This blog has MOVED!

Please visit for the most updated content. All these posts and more can be found over at the new URL.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mel attempts to apply theorictical knowledge to a practical situation

This post started very focused....and then I got distracted by Google Reader.  And then I realized I did a lot of things today I want to talk about.  And then I realized that after a weekend of pretending I was NOT a vet student and doing zero studying, my chance of writing the blog posts that I WANT to write this week are slim to none. faithful, long-suffering, and enduring readers are going to get the whole shebang this evening.  

150 unread posts and I officially give up.  Maybe during my ethics lecture tomorrow afternoon I will have the courage to start again.  When I started reading SEVERAL hours ago I had over 700 posts.  After an hour of blog reading and STILL having 500 unread posts I decided drastic action was needed.  I unsubscribed to the blogs whose posts I was regularly skipping through.  The list magically went to a more manageable 300 posts.  Another hour later, more skimming, and adding one new subscription and I just don’t have the brain power to finish it up tonight.  Ugh.  It’s 9:30, I should be in bed, and instead I’m continuing my long weekend of pretending I’m not a vet student.  A vet student studies.  I can't recall studying at ALL this weekend.  I recall driving to a work party and organizing tack and harness.  And drinking half a bottle of port.  And watching my boyfriend build a porch.  And writing blog posts.  And going on a GLORIOUS trail ride.  But….no studying. 

Today I went on a trail ride.  A REAL trail ride.  A GLORIOUS trail ride.  That I forgot to take pictures of.  Probably because I was riding with another endurance rider and I was SO excited about the company and the talking and the novelty of it all that once I got into the saddle, the phrase "horse ear picture" didn't even occur to me.  Or.....maybe it was the pleasure of HAVING MY PONY BACK!!!!!!!!!!

Do you know the real sign that the Farley I know and love is back?  I had fleeting thoughts of how nice it would be to whack her in the rump with a crop to get a little more "umph" out of her and keep her in front of my leg.  And that's how I know that everything is going to be OK :).  Yep, my sweet pony is back.  She gets to keep her name and I get to keep my sanity.

I did something else today....I rode in my barefoot shoes.  The barefoot shoes that do not have a heel, and that any real horse person would take one look at and perhaps say a prayer for me and then make sure I'm wearing a helmet.

It's a calculated risk.  I'm using a saddle that has stirrup bars that would easily let the the leather slide off if something was being drug.  I have good riding posture and concienciously keep my heels down.  I'm using stirrups that my foot would not easily go through.  I'm on a horse I know well.  I'm wearing a helmet.  If I do this on a regular basis, I WILL invest in another set of "toe stoppers", however for a test ride I felt it was a calculated risk I was comfortable taking.

My friend (bless her heart) asked if I had different shoes, and when I announced that I would be riding in these ridiculous leather moccasin things, raised her eye brown but didn't try to actively dissuade me. 

I was actually quite pleased.  It isn't a perfect combination (I've been looking for the perfect shoe/stirrup combo for me for YEARS), but it gets me a lot closer, and it allows me to get off and, run, something that is impossible to do with a shoe with a heel.  Running shoes worked, but I felt the minimalist "Runamocs" did better in the stirrup.  I'm not sure whether this will be a permanent change, but it went well enough that I'll be experimenting further with the idea. 

Did yet another ride in my "magic" orange boots.  This particular set of boots is a pair that I decided would be my grand experiment to see just how many years and miles I could get out of a pair. Not to mention how much one can abuse the boot and have it still perform.  Turns out quite a bit.  They've seen a couple of 50's, a 100, and lots of conditioning miles.  And since I'm usually in a hurry and want to get on the trail, I must admit that they aren't exactly adjusted "ideally".  When I say they aren't "ideal", I mean that I can't get the right front captivator onto the heel bulb because the cables are too tight, even with the toe strap completely loose.  She has to sort of "trot" into the boot as we start out.....and when the toe strap is fastened, it's only ~3/4" long, held in place by O-rings.  Today, I decided to try and adjust the cables longer because my friend was being so patient.  However, I've also stopped cleaning and maintaining the boots, so after half-heartedly digging at the set screws with a wrench I decided to just "go with it".  I have yet to have a boot failure with this set, even with the boots being generally ill-adjusted, and it has become a source of amusement for me how well the boots perform even when so obviously fitted incorrectly (the size of the boots and the cutback is correct, it's just everything else that I haven't gotten around to fixing).

It was like my friend had been reading my mind, when one of her first questions to me on the trail ride today was "are you going to do Tevis again?".  Yes, I want to do Tevis again.  It isn't something I've admitted here on the blog, and I don't talk about in my "real" life, but lately I've started to allow myself to dream again. 

