Tag Archives: strength

Look Behind You

I have a picture on my desk at work of when I first started riding Strider. It was taken at a schooling show literally about a month after I started riding him. I remember I knew it was nuts to take him to one so soon since I could barely even get on him I was in such bad shape from RA and he hadn’t been ridden for a long time. The riding he had before that hadn’t sat well with him (that is a good part of the story of how he came to be given to me- yes I said given…though at this point in the story I was leasing him) and before that he had been on the track. Basically it was silly to do, but I wanted to try. He is the shaggiest I think he has ever gotten, his feet were a mess; the best description I can give of him then is of a rather refined looking mule with ears that didn’t want it enough. Brown horses that haven’t had fabulous grooming and care just don’t look good- and I am referring to the true brown horses that everyone calls dark bay with bleach spots. There is so much wrong in the picture: girth cover because the only girth I had was ancient and had no elastic, Strider isn’t tracking up, mismatched neoprene splint boots I borrowed, my position is atrocious, and I was considerably heavier than I am now. But I love that picture. Strider still wasn’t convinced about me yet, but I was thrilled and it shows. The joy in being able to ride again, even if it was terrible, was obvious.

That picture is also a reminder of how far we have come. I don’t have many pictures of Strider and me, but I know how he looks when he walks up to me in the pasture. I know he trusts me now and even usually will leave his food and his “hole” (that’s what we call his shed ha-ha) when he hears me call him. He is sleek and shiny now; his feet are in great shape (for a TB type horse- no cracks and good wall. His angles are much better and his front feet are up a shoe size.); he is incredibly muscled; his personality is really showing and I think every time I see him I am in awe that I  get to ride him.

So what’s my point aside from that I like looking at a terrible picture and I adore my horse? Well, I think sometimes on the middle of struggling and pushing so hard to move forward and prevail over hard things sometimes we forget to remember from where we came. Whether in dressage, hunter jumpers, or fighting RA sometimes it helps to remember how far you really have come. It may seem at times like we only move backwards, especially when treating RA, I know, because I remember what it was like to be on a treatment that worked. But sometimes we have to remember what it was like to before we were diagnosed, or when we were diagnosed in order to see that, though it may feel like I have no options, at least I have a great rheumatologist on my side now. Or in dressage, sometimes we get hard on ourselves (ha! Sometimes? Maybe always?) and our horses because we can’t seem to perfect a certain movement, reach a goal, or we let our minds get the better of us, but where were we and our horses 6 months, a year, or 2 years ago?  If we look back maybe we can find the hope and faith to keep moving forward; it isn’t a new thought at all, but I know I needed the reminder. Just don’t get stuck looking behind you- you never know when you might run into a wall or a tree or a manure pit or something- trust me on that one.

Until next time- RAWR!!!!!!

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Finally! (and some drama)

I did it! Part of the reason for my long silence, though not all of it, was that I kept trying to take Strider in a dressage show. The first one I had to scratch due to a death in the family, the second one I entered and the whole show was canceled because of the EHV-1 outbreak. I was starting to sense a trend. I decided to risk it and try entering a third show though. It was last weekend and there was no apocalypse, a lot of drama though.

First, Strider’s saddle fit became a really big issue. It had been a small issue and had seemed correctable with shims and pads- and then more pads, and more pads. We were at four pads and my calling him, “princess and the pea horse” was a little too apropos for comfort. He was starting to get back sore as well. I was not ok with that and it did nothing good for our suppleness or transitions to say the least. He is already conformationally challenged so I didn’t want any other issues. I also go into the horse version of panicked parent mode when I know my horse is uncomfortable.

As soon as I could I started saddle shopping. Thankfully one of the mobile tack stores has a large used selection and was going to be close by; I was able to try six saddles in one weekend! Even better one of them actually seemed to be a great fit for Strider. The only downside was that it was a bit of a gamble because my trainer couldn’t check it for me. Based on my own knowledge and how my horse felt in it I decided to go with it (trainer is still out of the country- I will let you know if that was a good gamble when she gets back!). Worst case it has improved his royal highness’ back, doesn’t require four pads, and is, in my opinion, and based on some quick digging on the internet, a better value than what I had before. Now I can just hope my old saddle sells quickly so I can replenish my somewhat drained savings.

