Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Double Header

We've slowly been increasing the length and work intensity of our rides, but I haven't ridden Cupid two consecutive days since he first came up sore.  I was a little hesitant, not wanting to overdo it, but went ahead and scheduled a trail ride for Saturday and lesson on Sunday. 

We decided to ride in the sculpture gardens since that is a relatively easy ride, good footing and mostly just gentle slopes.  It was pretty hot out, and Cupid was a little bothered by flies tossing his head and not wanting to stand.  He was a little bratty about closing gates.  The first one I ended up having my friend do, the second one we kept at it until we got it even though Cupid was not really helping.  We'll have to work on that.  Aside from the gates he was very good, and not bothered by any of the art. 

Gently rolling hills
Art installation
I want to try my western saddle again, but making sure Cupid's back is okay first before I try a new saddle.  So in the meantime we usually use the jumping saddle for trails (with longer stirrups).  I have a little saddle bag I clip to the dee rings, in which I usually carry a bottle of water, a few horse treats, and my cell phone.  I know the best practice is probably to carry the phone on my person in case I get separated from Cupid, but unless usually don't unless I have a zippered pocket.  I like to wear denim riding breeches (these ones are Irideon and very comfortable), and my Ariat terrain short boots. I normally wear a tshirt, but wisely decided to wear a long sleeved sun shirt with zip up collar to avoid sunburn. 

English trail pony
I was worried Cupid would be sore or tired the next day, but he actually had slightly above-average energy and felt great!  Instead of lunging I started with hand walking Cupid and doing some in-hand exercises to loosen him up.  Then I got on him and we started with a little walking with my feet out of the stirrups to lengthen my leg, and some shallow serpentines to get Cupid bending.  We picked up the trot as our trainer arrived, and most of the lesson was (yet again) working on improving contact especially on the outside rein.  (which I let "bounce in the wind" as my trainer says, lol)  We tend to overbend through the neck a bit going right, and not bend enough going left.  Other things I'm still working on are sitting upright instead of leaning forward, especially at the canter, and not crossing my left hand over the neck.

The canter felt good, and the transitions were good since Cupid was pretty keen to go.  We ended with some transitions between walk and trot, focusing on getting rounder in the walk and maintaining it through the transition.

I was feeling pretty optimistic after the lesson that Cupid is feeling back to normal, knock on wood!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Looks Can Be Deceiving - Myler Combination Bit

I've tried several bits on Cupid over the years, and didn't feel much difference - Cupid didn't hate any of them and is always as good as I ride him to.  Granted they were all pretty basic - plain snaffle, snaffle with rollers, oval link, and level 1 and 2 Mylers.  When my trainer suggested we try a combination bit I admit I was skeptical.  It looks like a lot going on, and Cupid doesn't really get strong so I didn't feel like I needed "more bit."  But I read a bit more about them, and was intrigued enough to give it a try.

How Dale Myler explains is: a simple snaffle (reins or headstall not fixed in position on the bit), might put pressure on the tongue and bars of the mouth, let's say 50/50.  The combination bit will start with pressure on the nose, curb, and poll, 33/33/33, until it rotates to where the mouthpiece touches the stop and then the tongue and bar pressure also comes into play, so 20% in each area.  So the pressure on the mouth is actually less.  He also says it makes sense to horses because their early training is in a halter, where the pressure is on the nose and poll not mouth. 

I waited until my lesson last weekend for our first ride in it.  Tip: I needed to swap out bridles for something smaller because I was already on the top hole and the combo bit has a longer purchase compared to even my big D ring.  I was trying to ride as normally as possible though I think I was a little hesitant still, but Cupid was fine.  Better than fine; for the first time ever, I could actually feel a difference as he was more responsive!  I especially felt it in our down transitions, Cupid was quick to respond and his head wasn't coming up!

Obviously this is not a legal bit for dressage, but I think it will be a good bit to play around with.  And possibly give me a little extra confidence once we get back to jumping again!

