for hacking around and that's what I need right now - a pony I can hack on for the next couple of years.  Whether she can do 50's, 100's, or will be my "guest mount", or the horse I can pony my youngsters off in the future doesn't matter right now because that's at least 4-5 years in the future.  It's kind of nice that she'll be able to sit in pasture for my first year of vet school and I don't have to feel guilty about not riding.  :)  There's not anything that I should be doing right now that I'm not doing. 
 
Got the vet's clearance for walking under saddle (which I actually started doing the beginning of this week).  As part of her "vacation" this summer she'll do a lot of walking trail rides and some walking dressage and will be turned out in my parents pasture.  As most of you know, movement helps the fiber pattern be more normal as it heals, so it's important she keeps moving during her vacation - but I won't be doing anything that is considered "in work".  I'll probably fall off the face of the earth during my first year at vet school, and in the spring of 2012 will see what kind of horse I have. 
 
I still don't have any  conclusions on exactly HOW/WHY etc. it happened.  There's no obvious red flags.  She got lots of time off (4 months) since the previous 100, we weren't going faster than normal, and the footing was excellent.  Some of the factors that probably contributed were:
 
1.  Additional stress on the front end by starting her in jumping the previous fall/winter
2.  Getting very cold in the beginning of and near the end of the ride and perhaps compensating on the front end.
3.  Allowing her to trot down hills
4.  Having a knee issue that made it impossible for me to dismount and do any of the ride on foot.
5.  Not taking extended time off after a realtively (for us) high mileage season.
 
I want to be clear - I'm NOT beating myself up, and sometimes *stuff* happens.  But after some reflection, I think these are my takeaway lessons for future endurance adventures.
 
1.  No jumping. 
2.  In general, no trotting down hills (unless I want to dismount and jog down).  Sometimes it might be unavoidable and there will be exceptions, but in general I think I will concentrate on trying to make up time in other ways.  
3.  Take the cold as serious as the heat.
4.  Do not go to rides if the RIDER is physical compensating for something.  No more trying to work through physical problems at rides, especially 100 miles. 
5.  After a hard season, don't be afraid to take off 6 months MINIMUM. Or even longer. Might be a good excuse to have a 2nd horse if it allows me to be better putting one away (but then we all know what happens - you have TWO sound happy horses that never need extended time off because you aren't riding either one enough! LOL.) 
 
So in conclusion, getting Tess right now is great timing, because Farley will be enjoying a break and Tess will be getting a large share of the attention this summer with no competition!
 
This post is quite long enough, so I'll save me whining about my arm for tomorrow.  :) 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The story of Mel going insane

As most deceptively complicated things go, it all started rather simply.

It started with eating “real” food. As in, food that doesn’t have bar codes, or is a direct animal/plant product with minimal processing.

That led to me learning how to listen to my body better. Or maybe it led to my body being able to communicate better.

Which ever it was, one day at work, I realized I no longer liked sitting down.

I’m not sure what it was about sitting down specifically, but I felt like I was turning into a shapeless lump. I couldn’t think of any activity that had my body in a chair position for long lengths of time. Lounging, reclining, straddling, sitting on the floor, yes – chair position, no. After weekends spent backpacking, I felt so GOOD, so EVEN, and really quite wonderful. Maybe…because I wasn’t sitting. So, as I sat at my desk, I couldn’t figure out a good reason that I should be sitting so much – in fact, sitting started to seem….unnatural.

Being the inventive person I am I set up a standing work station. Using cardboard boxes. Everyone thought I was weird. I thought I was weird. I made up excuses. “My back hurts” is a good one – common, not easily verifiable.

For every hour I sat, I stood for an hour. The first day, I was sitting to rest from standing. After 5 days I was standing 4-5 hours at a time at my work station without noticing. After 2 weeks I could easily be on my feet at my desk for 8-10 hours. I found that I was standing to take a break from sitting.

I still considered myself in the realm of “normal” and even mentioned in my blog about my new found emphasis on real food, and how I ditched the chair. But there was something else.

