Looking After Ourselves

We all put so much effort into the wellbeing of our beloved equines, that it’s ironic how little attention we pay to our own bodies and lifestyles.

Recently I’ve been giving myself a kick up the butt and taking time for self-care.

I have a Friday evening routine of chocolate, wine and a hot bath. Except last night apparently when the hot water has all been used up… Which is downtime for me, where I process the week, think of and plan the weekend, and as much as I can, relax. That along with my early morning rides are my emotional self care and everyone knows not to disturb me during this time!

I used to regularly visit a sports masseuse and osteopath, but post pregnancy it’s gone out the window and then I tried a new osteopath and came away poorer, but not feeling the benefit. However, with shooting pain running up my femoral nerve when I rode anything wider than a hat rack, I took the plunge and tried a Mctimoney chiropractor. Who incidentally treats Phoenix. She declared me very broken, with a tilted pelvis and tight muscles; but a couple of (painful) sessions later and I can feel the benefits. Definitely won’t leave it as long to get myself straightened up and I instantly felt the benefits to my riding. I’d been struggling with Phoenix’s right half pass, which retrospectively isn’t surprising given that my seat was blocking her. It’s still her weaker side but at least now I’m helping her.

At the beginning of the year, a friend told me that their metabolism had slowed down as soon as she’d hit 30 and she’s fought her weight ever since. Bearing in mind that I hit the big three-oh this year, her comment stuck with me. I also feel fairly big on Phoenix; I’m not too big, but I’m very aware that I don’t need to weigh her down with extra baggage. During the first UK lockdown and into the summer I tried to do more exercise, but lacked the motivation to watch a Joe Wicks YouTube video. No one held me accountable if I didn’t do it, and I hadn’t lost out by not doing it. Equally, I didn’t particularly push myself on the few that I did do because no one was cracking the whip.

So I decided that really I should join a fitness class and get myself a personal trainer of some sort. However, I already have an active job and go to Pilates weekly so I needed to compliment this. Plus there’s the whole time, childcare juggling act to factor in.

I’ve also been teaching a lot of children recently, involving a lot of lead rein work, which made me aware that I’m not fit from a cardiovascular point of view and running in canter was far more tiring than it should be!

I eventually plucked up the courage to ask a trainer, recommended by a client, and who I vaguely knew, if I could join a weekly class of hers. This coincided with lockdown #2 so became an online class, as did my Pilates.

I’m not sure how well online exercise classes will fare long term. For me, I gain a bit of extra time in the day – that spent travelling to the class – and I don’t have to worry about childcare. Just some strategic planning with snacks and activities. However, if you aren’t used to doing exercise, or have previous injuries I can imagine you could do yourself some damage as your trainer can’t monitor you as closely on screen as in person. You also miss out on the social side, and if you’re an office worker, the outdoors time. Neither of which affects me, as I can moan about the number of burpees we had to do with my client who signed me up and actually enjoy the opportunity to be warm and dry for an hour! There’s probably a balance to be struck between online classes and face to face ones; but it will be interesting to see what happens when restrictions lift and social distancing reduced.

The first week was agony. It took me three days to be able to walk upstairs. But each week is feeling easier and I can definitely feel muscles developing. I’m sure this cardio and strength work will help my overall fitness, and I think one class of this and another of pilates combined with more than ten hours in the saddle a week is enough focused exercise.

It’s amazing the difference a little bit of self care makes in terms of energy levels, quality of sleep, quality of work and enthusiasm. I’m also having two early morning rides at the yard each week which takes the pressure off me needing to ride when a certain toddler isn’t feeling cooperative, and means Phoenix gets two decent workouts which means she’s less of an activated grenade to ride for the rest of the week should work and weather limit my opportunities to ride. Plus, I enjoy those mornings of peace.

I tend to make small changes to create new habits rather than going all in and causing problems, so after Christmas my self care resolutions will be to adjust my diet to help maximise my energy levels and then having my hair cut (sorely neglected because I don’t like going to salons and the whole pandemic situation). Maybe I’ll cut it all off and donate it to charity to make a wig…

Anyway, make a couple of changes for yourself, and put as much effort into making yourself feel and perform at your best that we do with our horses!

