Winter woes in Cajun land

Winter has finally arrived in Louisiana. In fact, we had a snow day yesterday. I think we got about 1/4″…and they closed schools. Of course, it was all melted by 9am.

That snow had me feeling grateful for my new stalls, though. Chip grew a full blown winter coat sometime around mid-October and was sweating his butt off (literally) just standing in the pasture. And riding in 80 degree temps with a winter coat…well, that just wasn’t working out, so he’s been body-clipped for a couple months now. Not to mention, we’ve finally got his feet in order, so it’s awesome to have stalls for the ponies every evening.

Blanketing is still an issue, though. Our temps can drop into the 30s at night and back up into the 70s during the day. Each morning I agonize over whether to let him freeze in the morning so he’s comfortable during the day, or be comfortable in the morning and sweat in the afternoon. I wish I could run home at lunch and adjust his blankets, but that’s not an option. Anybody else have this issue? Drop your suggestions below–I greatly appreciate it!

Anyway, check out the Product Reviews page–I recently ordered a Kensington stall guard from SmartPak for Chip’s stall. Spoiler alert: I loved it so much, I ordered one for Wynni’s! And, Chip also reviewed Snaks 5th Avenchew Unicorn treats.

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#legsofsteelchallenge Day 15

Burpees. I have such a love-hate relationship with the burpee. Need more cardio in your life? The burpee will tell you. Your quads are weak? The burpee will let you know. Soft core? Oh yeah, burpee’s gonna tell you all about it.

I’ve included this plyometric exercise in the legs of steel challenge because it works. Plain and simple. Fifty burpees can be overwhelming if you’re fairly new to them. It’s much better to break them down into sets: 5 sets of 10, or 10 sets of 5. The most important point is that you keep correct form. So if you find yourself hitting muscle fatigue, modify these suckers. Walk your legs up to your hands instead of jumping up from the plank position. And stand up instead of thrusting upward.

We’re 2 weeks in to the legs of steel challenge. I hope by now you’ve started to push beyond your comfort zone. If not, I hope you’ll add to these exercises to help you achieve your goal. And if so, that’s awesome–keep up the good work!

Again, much thanks to our awesome sponsors: @eqstyletheory @rideheelsdown @shopthebraidedmane and @equinesnax

#legsofsteelchallenge CATCH UP

It happens all the time–you get a little progress going, and then, BAM! Your horse pulls a shoe and abscesses three days out from a show. Or, if you’re a mom, your child gets sick. That’s what’s great about 30 day challenges: you’ve got the workouts on a calendar, so you can go back and play catch up. Or, if you don’t have time to catch up, simply start up again where you left off and extend your time frame.

My daughter just came home from an extended stay in the hospital for a bad case of RSV. Today was my catch up day, and I was so pumped to see all the IG peeps that had posted their #legsofsteelchallenge photos and videos while I was away. YOU GUYS ROCK!!

Putting all the workouts together, I can really feel those muscles that these exercises are designed to target. Be sure you’re adapting these to meet your fitness needs (tone it down or ramp it up as needed).

I really didn’t think the hamstring curls were going to do much for me, but I was pleasantly surprised to feel a little hammy burn after a couple of sets! And those burpees…I need more cardio in my life, for sure.

Exercises like the curtsy and rear lunges really help show you which is your dominant, or stronger, side. I have a weak left knee, and it was pretty evident that I need to work that left quad more.

Thanks so much to our awesome sponsors for helping me put on this challenge: @rideheelsdown @eqstyletheory @shopthebraidedmane & @equinesnax

Day 10:

Day 11:

Day 12:

#legsofsteelchallenge Day 2

If Day 1 was easy for you, great!! Each day should be progressively harder but should not be painful or result in extreme soreness. (Despite what your trainer tells you, No Stirrup November shouldn’t be a torture session!)

Day 2 consists of 15 side leg raises, 10 lying inner thigh raises, and 20 seconds of side plank (each side). You’ll work your abductors, adductors, and core muscle groups. As always, if you find yourself struggling to complete the workout, break it into sets, or modify it to suit your fitness ability. In the saddle, add another minute or two to your stirrupless session, or drop one iron at a time while posting.

