Sometimes things work out…

All I can say is we just never know where we are going to end up. We have no real control over anything. All we can do is make plans and have hope that things will be okay. For  the last two years  the one thing I had wanted so much to do was to ride my horse again. It wasn’t  a lofty goal really but one that seemed to be unattainable to me not long ago. I didn’t want to give up the hope that one day I would ride again…..but for a while it was iffy…

Two years ago I thought I would never be able to do many activities again let alone ride a horse. My only goal then was trying to find someone to fix the pain I was in. That was a battle unto itself but I did not want to give up- because to do so left me in a very dire situation. One that I could not accept.

June 2016 was a start of an intense pain drama that was caused by breast cancer treatments. The pain had been an issue since my surgery in October of 2013. I had sought help for it with no luck and then it really  reared its ugly head in May 2016 leaving me bedridden for much of the next year. It was hell trying to find the a doctor who would listen to me and not send me away with a shake of the head. They either had no idea what was wrong with me or they thought I was nuts. But finally I found a surgeon who listened.

Today, three surgeries later. I am not that woman stuck all day and night in bed anymore- but I still live in chronic pain. But the levels I am managing- and there may be more surgery in my future. I am left with a disabled arm that I cant use fully and overuse causes pain. Sometimes I don’t know what that overuse is. But I just try to dance with it- sometimes I am in the lead and sometimes the pain is.

I have been hell bent on doing more living- I have always been a physically active person and I missed the mental boost such activity gave me. So many things I could not do. Some because of the limits of my arm and some activities were contra-indicated by my surgeon- one being horse back riding. It was a total bummer to hear this but I temporarily shelved that disappointment and sought another activity .  I bought a kayak with pedals so I could go out in the bay near our beach house. The feeling of independence being on the water propelling myself was intense and important in my recovery. I bought a bike. I began to walk more. I can do limited exercises in the gym.  But I was really missing the one activity I was told not to do—ride my horse.

In the summer of 2017 I was still in enough pain that I was not sure I could ride and on enough drugs I was not sure I should ride. But one day that summer  on a whim Kevin and I tacked up my horse Harley . He accepted the saddle and bridle so well  that I decided to get on and have Kevin lead me around the dry lot. I knew the surgeon had not been keen on my riding but I wanted to be in the saddle. It was just a pony ride but it was the kick I needed – I set a firm goal – I would  ride my horse again. But there were still obstacles to overcome.

I didn’t think it would take another year before I was able to ride again. I had another surgery in November of 2017 to hopefully further reduce my pain. I would say the result have been pretty good. I am off opiates but still need nerve pain medications. . I have pain flares more often than I would like. But I am doing more. The surgery itself – which was fat grafting -had a longer than expected recovery time.

Every time I went to see my nerve surgeon – Dr. Williams- I would tell him that I wanted to ride my horse.  HIs concern was that my arm would be yanked forward if the horse pulled the reins forward suddenly- and this does happen. This can cause more damage to my arm. Also there is the risk of falling off but I think in my case the real concern was with the yanking of my arm. So I wanted to rectify that. How to keep that from happening. There had to be a way . Maybe I would ride one armed. I began to look into that as an option.

Then sometime this past spring my farrier came. I was telling her my plan to try ride again. I explained my concerns of riding with two arms and one getting yanked and I was also becoming nervous about not being strong enough to ride using only one arm (my horse is also neck reined) if my horse pulled suddenly. She told me to get a Daisy Rein. I had no idea what they were but it turns out they are used often for young riders. The rein hooks onto the saddle and also to the bridle and that keep the horse from pulling his head down. Maybe it would work for this old rider!

I saw my surgeon again in July and explained how much I wanted to ride and told him about the rein. He never did give me his blessing but he told me if I did ride I needed to send him photos after I was safely off.  So that to me was an ok to go ahead.

My plan was to move slowly into riding my horse Harley beginning in early August- but life threw us a loop as we suddenly  lost Harleys companion a- our beloved Arab mare -Airy to colic. It was a tough loss on all of us and I again shelved trying to ride. This time more for Harley than for me. I knew it was a stressful time for a horse when there are changes like that adding me riding him after such a long time off might add to the stress – and we wanted another companion for Harley so the focus shifted on that. It took some time but we now have Hank and Yukon here. Hank belongs to our neighbor and Yukon is our Guardian horse form a local rescue.

