Saturday, August 27, 2011

Integrative Neurosomatic Therapy - finding the core to MY onion layers

I made a decision minutes after my lesson with Peggy. I was going to make an appointment with the Strength Lab. It came highly recommended by one of Sarah’s clients whose daughter had an Integrative Neurosomatic Therapy (INT) session done there. From her description it sounded like exactly what I was looking for. During Peggy’s clinic I grew increasingly frustrated with the imbalances in my body. My brain understood what Peggy was telling me to do, but my body would not listen. It felt like no matter how hard I tried I could not get the left side of my body to release tension. It was time for me to unpeel my onion layers and find the core of the problem.

Strength Lab sounded like the place to start.
 When I arrived for my appointment there was a kettle ball fitness class taking place, I wondered if everyone in the class had been through the same evaluation that I was about to undergo. I was introduced to James and Vance who I followed back to the room that the evaluation would take place in. They immediately put me at ease as we started talking about my goals. I mapped past injuries on a chart while James asked where I was experiencing any pain, I let him know that I wasn’t in any pain, but I had some imbalance issues I was very aware of. If pain was the issue I would most likely just deal with it, but knowing that my imbalances were affecting my horse I needed to get down to the core issue and get beyond it. James told me that people utilize INT for two reasons; pain or performance issues, the two are of course related; both are a result of imbalance.

When we started the evaluation I stood on a box against a wall with graph lines. Sounds easy enough, except that they had me stand as what best can describe as “square”, my hips and feet lined up correctly. I didn’t take long for me to become aware that standing square is not something my body is accustom to. All too quickly I could feel new muscles in my legs. I was reminded that I could take a break at any time if I became uncomfortable. As Vance measured he would call out numbers to James who would then draw lines on a chart of my skeleton. They measured everything from my skull to my feet. At one point James asked me if I had ringing in my left ear. The question surprised me; I’ve had tinnitus for as long as I can remember. I have fallen asleep to the ringing in my head every night since I was maybe 2 years old. It is so normal to me that I forget about it. How did he know? James held up the chart of my skull showing me how all the lines he had drawn clearly pointed out the compression on the left side of my head. He then assured me that we could resolve it. No ringing in my ears? I’m not sure if can handle the silence.

The next sets of measurements were taken with me seated. They had already discovered that my left leg was 4 ml shorter than my right. With me seated they found that things had changed, when I sat my pelvis tilted to the left. From the tone of their conversation it sounded like we had hit the core of the onion. James pointed out that this could be very confusing to my horse, when I handle her on the ground I am one way, but as soon as I sit in the saddle I go the opposite way. The write up says “Hemi-pelvis (i.e. left larger than right by 5mm) creating a hip tilt high on the left when seated” James went on to tell me that this would most certainly cause me to collapse my left ribcage when riding or that I might have a tendency to lean to the left in the saddle. He said my horse must think that I am always getting ready to swing for a polo ball or something. Pretty amazing analysis considering that my left side was my source of frustration in the saddle for years.

The list of my compensation patterns which seemed to have started with having a left leg shorter than the right includes: head tilt right, torso rotation left, compression at the left hip, bi-lateral hip projection, rotated and sheered atlas, cranial distortions as a result of limb length inequality, high likelihood of thoracic outlet syndrome in right arm and shoulder. When we looked back at the chart of injuries I had plotted, all of them could be pointed back to these compensation patterns.

Now comes the good news, they have a treatment plan. It is actually very similar to what Sarah does when she rehabs horses. First step will be a lift for my left foot and a lift that I will use in the saddle and my office chair for my right seat bone. The lifts will bring me back to level. From there we will address the “musculature and facial tension that has come about as a result of years of compensation.” This sounds like when Sarah talks about taking off overdeveloped muscles in the horses and building muscle that will support the horse’s skeleton. James assured me that this wasn’t something I would have to throw money at. My time and effort would be needed to see the real payoff. Once I have my lifts, we will start a series of exercises to “release/lengthen the "tight" muscles and we will strengthen/shorten their "taught" antagonists.” James said that in the end neutral pelvis will just come naturally; it won’t be something that I will need to constantly think about. He also pointed out that “neutral” as in zero degrees is not what we are looking for. Right now my hip angle is at 14 degrees, it needs to be at 5 degrees. It sounded like my hamstrings and abs will be getting some attention in the very near future as they will play an integral part in correcting my hip angle.

