physical fitness (human)

Riding and LASIK Surgery

I have been pretty severely nearsighted my entire life. It runs in the family; my father and most of his brothers are quite nearsighted as well. (Both of my brothers escaped, which is unfair.) If I’m not correcting my vision, the whole world looks like a Monet painting. I could not read the computer screen without leaning or squinting; forget driving or riding.

For many years, I wore contact lenses. In fact, I wore them far too much. My optometrist told me that my eyes started growing extra blood vessels to get oxygen to my starved corneas. (Which is apparently a thing, ack.) So I eased off, wearing my glasses more and more.

I tried to switch back to contact lenses about 9 months ago, and discovered that I can’t really tolerate them anymore. My eyes get so dry so quickly that I was squinting badly. I either got headaches or fell asleep mid-afternoon – the dry eye sensation was remarkably like a heavy eyelid feeling of exhaustion. No drops helped. No change in the fit of my contacts helped.

So, glasses it is. 24/7. For obvious reasons, wearing glasses while riding horses kind of sucks. Dust gets everywhere, glasses slip and slide on the nose when you get sweaty, and you can’t wear sunglasses so if it’s bright you’re squinting.

riding with glasses
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about getting corrective vision surgery. I’m really sick of my glasses. I’m sick of not seeing well. I want my peripheral vision and my flexibility back.
I’ve been doing a lot of research and really the only remaining question for me is one of cost. So I’m going to call my insurance company and see if they will chip in for it. If not, the decision will be whether I pay off my car first (which will happen in 18 months) or borrow money through CareCredit. I really have no clear idea how much this costs!
Has anyone had LASIK surgery, or investigated it? Any thoughts on riding with less than great vision?
physical fitness (human)

Fitness Wednesday

Because I kind of hate the “weigh in Wednesday” thing.

I am not a naturally sporty person. I played sports in school, right up until high school, but they were the kind that a) I was already good at and b) didn’t take much practice or conditioning.

I loathe running. I fucking hate it from the depths of my soul. It is boring, painful (ugh, my knees), and I am just not built as a distance runner so it never gets easier, just a smidge less miserable. Like, 10 steps in I hate it and want to stop. This is not about hitting a wall.

Gyms bore me. I am almost never going to be the person who thinks “ooh, I’ll go mountain biking/climbing/whitewater rafting” on a regular basis. I don’t mind hiking in the sense of long walks in the woods on gentle inclines, but there is a point on every mountain hike when we hit the part where it’s all rocky and straight up and shitty and I turn into a three year old and everyone hates me and I hate myself and I want to die. So sometimes I’ll hike when that rocky part is like 15 minutes. Any longer than that and I want nothing to do with it.

Riding is really my main physical outlet, which explains why after the worst winter ever I started for the first time feeling kind of like I was not as fit as I wanted to be. Part of that is yes, I have some extra weight, but that’s never been my top concern. I’d rather my body do the things I want it to, when I want it to, than weigh a certain goal amount. I want to do right by my horse, to feel energetic instead of lethargic, and to just generally be healthier.

Hence the “fitness Wednesday.”

So I’m going to try and report in semi-regularly about how I’m doing about that. Mostly, I want to make better choices: about what I eat and how much of it, about how I move my body and how active I am. More deliberation, less instinct.

For the past few weeks I’ve been tracking what I eat using My Fitness Pal, with a twofold goal: to make sure I don’t overeat, especially sugary things, and to make sure that I’m meeting broad nutritional goals – iron and vitamins in particular. My iPhone also has a steps tracker, so I’m trying to increase that a little bit every day – not always hit that magical 10k number, but just, do better. Take another long walk, or force myself to ride, or take the dog out. Anything to keep my body moving.

Anyway – that’s my very loose, vague, and unspecific manifesto!

bareback · physical fitness (human)

Body Sore and Happy

Bareback December continues apace. I’ve started adding some short canter stretches in – down a long side, around a 20m circle. My seat is fine, but I’m staying limited in what I do more for schooling purposes than anything else. I don’t want to do anything that isn’t good just because I’m riding bareback. I’m pushing myself to really be both flexible and strong in my core during the sitting trot, and to really get him to move out rather than settling on a shuffle.

That’s been both good and bad. Tris has always been the kind of horse that’s warmed up better after some canter, but I’ve been reluctant to canter bareback with the ring so crowded – I don’t want to be that person who makes a dumb decision and then has a loose horse in the busy ring! So I’ve been forced to get my sitting trot better, faster, so his back loosens up faster.

Yesterday afternoon was about 50 minutes of walk and trot, with some canters thrown in. I felt like I made progress both with how deep I was sitting at the trot and how I was paying close careful attention to his body and where his spine was underneath me as we did some leg yields and smaller circles both at the walk and the trot.

The result? Today I’m a bit sore through my thighs and abs. Riding has been my primary – and often sole – form of exercise for over half my life now. It takes quite a lot to really get me sore from riding, since my muscles are all formed for that purpose. I may overwork certain muscle groups but it’s rare that I’m discovering new ones. It’s kind of exciting to be a bit sore, as it means I’m really accessing new things and working hard.

Tonight the plan is to longe, and then Wednesday off. I should be able to get some good rides in both before and after Christmas, always excepting possible weather interference. The end of December is looking much better than the beginning!

physical fitness (human) · stupid human tricks

Health Challenges for Riders

I suspect it’s pretty rare, if not impossible, to be a human being in this world and not have your own challenges and physical issues. I would be shocked if I didn’t know an equestrian in particular who didn’t have a nagging something – bad back, bad knees, lingering concussion syndrome, general arthritis, you name it, whether from a bad fall or just wear and tear. This has been much on my mind this winter: many of the workers at my barn have been injured, ill, or otherwise out of commission physically.