No Stirrups November Legs of Steel Challenge

Are you ready? Really ready? This month, dear reader, I challenge you to push yourself and find out just how far you’ll go to get those highly coveted eq legs. You know, the kind Taylor St. Jacques has.

But to build those legs, you need more than just dropping your irons. In fact, before you drop those irons, you need to be ready. Going cold turkey and putting your stirrups away in the tack room for the month can have unintended consequences for you and your horse. Dropping your irons before your legs are ready can actually cause more harm than good.

This month’s challenge helps you build the muscles you need to have a strong position in the saddle. And as you build the muscles, you should also drop your irons for longer periods of time throughout your rides so that by the end of the month, depending on your fitness level, you should be able to complete your entire ride sans stirrups.

Day one starts off fairly simple: 25 squats, 10 lunges, and 30 seconds of plank. You’ll work your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core muscles in this workout. If you find it really easy, that’s good. If you find it fairly difficult, break it down into sets with short rest periods between the sets. Aim for dropping your irons in the last 5 minutes of your ride. If you can’t post without irons just yet, stick to holding your legs in the correct position without stirrups at the walk.

If you’d like to participate, follow me on Instagram: @idteventing  and use #legsofsteelchallenge to share your pictures and videos for a chance to win prizes offered by fabulous sponsors like The Braided Mane  (@shopthebraidedmane), Ride Heels Down (@rideheelsdown) and Equine Snax (@equinesnax). This challenge was developed and produced in collaboration with EqStyleTheory (@eqstyletheory).

It goes without saying, but you should always consult a physician and/or trainer if you have any questions at all about your abilities to perform any of these exercises. I am not a licensed or professional fitness trainer–this challenge is meant to be fun and to build camaraderie in our sport!

 

Make the world your happy place

I’m gonna let y’all in on a little secret: I do NOT have my shit together. Not even close. Every morning when the sitter arrives, I apologize for the disarray that is my house. I mean, she’s used to it by now, but I’m still mortified every morning.

And I just might be the worst sales person on the face of the planet. Let’s face it, I’m not selling ice to an Eskimo any time soon. I might be able to talk him into a nice parka, but that’s only if they’re on sale. (Given that I work in insurance sales, this does not bode well for a successful career.)

And then tonight, I had a horrible ride on Chip. He was so tight and full of tension and yet still lazy (HOW is that possible?!?), and try as I might, we never really did get a relaxed, swinging back. Oh, we got some relaxation, but it was meh at best.

I know some people look at me and think I’ve got it altogether. I know this because they tell me so. Let me reiterate: I DO NOT HAVE MY SHIT TOGETHER. However,  I AM so incredibly blessed. There’s a lot I don’t have, and I still have wants and desires that I’ll never be able to afford, but I’m happy with what I DO have. And that’s the key. Be happy with what you have. Focus on the positive. Build each other up.

As an Army wife, most of my friends are spread across the country. Social media is often my only source for connection with other equestrians. I recently discovered a couple of small businesses operated by some amazing women, and I applied for an ambassadorship for their companies. I actively seek small Instagram accounts and write at least one encouraging comment on someone’s post each day. This small step brightens my day, and it’s made meaningful impact in my life.

So that’s my challenge to you: Find the positive in your life, and share it with others. Let’s make this world our happy place.

The circle of death

Sometimes the answer to a problem is so simple, you overlook it.

Yesterday, I made my mecca to Holly Hill to get Chip’s monthly pedicure. Since it’s a 2.5 hour one-way haul, I try to make it a worthwhile trip and squeeze in a lesson or a XC school. I try to stick with the same instructor, so we can have continuity, but Julie was at a horse show. I was contemplating a hack instead with Amy when a lady walked up and asked if I was the one looking for a lesson. I affirmed, yes, I was seriously needing some stadium help. When she said, “well, I haven’t drank my beer yet, so…” I knew she was my kind of instructor. I told her I was fine with her drinking while she taught–who am I to deny her a cold brew on a hot Saturday afternoon?