It's a complicated issue and decision and deserves it's own post, and I'm certainly NOT going to give it justice here and now.....BUT suffice to say I think it's doable and as long as Farley stays sound and I ride smart, I'll try again.  More on that later. 

Yesterday I gave you the mumbo jumbo technical background on tendons.  Now I’m going to a more grey area - how I’m applying this knowledge to myself and Farley, what implications that has to my endurance riding….

I didn't do everything "right" for rehabbing this injury.  The first 2 months I iced and walked and wrapped as prescribed. life got complicated and I decided that putting her out to pasture was the best thing I could do for her.  It's not the recommended solution, but Farley is generally quiet, and at the time I was learning to deal with a lot of very new and complicated life changes, it was what I had to offer.

In 2007, when she injured it the first time,  I did the controlled exercise thing, the hand walking, the slowly building up to full work - basically the ideal process they teach in vet school.  My adherence to this process is what I directly contribute to our success over the next few years.

HOWEVER.  With my knowledge of tendon physiology now, I can pinpoint several things I did wrong AFTER the rehab period.  While this rehab was not as ideal as the first, I think that the key to avoid a repeat injury, which will result in me retiring Farley, will be those choices I make once she is competing again.  

1.  Sand is not my friend.  I don't live in it.  I don't train in it.  Farley's pasture doesn't have any in it.  As much fun as I had in the high deserts of California, I will never do another sandy ride with Farley.  Looking back, every ride she was borderline had a significant amount of sand.  Pushing through a sandy ride (because I don't have access to it) will cause significant levels of fatigue, which will cause strain on the tendon, because I have not equipped Farley's muscles to handle sand work.  IT IS NOT WORTH THE RISK.  Our days of sandy rides are over.

2.  Pasture is our friend.  I will sacrifice whatever I have to sacrifice, including her grass hay diet, for her to be on pasture.  She was kept in a paddock and while I made every effort to provide turnout and exercise, it isn't the same and I will not do endurance if she is not on pasture. 

3.  I will not ask a tired Farley, or a Farley that is showing signs of muscle fatigue - including tight butt muscles - to continue.  Strong muscles will protect the tendon.  Fatigued and tired muscles will result in a reinjury. 

4.  I WON'T ask for 4 100's within 366 days again.  Or American River.  Or rides that have terrible footing because of the weather.  I rode almost every ride in a 2 year period in rain, or the day after a significant storm in crappy footing.   If my gut says pull, I pull.  I was looking for excuses to pull from 20 MT, and because I couldn't find a reason NOT to ride, I rode.  From now on, instead of riding on yellow and green lights, I only ride on green.  ie - I ride because there is a reason TO ride, instead of riding because there isn't a reason NOT to ride. 

I know that by putting her back to pasture and free exercise prior to a year of careful and controlled conditioning, I probably do not have an ideal tendon healing.  There's probably some residual "wrong" collagen type.  There's probably some fibrous tissue intermixed there.  Her fiber alignment is probably OK, but there's no denying that there is probably some lasting damage to the tendon.  What do I have in my favor?

1.  She has apparently survived being out on pasture without doing too much more further damage.  Thus, I'm not having a heart attack the first time we trot in a straight line on good footing - she's been doing it for MONTHS in the pasture, and it's been a lot more than a trot.  I'm much less anxious and more accepting of whatever happens - she seems fine at this point, I'm going to use my knowledge of the conditioning process and physiology to our advantage.  Either she'll be fine or she won't, and mostly likely although a reinjury is career ending, it's not life ending.

2.  She's maintained a level of fitness in her muscle and bone, that instead of being frustrated about, I am GRATEFUL for, because a strong muscle reduces the likelihood of fatigue and overstretching.

3.  She has proven that given the opportunity, she is a horse that does do an excellent job of healing tendon tissue.  Without knowing there was an injury, before the reinjury, you could not tell by looking at ultrasound that there had ever been an issue with the tendon.

4.  She's an experienced horse, less given to stupidity and missteps.  Missteps that gave me such heart attacks the last time we went through this.  Having to teach her to watch her feet through rocks at the Death Valley ride her first season was hard because of the number of stumbles - each one I was sure she was going to come up lame from, even though we were far enough along that what I was doing was suitable for her conditioning.  Although she's been a moron for the last month or so, I'm 99% sure after today that's she's "back" mentally, and I certainly won't do a ride until I can do a half halt without her throwing her nose up and throwing a hissy fit, and until our rating conversation is just that - a conversation and not a screaming match. 

