Friday, May 25, 2012


For myself, one of the harder parts of my partnership with my horse is our differing goals.    I often envy pairs ice skaters, where both parties are firmly agreed on a common ending.   With my horse, the struggle for me is to encourage him to work happily for me, always improving his work, while recognizing that all he really wants to do is eat and roll in the dirt!

The best way for me to keep my mounts' work at least not annoying is for me to be unobtrusive in my riding style.     Although I hold him firmly to leg means go now,  much of the rest can be suggested and then rewarded.    There is no way to hold a carrot on a stick in front of him, but if responding to my whispered requests is not too hard, he generally is happy to go along with the program.

I must always be sensitive to his feelings though.    If he feels the work is too hard, boring, repetitive etc. then it is up to me to recognize his concern and respond.    Perhaps the same work but out in a field or on the trail and not a ring.    Perhaps company around, even drill team riding.     Perhaps work needs to be abandoned on occasion in favor of a simple gallop up a long slope for a workout.     Horses do not ever seek perfection the way I do, and I must always be aware of their complex emotions and desires to achieve my own goals.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


In 2011, a planetarium ran an ad in a NY newspaper offering to take people to another planet.    Over 18,000 people submitted applications.   These were then given to a panel of psychologists to evaluate.   These scientists concluded that most applicants wanted to go to a new world to make a new start in life.   They may have felt that they did not do a good job the first time around and that in a new world, they could start fresh with a blank slate, a do over so to speak.

This is classic discouragement and a new page or planet is not needed so much as rewriting the page you have been given.    It is so hard after an accident or injury has dealt you a crushing blow, but the last thing you should do is become comfortable with your limitations.   Looking around and not always in front of you may allow you to see that a different reality is possible.   Look up at the stars, or if blocked in one direction, try another where you may find the going easier.  Not all people are born "lucky" or optimistic, but everyone can learn from pain and loss and mistakes.  

You may not in the end reach your ultimate goal, but you will have the satisfaction of having given the battle your all.   And who knows, while looking around to get unstuck, you might find an even more appealing goal to aim for now that you have reinvented your life.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Self Care

In horse sports we all get focused on our animals.   All they really just want is to eat, socialize and roll in the dirt, but we ask then to work for us on a regular basis.    So it makes sense that we care for them physically as well as emotionally.    No horse "shrinks" here, but time to decompress, do something they seem to enjoy, a vacation basically.     What about riders?    Does anyone ever address the stress and even possibly burn-out that can happen to a competative athlete?

Recently, I was unlucky and in Florida's warm humid spring I contracted pneumonia.   As a physician, I recognized and started treatment immediatly with powerful antibiotics which knocked out the fever and wracking cough quickly.   It was then VERY tempting to go right on with all my activities as though I was fine.  But my education tells me otherwise.    Those powerful drugs work but at a drain on my system.   If I keep taking energy and health out of the system and not restoring it I will only get into worse trouble down the road.    I HATE taking time off to be sick, and heal.   So many years of my life have been spent in such endeavors, but bodies take real prisoners and can find tough ways to make you slow down in the end.

When sick or injured, allow time to heal.    Be considerate of the insult your body has had and make sure to eat well and rest physically and spiritually to get back to being your best you.   This advice also holds true for stress of all types, such as travel, love, divorce, job loss or change and many others.   Treat yourself at least as well as your mount and you may be amazed at the changes.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Power In Motion

Lately training has focused on asking Erik to reach further under his body with his hind legs with each stride he takes.   Simple physics states that this long lever arm (the hind leg)  placed further under the body will be able to lift that body more easily with the same force applied.    From a rider standpoint this has several important points.   Each leg produces more lift and forward impulsion, so that less aid is needed on my part for the desired result.   Often I need to back off my aid so that I don't drive the horse through my half halt and alter his balance more then he can handle.   It also means that any slight straightness issue becomes a glaring problem if the hind legs push off with differing ammounts of strength due to their position under the body.   It becomes quickly obvious from the saddle how much power is lost when the horse is not aligned properly in his body.    It has become a new increased focus for me to actually moniter all four limbs and not just front versus back.   More mental work rather than physical, which is good for me.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


If I had to explain in a few words how my winter in Florida so far has helped my riding, it is all about the consistancy.   And that is not just referring to being able to ride most every day in sunshine, but sticking with a dressage focus and not getting off track.    Whether your interest is polo, jumping or dressage, you can immerse yourself in watching good riding and listening to good instruction virtually every day.   This being an Olympic year the big shows with many big name riders happen almost every weekend.   And generally all this education is free or low cost and nearby.