Stupidly, I had decided to wear shorts this morning & planned on changing into my breeches when I got there. And then even more stupidly, I walked around and got hot & sweaty before changing. So, there I was, in the back of my trailer (because that dressing room gets freaking hot if the a/c isn’t hooked up), balanced on my toes, trying to shimmy into full-seats without falling over. Y’all, I love my Kerrits Sit Tights supreme, but stuffing my sweaty legs into those tights took me longer than it did to tack up my horse.

Chip was pretty anxious out in the ring. There was a lot to look at & he was the only horse out there. Since he wasn’t eager to stretch right out & walk on the buckle, I picked up the contact and immediately began asking him to step into the connection. Unfortunately, he was so distracted by everything around him, he wasn’t really hearing me. As I was about to begin my typical fix for that, EI (eventing instructor–I didn’t ask her if I could publicly announce her name on the world wide web) asked me if I’d ever ridden the circle of death.

It probably goes without explanation, but, on the off-chance you live in the barren lands without instruction (been there myself), you might just not know what the heck the circle of death is. And it probably sounds pretty intimidating. Will I die? Will my horse die? Ultimately, it’s just 4 poles on the ground (or small jumps) placed in a circle. And you ride that circle. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, that simple little exercise shows you really quickly if you really have your horse on the aids.

Circle of death

We started off just on a small circle, and EI had me supple Chip by simply moving his shoulders in and out of the circle with some counter-bend thrown in there. Chip quickly got the gist and finally relaxed, so we moved onto the circle of death.

I very quickly realized that I wasn’t looking around the circle, focusing too much on the oncoming pole and not planning ahead. This resulted, as EI observed, in a square, rather than a circle. By looking ahead and working on keeping the bend, rather than worrying about where the poles were, my circle improved dramatically, and it was time to move to the canter.

Luckily, Chip, like most OTTBs, has a great canter, so after a few trips around, EI told me to break off and hop over a small vertical off the left lead. We had a beautiful canter all the way. And then….I saw the long spot. WE HAD AN ENTIRE STRIDE LEFT AND I LAUNCHED MYSELF UP MY HORSE’S NECK. And Chip being the superstar pony, who was going to be so sweet and put in that stride said, “well, ok, mom, if you think we take off here, I’ll jump.” I should’ve ended up on the ground. Instead, we cantered off on the other side. I was mortified.

So, EI pulled the top rail off and set it as a placing pole. And this time, I told myself, no matter what, I would not jump ahead of my horse. And I didn’t. But I still threw my shoulders ahead like we were jumping a grand prix oxer instead of a 2′ vertical.

We swapped to the right lead. And this time, as I cantered up to the fence, I told myself to just wait. Lol, and so did EI. I could hear her shouting, “wait! Wait! Wait!” with every stride. I didn’t worry about the distance, I just kept Chip’s canter steady and waited. And, IT. WAS. BEAUTIFUL. So we did it again. And EI asked me if Chip had enough left in him to ride a small course. He did. So we did. And we jumped around in a quiet hunter canter, and I only threw my shoulders forward once.

I have lessoned with some pretty famous instructors: Lucinda Green, Jimmy Wofford, Stephen Bradley, Kristin Schmolze…and they’ve all put a grid in front of me. And grids work. They definitely have their place. But sometimes, it’s the simplest solution that has the most effect. Fix the canter, and the jump will happen.

My take home lesson was to keep the canter quality and then just sit and wait.  The quote of the day was, “When you think it’s time to jump, you still have another stride.”