One  day a few weeks ago  I went out to the barn to feed the horses and our neighbor was bringing Hank back from a ride. I began to feel that envy. That yearning to ride my horse. I really felt it was now or never so I began to get Harley tacked up. It is a bit of a chore for me to get it on while trying to limit the use of my arm but I was able to do it with Kevins help.

Before long I told Kevin I wanted another pony ride. I have to use a step to mount now to get on- it allows me to not use my arm too much.  I got up and settled – feet in stirrups and I was holding both reins because we put the daisy rein on to give that a try too. He tolerated it well and best of all it worked! He couldn’t pull very far so no yanking of my arm.  After a bit, I asked Kevin to let me go and and I took a deep breathe in and let it out and off I went.  I maneuvered Harley around the dry lot for a while..at a walk.. nothing fast. He did very well – and we then called it a day. Best to end on a good note when working with a horse. And I was not ready to ride in the fields yet. But it didn’t take much time for me to be ready! So much for slow starts.

Since that day I have ridden twice out in the fields. The last time – this past Saturday- I was able to tack up on my own. I have learned to yank the saddle out of my locker with one arm and I can toss it up on his back with one arm too.  It was very freeing to be able to do this on my own.

I also can ride with one arm so I switch from using two hands on the reins to one. It turns out my arms are in a “safe” position so I don’t think I will get a pain flare if I am careful – but again it is that dance i mentioned above. That day I was in the lead. Dismounting is a bit of a challenge. I now lower the stirrup iron and dismount on the  right which is the opposite side we proper English riders are taught to do.

Obstacles aside I can’t begin to explain the mental effect being able to ride again gives me. It is something I have needed. It didn’t feel like it had been two years since I had ridden solo. It was as if no time went by at all. I felt right at home in the saddle. I am so lucky to have the horse that I have. Some horses may have been too much for me after not being ridden for so long. Harley is a true champ. We have a bond.

My goal is to ride twice a week for now. I will have to be flexible on this as well as I live my life around things we have planned – social visits, traveling, and doctors visits. So I often curb any physical exercise for a couple days prior to doing these things because I don’t want to have a flare up of pain which may require me to cancel the plans.

But that is life as I live it now. I accept it. You just never know where you will end up…right now for me I ended up back in the saddle. How lucky I am….

….And Dr Williams has been sent a photo..with more to come…

Finding new roads or currents 

The thought I might never ride a horse again had crossed my mind from time to time this last year. I am pretty sure my own horses don’t really mind that-but it has been hard for me to concede to that fact that my riding days are over. So I’m not really going there yet. But right now I am not supposed to ride a horse. Not only my horse – any horse – no can ride.  This has to do with the fact I have had two major nerve surgeries on my arm and chest wall and a fall off a horse would definitely not be good for me.  

Had I known my riding days were limited I would have ridden more when I had the chance.  There really isn’t any sense in those regrets but that is how I feel much of the time. 

I am a very active person or I was. Since laying in bed with chronic pain for many months I am basically starting all over trying to get myself back into shape. It’s not easy when you have physical limitations and chronic pain. 

I have a whole list of can’t do’s:

  • Can’t ride a horse. 
  • Can’t lift weights with upper body. 
  • Can’t bear weight on my right side using arm. 
  • Can’t paddle anything. Like a kayak or stand-up paddle board. 
  • And you get my drift. 

So I’ve been trying to figure out what I can physically do because focusing on what I can’t do is just depressing and not productive.  And there are many more things I can do than can’t. 

So far I can

  • Walk. 
  • Ride a bike 
  • Ride in the front seat of car again. 
  • Drive a car
  • I can lift weights with my lower body 
  • I can feed animals 
  • I can brush animals with my good arm. 
  • You get the picture. 

The fact I want to ride a horse again is a good sign anyway. The fact that I can’t -for now – is just a hinderance. 