As I stood at my desk, I found myself continually kicking off my shoes. I couldn’t stand still in shoes and I was constantly shifting or rolling my ankles. I had a foot injury that wouldn’t heal (some sort of soft tissue ligament thingy on the side of my foot) and I decided that 6 weeks of shoes and taking it easy didn’t help, and my body was trying to say SOMETHING about the whole barefoot thing while standing…..so I ditched the shoes.

Making excuses to stand instead of sit - normal. Going barefoot? --I'm joining the fringes.

While standing at my desk I started paying attention to my feet. They liked being barefoot. At first just being able to stand at my work station barefoot was enough. But then I started walking around. For a couple of weeks I wandered around the office in my stockings, putting my shoes on when I needed to venture afar. Then something weird happened.

From past physical therapy I know that my left side compensates for my right quite a bit. After a week of doing a standing work station barefoot, I noticed that I seemed to be “tipped” to the right when walking. Then I realized that I wasn’t tipped!!!!! I was straight!!!!! What I couldn’t do through PT or through conscious thought was being solved all it’s own.

Then my nagging foot issue I’ve had since 20 MT (Feb) went away.

At this point, I’m convinced. My body LIKES barefoot. When I’m barefoot, my feet don’t hurt when I stand around all day. When I’m barefoot, I’m even and straight. When I’m barefoot my ankles are stronger.

BUT, I’m not convinced that the corporate world is going to be as understanding.

So the insnity continues. The hunt for barefoot attire starts. I finally found my ugly a$$ shoes – also known as “RunaMocs” from Soft star. They aren’t noticeable when I wear them with slacks and jeans and they are easy to take on and off, BUT they don’t come off – even when running. Nobody comments on them and they look like shoes……but I’m in barefoot comfort and wiggling my toes. My secret is safe.

I of course, am not willing to admit I’ve crossed over to the “crazies” side and admit that I’m converted to the barefoot way. After all, I'm just standing there....and then I'm just taking a walk....and then....

The key to (in my case reverting back to) being barefoot is to transition gradually. I progress from standing on my desk, to walks. At the end of 2 weeks I could walk unlimited in them, so tried some jogging... Now, I have to admit that I have good biomechanics so it isn’t farfetched that I can run barefoot, and I’m not going barefoot to solve any running injuries (of which I are few and far between for me – but unfortunately the ones I have I ignored for 10 years……). I’m not running long distances and it isn’t inconceivable that I shouldn’t be able to run a couple of miles on grass, just for fun.

And then comes the ½ marathon. I’m not an idiot – I reached for my trusty Wave Rider shoes. Real shoes. I’ve never had issues with them, and really, how much could my running and walking REALLY could have changed in 4 weeks?

Well, enough to give me a HUGE blister on my big toe. On the side to the outside.

Mmmm…..

There were all sorts of differences. From how much more efficient my push off was, to how much I used my toes, to how equal the work was between my right and left sides, to how even my stride and cadence was, and a whole host of other things.

So now, I’m ready to admit. I’m one of the barefoot freaks. I'm going public.

Much like my barefoot horse, the transition period was critical, and the results were readily apparent.

Is my lifestyle (no sitting in chairs and barefoot) practical for everyone? No.

Is it practical for me all the time? Nope.

I won’t be running any ½ marathons without my running shoes soon. Some days I dress up in heels and a skirt. Just like an occasional foray into processed foods or a recliner to watch a movie isn't a death knell, I think that running shoes still have a place in my life…..BUT I don’t think it’s a bad thing for me to evaluate items in my life and ask the question – “would life be better if I did this another way?”

As always, it’s an experiment of one. Even now, I feel a little stupid standing here barefoot typing on the computer…..but here’s the funny thing. Once I decided to stand, I started seeing articles being passed around on how bad sitting is for you. The jury is still out about barefoot, but as it seems to be working out for me at LEAST as well as standing, so I’ll listen to my body for now on both issues.

And that is the story of how Melinda, once a perfectly normal person (redgirl – stop cackling) turned absolutely insane.

My first Goodbye

This afternoon I had my first goodbye.