5.  I've learned the art of patience and not having a time table.  There is not deadline, there is not goal beyond what I feel like we are ready for at that moment.  I felt a lot of pressure to complete Tevis before going to vet school.  I pushed too hard in 2009 to get there, and didn't give her significant time off after 2 tough years of competition of going further and faster. 

The trick will be to keep her muscle and bone conditioned enough, and not expose her to conditions that are more likely to put strain on the tendon - like sand and trotting down hills.  I can ride smarter now, and since I feel I understand the physiology and conditioning process better, I feel like I can avoid some of the pitfalls of my previous seasons. 

Already I can tell I'm on the right track.  We've had 2 significant rides so far - and she looks great - better in fact, than before the injury.  No filling, no ouchiness on her hocks when turning to exit the trailer, no back sensitivity when being groomed.  She gallops away from me when I put her back to pasture after a ride and spends several minutes trotting and cantering around her enclosure looking absolutely gorgeous.  Time will tell, but it's encouraging as I'm not babying her on our rides, just using common sense, having fun, and enjoying every mile, since it's impossible to know when it will be our last.  


  1. Squeee, a classic Mel endurance post!

    I have a question about pasture - What's your minimum pasture size? Like Dixie is in a half acre now, and I think that's the smallest size enclosure I want her to be in - what's your definition of a pasture?

  2. In CA it's hard - so I'm sure I'm going to get laughed at by all those other lucky people in the midwest.....but I consider ~1/2 to 3/4 of an acre a minimum pasture. It's big enough she can gallop around (although she does have to make some sharp turns. Her pasture right now is a rectangle so she can get going fast, slow down for a reasonable turn and go up the other side. She moves around quite a bit more. I was told by the boarding barn that the horses moved "quite a bit" in the paddocks....but I never saw her as much as trot, AND I could see paths that she compulsively walked. I think that might be the cut off for me - I want to see her gallop in the pasture of her own free will, AND even though I know there will be paths, I don't want to see compulsive paths that are very deep and obviously neorotic. If that happens....then the pasture probably needs to be bigger, as I KNOW she'll do that on a rectangle 1/2 acre.

  3. Yeah, that's about what I'm going with. I have an inherently lazy TWH, but when the crazy wind makes all the horses gallop around, she can get three good strides before she gets near a fence. I'd like to see her in something bigger, but if everything else was perfect and they had half-acre paddocks, I think I'd go for it.

    When she was on 20 acres at the crazy lady's place, her herd moved around A BIT but mainly they all stood in the 50' by the gate. It's so annoying to pay for a large area and have the damn horse stand in a tiny part of it, LOL!

  4. Farley is in about a 1/4 of an acre.

    I don't see any reason you wouldn't be able to ride in runamocs. I don't see much difference in them and the CW brogans I ride in sometimes. I think the heel is mostly phsycological(?). As poorly as I ride, I have never had a problem with my foot going through the stirrup.


  5. Thanks for the correction. - I think 1/4 is probably OK with a single horse and I was lucky because it's been a dry weather so there isn't sections of it that aren't unusable. I think 1/2 acre will be a must if the pasture situation is a group situation (which I think will probably be true when I board). Funder - I still stand by my previous comment - I think that 1/2 acre is minimum, especially with your larger horse, assuming it isn't a private pasture. I don't think Minx would have been as comfortable in the pasture that Farley is in in part because of size and Farley is a quick, catty mover.

  6. I love having big pastures. We are so lucky where we are ... the smallest pastures (or paddocks, as we call them) are around 3 acres. Of course, they're strip-grazed and/or rotationally grazed by a whole herd. Sounds like Farley's very happy with her pasture situation :).

    "I'm using stirrups that my foot would not easily go through." - I thought the idea was to have large-ish stirrups so that if your foot did go through it could slip back and wouldn't get trapped?

    But regardless, it sounds like a good experiment. I have never considered riding in 'soft' shoes (or non-shoes, in your case ;)). Do the stirrups not hurt your feet? Is it just so you can run, or are there riding advantages too?

  7. I have morton's neuroma so it's difficult to ride without some discomfort - soft shoes or traditional. My feet did get a bit numb last weekend in this comboniation, but no more or less than in my ariats, My feet were cold, so I'll add socks next time. the biggest advantage I saw in the saddle was ankle flexibility - i felt like I could REALLY sink into my heel, even though my stirrups were a little long (no sole on these shoes, AND I took these leathers from my dressage saddle). I also liked the sensation of feeling farley's skin against my ankels - reminded me of riding bareback, when I was barefoot.

    My biggest fear is getting my foot stepped on - something that shouldn't be a disaster as long as my hrose is barefoot and I'm not on concrete. The 2 times that I broke toes when stepped on I was in "appropriate" boots - once the horse was shod, the other we were on concrete.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.