I have my next appointment on Tuesday. The lifts which were surprisingly inexpensive should arrive today. I’ve already been riding with a shim in the saddle thanks to Sarah, some felt and black duct tape, but I plan to bring the saddle in on Tuesday to make sure we get the right fit. I do feel a difference with the lift under my right seat bone when riding, I can actually feel my abs when I ride now, and I have a 3 point seat again.

The program at Strength Lab fits right in to what I am already doing with my horse. It is a perfect match to Sarah, Peggy, Peter (my amazing farrier) and Dave whose saddles address many of these issues. I am constantly blown away by the team of people I have surrounded myself with; I believe them all to be pioneers in their field. I look forward to the day that I can put all the pieces together and the beautifully balanced picture that will result at the end. In the meantime I plan to take in and bask in every step of the journey and will remember along the way to enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Guest Blog: How my mare ended up in the Kill Pen

A few weeks ago I saw a paint mare that I recognized on Craigslist. She was thinner than I had remembered. I knew the woman who had bred the pretty mare and I could tell by the ad that she wasn’t the one selling this horse. I emailed her the link and asked “isn’t this your horse?” She had given the mare away to a friend and after talking to her was assured the mare would find a safe home. This weekend I received 2 missed phone calls from the breeder followed by a frantic text, her beautiful mare was in the Enumclaw kill pen. The mare is safe now, but I thought you might all like to know how quickly and easily a horse – that is broke to ride, has nice conformation, papers and color - can go from being safe with a “friend” to being loaded on a truck headed for Mexico or Canada.

APHA Itsjustanillusion was born Mother’s day 2005, she was a long awaited filly after 3 colt's out of a favorite riding mare of mine APHA Mia Thirsty girl. Soon after Illusion was born I went through a divorce and had to sell my 5 acres I had loved in Seabeck, so I sold all my horses but Mia and her filly. Mia went to 10 acres in Poulsbo to retire and I boarded Illusion in Belfair with the people that had her sire. In late 2009 I got the opportunity to move Illusion closer to me so I could work with her more. It was a place with 2 acres and a 2 stall barn so we soon also got a horse for my husband so Illusion had company. Well when I picked Illsuion from the place in Belfair the people where I had boarded said that they thought she had a abscess working its way out as she had a very slight lameness in one of her front feet. So I kept a watchful a eye on it and it seemed to clear up just fine so I started working with and riding Illusion and she was doing well. From time to time the lameness would come back so I stopped riding her and tried to get the vet out but would end of having to cancel because she would always go sound before her appointment.

In early 2010 I got the news that a dear old friend of mine was passing away from cancer and he had to sell a horse that he had since she was a yearling and was now 4, he adored this horse. He really wanted me to have her; she was beautiful but never had been ridden. He could have sold her for a high $ amount and had many offers but really in his heart of hearts wanted me to have her. At first we said no we were boarding and we had no room for a third horse, but ultimately decided to get her and the place where we boarded said we could keep 3 horses there temporarily. During this time I met another neighbor at a slumber party that both our elementary aged children were at. We thought it was great we both had horses and we lived so close to each other and we were definitely going to ride. I invited her over to meet my horses. I told her that I wished I still had my own horse property so I didn't have to sell a horse or try to figure out somewhere else to board the third horse, and that I was trying to figure out why Illusion was having some heel pain and that I would consider selling her to the right person if it was a good home and they would be able to investigate her problem and try to get her squared away, she acted really interested and wanted her farrier to come look and did and we all agreed that her angles were bad and that if corrected that should more than likely alleviate the problem, my farrier at the time was not really getting it right.