I Blame the Mud

Personally, I lay all blame squarely on the mud for this subject, but I have to say that I’m so proud of my clients, and pleased to have such a good bunch who listen closely to what their horse is saying and so averts a potentially expensive and time consuming treatment and rehabilitation programme.

On an aside, I’ve have several clients who have been on long term rehabilitation programmes for their horse’s injury, which in some cases their horse came to them with, and they are coming through the other side. One lady proudly told me that the physio feels that her horse no longer needs treatment to mend her long term problems, but now needs treatment to maintain her excellent muscle tone. Just like a normal horse! Another lady was told that her horse is moving well, and has better muscle tone than previously so it’s time to crack on and work him that little bit harder so that he starts to develop this muscle. I’m so pleased when I hear this positive feedback from physios. My riders are doing the right thing!

Back to my initial subject of listening to your horse. In their first lesson back after Christmas, one of my riders had a problem jumping. Her pony jumped beautifully over some smaller jumps, especially as we were working on jumping a tarpaulin. He did give a couple of bucks on landing when he basculed particularly nicely, but this isn’t uncommon for him. However, he jumped very erratically over some 90cm fences, even stopping. This is well within his comfort zone so I felt it was odd. We discussed the oddness, but he felt fine to his rider so we decided to monitor it.

The following week, I built a simple grid. If he’d lost his confidence, although I couldn’t work out why, this would help. They flew the grid at 80cm, although he wasn’t happy turning left after the grid and was marginally better with a right canter lead approach. Again, this isn’t unusual with his way of going. But as soon as I put the jump up a notch he threw in the towel. We reverted to the lower grid and just popped him through to finish on a positive note. As I couldn’t see any lameness or sign of soreness, my only suggestion was that he saw a physio or chiropractor in case he’d tweaked something and flatwork and low jumping didn’t affect it, but the extra effort of a bigger jump caused a twinge.

Anyway, she booked the Mctimoney chiropractor and just lightly rode him in the interim. I had feedback from the treatment yesterday – a slightly tilted pelvis, but more interestingly, a pulled muscle between his ribs and pelvis. Possibly due to careering around a slippery field. Which would explain everything. Thankfully, this pony doesn’t need any more treatment, just an easy week building him back up. But his refusing and erratic jumps could so easily be misinterpreted as naughty behaviour and disciplined, or ignored for a few weeks. Whereas by paying close attention to what he was telling her, my rider averted any major incident, either by his behaviour escalating so that it was dangerous, or by his injury worsening or a subsequent injury occuring from him trying to protect the pulled muscle.

Another rider had something similar just after Christmas when I noticed her horse’s right hind being slightly short in stride length, and not picking it up as much as usual. I was riding him and wasn’t happy with the trot, although I hadn’t noticed it in his walk around the tracks to warm up. He wasn’t lame to the bystander, but it wasn’t normal for this horse. I text my client to tell her and she immediately contacted her chiropractor, who came out a couple of days later and found a very sore fetlock and tight muscles all over – again, she put it down to field antics, but this time suggested that it happened because the mud is so claggy, he literally left a leg behind whilst showing off and wrenched it. But because his owner acted swiftly he only needed one treatment, and was completely recovered within a week.

So you can see why I’m blaming the mud! My final casualty to it felt off in walk when I hacked him. Not lame, although he definitely wasn’t comfortable in trot, but wobbly and uncoordinated. I reduced his work to walk only on as flat a ground as I could provide until we waited for his chiropractic appointment. By walking him out in a long and low frame he started to feel much better, more together and stronger. I did find that he was leaning on the right leg though, so much so that his winter coat was rubbing off with friction. Initially I thought it was something I was doing (moving my leg excessively etc) but after paying close attention to the matter, I felt that he was pushing right as he walked, so pushing into my right leg. His treatment showed very tight, sore muscles over his hindquarters and lumbar area, which ties in with slipping in the field. Hopefully he won’t do anymore field acrobatics, and I can start to build him up again, although I’ll be limited with the lack of dry bridleways!