There is also a conctant focus of training which is easier for me to maintain in this atmosphere.  Each day I can build on what happened the day before, pushing thru resistance or hesitancy in a firm but gentle way.   I have been cultivating the attitude of You will do this for me when dealing with my horse.   So often in the recent past even, my phrase was would you please do this or at least try it.   I think the happy medium I search for involves requesting in an insisting manner, if that makes sense.   I do not wish to be a dictator but a firm leader - directing and always encouraging for more.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cross Training

Thanks to people who responded to my last posting.   You have all given me much to think on and new ideas to process.   Perhaps the differences between disabled from birth and born able bodied play a bigger role than I realize.

Cross training is important for humans and animals alike.   We try to change our horses and perhaps dogs routines to avoid boredom and challenge new muscles and balance skills, and I would suggest must challenge those same principles in ourselves.    Some riders find yoga to help them with both concentration and balance as well as limberness and strength.    I have not had much success with yoga (and that may have been instructor driven) but have found all I was looking for in Pilates.   Because of my rather obvious physical challenges I did not try a group class, but did some research first.   I was able to find an ocupational therapist with pilates training locally.    I started with private classes (eek - expensive) until she became used to my strong and weak points and how to modify exercises for me.   Then I was able to switch to a semi=private and work along with someone else.   This cut the cost and has kept me more task oriented in many ways.

In the past I worked one on one with a professional body builder as a personal trainer.  He was able to instill a love of perfect practice over much practice to weightlifting which really has carryover to dressage training.   He insisted on the so called principle of muscle confusion which had you quickly alternate muscles used and the way in which they were challenged.   This, while not perhaps the best way to grow BIG muscles, certainly hepled me gain strength throughout the muscles range of motion.   Sadly as my hands have continued to deteriorate those exercises have all had to be modified and many watered down.   I do remain in Peter's debt for the habits he instilled, such as doing all your work at such a pace as to make you slightly breathless.   That way grooming and tacking adds to aerobic workout!   Think of the possibilities........

Friday, February 3, 2012

For Sake of Appearance

Today I struggled once again with the issue of trying my best to look like everyone else and ride just like all the other capable riders in our barn.   In particular, the issue which came up was using a piece of equipment which as a para rider I am allowed to use versus struggling away to figure it out and perhaps not achieve such an easy or neat result.   I find it hard to explain my dilema, but In a nutshell, I do not like being labeled as "different", or as though I had special advantages.   I work very hard to minimize my own disabilities when seen in public and that goes for riding as well.   To me the best complement is when someone notices my mount and I riding really well together not realizing until later when I am unmounted that I am in fact disabled.    If I felt that my horse's well being was in any way compromised, I would use any legal device without hesitation.    That has not been the case for me so far.    I do wonder how my fellow para riders feel about this issue.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Para Competition Memiors

Two 5 day shows back to back were amazing in the Florida sun.   It was tough on the horses as the setting and stalls did not change, so although easy to settle in for round 2, boring as well.    For riders it tested mental stamina.   I appreciated the chance at a "do over"  and was pleased that I rose to the occasion.   Most riders I saw felt that the second show was there best, but by Sunday for the freestyle there were a few glitches which occurred.    The atmosphere in the Masters arena was lively, and this got some horses tense and overly sensitive to riders aids.  We need to compete in these settings which competitors in europe do all the time.   Our home training and local shows are often quite quiet do to the natural reluctance of most dressage riders to allow distraction.   But perhaps we are making our troubles worse than they need to be by having such a sterile atmosphere at home.   I know that the next time someone comes to work on the arena roof at home my horse will workon the lunge despite the odd noises above.

Overall we had two great horse shows and I hope that my fellow competitors had as much fun as I did and took home many memories and pointers from their test sheets to improve their work.   Onward and upward with our scores and our team!    And remember again to thank those who made it all happen for you.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Horse Shows Are Fun

Our opening CDI of the 2012 Para-equestrian season is now completed.   All the equipment packed up and moved out and horses sent home or to local bording facility.    And just think, as tired as we all are, in 2 days we get ready to do it all again.   The format of a 5 day show, with the jog and a bye day is quite tiring.    Now two shows baack to back will further stress the system.

My USA teammates and I ended up in second place behind Canada's team.   We were off by 1-2 points, per level.    Ultimately we can beat them, but we will al neeed to ride out best.    Although the competition is important  the learning and the friendships and camradery are what I notice most.Each of us dealing with our own less than perfect bodies and trying to ride to the best of our abilities  Para riders want to win as much as anyone else, and we are willing to work for it.  The different nations make for fascinating sounds drifting through the air.   I have made friendships with many people from foreign lands and look forward to each show to renew old acquaiences and make new,

Tired and happy and after some rest, I will want to do it all over again.