To my wonderful farrier. He's trimmed and shod my horses since I moved here. He's a great farrier who never stops learning, and is easy to talk to. He did a great job on the horse's feet.

I hate goodbyes. I usually manage to wiggle my way out of them and exit out the back door without actually having to go through the process of saying goodbye.

You know what I like best about blogging? I don't have to say good bye to any of you just because I'm moving. Our relationship isn't going to change, just because I happen to blog from Live Oak instead of Turlock.

I have a feeling that being able to say a proper and gracious goodbye is just as important as a proper and gracious thank you, and to get good at it, you need to practice. It won't improve if I avoid it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In which Farley gets ridden

Farley looked a bit shocked as I pulled her out of pasture. Since she was doing a fine job of walking herself (with a little naughty “extra” movement here and there) I decided *I* didn’t need to do any more handwalking than what I happened to feel like on a daily basis. Usually once per week.

However, we still have a relationship. How can I tell? She let me worm her in the pen, with no halter, with a broken arm. After I ignored her the entire weekend. And then STILL nickered me when she saw me yesterday. I took that as a sign she was *probably* NOT going to kill me. Or rebreak my arm. Or break my other arm.

Week 10 and time to saddle up for a 15 min walk under saddle.

Have I mentioned lately that the wintec is saving my A$$ when it comes to riding? So light.

Off to the mounting block. Attempt to toss myself on. Mysteriously jam my elbow and (after carefully checking for human company) said a few choice cuss words. Also I find out that the ½ marathon last weekend has inflamed my left siattic nerve. So. Now mounting with my left hand and right leg only. With no left leg push. Finally got mounted. A miracle in itself.

I immediately notice two things. Number 1 – Farley is fat. Number 2 – I feel like her ears are in my lap. For two months I’ve been riding Zach – a beautiful, big, fancy, thoroughbred. I will admit not being able to steer for the first week on him. But now we get on beautifully. As I sat on Farley, the difference in the length of neck was so significant I felt myself actually getting a bit nauseous since I KNEW that my saddle was too far forward and I was PRACTICALLY SITTING ON HER NECK!!!

Big breath. The saddle is fine. The placement is fine. It’s NORMAL to feel like I could reach up and grab her too-big-for-an-arab-ears and chomp them off like chocolate easter bunny ears.

She feels so EVEN. Her walk cadence is really good. At first she was poised to do whatever transition I asked, and tried to take a few trot steps, but after I gently asked her to walk, she understood what I wanted and gave me a good walk forward.

We did some long and low, some bending and flexing and positioning.

I marveled at my precious pony, who could be super fit, off for 2 ½ months and still pack me around safely with one arm on a windy day. Am I lucky or what?

As I asked for some on the bit walk, I marveled at the differences in myself too. I don’t hang on the left rein now, she doesn’t pull on the left rein (how much of that was me anyways?). Going to the left she isn’t on my outside rein, but I know how to fix it now (and guess what? The fix is NOT to hang on the inside rein!). I have a following seat now, I can recognize when she’s behind my leg, and I’m not pulling as much either – I’m pushing her forward into the connection. I can feel when she falls behind the vertical and I know how to fix it. Farley has always been better after time off, and I feel so prepared to take advantage of it now – I’ve fixed a lot of MY bad habits and she’s presenting me with basically a clean slate to start over with. What a gift!

We ended the day at 15 minutes (which was about the time she started to get a bit fussy…..but not to the point where I had to do something about it). Most of it on a long rein just enjoying the scenery. We will be at a walk for at least a month, so plenty of time to work some walking dressage in – a bit more each day. I’m grateful I was able to let her move on her own in her paddock – although it was a risk in the beginning, it will help me now – our tye up risk is less, her energy level is more appropriate during the undersaddle rehab process, and I can have confidence that if her leg has looked great for 10 weeks with the amount of movement she’s doing in the paddock, the line I’m trying to ride between reinjury and rehab is a bit more forgiving now.

