Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lim judges a jump

Post-Pennsylvania ride time: 50 minutes

I was looking forward to a ride today; it was supposed to be a tropical 29 degrees, after all! But of course, Old Man Winter wanted to make us suffer another day. By the time I left for the barn, the actual temperature was 9 degrees and the perceived temperature was -2.

Sure, I could ride Lim now. She is healthy and sound. But you know what? She, and almost every other horse at the barn, is on a short fuse. And not only that but I know she will be difficult to handle when it is so cold.

Instead I groomed her and turned her loose in the indoor arena. After she had run and bucked around for a few moments I had a bright idea.

Since writing the blog post about how I started running, I have been daydreaming about hurdling again. I truly miss it but I have no idea how I'll do it again. My gaze went to the jump blocks and poles stacked neatly in one corner of the arena. Well, why not? What if someone saw me? Oh, everyone there knows I run. I'll just say it's another aspect of my training. No big deal, right?

And so I got two jump blocks and a short jump pole and set up a small hurdle. Lim looked on, baffled. She actually moved her body away from the arena wall and watched me instead of cribbing. I jumped it a few times and she continued to watch.

Mom, what on Earth are you doing?!

After a few rounds she went back to cribbing.

"Lim, come here!" I said. She walked back over to me.

"Now, I'm going to jump this again and I want you to judge me. Give me a score, okay?" And indeed, she stood and watched me hurdle the jump once more. When I landed I threw my hands in the air and said, "ta-da! How'd I do?"

She gave me a look and went back to cribbing.

Later I had her pose by the hurdle. Gotta love it!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The runner and the dog

In the early afternoon on Sunday, I planned a long running route. Warrenville to Herrick to Butterfield to Leask, with a stop-off at the barn, and back to Warrenville. It went all the way around Danada, all the way around Herrick Lake Forest Preserve. With the stop at the barn, the route was 9.5 miles long.

It terrified me.

Not the length. Not quite the fact that I would be running the entire route along roads—some well-traveled, some not so much. No, it was the weather. It was sunny and clear, 7 degrees Fahrenheit with a -5 wind chill. Really, it wasn’t bad if you were properly dressed.

But the weekend prior I had gone on a shorter run in similar weather along a similar route—west on Warrenville—and two miles into the run I realized that my arms were numb. I had gripped them and the shock of my own touch had almost hurt. I rubbed my arms through my sleeves with my gloved hands but they remained cold. I peeled back my sleeves to look at the skin and it was bright red. Instinctively, I knew I was seeing the fetal stages of frostbite. Not wanting to cut my run short and head home, I re-routed out of the headwind. In the end, my run was cut down from a hoped-for 8 miles to 6.6 miles but my arms were much happier out of the biting wind, which had somehow gone through layers of wicking fabric to my skin.

This time I was determined to go on a route that would take me much further away from home. If I had problems with the cold, well, what would I do? I pushed the thought out of my head and added an extra layer on top and bottom. I covered my face below my eyes with a polyfleece face wrap. Last week’s snot still stained the nasal area of the wrap but I didn’t care. I had nasty sinus issues and I knew I would be snottier than ever on the 9.5-mile run.

(When I run, my nose does, too—year round! I’ve mastered the art of blowing built-up snot onto the ground two feet in front of me, mid-stride, without touching my nose. If I’m running on a sunny, lovely day with many other people out and about then I do my best to wait until I’m relatively alone before clearing my nose.)

I was also a little worried about the road shoulders. They had been quite iced-over the week prior but I was thinking, hoping, they would be clearer after the few hours the temps went above freezing earlier in the week (imagine that!). Either way, I planned to run on the left side of the road, facing oncoming traffic. It is particularly important for someone who can’t hear. If a car swerves towards my back then, well, I would never know it until I find myself impaled into an icy snow bank, head-first, limbs mangled and bloody. If I am facing traffic when a car swerves towards me (and who would do that, anyway?) then at least I’ll have the chance to jump away and impale myself into a snow bank, minus mangled and bloody limbs.

And so, layered-up, hydrated, tummy full of banana, nerves twanging in my gut, I set off. The day was beautiful and bright and I wished for a visor to keep the sun out of my eyes. My eyes watered over in the stinging cold and I wiped the tears away, feeling them instantly freeze on my lashes. But as expected, my eyes soon became used to the cold and stopped tearing up. I was visible so I expected cars to see me and stay out of my way, and they did. But I was ever watchful.