With our traveling back and forth to our beach cottage I’ve been trying to figure out what I could do for activity on the water. Kevin and the kids got stand up paddleboards and they are so cool! I can sit on one while Kevin paddles and that’s fun. We got a two man inflatable kayak and that’s fun too – but I have been just a passenger bc I can’t paddle it. Passengering is ok. It’s fun sometimes – but I don’t want to be the passenger all the time. 

I thought there must be a water device that has pedals.  So I looked up kayaks with pedals and they exist! I found out fisherman use them as it makes it easier to maneuver while fishing.  

So we found a kayak outfitter in Lewes ,DE about 40 minutes from our cottage. We worked with one of the salesmen and he gave us the lowdown on different types of pedal kayaks. We selected a Hobie kayak. The price was fairly high (I may have gasped) but I really wanted independence. I wanted an “I Can” that I could do with my family on the water and I wanted something that gave me independence like the bike did. The price was worth it. 

The feeling of being on the water is amazing. I love the serenity and the exercise. 

I love the freedom and independence. 

I’m glad I found another “I can”

——

Link to the paddle sport shop Facebook page where they posted our picture. 

Here’s some info about the Hobie Mirage kayak I got. 

Gallery

Piney Run Hike June 2015 

                                                                

Fat Axe, weak stick

“Your up there now” said my husband, Kevin, yesterday. This was in response to my frustration after attempting to get up onto my horse and freaking failing. Yes I was up there but I could not do it on my own. Kevin had to give me a leg up- and that means push my body up onto the horse. That had never ever been an issue for me until yesterday. I felt old and weak. Tears stung my eyes. “Fat Axe, Weak Stick..” I said to myself.

Yesterday I decided to try to ride – I hadn’t done so for 8 months. A frozen shoulder and then winter were my deterrents. The shoulder is still frozen but it isn’t in the pain phase (frozen shoulders have phases it seems)  and the ground was pretty dry and the outside temp balmy so I felt like I could handle my 1200 lb 15.3 hand horse ok. And I did once I was up there.

Have you ever taken for granted that you can do something physical – maybe like me you have done it hundreds of times before – and then you go to do it and you just can’t? You sit in surprise because you just can’t figure out why your body can’t do what your mind thinks it should be able to do. Well that was me. I could not get myself up on my horse as I had done so many times in the past. I put my leg in the stirrup- at this point I guess I should be happy I could lift it that high- and I grabbed a bit of mane with my left hand in the front of the saddle and I grabbed the back of the saddle  with the right. I knew I had limited strength in my right arm  and i think my shoulder is pretty useless too -but as I went to lift myself up onto the stirrup (and then the plan would have been to throw my right leg over the horse) I realized that there was no leverage, there was no strength- it wasn’t only the arms- it was the legs too. I was unable to get on my horse.

Mounting was never an issue- In the past I could mount a horse when it is walking (they aren’t supposed to walk when you mount but my horse sometimes finds that to be funny). Yesterday he wasn’t walking he was eating grass- another thing he should not do when saddled and bridled up- but I didn’t have the strength to hold the reins and hold his head up and get on the horse. So my hubby held him steady as I went to get on- I cannot even tell you the shock I felt when my body just hit a wall. It was like I was in the twilight zone. I looked around and up and down and shook my head- wondering if i was in an alter universe. I wasn’t dreaming because I felt every weak part of me straining to do the job of getting on the horse. It was super weird. I was very upset.

I have gained some weight over the winter. Not much – some probably was needed (though having been a chubby teen I have the mindset you can never be too thin) and there are about an extra 5 lbs. on me now I would like to shed..but I know the weight wasn’t the issue..I weighed a lot more when I began riding again at age 41. I could get on a horse then and I got on my horse 8 months ago….hmm but now that I think about it I used the mounting block bc my shoulder was beginning to freeze. Well—the time before I got up just fine. So what is the problem? I don’t know except  I suppose it comes from the issues with the shoulder. I was told not to work out my arms while I was in PT trying to unfreeze it. The PT said it could cause an imbalance. I am pretty into exercise and we have our own gym right in our barn bc my husband trains clients. I didn’t like the idea of not working out my upper body at all so I used bands for a bit and now I am using weights again except my shoulder only moves a little bit- but there was a point in the pain stage of frozen shoulder where I could not use my arm much bc it went into spasm and that was soooo painful..like cussing like a sailor and almost falling to the floor painful. So there was a point I really was not doing much work on my upper body and I am surprised how weak I have gotten.  But the old legs weren’t as strong either. I took it easy this winter more than I ever allowed myself before – early on I was depressed and later I was lazy..I could not get it together. So even if I worked out for an hour a day but was a sloth the rest of the day I wasn’t gaining much strength. I have been working out and have picked up the pace lately- I am logging my food intake on a cool app, I have my Fitbit back on and I am trying to get my strength back. But I didn’t realize until yesterday that I had lost the strength to mount a horse. —Umm this is not acceptable to me. It will be fixed.