So we talked about it for awhile and I agreed to give Illusion to her if she would take care of her. I went to see the first time her farrier worked with her feet and it looked like he did a really good job and Illusion was going sound. So I felt good about giving her to my new friend/neighbor, her farrier looked to be doing a great job and she was close. We became pretty good friends and rode together and I kept tabs on Illusion and she said she would still have lameness from time to time, but her farrier thought it was in her shoulder not her foot.

I never had any idea my friend had decided not to keep Illusion until another friend of mine sent me an ad on Craiglist with Illusion posted in July 2011 looking quite thin. I texted my friend that I had given Illusion to and asked why she hadn't told me she was trying to sell her and why she was so thin and also asked if she was still having lameness. She said off and on she was still lame and that she wasn't working out for her since she wanted to barrel race and she didn't think Illusion had the drive and that she was thin because she had her teeth floated, ok.... So I called her and said, I just would have appreciated it if she would have told me and that she might have to give Illusion away, like I gave Illusion to her because of her lameness issues, but make sure she gets her a good home and to give me contact info so I know who gets her. I didn't say this at the time, but was thinking if she can't afford to feed her any better than that then she should sell her, I wasn't buying that she got her teeth floated story.

On August 16 2011 I texted my friend who had Illusion to ask if she had sold her yet and she texted back saying that some people in Yakima had her for a few days and were going to try her out and let her know if they wanted I said ok well if they get her please give them my info and website and let them know that there are pictures of Illusions dam on my website...she said "I can do that"

On August 19th 2011 we had friends over, I just decided to quickly check my emails and there was a webs form response from my website.

That read.....

04 - Your Message = I saw you had bred the mare Itsjustanillusion and thought you might like to know that she is in the Enumclaw kill pen. If I had room I would save her, she is gorgeous! Here is a link:

You could imagine my anger and disbelief, I texted my friend who had her right away and ask "Why is Illusion in the Enumclaw kill pen??!!" and this was her exact text back to me "What???!!! I talked to the people I told you about in Yakima on wed & they said they wanted her...I gave her 2 them". Her next text was that she would call the people in Yakima....

Well I had not yet looked at the link the person that contacted me had sent me and said I would send it to my friend so she could also see,(at first I was thinking these people in Yakima had sold her at the sale) and she said "yes please" We both must have looked at it at the same time, well right there on this forum that was there to rescue horses that ended up in the kill pen were pictures of my so called "friend" riding Illusion at the sale. My next text to her was "WOW " isn't that you riding her in the sale pen"? The least you could have done is tell me the truth".... She never texted me back.

So my mare did get rescued but if it wasn't for these people on the rescue forums doing what they do and getting the word out there, investigating & contacting me, I'm sure Illusion would have gone to slaughter. God bless them.

I just wanted to get the word out there so this doesn't happen to somebody else. I was never given the opportunity to take Illusion back or help find her a home, and I certainly would have found her a home if my friend would have let me know she planned to take her to the sale if she couldn't find her a home. In fact after all this happened the people with Illusions sire said they would take her back if all else failed even after she was rescued. I feel she didn't tell me because she would rather put Illusion at risk at the sale instead of giving her away to a good home just to make a few 100 bucks.

When I bred this mare I NEVER would have imagined in a million years she would end up in a kill pen.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Peggy Cummings 8.20.2011

I am in the saddle holding a towel around my waist with an imaginary ball in my lap while someone leads my horse. This can only mean one thing; Peggy Cummings must be here! Peggy was at Sarah’s on Saturday for a day of scheduled lessons. I went early so I could watch the lesson before mine; I always get a ton of information by watching her work with other horses and riders. The issues she addresses for them always seem to apply to me, and from what I gather the similarities seem to correlate to almost all horses and riders.