Campaigning for eventing

When you’re stuck on the couch, husband at work, and child staying with grandparents, you have a lot of time to contemplate. The bright side to my ‘stall rest’ is that the Olympics are underway, and I got to watch nearly every minute of eventing. Heck, I’m almost happy about being stuck on the couch for that reason! (Almost) NBC didn’t show nearly enough primetime coverage; they showed a few highlights here and there, mostly because Zara Phillips, the Queen’s granddaughter, was competing for Great Britain. What was noticeable from the coverage I saw, however, (thanks to NBC’s Live Extra app for my iPad), were the immensurable crowds packed around the cross-country course. It was later published that over 50,000 tickets were sold for this phase. And yet, I saw less than full stands for heavily televised events like archery, swimming, and even gymnastics. Even with Stephen Colbert’s media coverage of the official “Summer Sport,” dressage, our equestrian events go unacknowledged by the mainstream. Many people don’t even know a sport like eventing exists! When asked what I ride, people often give me a blank stare when I mention eventing. They expect to hear that I’m a rodeo queen–turning and burning around three cans set in the arena. And, they still don’t get it when I explain the three phases. It’s only when I tell them about cross-country, galloping over solid obstacles, that they begin to show a little interest. You do that?! Granted, the dressage phase of eventing, even at the upper FEI levels, is somewhat lackluster. Even as a rider, I find it difficult to watch 70 plus riders ride the same test on horses built for galloping. Confidentially, between you and me, I don’t even buy dressage tickets at Rolex anymore. No, what gets our blood pumping is the thought of thrills and spills. None of us, of course, wants to see anyone get hurt. And, as equestrians, we hold our breath, literally on pins and needles when we see a crash on course. We say a silent prayer that horse and rider get up and walk away. But, those moments when it looks impossible that horse and rider will make it through the combination…those are the ones that keep us glued to the television; that keep us buying cross-country tickets. And for those of us who ride eventing, it is the element of danger that makes cross-country just so darn exhilarating. When you finish the course, there’s a sense of profound amazement. The partnership between us and our horses–for them to trust us so much they drop off a perfectly good bank into water or leap over solid walls–it’s truly miraculous. And dressage? The concept is so frustratingly simple–build upon rhythm, relaxtion, and connection towards the ultimate goal of collection. But, it’s like golf: the harder you work at it, the more you find out just how deceptively difficult it is. Unfortunately, until you ride, you just don’t get it, and dressage at its best just looks like we’re warming up for something exciting. The first time my husband watched me compete, after the dressage test, he told me, “That’s it? I heard the judge tell you good job, and I didn’t even know you were competing. I thought you were still warming up!”
Thankfully, there are three phases to eventing, and show jumping is almost as exciting as cross-country. Equestrians watch this phase with bated breath; we sit on the edge of our seats in two-point, riding all the way to the fence, and release over the jump. Watch a rider watching show jumping–you’ll see him or her tense up, push her arms forward, and sit back for every fence, even if it’s barely noticeable. Even non-equestrians find show jumping entertaining. The high-flying horses leaping over rails are thrilling to watch. If they jump clear, it’s awesome. If they have rails down, it’s still exciting, and there’s still that slight element of danger.
I doubt we’ll ever get the coverage we all think our sport deserves. Most people still think of it as elitest–even though most eventers work their butts off just to afford one or two shows a year. And, like me, many of us purchased our own horses, bringing them up the levels by virtue of our own hard work through as many lessons as we can afford. Eventing is expensive, but it’s economically feasible if you want it bad enough and are willing to work. If we want to promote our sport, we need to become our own marketing campaign: share videos and pictures with everyone you meet. Yesterday, Ryan and I tried a new Jamaican restaurant in town. I mentioned to the owner how happy I was for them that Jamaica had an eventer this year. She replied with, “yes, I think we usually have a pretty good track and field team.” Uhm, yeah, you have Usain Bolt–the fastest man in the world… “No, actually, I am referring to horseback riding.” She looked terribly confused, so I explained eventing in non-equestrian terms for her. She looked absolutely shocked that Jamaica would have an equestrian in the Olympics and vowed to look it up. My husband was embarrassed that I would talk horses with a total stranger, but if we want our sport recognized, this is what we must do!

I’ve been banned from the barn?!