One mile into the run, my hearing aid began issuing the much-dreaded warning beep of a dying battery. Only I can hear the beep, which is fortunate for you. It is like any other warning beep—a smoke detector, an alarm clock—but much more shrill and erratic in timing. I can hear one beep then not hear another one for several hours. I can hear one beep then hear another right after it and POOF, just like that, dead battery! On this occasion, it was more like the latter. My hearing aid beeped once, then twice, waited a few beats, gave another weak beep and then, like a flicked switch, total silence.

I couldn’t hear a single thing—not my feet touching the asphalt, not the cars whizzing by, not my breathing. I considered turning back to get a fresh battery—I was only two miles away by now, after all—but I decided not to. I’ve had my hearing aid battery completely die on me during runs before but this was the first time it had happened while I was running on the side of a road. More than ever, it was important for me to stay on the left side, facing traffic.

They say you run better when you listen to fast-paced music, that you have more encouragement to keep on going, more determination. What does that say about me? Here I am, on mile two of 9.5, and everything is stone silent. Does it slow me down? Do I get bored?

Not in the least. Instead, my brain’s focus switches totally over to the two senses that matter the most to me right now—sensation and sight. I am suddenly listening to my body. Every fiber of my being sings out as I stride over the asphalt. I listen to my feet within my Asics—I note how my mid-foot lands smoothly. I note how my foot rolls within the shoe—just a little bit. I note how the shoe moves on my foot (it is not 100% ideal but, for training, will do). I listen to the asphalt resonating through my ankles, up through my calves and shins, into my knees, up my thighs and through my glutes. I listen to my back and abs, my upper body, my shoulders and arms and hands. I note my breathing—steady and deep. I note my heart. Everything feels great; my body is working like the well-oiled machine it is. The voice of my body hypnotizes me.

At the same time, I am more observant. I note the deer, rabbit, and canine tracks in the snow to my left. I note the clouds in the sky, as well as chimney smoke. I watch the ground for patches of ice and large pebbles. I sense rather than see cars driving by. If I am wary about a car I look through the windshield and into the driver’s eyes and make sure he or she sees me. They gape at me.

Look at that crazy woman! their eyes say.

I am running along; I am deep within mile four. The high sun is to my left, to my back. I was a little cold on Warrenville, going into the headwind, but I am warmer now that I am going north. I am peaceful and content within the total auditory silence. Really, it’s a beautiful day.

I sense the shadow before I see it. It comes up on my right, on the road, and I—normally easily startled—am not at all surprised to see it. It is a small shadow and when I twist my torso to see its owner, I note it belongs to a small poodle-like black dog of the same color as its shadow. Black but not night-black; more gray-black. Of course the dog is barking at me and of course I cannot hear it—not at all. It runs and barks, runs and barks. I stop and face the dog and run a few strides towards it. Guessing the dog came from a house I had just passed on the left, I point back at the house.

“Go home!”

This was a bad idea, the dog says. I shouldn’t have chased this person. Bad, bad idea. It’s tail tucks between it’s legs and it barks again. I am afraid it will get hit by a car so once again I run two steps towards it and point at the house. It gets the message and runs for home as fast as it’s little legs can carry it.

I turn again and am surprised to see a minivan stopped on the road, patiently awaiting the conclusion of the runner/dog drama occurring before them. I am grateful; if the dog, brave and funny and annoying all at once, had gotten hit by a car I would have felt bad even though it wasn’t my fault.

I run on. On Butterfield road there is a lot of traffic returning from the Danada Square shops. Car after car after car whooshes by; the road is a conveyor belt of cars. Drivers stare, flabbergasted, cozy within their down parkas and heated interiors. I stop at the intersection of Naperville and Butterfield. I wait and walk back and forth, back and forth, on the edge of the right turn lane. Just another vehicle.

I stop at the barn, get a quick drink, look at Limerick (she has just been brought in from turnout and is eating her supper—she looks up at me, hay in mouth, eyes wide—Hey, what are you doing here?).

I run the remaining mile and a half home. My I listen to my feet, to my legs. They are strong and good, ready to run on. I am proud of myself; I feel accomplished. I have faced the weather and not only did I beat it but I thoroughly and fully enjoyed the process of beating it. It’s not as good as my 7-mile jaunt over rocky, icy, hilly single-wide dirt trails in Pennsylvania but it comes very, very close!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Foiled again

Well, my post-Pennsylvania ride time remains at 50 minutes and will until the weekend, most likely. Sometime yesterday, no doubt while out in the pasture, Miss Lim Bean had a nice 2” x 5” chunk of hide scraped off the back of her upper left hind leg. The exposed flesh looks like a dried-up version of Freddy Krueger’s face but the wound is not bleeding, nor did it look like it bled much (if at all), and is very shallow—basically just all the layers of the skin torn right off. There is no swelling but the area is kind of hot.

