Cashing in my Amateur Meltdown for May

Cashing in my Amateur Meltdown for May

I really do try to keep the crazy amateur meltdowns to a minimum. Key word here being try.

It’s not like I stomp around with a routine of high maintenance fits (at least I hope not, dear god, that’s not a good look). But a few things trigger me into meltdown territory: when I worry about my horse, and when I feel like I’m letting everyone down. Last week, it was the second.

Since moving to the new barn and riding consistently in a similar-but-different way, I’ve been working a lot on my fitness and endurance. Private lessons means eyes are on you the entire time. I knew I was out of shape, but had no idea how much until I was asked to get my horse moving for more than 30 seconds. My trainer has been super patient and supportive, and slowly the fitness improved. It’s not where it needs to be yet, not at all. Am I still huffing and puffing after several laps of trot? Yes. Does my core get weak and flop towards the end of the lesson? Absolutely yes. But I see, and more importantly feel, an improvement.

So why a meltdown?

I mentioned this a few weeks ago, but my right leg is a bit of a disaster. It’s the knee I had surgery on a few years ago, and I’ve spent a lot of time protecting it. As recently as last summer, my right knee hurt every time I rode. Even though I worked out of the pain, I’d limp around my house the evening and next day after. The good news is almost four months of PT made a dramatic difference. Since I carry myself differently now walking around and keep my feet a bit straight in the stirrup, my knee pain is close to go. It’s still weak, I still protect it out of muscle memory, but again–getting better.

What’s trickier is actually my ankle. I didn’t know this until PT, but the knee and the ankle work together and influence each other. My physical therapist noticed how locked up my right ankle is compared to my left. I don’t really get doctor speak, but she said the bone doesn’t roll through the joint like it should and does in my left. And, fun fact, every time I rode it got worse. She gave me some exercises to do, and I chocked it up to another one of my growing list of physical frustrations.

This is where the meltdown comes in. When I ride, and especially when I ride with a more proper leg/dropped heel, my ankle likes to lock up sometimes. It’s fine when I’m flopping around loosey goosey, but the more I start to really drop my heel and properly use my leg the weaker that ankle feels. On Tuesday when I went to hack on my own, and my ankle gave out halfway through my ride. It essentially rolls over, and I can’t put any weight in that heel. When it gets to that point, I can try to take it out of the stirrup and stretch and try again, but it immediately rolls over and collapses within seconds of riding properly. It’s frustrating, because I feel physically strong enough to do more but without a properly working lower right leg I end up quitting early.

When I came back for my lesson on Thursday, the same thing happened again. This time, frustration and work stress and the feeling of constantly being behind everyone else compounded into a full blown meltdown. Poet was being great, my trainer wasn’t upset at all, but I fell apart. Trying to figure out how to salvage my rapidly dwindling ankle strength turned into a comedy of errors.

Me, cantering around towards a single crossrail. “I’m not upset at my horse or at you BUT I AM SO FRUSTRATED.”

Trainer, trying to stop the new client spazzing out. “IT’S FINE YOU NEED TO CALM DOWNNNNNNNN.”

Sometimes, especially when I’m tired and burned out as I am often these days, I get to the point of tears when I’m frustrated, stressed, angry or any kind of emotion that really doesn’t have anything to do with sadness. I definitely reached that point in the meltdown lesson. At one point I’m trying to push it aside, listening to trainer trying to get me off the ledge, and I canter again at a single fence (because my ankle gives out before I can turn to try another) and start to cry because I’m just so frustrated with the entire situation. But crying, while out of shape, and cantering is a bad combo. The crying starts to be more like a wheeze, and I realize I’m wheezing and cantering and trying to keep my right leg still and some weight in that leg when I’m rapidly approaching a jump. Despite how upset I am, I am more scared of trainer than I am upset. So I suck it all in, take a breath, and manage to get over the jump (quite lovely, really) before we all call it a day.

The meltdown left me with a lot of hangover feelings, which maybe I’ll dive into more on the blog this week. I’ve armed myself with an ankle brace and more PT exercises. With those, I managed to have a great ride on Saturday with no ankle issues and made it through my hack on Sunday knowing it was getting weak towards the end but not completely giving out. But here is something that stuck with me.

Mid-meltdown, I sighed and ranted to my trainer about my frustrations. “It’s just that it’s been beautiful out, and my horse is being such a good boy and trying. But then I can’t accomplish what I set out to do, because my body falls apart.”

“But what part of that changes that it’s a beautiful day? Or that you have a beautiful horse?” she responded.


17 thoughts on “Cashing in my Amateur Meltdown for May

  1. I feel like a lot of what you are going through lately (riding wise) I can really relate to. I had some neck/spine issues come up early this year, which really impacted my fitness and my riding. The neck issue is not fixable, just something I have to live with and try to maintain. But it’s the first time my body really failed me, and it has altered my reality. It *is* really frustrating and upsetting when a body part doesn’t work like it is supposed to. I’m sorry that you’re going through this. It’s really no fun.

