Treat yourself like a horse

Hands up, everyone who has had a massage or acupuncture.

Now hands up, everyone who has had massage or acupuncture done on their horse.

Uh-huh, that’s what I thought.

While I have no doubt that a significant proportion of you were able to raise your hands for both challenges, I am equally certain that more people only raised their hands for the second. Horses. Get. Everything.

I’ve never had a massage or acupuncture… I never even considered either treatment. I’m a rub-dirt-on-it kind of girl. (Except for sinus headaches. I cannot deal with a sinus headache. I will medicate that thing into the stone age.) I have self-diagnosed broken bones in my feet and limped them off with a shrug. Go to a doctor? You must be thinking of someone else.

Disneyland horse

Always keeping tabs on how a horse feels… it’s the horseman way. So why do we ignore ourselves? Flickr: lorenjavier

A horse on the other hand… does that horse look funny to you? No? Well, he looks funny to me. Something’s not right. I’m calling the vet.

I think for a lot of people, it’s a sign of weakness to worry about one’s body. I’m a horsewoman, I’m tough! I’m a horsewoman, chores still need done every day! No time for rest, no time for some doctor telling me to slow down!

And that makes sense. So many horsepeople are performing the jobs of ten people every day, doing all the chores and maintenance on a farm, doing the riding and training and horse care, without any help or certainly without nearly enough help. Imagine if a doctor told you to slow it down. You’d laugh, right? And who is going to take care of the farm when I slow it down, doc? You coming out to muck my stalls?

And so we ignore our bodies even while we obsess over our horses. It’s not healthy. It’s not smart. We do it anyway.

This week, I did something new. I knew I wanted to start running again. I say “again,” but… the fact is, my running careers have always been short and painful. I hate running, so there’s that. On top of that, my knees always bother me, my lungs feel over-taxed, and I tend to get shin splints. So I start running, I manage it for a few weeks, and then I proclaim that running is going to cripple me for life and I start using my sneakers for barn shoes, which is, as we all know, the kiss of death for shoes.

This time I really need it to stick. I need to run and keep running. I need the endurance, I need the wind, I need the super-hot runner’s legs. So I did something completely different from the norm: I treated myself like a horse.

Here’s my three step plan for getting into work like a horse:

1. Have the farrier out for a nice chat and get some work done on that stride.

I was wearing twenty dollar sneakers from K-Mart. Would I ever, ever start a horse on a training regimen without making sure his feet were perfectly comfortable and he was moving correctly? Hell no!

While I balked at going to the runner’s store and having my stride analyzed on a treadmill, because I figured the shoes they’d want to sell me were way way way out of my price range, I did go to a proper shoe store and was fitted for a nice lightweight shoe that would help me with the particular problems I have with my stride.

2. Sort out feed and get on the right supplements.

Performance horses and supplements just go together. There’s a supplement to help every horse: Equiform Nutrition even has dressage-specific supplements to help horses concentrate. I definitely need some of that.

I already eat fairly well. I added back carbs because A) I like bread and B) carbs are nice for running. I hear. Mainly because I like bread. But I know my joints are pretty well shot, like most riders over the age of eighteen, so I stopped at Rite-Aid on my way home and picked up some Cosequin glucosamine/chondroitin.

3. Get a training chart and take it easy.

I seriously used to go out and just run until I was too tired to run anymore. Then I would run the next day even though my legs hurt so bad I could barely get down the stairs. And then I kept doing that over and over again until I burned out and refused to do it anymore.

I would never dream of treating a horse like that. A horse just coming into work would get a light work-out, with long intervals of walking, every other day for the first week or so. I’d watch him like a hawk to make sure his step was perfect, rub my fingers along his muscles and down his legs to make sure there wasn’t a single tight spot or twinge of pain in his suspensories. Run a horse through pain? Are you kidding me?

I have a training chart — the Interwebs are good for things like that — and I’m following it loosely. If I feel like I can do a little more, I do a little more. If I feel like I need to do a little less, then I do that. And if my muscles are too sore to run (or, for that matter, to walk properly) I take the day off and just walk.

And so, it’s a start. Maybe some day I’ll lash out and get one of those massages my horses always seem to enjoy so much. But I don’t know. They seem awfully expensive to waste on little old me. A horse, on the other hand…

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “Treat yourself like a horse

  1. Becky

    Where I am, there’s a nice little massage school down the road and they offer (human) massages with their recent or soon-to-be graduates for something like $30.

    Can you share your training chart, or where you found it? I…um…have a horse that is fat, out of shape, with chronic lameness issues and want to get back in shape, err, I mean get HER back into shape for endurance rides. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

    • Well my training chart is for me, heh. I think it came from active.com or something like that.

      But my favorite endurance chart comes from THE EVENT HORSE, by Sheila Willcox. It’s out of print, but worth looking for. It has appendices with feeding and work charts. The feed charts may be a little out-dated, but the working charts seem solid, especially for endurance, you will find the nice interval training for walk-trot-gallop works.

  2. Becky… getting myself a nice pair of sneakers was a big motivator. I A) love them and B) feel guilty about how much they cost so I HAVE to use them …

  3. Hand raised for the horsey end of things. Not so much the rider end. Got dumped my third time out on my OTTB (my fault), landed hard, broke my hip and didn’t know it. Got up, gimped over and fetched my horse, and took him back to the barn.
    He got the chiropractor, I waited until something shifted and I couldn’t move to get my happy ass to the doctor.
    He sees the dentist once a year, and I waited 11.
    His farrier comes this weekend. I’m still walking around in 2 year old worn out tennies and boots and my feet hurt because of it.
    *sigh
    glad to know I’m not the only one.

  4. Anna

    Normal? Who you callin’ normal? Egads, woman, we are horse people!

    • Oh, excellent point!

      You’re horsepeople normal.

      • Anna

        Whew! You had me worried, there for a moment!
        Mine isn’t so pampered as it sounded up there, but I definitely see to his
        Needs before improving what I’m doing, save the way I eat. I’m making good and big changes there and am feeling and seeing the difference.
        More energy means more quality horse time each evening!

  5. Can’t walk properly, can’t navigate your way down the stairs…hmm, sounds familiar to me. I tried training for a short marathon two years ago and ran into the same painful symptoms. I spoke to an athletic therapist, who said my tibialis anterior (shin muscle) was overdeveloped and the stress from running was putting small tears in the tissue connecting it to the shin bone. Many riders have a big tibialis anterior – it’s the jam-your-heels-down-muscle. Be careful, because my AT said there’s no way to stop that tearing and the pain will continue for as long as I run.