I actually feel very grateful to have clients who pay so much attention to changes in their horse’s behaviour and try to find out why before labelling the behaviour as naughty. I’m equally grateful that they respect my opinion, based on observations and feelings from the saddle. Of course, I’m not an expert in this area but I like to think that I know these horses well enough, and have a good relationship with their owners, that when they aren’t themselves yet look normal from a distance, we can have a conversation about the different possible causes (be it back, saddle, bridle, teeth, feet) and can investigate them. Then between us we can nip any issues in the bud, get them treated before secondary problems develop, and with the minimal disruption to their activity plan.

Otis’s Rehab – Weeks 2 and 3

There wasn’t much to report last week with Otis’s rehab and it was very much hanging in between treatments, so I thought I’d leave you all in suspense until today.

I was still doing a combination of long reining and hacking out in walk when I last updated you; I wasn’t overly happy with what I was feeling and that was playing on my mind a lot.

The on the Thursday of that week (ten days ago now) he had his red light therapy session. I won’t go into huge detail as a blog on that is in the pipeline, but since the red light I have noticed that the sidebone hasn’t had heat in the area (which there was on the Thursday) and the treatment enabled me to solve the conundrum.

  1. When trotting, Otis didn’t feel limpy in front, but generally all wiggly.
  2. His exercise sheet kept slipping to one side.
  3. He responded to pressure over his sacro-iliac and the right hock was “active” during the red light therapy.

I’d solved it! His pelvis, which has always had a tendency to slip, had rotated and dropped. I hypothesised that a lack of muscle tone had meant that a little slip in the field or slight compensation for his injury, has just caused him to get out of alignment.

Typically, I only came to the conclusion on Friday, when I rode him after the red light therapy, and that night he lost a shoe. So the weekend was out, not that I would have done much now I’d twigged the problem, but it would have been useful to have been able to long rein him gently.

Anyway, I waited until first thing Monday morning to speak to my farrier, because I know how much I appreciate being able to switch off at weekends and not think about my diary. He couldn’t come until Wednesday. My next port of call was to speak to my vet/chiropractor friend, who could come out on Friday to see Otis, but she agreed with my theory and felt it was definitely worth checking his alignment.

I’ve kept Otis on this supplement of natural anti-inflammatories, and once he had his shoe put back on I long reined him Wednesday and Thursday as he was definitely a bit bored of his time off. He was up to no good on Wednesday as halfway through our walk, he decided to take me down a very narrow, overgrown footpath. Bracing myself like a tug of war champion I managed to stop him, and we had to rein back out of this mess! Thankfully he’s remembered his manners since then.

Friday’s Mctimoney treatment found good muscle tone – not surprising really as he’s all flab at the moment – but his pelvis has rotated and dropped. This took two corrections because he’s so flexible, but he did show signs of release. To help stabilise the pelvis we need to build up more muscle over his hindquarters, which I guess will mean lots of hill work being incorporated into his rehab.

This morning was the first time I could ride Otis since his treatment, and I feel so much more positive! His trot felt more normal, none of that strange disconnected feeling I had between the right hind and left fore. Was there a slight limp in front? Possibly? But it was very marginal and certainly not every stride.

My next job is to email the vet, tell him my research, progress, and find out how he thinks I should continue but I feel it will be longer hacks, plenty of hill work, and bring in more short trots. 

Otis also needs his hind shoes putting back on, so I’ll speak to my farrier about that too.

But I feel a bit more in control of our journey now. I have a couple of questions for the vet, have got some answers, and can plan the rehab with another chiropractic treatment in April. 

Unfortunately I’m not really sure of the success of the red light therapy because it coincided with the lost shoe and the McTimoney treatment, but it is interesting that I’ve not felt heat in that foot since, so it’s possible that the red light reset the cells (I’ll explain the theory of it more in that blog post) and the foot is in a better state to start increasing the workload.