Level 1 mouthpiece

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Rider Fitness

My job has me sitting in front of a computer all day and on top of that I spend almost two hours in the car most days.  My motivations are to be a more effective rider, and let's face it I want to look... if not good at least not bad. I'm back to my pre-pregnancy weight, and my strength and flexibility seem about the same but my endurance isn't quite there yet.  Even though it's hard to make the time, I still make it a priority to be somewhat active and healthy.


I've been running since I was 15 and have been a regular gym-goer since college.  I did some marathons in my mid-20s (PR 3:45), and a few 50k trail runs in my early 30s.  Even though I consider myself primarily a long-distance runner, I've won my division of our company 5k twice (PR 21:20)!  I was also into cycling for a while (though I don't currently own a bike), and proud to have completed a century ride.

I don't like high intensity workouts.  I'd rather just jog along listening to music for an hour or more then do a few sprints.  Or 15-20 reps with a light weight instead of a few at max weight.  But I do try to force myself on occasion!

Here is my typical week:

Monday - 60 minute yoga class, plus run 2-4 miles before or after
Tuesday - 30 minute conditioning class (planks, crunches, hand weights, bosu, sometimes with cardio intervals but thankfully usually not), followed by 30-60 minutes cardio on the treadmill, stairstepper, or elliptical
Wednesday - 60 minutes jogging
Thursday - 30 minute conditioning class (same as Tuesday), followed by 30-60 minutes cardio on the treadmill, stairstepper, or elliptical
Friday - 30 minute conditioning class (same as Tuesday), followed by 30 minute stretch class, followed by 60 minute spin class
Saturday/Sunday - either nothing, or hiking, or pushing baby in stroller on paved trail for 60-90 minutes


I try to keep it reasonable, but I'm not at all strict about it.  I have a pretty big sweet tooth and eat way too much sugar.  But my better half is on a low carb diet so dinner is usually meat (generally salmon, chicken or pork chop) and vegetables.  Actually we pretty much only have healthy food at home but there is always crap in the office and I don't turn it down.


I see a chiropractor about once a month.  It's mainly preventative, I don't have any chronic issues just the typical office worker hunch. 

I get a massage a few times a year, not regularly unfortunately.

One recent change I made was to swap out my chair at work for one with no arm rests, because I'm always leaning on my left side. 

Here's what I'm working with

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


We've had three rides since the treatment last week.  As expected, I couldn't really feel any difference the first ride.  Though he did get both canter leads at least.

But then last weekend he felt phenomenal in our lesson!  I wasn't expecting much because to me he didn't look great cantering on the lunge line, though the trot was fine.  So I told our trainer let's keep it easy, mostly trot but with a little canter so she can see. 

Even though Cupid was already warmed up, I started with a quick walk with my feet of the stirrups, which is a stretch I've been doing to help my leg stay longer.  Then we picked up the trot and it felt pretty good.  Since we are keeping things simple I am really trying to concentrate on my form.  With the stretching frame sometimes I fall into a trap of throwing away all contact or my arms get too straight and down.  We did some gently leg yielding on a circle, going between ~18-20 meter circles.

Then it was time for a little canter work.  We started to the right, and Cupid picked it up promptly, then a stride later tripped on his nose and broke into a trot.  Oops!  (They recently added new footing to the arena so it may have been a touch deep.)  So I got organized and asked for the canter again, and got a lovely transition without him raising his head, and the balance felt really good.  We stayed on a 20 meter circle and encouraged Cupid to keep stretching, while I focused on trying to sit back.  (Still not quite there, even though in my head I think touch the back of my head to his tail!)  We got a nice down transition to the trot, went halfway around and down the diagonal, then I asked for the left lead and it was equally prompt and lovely!  =) 

The canter felt so good I was tempted to do more, but we stuck to the plan and finished with a bit more trot work, going between a 15 meter circle shortening the stride to a 20 meter circle opening it up. 

After the lesson I was feeling super optimistic that Cupid was on track and feeling good.  Unfortunately my next ride two days later felt a bit meh.  :/  Nothing wrong exactly, and maybe he was just lazy but I just didn't feel the same swinging and pushing from the back.  So now I don't know what to think.  Two steps forward one step back?