The new saddle came just in time. In fact, I got it exactly a week before the show. Less than ideal timing, but at least I got it before the show, since my old saddle was definitely not helping us out. I was worried I would be riding my dressage tests in my jumping saddle. But thankfully that didn’t end up happening.

 More surprises were in order though as the Thursday before the show I had to leave work early and go see my doctor because I was having intense stomach pain. There were no clear answers, as usual, but we treated the pain and set an appointment for a ct scan. Not eating in preparation for the ct scan calmed things down a little and though I didn’t get the results of the scan before the show I was able to make it through thanks to the wonders of modern medicine.

 I will spare you the rest of the drama involving warm up arena melt downs (Strider: “ZOMGWTFBBQ there are more than three horses in the arena), boot disasters (one fit and not the other- no kidding), and missing tractor parts.

 I will be honest: my first ride was terrible and it was all my fault. Poor Strider tolerated my show nerves fabulously though and between his generally being good and a somewhat nice judge we managed to eke out a 64% on t-3. It got better as the test went on, but I am pretty sure a drunken sailor on a unicycle could have done a better center line and halt, salute.

 Somewhat miraculously (it’s me we’re talking about here- historically I haven’t shown very well. Even when I have scored well I am usually an absolute basketcase), I gathered my wits, drank some sports drink and actually breathed a little before my next test. I admit I was worried since it was First level, but I figured I may as well relax and enjoy rather than freak out if the results would be the same. My old trainer used to hate it when I would say, “I have to stop caring,” because she didn’t understand what I meant. I am realizing that in order to show well I have to be able to let go of the outcome. I ride far better when I don’t care. It’s not bad in my case, because then I actually ride. Not caring for me doesn’t mean I stop trying; it enables me to try. We went in and though I rode conservatively, we ended up with a 67%. I really couldn’t have been more pleased.

 The next day we had a different judge and the scores, on average, were lower. We managed a 68% on T-3 (and it felt amazing!!) and a 61% on First 1. Both rides felt incredibly steady though and I was absolutely thrilled.

Vanya has not been sitting around all this time either. He has been doing western. I jokingly say that he “has a 4-Her.” I think in theory the 4-Her has him but if you ask him I am sure it is the other way around. He has done well at remembering what little western he knew and improving on it and has even become vaguely decent as a showmanship horse. He still needs work but western is good for him in his old age. I am sure he will be excited when fair is over and we can start focusing more on getting him and his 4-Her ready for barrels and poles though. He also is going to get his own little kid after fair and I cannot wait for him to get some lead line action.

 My RA has been pretty bad which is really why I haven’t been posting much. I am determined to push through it to the extent that I can, but often I have the energy to work, ride, etc. and then posting falls by the wayside. I will do my best to update more frequently whenever I can. I am trying acupuncture to help with some of the side issues that have been nagging at me so we’ll see if that helps. Even my knitting has been slower than usual. Oh well….always have to keep pushing on!! RAWR!!!!

 

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Core Workout 101

I feel like I was punched in the stomach. I know….great way to start a blog, a week, anything right? But here is the worst part: I wasn’t punched in the stomach and I did it to myself.

So here is how it happened:

I haven’t been very good about getting to the gym since my RA treatments have been less than wonderfully successful lately. Of course I have been my usual type A perfectionist self though working as hard as I can possibly make myself to do the homework my trainer gives me with my horse and keep up with four or five rides a week at least. I really hope I can work out my budget to do some shows this season and shows or no shows I want to be the best I can be. I am just ridiculous about riding in that respect. I still can’t quite figure out why, but I want to do it the best I can. I can’t imagine a world in which I do not ride. And I want to be amazing at it and I am not there yet. So I work at it as hard as I can.

Recently my horse has been doing really well in training. Don’t get me wrong, we may still be in Training Level for all eternity, but I am ok with that, and if we are in Training level eternally we will look amazing and be happy doing it! But, this has led to my working more on my riding as we get better. I learn new techniques and refinements and practice those as we work on things with my horse. In my most recent lesson, my trainer indicated that my sitting trot was much improved so I should do it more.

So we did. And holy buckets was it hard. My horse, though I love him dearly, doesn’t have the easiest trot to ride even though it is a far sight better than it used to be. He has an extremely short back so even when he is supple, his trot can feel like riding a pogo stick on a trampoline. My core muscles were screaming at me and I was breathing as hard as I do when I run after about ten minutes. I felt like an idiot. I practice sitting trot so why was doing it for ten minutes straight so hard?