  2. nothing triggers my ammy frustration more than *knowing* how to fix a problem, but being physically unable to get it done. the ankle thing too… ugh. yea. relatable. i’ve used a couple iphone apps to help me get a better grip on rider fitness: a metronome to keep me honest about trot rhythm, and an interval timer that dings every 2min while i flat. neither are silver bullets, but they at least give me some feeling of ‘control’ or ‘action’ over what i perceive as my own weaknesses. ooh, and also recently picked up a Back on Track ankle brace. honestly can’t tell if it makes a difference or not, but again: gives me at least a sense of ‘doing something about it.’

      1. Mostly just to keep me moving. Sometimes when it dings I change direction, or change gaits. It gives me a better sense of duration – like can I actually trot for 10min straight? What about canter? It helps me make sure we get our reps in, stay symmetric in both directions, while also giving me a way to see “hm ok Charlie really loosened up by minute 8, or after 2min of transitions, or…whatever” and then I can use that for planning warm ups at shows etc.

  3. I so totally get the problem with the knee/ankle. Ever since I broke my left ankle and right knee, my LEFT knee, the one I didn’t break, has been very painful, probably because it needed to do everything for too long. When I started riding again, my left ankle was so weak that posting trot or cantering in a half seat was almost impossible. Then, when I dismounted, sometimes that ankle would buckle, sending me crashing to the ground! I did tons of PT but basically was told that riding is different and the only way to get better is to support with braces/tape and ride more. Two years after the accident, I’m finally riding mostly pain free. Will I ever be able to ride with my stirrups at a true jumping length? Not sure! Growing old is not for sissies. Especially after you’ve been injured.

  4. Different stirrups? I use Free Jump stirrups/leathers and wonder how I ever rode without them. Honestly, it’s a complete game changer for my formerly bum knee.

  5. Ok this may seem unkind, but you don’t have to keep riding forever if it doesn’t work for you. I say this as a former rider who cherishes her horsey memories and still read horse blogs! I’m not saying this to be discouraging, I know you can do it if you want to, but do you want to? Maybe you’d like to have some disposable income, take up yoga or something, do something else? Only you know that answer, but riding and horse ownership demand a lot. When you’re immersed in that world it’s easy to forget that there are other things to do with your time and money than pursuing this expensive, dangerous and very demanding sport. Again, I don’t mean this critically AT ALL. I believe in you and Poet and I want you to have whatever you want. I just want to give you permission to consider what you really want, big picture.

  6. The level of frustration when I know what the problem is but cannot make my body do what it’s supposed to is just off the charts, so I feel for you 🙁 🙁 but I really did like the ending of this post, your new trainer is very wise <3

  7. There may be exercises or something out there that will help, but in the meanwhile- there are para-equestrians that ride and do all the things with partial or no legs. The How part has me beyond baffled some days but they do it.

    This goes to show we Can ride with little to no lower leg- we just need to make some adjustments. Find and reach out to a para equestrian group and see if they have any tips, ideas or suggestions. It could be a game changer and definitely open up a whole different realm of possibilities. Good luck and let us know what happens!

  8. Getting older is not for the faint of heart. My joints started going when I was in my 20s and it has pretty much been downhill from there! I have found that regular exercise (UGH!) definitely makes things better. Not that riding isn’t exercise, but sometimes out of the saddle things get worked in different ways. Maybe talk to your PT? I went from a PT to a personal trainer that helped me figure out what does and doesn’t work for me.

  9. I feel this post so much! Between asthma (which only developed in the last few years) and my knee and ankle joints which are basically powder from a childhood of competitive gymnastics, I really struggle. I will say that using the Total Saddle Fit leather and a wide bed stirrup dramatically help my ankle issues. I not sure what they make in the hunter world that would work for this but I highly recommend the wide bed stirrups for your ankle. I really appreciate your openness and honesty and I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog again:)

  10. Your trainer’s words at the very end – wow! That just gave me a sucker punch of truth to the chest. I might have different riding shortcomings to you, but that truth still applies. Thank you for sharing! <3

  11. I’ve been lucky to never struggle with anything THAT bad physically but I’ve had just enough minor back and hip pain to get a small taste of how hard that can be to deal with. My husband has a very bad lower back and it limits the amount of weight and type of workouts he would love to do. My heart really goes out to people who have injuries trying to still chase their dreams.

  12. Lauren,
    I love your blog. Thank you so much for continuing to write.

    I am a bit older than you and ride with a longer stirrup. My joints don’t like being in an end position. It’s uncomfortable and I lose my springs. Can you safely jump with your stirrups down one more hole?

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