Here's a recent clip of him lunging - bear in mind I'm not very good at lunging and filming at the same time!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Functional Electrical Stimulation and Laser Therapy

We are continuing to be patient and give Cupid the time he needs to recover.  I worry sometimes that maybe there is something more going on, but I know personally I've had several muscle strains that though they were mild I could feel for months.  Saturday I was encouraged because Cupid was moving out about the best I've ever seen him, but then on Monday he just looked okay.  But on Saturday it was warmer, and I also went later then usual and he had already been turned out for a while instead of coming out cold from his stall so I'm sure that helped.

My trainer's therapist was coming out to the barn, so I decided to take advantage and see if we can help Cupid be more comfortable.  Plus it's always good getting a new set of eyes on a problem!  She hadn't treated Cupid before, so I gave her general background and then described the back problem and what we've done so far.  She watched him briefly and did a quick assessment.  She said overall his muscle development seemed good, and he looked fairly even both sides.  Then she went to his back and quickly found the problem area where Cupid dropped his back in discomfort.

She started with a laser to warm up the area which would allow the FES to work more effectively.  The laser was about 3.5 minutes each side, and Cupid stood without much reaction.
Laser treatment

Then she wet Cupid's back and placed on the pad for the FES.  I don't understand it entirely, so here is a description from:  "Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) is the application of computer-regulated electrical impulses to the skin in a waveform that mimics the motor neuron signal the brain sends to the muscle to cause a contraction. It is considered “functional” electrical stimulation because the waveform replicates the normal contraction of the muscles being stimulated, just as if the brain itself had initiated the contraction. It therefore has the ability to treat both muscle spasm and muscle atrophy... During treatment, FES feels like a deep muscle massage because the sophisticated software mimics the electrical signals produced naturally between the brain and the body."

She said Cupid started responding immediately in some areas.  She told me to put my hand over the pad and I could feel it quivering.  I thought that was the signals from the pad, but she said that was actually the muscle reacting to it.  We did about 35 minutes total.  Cupid was very good about standing still, and about midway through started yawning and showing signs of relaxation!
Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES)

The recommendation was to give him the following day off, then resume the light work ever 2-3 days as we've been doing.

Friday, July 5, 2019

This Never Happens

Cupid usually ambles over, not come running when I call him.  Maybe I should ride less more often!

Today I just groomed him and we went for a walk and grazed.  It was nice to spend a leisurely morning together, I feel like I never have time anymore.

But it's back to work tomorrow, I scheduled some time with our trainer so she can watch and make sure he is working through his back properly, and maybe give us some more light exercises we can work on.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Making Lemonade

Horses and disappointment go hand in hand, I know that.  But I still can't help but feel a little disappointed that all the plans I made for this summer are slipping away, one by one.  But I'm lucky this is actually a relatively minor setback, and Cupid's well-being is most important so instead I will focus on some positives (taking lemons and making lemonade). 

As of our checkup last week, following the doctor's recommendation I have been riding him every other day on a long rein, after a light lunge to warm up.  Though we are limited in what we can do, I can still use this as an opportunity to work on the following things:

- Two point!  Since I've been focusing primarily on dressage the past 2 years, I haven't been riding in my jump saddle as much.  But I can practice two point while we trot and canter around on a loose rein (bonus, no hanging on for balance!)  After about 5 minutes I can feel it in my calves, usually the left one first. 

- Straightness - I try to ride Cupid a few feet off the rail and most of the time we are pretty good about straightness.  Our bigger problem tends to be cutting corners so that's something we can work on.

- Prompt transitions - Depending on Cupid's mood, some days our up transitions are better other days our down.  I'm focusing on getting them prompt, and without him raising his head, both on the lunge and when I ride.

- Equitation - Since we're keeping pretty much everything else simple, I can focus a bit more on my position: keeping elbows bend, sitting upright (meaning feeling like leaning back to me), and feet underneath me instead of behind.