I slathered on some wound cream and will monitor the heat over the next few days. Yeah, she’ll keep going out…stall rest will do so much more harm than good. Even though I don’t think the wound hurts much (in the dim light of the barn I actually brushed over it before noticing it, and she didn’t even flinch), I know Lim is smart enough to protect that area of her body until it heals.

I took a couple pictures. For you morbid types--sorry, I didn’t get one of the wound before I covered it with cream! But you have a nice idea of the size here.

"Am I cute? Why yes, I am!"

"Being a horse is a dangerous job!"

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The beginning of running and etc.

This will be a post with three topics.

The inauguration! Whether you are red or blue, you have to agree that today occurred one of the most historical moments of the century. I dearly wish I was able to see the inauguration live on television. I tried to watch it at work on and but I, and the rest of the office, had problems connecting to a consistent live feed video, especially as the time of the swearing-in grew closer. I did get to see the motorcade though, which was really cool.

A co-worker tried to connect to the live video of the inauguration on the large monitor in the conference room but was unable to. Instead the office listened to the inauguration on the radio. Of course, not I. In fact, I didn’t even know they were listening to it until another co-worker asked if I could find Obama’s speech in a signed video online because they were listening to it on the radio. As she spoke, her face grew more and more strained and I realized she felt sorry for me. Until that moment I thought everyone was standing around still awaiting the video! Oh.

“No, I wouldn’t be able to find that. That’s okay, I’ll watch it tonight,” I said. She threw me one last strained look and went back to the conference room.

It was a potentially embarrassing moment but I brushed it aside and kept myself busy. I’m pretty good at that. I think it’s the Brit in me.

Riding. My total post-Pennsylvania 2009 riding time remains at 50 minutes. I wanted to ride last night but the indoor arena is incredibly dusty. The poor pasture horses spent a good chunk of time in there late last week and over the weekend, and their bored hooves stirred up a permanent dust storm. It is way too cold to settle the dust by hosing down the arena so there is nothing we can do but throw open the arena doors and wait for the dust to clear. Blah! I’m not about to sacrifice Lim’s respiratory health (nor mine, particularly now that I’m running more…yes, big words for a former smoker) for a ride or two.

I guess I’ll need to wait a little longer to try out the lovely new green, blue, and black plaid flannel quarter sheet I got for cold rides. (For the non-horsey folks: It’s a blanket that covers the horse’s butt and haunches and the rider’s thighs and attaches in front of the saddle. I guess almost, sorta, like a regular equine fleece sheet except with a hole cut into the middle of the back for a rider!)

Running. I said my first post of ’09 would be about how I started running. I guess post number…what is it, five? of ’09 will need to do.

Many posts ago, when I wrote about my beloved Tiger, I mentioned that I was a solitary kid. I was a solitary pre-teen, too. My life was school, homework, horseback riding and myself. I had friends at school—deaf friends—but since they lived quite far from me (or far for one who cannot drive), I rarely saw them outside of school. I liked to read but became bored with books for kids my age, yet was not allowed to read many books written for adults. Always full of energy and inspired by the horses I rode, I liked to venture outside, set up homemade hurdles consisting of trash cans on their sides, cardboard boxes, and other odds and ends, and run and jump over them. I would set up “courses” around the yard, or a string of them in a long line, and try to jump everything as fast as I could, or for as long as I could. I tried to make the hurdles as big as possible but that proved difficult with my limited resources. I never stopped looking around the basement, yard, and garage for new materials or ideas.

(And in fact, this tireless search led me to break my right pinkie finger at the age of nine. I thought a horse blanket in the concrete aisle of the barn was an ideal hurdle but mistimed the jump and tripped over the thing, breaking my little pinkie in two places).

I found jumping these hurdles exhilarating and would do it for hours every day, rain or shine, in the cold of winter and in the heat of summer, in dusk to night and sometimes even shortly after I woke up on the weekends, which was about 11am to noon. The more I jumped over these hurdles, the stronger my legs became and the higher and faster I could jump, which led to higher hurdles, more challenging courses, and even stronger legs.