Saddle Slip?

At the beginning of January I got myself organised and booked Otis in for his check up by my lovely McTimoney chiropractor. This check up is a little early, but as she’s pregnant I wanted him looked at sooner rather than later; to prevent any problems and to keep the continuity of treatment.

Anyway, his appointment was booked in for earlier this week, but last week I noticed that his saddle had rubbed the hair away on the near side, over his loins. He is fully clipped, and it’s not uncommon for bald patches to appear more easily on clipped horses; for example on the shoulders from rugs.

I wasn’t too worried, but kept an eye on it over the weekend and it didn’t seem to be getting worse.

When his chiropractor started feeling his muscle tone, commenting on how much better his left brachiocephalic is, she found a slight reaction on the near side of his vertebrae when she touched the bare patch. Moving further back, she found that his pelvis had shifted as it usually does, and dropped on the left side. It’s usually accompanied by a pelvic tilt down on the left side too, but this time there was only a fractional tilt which is great.

Otis was treated, and there was an immediate improvement in the saddle area, so we’ve come to the conclusion that his pelvis had rotated and dropped in the last fortnight, causing a change in saddle pressure. Now I just need to keep an eye on the patch and make sure it improves. He had his saddles re-adjusted in October, so he’s unlikely to need another check up, but he may well have changed shape slightly since the autumn. 

This led us onto the topic of saddle slippage. There has recently been a scientific study, of which back people have already known about the findings for years, that has linked saddle slippage to hind limb lameness. Now, lameness in this picture is not necessarily an observable mis-step, but more of an asymmetry in the pelvis and limb balance, which causes a tilt in the back and subsequent slip of the saddle.

I found it really interesting, as it provides me with another symptom to look for, along with the tendency for him to drift right whilst jumping and a preference for quarters left, so that I know when Otis needs straightening out.

So it may be worth remembering that if your saddle seems to slip to one side, and it’s been checked recently, that it may be necessary to have your horse’s back and pelvis checked and realigned. Alternatively, it could always be a crookedness in the rider that causes a saddle to shift, so it may be worth getting yourself checked out too!

In the meantime, here’s a photo of Otis and his best friend!


McTimoney Treatment

Last week my horse had his first McTimoney treatment. I`ve been toying for a month or so about having his back checked but wasn`t sure which technique to go for. As far as I was concerned he didn`t have a problem, but I suspected that he might need straightening up or rebalancing as he does work hard. For this reason I opted for the McTimoney route. I felt that I didn`t want him to see a manipulative chiropractor as such, because if there wasn`t a problem could the chiropractor interfere too much and cause a problem? I read about the McTimoney technique in a magazine and saw it was described as non-evasive; and it stimulated the horse to “self-straighten”. It sounded perfect – if there was a little problem it would solve it, if not a massage wouldn`t go amiss.

I did some research into local McTimoney practitioners and found a lady who, until recently, worked for the vets I use. She is now practicing McTimoney as her own business. I was particularly positive about the fact that she is also a vet. Here`s a link to her informative website – http://www.backtherapyhorsevet.co.uk/the-treatment/.

I booked a session with her, and asked about the yard to see if anyone else wanted her to treat their horse that day. Surprisingly, only one other livery wanted their horse seen. A lot of the horses at my yard are treated by a chiropractor.

When Gudrun arrived my horse was chilling in his stable, have eaten his feed and was munching the haylage. I wanted him completely in his comfort zone and not hungry. Gudrun took some details about my horse – age, breed, height, workload, any issues I`ve noticed on the floor or when ridden. I told her that right shoulder in had become a bit more difficult in recent weeks, but there were no obvious issues.

Next she inspected him in the stable, running her hands over all his body and legs, feeling the muscles tone and looking for any tight spots and gauging his reaction. She first studied his left shoulder and he reacted quite violently, jumping away and then shaking his head vigorously. We noted that and then continued down the rest of his body. There was a trigger point in the loins on his near side, but other than that he was pretty normal and relaxed. Gudrun went back to the left shoulder, to find that she got a normal reaction, so we hypothesised that she`d caught him by surprise the first time, added by the fact that he didn`t know her.

