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!