One spring after I began jumping over the shrubbery in the yard (no doubt breaking a few branches here and there) my dad made me some hurdles. They consisted of two wooden poles with nails at measured one-inch increments, the measurements carefully marked, with another, smaller, loose wooden pole to lay across these nails as I wished. One hurdle was painted brown, the rest were plain. I think there were about five sets total. Oh, I was in heaven!

The highest marked nails were at exactly 48”. At the time I was five feet even (I am 5’3” now). Prior to these homemade hurdles, the highest I had jumped was about 3’6” but it had been quite a feat. I could not imagine reaching four feet even but I was determined to, nonetheless.

And so I set these hurdles up on one side of the house and began jumping them with fresh enthusiasm (not that it had soured before, but, you know). Rain or shine, in the cold of winter and in the heat of summer, in dusk to night and sometimes in the late morning on the weekends, I was there. I would run a lap or two around the house, set a hurdle at two feet, jump it, add another hurdle at two feet, jump it, and so on so forth. Sometimes I made “oxers” and put two hurdles very close together and tried to jump both at once. I quickly found that if I set the first hurdle at three feet and put another one two feet behind it and set it at a higher height, it was easier to jump that than the higher height all by itself. Why? I don’t know, but it was the discovery of the year!

I would like to clarify something here. When “hurdling” I didn’t actually go into a virtual split over the hurdles like, say, Lolo Jones or any other track star. Go ahead, do a little jump. Your knees just lifted up a bit there, together, didn’t they? That’s what I did. And sometimes when I jumped the higher hurdles, my knees were tucked so high that I hit myself in the chin with them, or when I knocked the pole down it wasn’t my legs doing the knocking—it was my butt!

It must have looked funny but that’s how I did it.

One late summer afternoon, for the heck of it, I set the brown hurdle at 48”. Was I ready for it? I didn’t know. The hurdle stood by itself. I could barely see the pole in the lengthening shadow of the house. I went to the end of the “runway” and faced the hurdle. It stood a dozen yards away. The path to the hurdle was so worn that the grass wasn’t growing in spots. (Sorry dad!) A little shiver went down my spine and I dug my Converse sneakers into the dry ground and ran. I ran and ran and, in a spot that I thought, at the last second, was a little too far from the hurdle, made the jump. I pushed off as hard as I could and tucked my knees as high as I could. They floated somewhere around my cheeks for a split second. I expected my butt, or even a small flap from the hem of my shorts, to knock the pole down.

I landed and immediately looked on the ground for the pole. It was not there. I looked at the hurdle. There, in the ever-lengthening shadows, sat the pole, still snugly nestled on the 48”-height nails.

I was twelve years old and the astonishment I felt at that second has really never been matched since.

I was only able to jump that height once more. It was winter and there had been snow on the ground for a couple weeks. The ever-present “runway” down the side of the house was now a two-foot-wide path of packed snow. It was hard to jump. Sometimes upon landing I would slip and fall on my butt. Sometimes I would lift a foot, ready to jump, and the other foot would simply slide me forward into the hurdle instead of over it. But ever-determined, I kept at it.

One cold wet gray afternoon I set up an oxer. The first fence was three feet and the second was 3’6”. I jumped it several times, and quite easily. Hmm. I raised the second fence to 4 feet. The first time I tried it, I knocked the higher pole to the ground with my leg. The same thing happened on the second and third and fourth and fifth tries. Sometimes it was my butt that knocked the pole to the ground, and sometimes it was the baggy sweatshirt I had on. Once it was my foot, which sent the pole flying a couple dozen feet. I laughed. But I remained determined.

Once again at the head of the “runway”, I felt that little shiver down my spine. I dug my Converse sneakers into the packed snow and ran. Not wanting to slip, I placed my feet tidily at the jump spot and pushed off from them as hard as I could, straight up. Over I went. I felt nothing but that didn’t mean anything—when my clothes knocked the pole down, I rarely felt it. I landed. Slipped. Fell hard on my butt. The wet snow soaked my jeans, which were already damp from previous falls. Still sitting, I looked behind me. The poles remained. Somehow, I didn’t believe it. The hurdles were set on top of the snow so there was no cheating. But there it was.

I never again repeated that feat. At thirteen I gradually stopped jumping the hurdles and by fourteen I was done. At fifteen I—na├»ve freshman that I was—initially wanted to join the track team in high school but I quickly realized that the other girls that were to be on the track team were not nice and would not make me feel welcome. My high school was overflowing at the gills with smug, superior types, and unfortunately they ruled all the sports teams in the school.