I managed to curb my frustration enough to have a really good ride on my horse. After he was on mothballs for 8 months ( a term I heard a horse person – more horsey than I am- use once) he came out and behaved very well. I had that zen feeling on him – and all was good with the world except I wondered if I would be able to dismount correctly.  I had no idea but I knew if I got down ok I was getting back on again and again. SO I asked my dear patient husband to go into the barn and bring out my mounting block. We put it in the middle of the round pen and I led Harley over and I dismounted from him with extreme… – what is the opposite of grace- ungrace- yes it was like that.

So for the next 20 minutes I practiced getting up on my horse. He got to nibble on grass and I used the block to get up on him, I lowered the stirrups to their lowest point and tried over and over. I tried mounting from the other side – that feels weird! We had trouble with saddle slippage bc Harley is shedding – I will shave his girth area this week. I practiced climbing up on the round pen fence- what I thought would be easy was so hard. I struggled but I was determined to win. I huffed and puffed but I won some. I was very frustrated and I couldn’t see the good side. I was feeling very sorry for myself. But then my husband looked at me and said- “you rode your horse, you got on. You had a good ride. The best way to train for your sport is to do your sport. Keep doing your sport. Its been 8 months…so now you just ride as much as you can and you will gain your strength.” I realized he was right. Why am I complaining. I got to ride my horse. I can walk to my barn and get on a horse. I can move- I can get stronger. Some people aren’t as lucky.

Today I worked out in the gym and worked on strengthening my weak areas and like my husband said as I do my sport I will get stronger. The shoulder might be a hindrance until it unfreezes or the surgeon does that for me but I am not there yet with the surgery so I will have to learn to adapt to the limitation and stop the bravado and just deal with it. Because it is not really about how I get up on that horse it is about the ride once I am up there. It is about the connection and the freedom only being on the back of your horse can bring. I am nothing but blessed.

Thanks for reading…

 

 

 

He is the best horse for me…

 

 

 

The gift of a ride….

This weekend was busy. We had a lot of things to take care of but I was determined to get a ride on my horse Harely. Sunday morning I woke up with a stomach ache and I still hadn’t ridden. Saturday came and went so quickly. We ended that day having friends over for dinner and we were up late. The over-indulgence of toasted marshmallows may have contributed to my sunday stomach issues. I felt crappy but I knew I was going to ride even if I puked while doing it!

We had church- which I skipped trying to will my stomach into submission instead. I meditated and I finally got going. We had to take one son to his last soccer instruction before his try-outs this week. We ran to the county fair grounds to pick up my photos that I entered. Then we returned to pick up my son at soccer instruction. We walked around the school track until he was done- and i have to admit I felt tired and crummy but I really wanted to ride.

After we got home we did not have a big window for me to ride before my daughter needed a ride to a friends house.  I needed my daughter to tack up Harley for me. Which she was happy to do.

So out we went to get going and as promised my daughter helped with the grooming and then put on the saddle and bridle- I kind of like having a groom to ready my horse for me how aristocratic! But in the long run the grooming process is really a bonding time with the horse. So I like to groom. I will, however, take the offer to have someone put the saddle on and cinch up the girth anytime!