Farley – you are the best horse a girl could wish for, and I count myself blessed that I get to share my life with you. Good thing you aren’t a boy or Matt would be jealous. (insert smiley face)

Is it sad that my best girlfriend in the whole wide world is a horse?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Elyte update

The electrolyte update: I tried S!caps for the first time during the half marathon last Sunday. I can’t recommend them highly enough. They are really easy to take, even without water. They travelled well with me during the race in a ziplock next to my sweaty skin, no worse for wear. My electrolyte arsenal at this point contains:

S!caps (during events and as needed during recovery)
Vitalyte (supplement the S!caps as more potassium is needed)
Cytomax (during events when protein needs exceed what I can choke down, during recovery when I might not have other nutrition available)

Here’s some notes/observations/thoughts on my electrolyte protocol so far

1. During moderate exercise, once an hour was the recommendation in the product literature. This ended up being perfect for me. I usually start to feel mentally “depleted” around mile 10, and HAVE to have substance before mile 14 or so or I start to get really nauseous. This time I never hit the wall mentally, never had to play mental games with myself to keep going, no nasusa, and although I was hungry near the end , it wasn’t accompanied by that icky feeling. I started with one cap right before the start and continued with one cap every hour until I was done. Right after I was done with the race I drank a packet of vitalytes.

2. Recovery - I wasn’t sure how much electrolytes I needed for recovery after the race and how food would affect my need (and had the fantasy that I could take care of my needs for elytes through food….and once again discovered that is just not reality for me). I ended up needing to pop an S! cap about an hour after the race, and then another one the next morning. It took me 5-10 minutes after taking the S!cap, to feel fine again. I learned that my elyte supplementation needs probably extend ~24 hours post-athletic activity.

3. At one point in the late afternoon I ended up feeling odd and felt like I “needed something”. But it was beyond just an electrolyte need. Cytomax, which up until this point has been undrinkable, actually sounded GOOD, and I drank a packet of that and it was PERFECT. I had had a good combination of fruit and protein post-race, and probably just needed a snack of the same at that point, but I was driving in a rural area and it was nice to have something at hand that I could use to fulfill this need immediately, instead of waiting and feeling sicker, needing the calories+electrolytes+protein etc. Apart from recovery, during longer events I WILL need protein during the event. This can sometimes be problematic, and so I will continue to use Cytomax as part of my elyte arsenal both for recovery as needed, or during longer events.

4. Maintaining proper elyte balance allowed me to make better decisions post-race when it came to refueling and nutrition decisions. I used to go crazy after the race, eating a lot of everything and not really being able to control what I was putting into my body because I would be craving all sorts of different things. I would start feeling not good, and I would just reach for anything that sounded OK – but would always be a little dissatisfied with what I was eating because I still felt “off” and would be looking for something else to eat a short time later. As a result, I was probably consuming an excess of calories, carbs, etc. in my bodies attempt to get the elytes I needed – to the determinant of a quick recovery. After this half marathon it was very easy to just eat what I needed to recover, not feel bloated, and continue to feel good throughout the day and the next.

5. Getting in the habit of listening to my body has expanded beyond just the electrolytes. After the race I ate some banana and orange pieces, but then turned to my mom and said “I need protein”. It was a very clear signal from my body that it needed protein, instead of the muddled signals that I used to get that I needed “something”, but I didn’t know what. In fact, my body sent very clear signals all day: “I need protein”, “I need elytes”, “I need calories”, “I need carbs” – at different parts of the day. It was nice to know exactly what my body needed and to be able to respond BEFORE feeling sick.

In summary, The difference in how I felt during, after and the morning after the event was significantly better than in the past. Elytes make a huge difference, and finding the right combination of products and protocols during activity and during recovery should be a priority.

Horse and human performance physiology is very different, however, here are some questions I’m pondering as I reflect on my elyte experiences:

• How much is the lack of “gas in the tank” at the end of ride related to elyte balance and levels?

• How long into the recovery period should elyte supplementation occur? (for me it’s 24 hours – how about my horse?)

• Could supplementing with elytes outside of food allow the horse to better manage the rest of its nutrition throughout the ride? (for example, let the horse “feel” better whether it needs protein or carbs?).

• What is the role of proactive supplementation as opposed to “reactive” supplementation in endurance competitions?