The participants in the first lesson were a 15 year old girl and her 16.3 hand AQHA gelding. The pair have worked with Peggy several times over the last year. The gelding is very mouthy on the ground, which can be a challenge for Showmanship classes. The rider had also been having some recent less than stellar rides under saddle and was working on her own body to help her horse find his. Peggy pointed out that the gelding was post legged with his left hind leg. She found it to be common in many of the horses that she works with. She said that even as young as 3 years old horses start to carry tension in their bodies because of the unconscious things we do to them when we handle them. She also thought that his behavior issues stemmed from the imbalance and tension in his body. As they worked through a series of exercises she found that the 15 year old girl was carrying her left arm out from her body, this caused her to lose the connection and actually “drop” her geldings left hind leg. Peggy showed her how to restore the connection both on the ground and under saddle. I love watching this pair because the gelding is an incredible visual of what Peggy talks about. When he stretches his nuchal ligament and starts to connect to his hind end his is an incredible mover. He and his rider often elicit ohhs and ahhs from the crowd during their sessions with Peggy. I always see a common thread between this horse and rider with Grace and myself. Once the rider had the gelding coming through with his left hind leg, Peggy told her it was her job to make sure he continued to use it. She said that we cannot allow our horses to continue to walk the way he had been, not on the way to the pasture or in the arena. It was a good reminder of just how much we influence our horse’s way of going.

Now it was my turn. Peggy had me show her what I had been working on with Grace. I’m not sure if I tensed up from being put on the spot but when I went to show her the Connected Groundwork I had been doing at home I had absolutely no connection with my horse. I had the talk down but he walk was nowhere to be seen. Sure enough I was dropping my left arm; I had no idea I had been doing until I saw my arm do it when Peggy pointed it out. Peggy then had someone get her a towel and she demonstrated on both Sarah and I. She wrapped the towel around my midsection and used it to move my body. When her left arm was connected I could not help but move my feet, actually matching her foot falls in a dance which I seemed to magically know the steps to. When she dropped her left arm my feet rooted themselves into the ground my body tensed in fear that it might get pulled over. It was a real eye opener as to what my horse had been feeling. She showed me a better way to start the 2 handed walking S exercise I had attempted. When I tried it I kept tensing up in my back which again I wasn’t aware of until she pointed it out. I used the word “Twist” to describe what I had been doing. Peggy gave me a new awareness of the difference between the word “twist” and the word “rotate”. Twist came from a place of tension, rotate or swivel comes from connection. The difference became very clear to me under saddle.

Again I don’t know if I get more tense because I am on stage or I just think I am a better rider than I am but I swear I ride better at home than I do in front of Peggy. Once again my back was tense and I was twisting instead of rotating. Out came the towel again and this time she had me hold it around my midsection while I was lead on my horse. I quickly found that while I have been working to fill the lower part of my back the middle of my back was picking up all the tension that had been in my lower back. I was able to fill my back into the towel, and then when I lifted my sternum I was now sitting in the middle of my horse. I became aware of my seat bones I could feel them underneath me in the saddle. When we worked on rotating my left side kept tensing and clenching it refused to cooperate. My left ribcage collapsed. I was aware of it, but seemed unable to think away the tension. Peggy had me hold her helmet in my lap to represent a ball. I had to hug it with my arms holding it into my stomach. This time when I rotated my left side did not clench, my horse turned underneath me. I felt both my seat bones in the turn and my ribcage did not collapse. Pretty amazing stuff!

At the end of the lesson I brought up a point of frustration with Peggy. I always feel like I am on my way and riding better at home, but when I have a lesson with her I feel like we go back to where we started. She pointed out that Grace and I had progressed and had been doing good work, but it was her job to point out those little unconscious things that I do that get in the way of connection. I am so incredibly appreciative of her work, the little things that she sees that I do not, the little things that make a big difference in my connection with my horse. I am off to the big retail store this morning to knock out some grocery shopping. Don’t be surprised when you see an extra towel and a ball in my shopping cart.

A new awareness of the connection from my left arm

Left arm doesn't look so good here and neither does my horse's hind end. Hmmmm

Rotating to the right while holding the towel.