Friday, January 20, 2012


I find myself in the middle of a big and important horse show and am noticing how much people take for granted.   I must include myself as I never stop often enough in the day to give heartfelt thanks for what I have and am able to do.   The blue skies above and white sands beneath our feet make most of us riders aware of the suns glare and the heat reflected off the sand, especially when wearing a wool coat to show.   And yet, when I called home to Michigan tonite it was single digit temperatures this morning and snowing when I called.   Where would you rather be?  My horse and I had a short but intense workout and I petted him and put him away, mindful that the horses ideal reward is for the rider to dismount.    How amazing is it that such a beautiful and sensitive creature is willing to tote the likes of me around.    I saw many people angry with their mounts and themselves, but I wonder if the anger is not misplaced.    These horses tolerate a great deal with minimal complaint and generally try very hard to please us.   I doubt that horses adore baths and pedicures and fancy hairdos, or any other things we routinely do pre show to our competitive mounts.   My horse would rather roll in the sand ring that perform, truth be told.   I really owe him/her a tremendous thank you and extra good care for putting up with this business of showing.   Put yourself in anothers shoes and be thankful and appreciative of what you have.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Fitness and Riding

The average person does not realize the effort an equestrian puts into riding.   And for this discussion I am only refering to time in the saddle.    Riders all spend many hours of physical labor un-mounted, as any horse owner can attest.   But why does riding burn calories, after all we are sitting and letting the horse do the work?    This epends on your definition and understanding of work.   Your body does work to keep you alive, with beating heart, breathing and digesting food to name a few.But we each add to this each day.    A minimal activity day might include TV channel surfing, mouse clicking and drinking soda or coffee.    Added activity could include "non-purposefull movement" such as toe tapping, finger popping, fidgeting and other ofter nervous habits.    One of the current theories of why some people stay so thin has to do with these un-purposed movements.   Over time these can and do burn a substansial number of calories.

But I digress.   What seems harder - sitting still and unmoving on a bouncing ball or bouncing the ball?   Well not really a very fair question but it points out that the act of holding your own position atop a moving animal requires substantial muscular coordination and energy expenditure.  This requires calories to be expended.   And quite logically the faster and more jarring the gait and the quieter the rider sits, the more isometric muscle activity is needed.    (Isometric means muscle use without changing length - like holdng thighs down and pelvis erect during a medium trot.)

So riders do need more fitness to ride well than first meets the eye.    Cardiovascular endurance is also important as more dynamically moving horses are ridden and in ever longer tests.   This endurance can be gained in the saddle but more easily in traditional endurance activities such as walking briskly, jogging, biking, swimming and eliptical training.   And do not forget dancing (esp. Zumba) and even Hula Hoop use.    It can be fun and entertaining.   So develop more endurance and let riding develop your muscles, then all you need is stratching and work to keep balance throughout your body and life.   Have fun!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff (it is all small stuff)

You have all heard the title statement before, but have you ever really looked at how it plays out in your own life?    I can allow myself to get all worked up over a horse show competition, making gravy for turkey dinner or even getting to an appointment on time.    If I really stop myself and rationally examine each one, I can see that none ars really worthy all the anxiety.    But you might say performing a certain surgery at work or giving a critical presentation to the firms oldest client - these are truely worth getting excited over.   When I worked as a surgeon, I took my work and my patients trust in me very seriously.    But one day I sudddenly ended up in the hospital.   Patient care continued and the quality did not slip.   All my worry was for naught.

Preparation for possible outcomes, even failures is not a waste of time.   You might even learn something to prevent tragedy later on.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Show Ring Nerves

I went to hear a famous performance psychologist speak.    Her main vocus was with singers and pianists, but I felt her advice was useful.    She said that performance anxiety is a form of fear, and humans are designed to have fear.    The only people with NO fear are by definition mad and we medicate them and/or lock them up!    Fear, in and of itself is a protective mechanism.    The problem where performance is involved is that there is presumably nothing to truely fear.    What I mean is that the horse show police will not lock you up and throw away the key because you blew your changes or stuck on the walk pirouette.   And you know this is true but it doesn't help.    Being afraid your mount will run off with youor buck you off can be reason to be fearful.    But stop and examine the circumstances dispassionatly.   Do these aberations happen often?    Are they likely?    Or is this just your overactive imagination at work.    I was really nervous before my debut show after a nearly 20 year hiatus, until my dear friend Meagan Szarek (who was grooming for me) said,"but Dale, it's only Erik", my horse I rode daily and had treated me so well.