On a slightly different (but related topic as it deals with nutrition at an event…) I’ve been practicing a relatively low carb, high protein, high fat diet. It’s for a variety of reasons, but in part because I’ve found out that I’m very sensitive to gluten (which probably explains one reason why I feel so crappy at rides – the easiest food to eat at rides tend to be the products that contain wheat, so I eat more of them than usual there….). As I watched my aunt eat a bowel of cereal the morning of the race, I realized that this was going to be an interesting experiment beyond what I was trying with the elytes – gone were my running staples of pasta and cereal.

I had made a point of eating slightly less fat than usual and more carbs (in the form of fruit etc.) at dinner in prep for the race, but it was a far cry from my typical pre race pasta meal…..I simply ate ½ an avocado for breakfast and admit I felt a bit apprehensive – would I be able to finish the event?

The results surprised me – although I was hungry when I finished, I wasn’t famished and subject to cravings. My energy levels throughout the race stayed very consistent, and although it would have been really nice to see some sort of fruit at the aid stations near the end, it wasn’t a devastating blow to realize I was going to have to wait until the finish line to eat something. Apparently, I don’t need copious amounts of calories before and during a 3 hour event and perhaps some of my high carb binging habits before/during/after races were actually more detrimental than helpful.

It is hard to completely seperate what were the consequences of my elyte protocols and how much is due to the change in my diet, but the bottom line is I was relatively physically unprepared for this event. BUT, because I was balancing nutrition and elytes, I performed and recovered far better than during events when the equation was reversed. (ie focus on the physical preparation and lax nutrition and elytes).

Monday, May 2, 2011

We'll give her a B on gaits

I finished my half marathon.

I wouldn’t have passed the vet check at an endurance ride if I was a horse. Unless the human equivalent of a trot out is a brisk walk. Or maybe a C?

I’m not significantly sore and if I were an endurance horse, my owner would be pleased how I was moving and how I seemed to be recovering the day or 2 after the ride.

My current fitness goals is to be “fit enough” to do what I want on the weekends for adventure. I feel like “fit enough” is to be able to do a slow 10 miles. Or a weekend backpacking trip. Or a kayaking experience in a local lake. Or a water skiing adventure. Or a 50 mile horse ride. You get my point – although I may not be specifically “training” for an event, I should be fit enough to do something fun without injury assuming I’m looking for adventure and fun and not top performance.
Apparently my current regimen allows me to do 8-9 miles at a reasonable pace. So, if I want to do ½ marathons on random weekends for fun, I need to step up my activity intensity level during the week.

I haven’t done any serious running for 2-3 years, so this was really more of a grand experiment – could have finish a 13 miles looking and feeling good at a reasonable pace, by just relying on general being active?

If I did ½ marathons every 4-6 weeks with no other changes to my routine, would I continue to improve? Would my injury and burn out risk decrease?

In short, could I handle ½ marathon fitness like I do my mid-pack endurance horse?
Obviously, we aren’t looking at top performance here, but if the goal is to finish and have fun (like an endurance ride), than what would happen?

I already know horse and human performance differs at the physiological level. Performance enhancing drugs and practices (I’m not talking exercise routines here….) are radically different if you are talking a race horse versus a human athlete.

But I can’t get it out of my head that there’s more similarities than differences.

Arm update: Saw the doc today. He explained that the fracture is in the head of the radius within the joint, and that there’s a bunch of fluid in the joint. That’s why it continues to hurt and I have very limited range of motion. Running the half didn’t worsen it. I’m cleared for riding – mostly because I promised I wouldn’t fall off and I told him I would adjust my right hand position on the rein and go by pain (ie, the lack of it). NSAIDs aren’t going to help at this point, but icing 2x a day is still a good idea. In 2 weeks I’ll know whether I need surgery and/or PT. In the meantime there’s nothing I’m going to do that’s going to significantly alter the outcome (except fall on it again). He feels that it’s going to heal fine. I’m grumpy and in a funk – off to my dressage lesson and to swing a leg over Farley for the first time in 9 weeks.