Talking to Peggy at the end of the lesson

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I am not a criminal

The rumble of the diesel engine quiets as I lift my foot off the gas. The odometer needle drops as the truck slows to a crawl. I scan down the block looking for witnesses, there is no one, I am alone. I feel the fluttering in my stomach as I see them up on the corner; they are still there waiting for me. My hands sweat into the leather cover of the steering wheel and I calculate how many seconds it would take. 2 seconds to stop the truck put it in park and open the door, another 2 seconds to get to the curb, at least 5 seconds to throw 4 of them into the bed of the truck. There are 10 of them lined up in a row, but I will only take 4, no need to be greedy….

There are several construction projects going on right now on the island where I live, they all have an abundance of bright orange cones that mock me. I constantly catch myself plotting to take them when no one is looking. I consider myself to be a law abiding citizen, I don’t even like to jay walk. I stand at a cross walk waiting for the light to change watching my fellow commuters illegally cross the empty streets. One thought runs through my mind, “if I jaywalk and get hit, my mother will be so disappointed!” Guilt has always been a much stronger deterrent than legal consequences. Still, the orange cones call to me.

This is why I had to stop at Home Depot this weekend to purchase 4 orange safety cones. I had 6 which I had legally purchased a few months back, but I needed 10 to make a full Western Riding pattern at home. Now I will be able to drive past the construction sites without taking a long drawn out double take. I will no longer visualize stuffing the orange cone that resides in the stairwell at work into my back pack. I still haven’t figured out if it would have been seen by the security camera. No, I will be safe at home with my 10 legally purchased orange cones. Actually I have 13, where the other 3 came from I will never tell.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A picture is worth 1,000 rides

I’ve wanted someone to take pictures of Grace and I at horse shows for years. I’m often frustrated as I haul down the road myself, camera in tow, but have no one to hand it off to when I get there. Sarah has a wonderful young student who is a talented photographer. She also takes video and will show it to you right after you ride. I love that she is willing to take the time to do this. At first I only wanted to see the “good” pictures, the ones where I am riding my best and my horse is perfect. Unfortunately at the last show those types of pictures of Grace and I were a rare find. I took a deep breath and looked at the shots of Grace and I in various degrees of tension, determined to learn from them. I shelved them for the most part and decided to focus on improving things before the next show. Then this picture showed up today:

This must have been from the trail practice class because I am riding 2 handed, I rode one handed in the judged classes. It kills me to see how bad I am riding in this picture. These 3 poles were lope overs and I had not yet wrapped my mind around how they were set. I was also a bit psyched out since I had only been loping over one pole at a time at home. Sarah showed me the angel I had to take to get in and out of them. It made more sense to me for the class, but the ride did not look much better. When this picture appeared on Facebook this morning it reminded me – I needed to set some poles up at home.

Tonight we had a wonderful warm up; mostly because of the Connected Groundwork that Grace and I did yesterday. We worked on walking the 2 handed S exercise from both her left and right sides. I quickly saw just how much my body influenced my horse’s way of going. I was able to turn her on the ground just by rotating my torso. The two hands on the line brought the outside rein into play, later when I put Grace out on the line and could see how it improved her stride. Tonight it was easier to influence Grace with my body in the saddle, I rode the entire ride one handed and could see a glimpse of what it might look like in the show ring one day.

Before my ride tonight I pulled out two sets of poles, two poles set parallel for lope overs, and a fan of 3 poles that could be walked, jogged or loped over depending on the line. After our warm up I put Grace into a right lead lope and headed to the two poles set for the lope. Grace sped up a few stride out, I sat against her but left her face alone, wanting for her to figure it out on her own. She surprised me by jumping both poles in one long stride. I circled back around, this time she jumped in and hopped out. Our next attempt wasn’t much better and now her lope was falling apart. I put her in a circle to get her back to me and said out loud “Grace, they are only poles on the ground, it’s no big deal, it is the same ride”. Then I had one of those light bulb moments and said out loud “MELISSA, they are only poles on the ground, it is no big deal, it is the same ride!” I got Grace back to the nice lope we had in our warm up and as I came around corner to the line for the poles I thought “Just pretend they are not there, ride every stride.” We hit the poles perfectly and Grace loped over them – like it was no big deal. We loped them a few more times and once again she just loped over them.