As a result, my homework this week was to do sitting trot, especially on ten meter circles interspersed at nice intervals, for longer periods, take a short break and then do it again. Of course I still need to work on getting half halts, getting canter lengthening and then transitions back, shortening/collecting the canter strides, getting him more round, and a variety of other elements we have been working on as well.

I did my homework a couple times now. My abs and core muscles hate me. I can’t believe how out of shape I am. It certainly makes me fill a little silly since I had thought I was working pretty hard and keeping up with where I needed to be. So…I will keep working at it. I will get past this and actually be able to sit the trot with decency one of these days! RAWR!!!!!!

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Guilty as Charged- Ambiguous

“If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I’ll always be with you.”   -Winnie the Pooh

Please read this blog post from the Owl City blog entitled, “You are Braver than You Believe.” I have read it at least four times; I keep coming back to it because each time it catches me in a number of ways. Some are too hard for me to put into words, and some are probably nonsense, but after a rough few weeks…make that months….years….oh heck, I think if we are honest most of us don’t really have easy lifetimes at least in certain respects, it hits home every single time I read it.

First: the Winnie the Pooh quote. Don’t we all want a friend like that? A friend who is so close to us in spirit and in thought that they can see the words we need and speak them and even when they are apart, they are with us in our thoughts, memories, etc. by virtue of being such a part of us. I don’t want this to be a spiritual debate but I feel that if you have faith then of course this should be very much how faith is as well. Recently, upon realizing that a person I had very much counted as a friend really wasn’t one anymore, made me really think on friendship and how it should be. Shouldn’t our friends respect and honor us? Support us but be willing to tell us when we aren’t behaving as we should? No friend will ever be perfect; I know that, but I think at least sometimes we all need someone who sees us better than we can see ourselves to give us a reality check and someone who can cheer us on without condemnation when we are losing perspective. I hope I am that friend to my friends…

The rest of the post is where I become rather convicted. I know that there are so many things in my life right now I am struggling to change, to fix, to improve. I get impatient with my situation; I get tired of fighting battles that, when I am honest about it, I know will not end or if they will, it won’t be soon. I get tired of pain and struggle. And before I know it, I am wishing things were different. It is so easy to lose sight of the opportunities I do have, and the blessings and the reasons for hope. One thought acts like a spark in the middle of a field of dry grass- it is rapidly out of control. And yet it is a waste of energy I am ridiculously short on in the first place and often such thoughts pull me into not wanting to try- to just give up. I know- not a pretty picture.

So what does it come down to? I don’t have a perfect solution unfortunately; I wish I did. But I keep coming back to this blog post- how preposterous is it for me to wish for things to be the way I want rather than the way they are? Who am I to think I have a right to these things I don’t have? What should I focus on? What should I do? What do I actually have the power to control? Why would I have been better off if things were different? How can I presume that?

I won’t say it is easy- I will readily admit that if someone told me that there was a moment in life that tipped the scales as it were and made me get RA, or that I could prevent the accident that changed my sister’s life forever, or any number of other moments, and gave me the chance to go back and make everything different, I probably would jump at the chance. Even though I know it wouldn’t really make me content. But I guess all that is to say that peace, hope, and contentment- they all come when I embrace the life I have instead of fighting it. I just wish I could remember that more often.

So….today here are some things that are blessings for me- to remind me why things shouldn’t be different. In no particular order:

-My husband: and not just because I am married to him and think I need to put him on the list. There are too many reasons to list.

-My true Friend: because there are so few people who get so much about me and don’t think I’m bonkers (or if she thinks I’m bonkers she still seems to like me anyway lol)

-My Family: I include really all my family in this (it is a rather funky and odd family believe me…) as they have either supported me in the past or are supporting me and cheering me on now.

-My Horses: I can’t believe I have TWO still and they are both the best ever. Vanya was my companion growing up and Strider…well…hard to put into word but I will just say he is amazing.

-My Cat and Dog: because when I am not able to do much at all they can still make me smile and feel a tiny bit better.

-Knitting and spinning: few other activities can hold my attention as well, make me patient, and somehow produce something anyone else would want to use! And there is something therapeutic about fiber that can make even the worst pain or stress fade…

-Faith: I am blessed to have a Savior who cares about me, forgives my failures, and shows me by example how it’s done.