Next I trotted my horse up for her, and she thought that his pelvis had dropped to the left slightly. She explained how either side of the horses hindquarters should swing with each stride, and how his left swung down more than the right. She then walked him away from me so I could see this, and she suggested that I regularly get someone to trot him up for me so I can check his straightness. The asymmetry in his pelvis was noticeable when you were looking for it, but it wasn`t enough to cause a lameness. Gudrun did suggest that it correlated to the soreness in his left loin.

Once back in the stable Gudrun started work. I was impressed with the way she went about her work; very quiet but efficient. Her hands were gentle and my horse relaxed quickly. Gudrun started with realigning the pelvis, which she thought had dropped to the left and rotated back fractionally. This combination is quite normal in working horses and easily repaired. After warming him up with a bit of massage, she took his left hind and hoicked it right up underneath him, lifting the pelvis back into place. I was surprised with how flexible he was, and how he didn`t react adversely. This was done twice to ensure he was level. Next, we had to rotate the pelvis forwards, which involved me holding his hind leg up and Gudrun pushing/tweaking something as I let go. Unfortunately, I can`t tell you where she pushed as I was holding the hoof. She explained the procedure very well and we were successful. Again, we repeated the “tweak” to ensure it had worked.

Now the pelvis was sorted Gudrun could start to look at the related muscles. She explained to me how the loins of a horse are often prone to strain, particularly those who are long in the back, because it was a large flat muscle with very little support from the skeleton. The thoracic vertebrae (under the saddle) are stabilised by the rib cage, and the sacrum vertebrae are held in place by the pelvis, but the lumbar vertebrae rely on the large muscle in the loins to keep them secure. This is why they are more often problematic. My horse is fractionally long in the back – not enough to stop him tracking up or for him to struggle to engage the hindquarters, but enough for me to be aware of. Gudrun massaged the area gently using the sides of her palms and then she tweaked the vertebrae in that area from both sides. There was almost no reaction from my horse after when she tried to find the trigger point.

At various times that Gudrun was working, my horse licked and chewed. This is a response to her releasing endorphins in that area, and showed her that treatment was working correctly.

Gudrun explained to me that running your fingers quickly down the horses back always initiates a reaction, and that you should use your finger tips, no nails or ball point pens, and then you can press quite hard and shouldn`t get a reaction unless there`s a problem. This laid to rest the problem I`d been wrestling with myself for weeks – people go and check a horse for back problems and run their nails quickly along. Is it any surprise the horse flinches away? Not really to my mind, but it appears to be the done thing.

Finally Gudrun treated the shoulders; showing me a useful exercise for stretching the brachiocephalic and front of the trapezius. She didn`t feel there was a problem, he was just tight. Additionally, she suggested I got a cactus mitt and some aloe vera gel and massaged it in if I noticed a bit of tension anywhere in his body, or if he had worked hard. This helps reduce any inflammation and the massaging encourages the body to dispose of toxins, such as lactic acid. She then checked his feet for symmetry but there wasn`t a problem there.

I was told to give him the following day off, in his field, and then the day after to take him for a twenty minute walk on the buckle. Easier said than done, as he walked round the block using this new found freedom to gawp at all the houses and fields. The second day of riding I was told to do something relatively easy, not too much canter, and a bit shorter in duration. This made me feel a bit easier than when chiropractors say “one day of rest then back to normal”. What`s normal? Using my common sense, I wouldn`t take my horse who had just had treatment cross country schooling, but for some people that may be normal.

Gudrun was very positive about my horse`s condition and overall health. It was nice having another professional opinion, and I felt that because Gudrun was a vet she looked at him as a whole, not just from the musco-skeletal viewpoint. She didn`t recommend a follow up treatment, but told me what signs to look for which would indicate he needed straightening up again.

I would definitely recommend her to treat anyone`s horse, and have her back to check over my horse at six monthly intervals.