What happens when you ban a professional equestrian from the barn? Madness, chaos, and a whole lot of frustrating boredom ensue… Not only have I been ‘banned’ from the barn by my doctor, I have been relegated to the couch. In fact, I have been assigned the most miserable torture device of all medical profession: the crutches. In protest of my inability to function, I am mentally shedding my frustration in a series of blogs that I should have started last week. However, I used up several days completing tasks that have sat long forgotten during my busy days. Today, I am motivated to write, and I have a couple of hours before the pool opens.
By now, you might be wondering just what I did to myself this time. I’m very familiar with crutches; I’ve had a long-standing tradition of knee, ankle, and hip injuries over the years–nearly all of them non-horse related. This all started about a month or so ago. I cannot remember a time when I did not have some sort of back pain. I’ve never had anything definitively diagnosed other than a bit of mild scoliosis, some bursitis in my right hip, and various comments about ligaments being too tight and muscles too weak. Over the years I’ve strengthened my core, quads, and glutes and stretched my appendages as much as possible. I spent nearly a year in solid weight-training after a physical therapist told me I had weak quads and glutes that attributed to my runner’s knee. I became a machine–developed a reputation for out-lifting the boys in the weight room (relatively speaking, of course), out-performing them in the gym, and pushing myself beyond reasonable limits. I had one of the best PT tests of my life post-partum. I became an elite athlete. I ignored pain and pushed past it. Then, I moved back to Kentucky and started working at the barn every day. I didn’t have time to lift weights or hit the gym, but it didn’t matter because I was lifting full water buckets, mucking out stalls, hefting 50 pound feed sacks, and engaging my core in the saddle. I have actually lost weight over the past few months as I literally worked my butt off–and loved every second of it. But, the back pain, my old familiar friend, began to get worse. And two weeks ago, it reached a point that scared me: I actually voluntarily gave up riding. My right leg was weaker, and I knew I couldn’t effectively ride our green horses that needed equilateral support. It was time to visit the doctor. After a physical exam revealed slight weakness in my right leg but no other findings, the doctor ordered radiographs and blood tests. Neither of us expected any conclusive findings, but they would offer baseline exams for my regular physician. I was sent to the pharmacy to pick up a low dose steroid pack pending further examination by my primary care physician. As I left the pharmacy, headed home, as soon as I reached cellular service again, missed phone calls started popping up. Before I could listen to the voicemails, a new call came in. I answered, and the doctor who had just sent me away told me to return immediately to the clinic. I figured they needed a new blood sample; it had taken three people to draw two tubes of blood. Instead, before she even came in, I was being fitted for crutches. I was a bit bewildered. When she sat down, she spoke quickly and cryptically about increased opacity of my right femoral head and compromised vascular supply. I tried to take it all in–I’m very well-versed in medical terminology and understand most doctor-speak as a result of my background. Then she gave me the worse news: you are to stay away from the barn–absolutely no barn chores and no riding whatsoever. I was allowed to walk, but only with assistance from the crutches. And, I was to make the first available appointment with the orthopedic surgeon, by-passing my primary care physician. Furthermore, I sensed the relief in her voice that she was able to pass me off to the surgeon. There was a grimness about her that worried me, but I was more concerned at that point about having to spend another hour plus downstairs in the dungeon at the pharmacy.
After nearly two hours in the pharmacy, I came home and began researching conditions that cause increased opacity in bones on radiographs and effects of compromised vascularization. I came up with only one condition that fit: avascular necrosis or osteonecrosis. To spare you from googling these–it essentially means the femoral head (the part of the hip that joins the socket) has suffered from a limited blood supply and the bone cells begin to die. In later stages, the new bone that grows as a result absorbs the dead bone and glows brighter on x-ray–much like a healed fracture. It’s often found in the elderly. I am thirty-one years old–far from elderly. I called my mom, a nurse who works with elderly folk. I called Ryan’s cousin, a radiology technician. I scoured my A&P text. I did further research. I am now an expert in the anatomy and physiology of the hip joint. And, I still find it difficult to believe there is a possibility I could be diagnosed with avascular necrosis. I suppose I’ll find out soon enough. I meet with the orthopedic surgeon tomorrow at 0800.
I’m not a hypochondriac, and my research isn’t because I’m self-diagnosing–I’ll wait and see what the doc says. That being said, I’ll appreciate any thoughts and prayers that come my way. I’d like to get out to see my horse soon.
Incidentally, I have noticed after nearly a week of non-weight bearing that the pain is actually radiating from my right hip. My guess is that I was compensating and my back was taking the pressure. More to follow…