I use a mounting block to get on. It really is easy that way. I got it so kids could get on if needed. Glad I bought bc it was helpful for me. I had a lot of pride and wanted to be able to mount my usual way by running and jumping up by vaulting into his back. NO I’m lying of course. I get on like everyone else by putting my foot into the stirrup and pulling myself up. So the block alleviated the need for me to pull must up which is would have been hard with my chest and shoulder issues. So I swallowed my pride and mounted up.

Up I went and off we rode. Harley hadn’t been ridden in a while so I didn’t know what to expect. I was thinking he would be what I call squirrelly-a little on his toes and uppity. But he wasn’t! He walked calmly out into the field and was a true gentleman. He got a little distracted when I changed direction and also when my Arab mare was freaking out and running at a full gallop in the field next to us all because I put a grazing muzzle on her. Note to self : don’t put on a muzzle on your freaky Arab for the first time all summer when I will be in the other field riding. Lesson learned. Since my daughter was taking some pictures of me riding she was able to get the muzzle off my mare and she settled down well. The good thing is Harley knows she is a spaz and doesn’t react to her all that much thankfully bc I didn’t want to be captive on top of an upset galloping horse!

I only rode for 25 minutes. Harley was being so good and I knew I would tire out and know ending a ride on a good note is essential. Harley wasn’t in too great a form. He didn’t want to bend, he wanted to ride in his better direction , he was just rusty but he was calm-really calm. Harley may not have been tuned up -that will take time -buts it’s ok bc this was more about me and getting out there and riding my horse. It was about feeling free , it was about realizing I can ride despite some physical issues, it was about my soul. Harley was just the friend who took me out to accomplish this. The one who reads my needs. He somehow knew to be patient with me /he’s not always patient but yesterday he was.-like I said very calm. Harley murmurs when he’s calm during a ride(think hmmph hmmph hmmph) and he got to that place pretty fast yesterday. Maybe it was bc I had no expectation for him. Maybe it bc he read something in me. I don’t know. But for 25 minutes it was he and I and we were flying free – no past-no future-just the moment. Now that’s a gift.

Thanks for reading.

(ps- thank you Kamilla Sweeney and Kevin Sweeney for all your help – you know when something is important for me – often when I don’t! – luv u both…)

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Riding at last…wearing my ugly compression sleeve- but it works!!

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Harley and I

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This was us in 2009 before I brought him home to live in the backyard! He was boarded not to far from here.

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Harley in a good frame- well- he does like to come up over the bit (means he isn’t loving the connection to the bit)but this wasn’t too bad!

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Toweling Harley off – it wasn’t too hot thank gosh! The “farmer” man (my husband) was hanging with me.

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Airy the freak in full gallop bc she had to wear that muzzle.. See her Arab tail?!

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I did weaves with him which keeps him attentive to me bc I will be asking him to change direction often.

 

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Heading back in…

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We are doing a working walk in this picture- it is like a trot but Harley is gaited so his legs move laterally together making the gait very smooth to sit to.

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Again more extended working walk…

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I just liked this shot:)

Walking it out with Jane Fonda

How old do I feel when I mention a famous person or entity from my genre to my kids and they ask “Who is that”? I feel pretty darn old…who was Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, ZZ Top- really?  Well ok I can understand why perhaps they don’t know who those bands are -except we do play our fair share of classic rock in the car – oh and they do know Steven Tyler because he was on American Idol. So when my kids asked me “Who is Jane Fonda?” I felt super old!

How did we get talking about Jane Fonda? Well I was caught in my room walking it out with Jane.  Yes- I was doing a Jane Fonda “tape” – except it was on my TV streaming through my cool Roku through Amazon Prime Video.  Why Jane? Why not? I grew up with Jane..my mom loved her and had ALL her exercise tapes (my kids:”Mom what are tapes?”) My dad hated her because of her scandal in the Vietnam war. I loved her in On Golden Pond and other movies – she was Jane- everyone knew her!

I have been very into working out for years. I was into fitness from my mid-college years and on. My husband has owned gyms,he sells fitness equipment as a “real” job (aka: it has good benefits) and is also part-time personal trainer. We have a full gym in our barn! I kid you not..we have a line of nautilus machines, we have a Total Gym (yes the one that Chuck sells- my kids do not dare ask who Chuck Norris is as

My son in our gym

My son in our gym

my husband – who idolizes Chuck- has made sure my kids know Chuck…weird man-crush? – nah I think its his way of joking with us (I think)), we have a Smith Machine, we have battle ropes, and dumbbells, and bands, various cardio pieces, and even giant tractor tires.  I have no excuse not to be out there and get it done!