-Good Doctors: I have some amazing doctors working to reduce pain, prevent damage, etc. They also take the time to listen to me and make sure we are working towards the same goals.

 I know this was a bit of a deviation from the usual more news type of post, but it had been swimming in my head for a while and finally I decided I should just post it already. Well, until next time…..RAWR!!!

 

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I’m a Faker…

Strider and I made our dressage debut for this show season on the 6th of March. It was wonderful and sad at the same time. First, the sadness.

I really couldn’t hold my reins. They kept slipping out of my hands as I couldn’t grip them and my normal method of wedging them in between my fingers didn’t work either. So that really made the whole day difficult and since it was caused by pain and stiffness from RA was pretty frustrating to me. I did my best to work with what I had and move on though and I will be trying a few solutions both on the RA front and the tack front in the coming weeks hopefully.

 The wonderful part was that we got our best dressage score ever! I feel a little silly because it was in Training level test 1, but we got a 69.565%! Since recently we have had to switch bits and still haven’t settled on one and have been struggling with Strider really accepting the bit, as well as our transitions I admit I really wasn’t expecting much so I was extremely happy with that score. I wasn’t riding my best either so really it was pretty amazing. In Training 3 we got 61% but really it was my fault as we had a break in gait and I just generally got super tense when I realized we could actually do well. I really was very happy with the show and can’t wait to see how we do in our next one.

My next show is this Saturday, and I will be riding the same two tests so it should be interesting to see how we do. My RA symptoms have just been getting worse over the last few weeks, so unless my RA doc works miracles this Thursday when I see him, that part of the picture will be harder probably but I am still excited anyway. Strider is pretty awesome and really takes care of me pretty well. If I just relax and ride my best I even with other issues we have great potential. So, the order of the week for this week is pain management and keeping up the momentum we have from the last show and building on what we had. The main goal is to improve our downward canter transitions and keep my head and shoulders up and those are things I know I can do.

 So, though I hardly feel strong or brave or powerful and like I am a beast at the moment…I will pick myself up and let out a mighty RAWR!!!  Because sometimes we have to fake it 🙂

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Retrospect

In retrospect, there is a reason for everything. The in retrospect part of that sentence is very important though as in the middle of most difficult situations, they are far too painful, stressful, or busy to realize the “why” behind them. A post by another blogger (Kelly- Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior) got me thinking about this and I want to share my story of RA at this point, or at least, what it is until now and as best as I can tell it.

My diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis was a long time coming. I started having symptoms, if you really look closely, back in high school. But I started really having problems right after I got married, in the summer of 2006. When you are a newlywed people expect it to be one of the happiest times of your life, but for me it was a more of a steady deceleration. I had been vibrant, busy, active, fun-loving, and the image of energy. Before I got married I was in college (taking 20+ credits at a time in order to graduate in three years), working two jobs, dancing in a church dance ministry that performed for thousands of people, and running. I should mention, one of my jobs was taking care of two kids part time and the other one was horse related- I was an assistant barn manager and I also gave riding lessons, trained horses, and rode my own horse. My life was the epitome of the active lifestyle. In all this, while taking my finals and writing my senior thesis for my English minor and my comprehensive exam for Economics I was also planning a wedding and arranging for a place to live after Matt and I got married. I thrived on being busy. I had some issues. I seemed to have some tendonitis in several locations as well as asthma. The tendonitis was never fixed with physical therapy, and only got worse, but I took lots of nsaids and kept going. That was how I was. Matt and I got married and I started looking for a job in my field but continued to work at the barn. I started to experience more fatigue and pain, but wrote it off to stress. After all, between having one apartment fall through, I had moved four times in 2 months, dealt with a wedding with a highly dysfunctional family, graduated, was trying to make ends meet, and was job hunting, I had plenty of stress.

I got a terrific entry level job in my field rather quickly and though it wasn’t my dream job it seemed a far sight better than cleaning stalls for my whole life (in hindsight, I enjoy cleaning stalls far more but my current job does have better health insurance) and I was quickly on the path to management. But a shadow was coming over me in the sense that my life had rather quickly turned into work, and sleep. I had no more energy for anything else. In the course of two months I went from vibrant to flat. I kept up appearances at work, but unfortunately as soon as I got home I had nothing left. I started having stabbing pain in my hands and elbows as well as nausea and cramping; after a few weeks of this with copious amounts of various forms of pain relievers having no effect, I called my general practitioner.