(As the barn manager said, and I agreed wholeheartedly, better us than the horses. Then I had a moment of pause and considered my priorities and realized I still felt that way and…I need help.)

I have a standard assortment – some arthritis in my hands, a bum knee (why I don’t ski anymore; I partially tore the ACL and decided I’d rather wreck my body riding than skiing), a lower back that’s less than optimal after a bad fall about 5 years ago.

My special snowflake health challenge? Gout.

Yes, you read that right. The “rich man’s disease,” the thing that old, fat, villains in melodramatic 19th century novels suffer from.

So what is gout? It’s basically a form of arthritis, in that it attacks the body’s joints and causes pain, limited mobility, and eventually, damage.
Gout is caused by an increase in the levels of uric acid in the body, something which most people process without difficulty. In a certain number of people, however, those levels keep rising, and the body can’t metabolize the uric acid. The uric acid migrates to joints and forms little spiky crystals.
The most common presentation by far is for those crystals to collect in the joint at the base of the big toe of the right foot. It’s almost always the first place you see an attack. These attacks are extremely painful, as you might guess by the image of the spikes above.

I had my first gout attack when I was 23. I thought I had broken my toe. I kept wracking my memory: Had I stubbed my foot? Had Tristan stepped on my foot? Had I bent it funny? What the heck?
I hobbled around for about two weeks, and it got progressively worse. In the last few days, I progressed to even more classic gout signs. The joint grew red and inflamed. I couldn’t even bear the weight of the sheets in my bed on it, and slept with it propped up on a pillow in open air. I finally went to the doctor. Within about 10 minutes, he had diagnosed me with gout.
The incidence rate of gout in healthy, pre-menopausal, never-pregnant women is a fraction of a fraction of a percent. As it turns out, I completely lost the genetic lottery: my grandfather had gout, and my uncle has gout as well. I inherited the condition (much like my migraines) and it simply waited for the right trigger to appear.
Gout is chronic, and I will spend the rest of my life managing the condition. Primarily, this means I watch my diet carefully. Red wine is right out, as is seafood. I can only eat red meat or drink alcohol in very careful moderation. I discovered over the years that for me, spinach and turkey are also triggers, which is really too bad. I can eat them both, but not much, and not for more than one meal every few weeks. Anything sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup is a no-go, so I examine juice labels in particular very carefully – actually, 95% of what I drink is water, because it’s safest and because it can help “flush” stuff out of my system. I get my blood levels checked for uric acid at each annual checkup to make sure I’m managing effectively.
Over the years, I’ve had attacks mostly in my feet, but sometimes in my knees, and once in my right pinky. (That was weird.) I think anyone who lives with a chronic health condition gets to know it on an intimate level. I know when an attack is imminent, and sometimes I can ease them away with diet. Sometimes my foot starts aching and I am completely stumped as to why. When it’s bad enough, I have a prescription anti-inflammatory that I take to help my body through bad attacks – it’s basically palliative, reducing the inflammation in the joint so that the body can gain time to slowly process the uric acid crystals and get itself back on track. There is longterm daily medication, but I hope never to have to use it.
I decided to write this because this week, my right big toe started up again, in both the ball joint and the toe joint. They’re not bad: just a dull ache, a spiky reminder when I walk. It hasn’t been this bad in months, so I may be falling back on the drugs for a few days.
Luckily, apart from really bad attacks, it doesn’t impact my equestrian activities too much. I might walk a little more slowly, and sometimes I might ride without stirrups to take pressure off my foot, But it’s not like running or playing soccer or another hobby that actively engages my feet. So I got pretty lucky in that regard.
So there’s your primer! I’d be happy to answer any questions.
accountability · physical fitness (human)

Accountability, Week 3

Week 2 fell down a bit, so here’s to Week 3 being better.

Me: 45 seconds planking, 15 seconds side planking R&L, 30 seconds back planking, 20 leg lifts R&L, 12 minutes cycling
Tristan: Rest

Me: nothing. sigh.
Tristan: 20 minute hack through fresh snow

Me: 45 seconds planking, 15 seconds side planking R&L, 30 seconds back planking, 20 leg lifts R&L, walk to work & back (20 minutes)
Tristan: Rest

Me: 45 seconds planking, 15 seconds side planking R&L, 30 seconds back planking, 20 leg lifts R&L
Tristan: 35 minutes longeing

Me: walk to work & back (20 minutes)
Tristan: Rest

Me: Riding; nothing else, sigh.
Tristan: 40 minute ride

Me: 45 seconds planking, 15 seconds side planking R&L, 45 seconds back planking, 20 leg lifts R&L
Tristan: Rest

accountability · physical fitness (human)

Accountability, Week 2

As I mentioned, I’m keeping track of my own exercise and of Tristan’s work here to keep myself accountable to the wider world in hopes of getting our winter fitness on track.

Me: 45 seconds planking, 15 leg lifts R&L
Tristan: 40 minute road hack (hills!)

Me: walk downtown (20 minutes)
Tristan: 40 minute lesson

Me: 45 seconds plankinig, 15 leg lifts R&L, walk to work (20 minutes)
Tristan: Rest

Me: 45 seconds planking, 15 leg lifts R&L, walk to work (20 minutes)
Tristan: 30 minutes longeing with resistance band & cavaletti

Me: 45 seconds planking, 15 leg lifts R&L, walk to work, ride back (10 minutes)
Tristan: Rest

Friday (aka the day of utter fail)
Me: Nothing. Nada.
Tristan: 15 minutes longeing

Tristan: Rest