So again…why Jane? Well.. I am trying to do cardio everyday (I have read it can help keep cancer from recurring) so the other day I decided I wanted to get my cardio on but Kevin had clients in the gym – and most would not care if I went and jumped on a machine out there but I wasn’t feeling like it that day – I wanted alone time. So I fired up the Roku and searched at what free workouts were out there. I found Amazon Prime had a number of them and I was flipping through the titles and Jane’s face

Jane in her video

flipped past me. Was that an old Jane “tape” or was Jane making new workouts..I flipped past her but after a minute curiosity overtook me and I flipped back to her. It was a new Jane!! Her 20 minute workout would be like walking a mile…I would push harder and maybe walk a bit more. So I fired up the workout and there was Jane looking really good in her workout gear – not the spandex and leggings of the past but a nice ensemble meant for working out – I myself was not dressed nice for working out.  I am wondering what age she is (I am looking it up online hold on… She is 76! Made the video at age 72! Man she looks good!- I am sure she had work done but she stays fit!).

Ok so I began the workout (Jane is making little side comments about working out and staying fit as you age – hey I am 50 Jane not 74!) and the timer on my meatloaf goes off..crap(yes I do live the glamour life)..I yell for my daughter she comes to the door and I tell her not to come in and can she check my meatloaf…off she goes and a minute later she returns with the update on the meat. We are trying to communicate through the door and though I am not out of breath(Jane says if you can carry on a convo you are at the right heart rate for the workout), I am sure my daughter is wondering  what I am doing- surely she can hear stomping. I don’t know why I feel embarrassed that I am walking with Jane in my bedroom…for God sakes I need peace sometimes! I am liking the Jane video too..she is telling me how well I am doing (I told you I would push it harder than Jane is instructing). But it becomes clear that I need to give my daughter further instructions on the meatloaf situation so i tell her she can come in. (I love her because she never barges into my room unlike one son I know that never knocks and always enters when I am dressing!). She walks in and looks right at the TV. Daughter: “Who’s that?”, Me: “That’s Jane Fonda. She is a famous actress and has made lots of fitness videos.” – I am sure she has seen her in some movie but I am not recalling what at that moment. Daughter:”I am not sure I know who she is. Wow look how skinny she is! Her legs are so skinny.” She makes the leg comment about three times. I tell her Jane was born with skinny legs..geez enough about the legs! I am still walking out with Jane trying to follow along (and I was never good at aerobics- intense or low impact – and still am not- so I must follow closely – type A am I.  Later I realize it does not matter how closely I follow her moves- its about moving- duh!) and my daughter is just staring at the video..so I tell her what to do with the meat(to turn it down…not anything mean) and I send her out so I can be with Jane alone- so she can tell me how well I am doing.

At the end Jane has stretches and she is explaining that if you cannot do the stretch you can use a towel to help you. Clearly this is for very old people and I am doing

I do this stretch in PT! Not this well!

the stretches the correct way even with my darn bum shoulder…bc I can do them normally– I am not old.  She says stretch slowly because as you get older you can pull a muscle easily if you stretch wrong- she is right about that so I slow it down. I decide I like the Jane workout and she has even a harder one on the same “tape” so I bookmark it and I will go back and try it out. Jane may be catering to the older population but she  still has it going on.  I will just ignore the comments meant for the older population as I am not that old yet even though I have a bum radiated shoulder and have to go to PT weekly.  I hope as I age I age like Jane – though I am sure not to have the cash to get the work done that she has – but I hope I maintain the same desire for health and fitness that I have now and like Jane still has.

When I head to the kitchen to check on my meatloaf I am all happy because I feel good from exercising, about exercising, and about Jane.  I say to nobody in particular “I just exercised with Jane Fonda!”… my son who is sitting at the counter says, “Who is Jane Fonda?” ….Really?….

Thanks for reading!