So, since banishing anxiety and fear won't work, this psychologist asked the audience to look into their own lives at the motivation behind the fearful activity.    Was it fun, personal gain, pleasing someone else?    She felt that people who really came to grips with their OWN  motivation were better able to control their anxiety.   And that is certainly all I have ever been able to do.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Emotional Preparation

For me a big part of competing if getting myself in the correct mental frame.    As a teenage hunter/jumper rider I really thought being so relaxed that you didn't worry was the key.    When I got that relaxed, however, I found out that it meant I did not care enough about the outcome to put forth my best effort.   No point to show if you don't care about the result in some way.

Now I focus on balance in my own life.   After all, I cannot control external circumstances, nor would I want to.   That is way more responsibility than I want.   I pay attention to my personal care and feeding.   Do I care for my own body as well as I care for my horse?    Do I live life on a schedule?    We recognize the benefits for our animals of life with regular feed times and set activitiew as a routine.   So why not recognize that your own inner animal needs the same.    So have a set bedtime and awaken on a routine.   Follow meal times and care of personal self (teeth, hair, skin, etc).    This removes extraneous stress from your life and brings riding into better focus.     More later........

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Balance in the Saddle

Today Erik felt like his old self and I surprised myself by riding better than yesterday and before.   My new County saddle has external thigh/knee blocks and I notice that when I sit on the horse, I feel as though I am straight right to left (ie. centered on the horses spine) and facing forward (ie. hips evenly toward ears).   But if my left knee is well behind the thigh block and my right knee is smashing into it or trying to move ahead, then my perception must be wrong.   Biomechanically, the only real reason for this is that subtly, my right seat bone is closer to Erik's ear then the left.   This may explain why my ease of turning is not symmetric, nor my ease within canter.   As I worked this issue thru today, Erik produced lovely fluid work and I just sat and monitered for the most part.   What a feeling of partnership.   This issue needs further exploration.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Rice Crispy Treats

This may seem an odd topic, but I searched the grocery here in Wellington, FL to find them.    Had a craving for a sweet gluten-free treat.    Needing gluten-free products really narrows the search, as many gluten free sweets are NOT like the cookies I remember in the old gluten eating days.   Rice crispy treats are now and have always been gluten free.    My only dismay was that they are not found with snacks, nor with cookies/crackers, but rather in the cereal aisle!   I sure hope kids don't get the idea these are breakfast food.   Although I wonder how the nutrition would vary from a food "bar" with chocolate chips and honey.
What ever happened to wheaties and milk and bannana as breakfast of champons?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Temperature dropped 30 degrees overnight, but the big news was the blustery winds which gusted from all directions.    This is my first experience with South Florida wind.   Perhaps it is the proximity to the water which creates these rather drastic changes.   Back in Michigan, the wind generally blows one direction but may veer thru a day or evening.    Blustery winds are seldom a problem.   In Casper, Wyoming where I taught clinics many years ago, the wind blew for days on end with no real change in speed.   No puffs, no stop and start, just blew - sort of like standing in front of a giant fan.    After several days it "got to me" and riding had to move indoors.    It was then that I understood why people in bye-gone times went crazy due to the wind on the prarie.   Can you imagine leaving family and friends and a well behind and walking/riding west to live in little more that a hut with water in a stream 1/2 mile away(if you were lucky)and then the wind blew day and night without end?   Amazing that few wives shot their husbands.    Wind affects us all now and thru time.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Shoulder Injuries

The shoulder is always a joint at risk, so to speak.   It has the most motion of all the human joints, with freedom in many planes.    The unique anatomy of the shoulder gives us motion and stability both, and these functions are interdependent.   The bone structure of the shoulder joint would make you wonder why the arm doesn't fall off the body.   There is a thick cartilagenous lip or rim called the labrum which converts the flat articular surface into a cup-like shape for the roundish humeral head to lie in.    But it is still quite loose, so this is why the muscle componant of the shoulder is so important.   May muscles are involved and the names are not important to this musing.   What is noteworthy is the function of the so-called rotator cuff.    This flat thick tendonous structure is actually part of the tendons of several muscles melded together.   It allows the shoulder to be placed and pulled into the socket so it can more overhead.    This tendon, like many others is prone to degeneration with age and subject to damage and tear.

The really good news is that at least 50% of people with significant shoulder pathology can be healed or at least returned to function with rehab and not surgery.   I spoke with a friend today whose chronic biceps tendonitis and eventual tear was treated with therapy alone and years later he has full function without pain.   I myself, have a complete tear of the rotayor cuff.   Therapy taught me to use my shoulder correctly and with heavy use I have had no trouble for two years until the current overuse/tear occured.   I am delighted it is resolving well with massage, careful stretching and heat with anti-inflammatories.    Shoulder problems occur but should not be greatly feared in my opinion.   Give rehab a try!