After letting Grace catch her breath, we moved on to the fan poles. We had walked and jogged over them earlier in the ride, so we both had an idea of how they were set. I again decided to just ride the line and forget about the pole, and once again Grace just loped over them. We did it two more times before I decided to call it a night in fear that I might screw it up if I started thinking again. I plan to keep working over poles before the next show in the hope that they will continue to ride to them like they are no big deal and I will remember to just ride the line. Maybe I need to take a look at more of those pictures to see what else I can fix.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Oh, you mean that straight!

I have heard Sarah’s words for years; “Straight, the horse needs to be straight first”. Straight before a lead change, straight so they can come over their back, straight down the rail, straight out of the corner, she always talked about straight. I heard the words, but I never felt straight. I knew crooked, I’ve always been told that I was crooked, that the horse was crooked, but it was what I knew. Sarah would ask “Do you feel her hip drifting? Do you feel her leaning out with her shoulder?” Um, no – it just felt like Grace. I have heard those words for years, but they have only started to truly resonate with me in the last 10 rides.

I’m not sure what it was that caused me to finally feel straight, or lack thereof. I’ve been rather determined to improve my rides after the last two horse shows. At my last lesson Sarah had me work on bending Grace around my legs while I rode one handed. We walked on the quarter line and I had Grace move her shoulder and hip to the left, bending her body around my legs in an arc. We then did the same to the right. Once we got Grace past the “I couldn’t possibly” moment I started to feel straight in between the bends to the right and left. Straight was much easier than the exercise we were doing and both Grace and I looked forward to it. The exercise also allowed me to find straight with my body and not my hands. Sarah then had us work on lead changes down the center line. Grace and I were only allowed to change if we were straight. When we did change, they were some of the cleanest changes I have ever felt beneath me. Grace’s lope improved with each stride. There was something to this straight thing.

I have repeated the exercises during each ride since our lesson. I quickly found that Grace has a tendency to swing her hind end to the left. I could again hear Sarah telling me for the last few years that Grace needed to bring her left hind leg up and underneath herself. Getting Grace to arch to the left was easy, but we both seemed to get stuck when bending to the right. Last night I rode bareback in the snaffle with the goal of improving my feel. The work to the right was wonderful, but Grace needed a little convincing that she could step up with her left hind. I was really pleased with were we were at; it’s been months since I’ve ridden without a saddle. When we came off the turn and onto a straight line, I felt Grace rock back when we found straight. She seemed prepared for a change, but did not tense up like she was anticipating it. When I didn’t ask for the change she kept going straight, the rhythm of her lope never changed. This was a big deal!

Tonight I went back to the saddle and one handed. I focused on turns to straight lines; I kept a drape in my rein and focused on making the movements happen in my body. I could feel when Grace would cut a corner early, so I kept her straight further down the line, and waited to turn until we were closer to the fence. At one point I rode her right to the fence and stopped straight in front of it. After that I felt her wait for me as we closed in at the end of the arena, waiting for me to set up the turn in my body. My horse waiting for me to tell her what to do next is something I never thought I would feel. What do you know, it all started with straight.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Right Side, Left Side, Right Side, Wrong Side?

I’ve noticed when working on Connected Groundwork that Grace gets stuck on the right side. She is great out on the line on both sides, but when I work close to her for exercises like Elephant Trunk and Walking S she locks down her right side. This time I decided to save myself time by asking the question “What am I doing wrong?” and it occurred to me that I have been handling horses for 30 years and I NEVER lead them or handle them from the right side, I always lead them on the left side. It makes sense that Grace would do well going to the right on exercises where she is away from me as I’ve always lunged her on both sides with the belief that I had to in order to condition her evenly, so why not lead from both sides?

I’ve started leading Grace to and from the pasture from the right side. It is amazing by how conditioned my body is to do everything from the left side of my horses head. I seem to almost get in Grace’s way on the right. More than once I have felt her drop her right shoulder into me when walking her in a turn. I had to be very aware of my body, specifically where my hips and torso were pointed. She does the same thing under saddle… wait… maybe I do the same thing under saddle…. Oh Really??