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July 25, 2012: Tipping Points

I have a theory about horses and athleticism. This is that there’s a fine line between soundness and injury. This line is so fine that it’s easy to cross it. Ridiculously easy. Human athletes also often cross this line. However, unlike horses, we elect to run ourselves into the ground. And too, we have the capacity to directly communicate this to our human counterparts.

One human example: In 2002 I over trained for a marathon and tore my soleus muscle. Then I ran the marathon and tore it further. I knew beforehand that I was going to do something foolish. In fact, the night before the marathon, I could hardly walk.

Emily with Tinni
Emily with Tinni

I hoped that during the run itself that I’d loosen up. I didn’t. Instead, I chugged down Ibuprofen like it was Skittles. I finished, and in fact came within five minutes of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I ran another marathon six months later, but by then the damage had been done – the torn muscle felt tender the entire way. And so I knew that it would be foolish to ever again run far and fast. I had crossed the line and remained on the far side.

Two horse-related examples: Last weekend’s Competitive trail ride. Tinni, 23, is a horse with a ton of previous kid miles, and previous health issues. He has a slight touch of arthritis, and heaves, a chronic condition that has had an adverse effect on his lungs. He was asked after being conditioned for it, to go one day, for 22 or so miles at a good clip. He did just fine. And Siggi, 8, is a horse with conformation issues. He’s base narrow, has a ski jump croup, and toes out in the rear. He was asked after being conditioned for it, to go two days, for 22 or so miles each day at a good clip.

Both horses finished strong because neither Emily nor Pete pushed Tinni nor Siggi past their tipping point. Neither they nor I know all there is to know about biomechanics, lameness, or metabolics. But the horses remained sound because both riders were attentive to their horses’ physical and mental wellbeing. Both got their horses in good condition before the event. And prior to, during, and after, they checked their legs for heat and swelling. And they stayed attuned to their mount’s mental attitude. (I have to add that I repeatedly asked Pete and Emily how Siggi and Tinni were doing, figuring that articulating this to me would bring any concerns to the surface.)

It’s important that we keep the above in mind. I’m continuing to put what I learned this past weekend into practice. For instance, last night I took both Signy and Raudi for a ride up the bench. It was an uncharacteristically warm and sunny day. On both rides, I stopped often, in the shade, and let the horses rest up. I also paid attention to their heart rate, by glancing back at their flanks. And I wiped both down with a wet pack towel at the ride’s end. But from now on, I’m going to carry a watch and time their pulse and respiration.

As importantly, I’m going to begin taking better care of myself. I’m going to resume taking yoga class. This will (at the very least) better my balance, which will be good for both my wellbeing, and also that of my horses.