They drew blood, they poked they prodded, and gave me medications. They did test after test. First it was tendonitis, and the nausea was because I was celiac. So I went on a gluten free/wheat free diet. I learned to bake without wheat flour and found a place where I could buy xantham gum, since baking was one of the few hobbies I had left. I made my own blend of gluten free baking flour that didn’t taste like garbanzo beans, which was actually quite a feat. The one thing I did not do was get better. I continued to see my doctor. He would send me to one specialist after another, and do more tests; it seemed like all of them came back normal. I was starting to feel like it all had to be in my head; I must be crazy, lazy, or some combination of the two. I was gaining weight in all of this as well, going from a very fit size 6 and 145 pounds at 5’8” to, eventually a size 10 and 185 pounds. It broke my heart as I tried to make myself exercise, eat less, do anything to lose the weight, but I was exhausted and I hurt everywhere. The pain was now in my feet, knees, hips, hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, and ankles. I tried swimming, but even that was too much. I could barely bring myself to get on my old horse and walk around. Trotting felt like a herculean task. Even a little cross rail felt huge.

I received a referral to a rheumatologist. I was somewhat more hopeful that he might shed some light on my pain, since I figured I had to be running out of options. He reviewed my files and spoke with me for a few minutes. He didn’t have x-rays, or even do a thorough physical exam. He pronounced that I had Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and that I should just live with my symptoms as there was nothing he could do. I felt insane. I read the literature he gave me, but the description of the syndrome I had sounded nothing like my symptoms. I was disheartened and wasn’t sure where to go. I called my general practitioner and he suggested we focus on the GI symptoms for a while and see what happened with the pain; until then he would try various pain medications to try to reduce the pain.

We found out the source of some of the GI problems almost six months later. While doing a test for something else entirely they found gall stones. They also realized that the test that showed I was celiac had been misread; I could eat wheat and gluten after all. I had my gall bladder out and hoped that things would get better. A few things did, but not very much. This time, my doctor referred me to yet another doctor, this time, a rheumatologist in Denver. I asked what good he thought it would do, his only response was that he was completely stumped. After nearly three years he was admitting defeat.

Without much hope, I called the rheumatologist in Denver and set an appointment. I gathered the records they wanted, got x-rays as they asked, and waited. I don’t think I will ever feel such a strange combination of emotions as I felt after that appointment. The doctor reviewed all of my records, all the way back as far as he could. He did a physical exam, took some additional x-rays, and took the time to really talk to me. After all this, he delivered his verdict. He basically said he was surprised the other rheumatologist had said what he did as my symptoms showed, “classic” rheumatoid arthritis. I wasn’t sure whether to be happy that I wasn’t crazy or heartbroken that I had RA. I was numb and hurting and glad all at the same time. He started me on a fairly conservative course of treatment, but one that would take out as much of the inflammation as quickly as possible.

The treatment helped. For the first time in three years I started to feel like me. Not 100% but 25%. With a few more appointments we were able to figure out which drugs worked and which didn’t; this is a continuing process that we still don’t have perfected. But, I lost 50 pounds this year, I started running again, I started riding seriously again, and I feel like I can be there for my friends and family when they need me. It almost felt like coming out of a tunnel where you held your breath the whole time, it was dark, and you got lost several times. Coming out into the light of day and taking a few deep breaths suddenly feels like heaven on earth.

In retrospect though, I see that I learned to face problems head on, at least when I really need to, I learned patience and perseverance, I learned to stand up for myself and trust my instincts, and I learned that I am stronger than I knew I was and weaker than I knew I was simultaneously. I learned that asking for help is not failure and many other things as well; I would prefer that I learned these things a different way. But, even now that I am back to not being able to run because I don’t quite have it in me, I look back on what I have learned and I try to look forward with hope. Because I know that eventually, in retrospect, I will see why I needed the challenges of today to prepare me for tomorrow’s challenges.

I may only be at 50% of where I want to be, but I am working towards getting closer to myself. I don’t believe everything will be ok in this life, but it doesn’t need to be.  So, until next time, RAWR!!

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