And so running fell to the wayside and I focused on horseback riding. I loved riding, of course!, but a part of me was jealous of all the runners I saw. I would see the cross country team, donned in the orange and black of my school, running after school hours heading for who knows where, the coach following on a mountain bike. I would remember all the times a gym teacher told me I should join the track team. In 1992, when I beat the boys at 100 meter races. In 1993, during the same. In 1995. In 1997, when I fell during a difficult obstacle course, suffering four instant hematomas on my legs, but got up and continued on in good time.

“You’ve got guts!” that teacher told me. Mr. Schaefer was his name and he had the legs of a runner. I’ll never forget that compliment.

Running never even crossed my mind during college but the 30 pounds I gained from bad eating habits and beer did.

One day I took a harder look at the Lake Shore Drive path running along Lake Michigan in Chicago. I lived only a quarter mile from it. I watched the runners gliding along. I watched the muscles working within their legs and that old familiar runner’s envy erupted within my heart. I remembered the exhilaration I once felt. I remember the amazement at myself. I remembered what a mighty machine my body used to be. I used to run. I can run.

It was April of 2005 and yes, I did. I began running again and I never looked back.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Run with the Horses

You know how I said, only two posts ago (or something) that if I feel like I am ready, I will run a marathon? Well, I’m ready. Or more accurately—I know I will be.

On January 3rd, as we waited in the terminal for our flight to Pennsylvania, I picked up the January issue of Runner's World at an airport magazine kiosk.

(Yes, my husband has given me a subscription for Christmas but I had yet to receive my first issue, and knowing how long these things take…well!).

I flipped through the special Jet Blue section advertising marathons they fly to. For fun, I checked to see if there were any marathons on my birthday--August 22nd. Not only was there one, but its very title made the heart of this life-long horse lover skip a beat.

'Run with the Horses' Green River, WY

Run with the horses?! I assumed wild horses. I have been around horses for 22 years. I have seen all breeds and types of horses, including mustangs. But never have I seen wild mustangs running free, in person, live. As a closet romantic whose heart just swells at the sight of any form of natural beauty, seeing wild mustangs—the very symbol of the American west!—running on the high plains, kicking up dust in a great cloud, would probably make me faint with gratitude at the very sight of their rangy, spirited selves. Okay, probably not an ideal reaction to have during a 26.2 mile footrace but..

Run with the horses!

The very name of the marathon was a song in my head. Despite my “disability”, words and sayings can and will take on lyrical qualities and impale themselves within my brain.

Initially I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be fun to do this? But Wyoming? I'm sure I can't do it." Then I thought about it some more. I have a 10k lined up for March and I am planning to register for the Chicago 13.1 in June. But a full marathon this year? Maybe next year...or...but really, why not? Why not 2009, and better yet, on my 29th birthday? With some research I found out the following:

The marathon is 5 hours away from Denver by car. My aunt, also a life-long horse lover and mom to a teenaged Thoroughbred, lives in Denver.

Yes, you can and do see wild horses during the marathon.

Yes, the scenery during the marathon is to die for.

There are no spectators (Hooray! I am so solitary it isn't funny, and did not relish the idea of people watching me during my first marathon.)

The marathon is one of the toughest in America. Especially for us flatlanders not accustomed to the elevation.

Say what?

But after conversing with the race director by email, my aforementioned aunt, and my husband, I have decided to go for it. I will train properly and if I feel like I am not ready, I will switch to the half-marathon also running that morning.

But I’m 100% sure that, if all goes well, I will be ready. What a birthday it will turn out to be!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Not much new to report

Well, regarding riding anyway. I've only ridden twice--for a grand total of 50 moments--since returning from Pennsylvania. Both times Lim was quite full of herself. After 20 minutes, I cut my first ride short. I decided to get off, remove Lim's tack, and let her buck and gallop in the indoor arena.

I lunged her before the second ride so she didn't feel so much like a pogo stick. But thanks to her uber-alert nerves, I always knew when someone was opening or closing the arena door to my back.

Then the deep freeze settled in. -23 without the wind chill--it was the coldest I ever remember it. It was so cold that I could only bundle Lim up in her layers (shoulder guard, fleece blanket liner, heavy duty turnout blanket) and scurry over to the barn for her dinner, greet her, feed her, kiss her on the nose, and scurry home.

It was so cold that I was resigned to the single treadmill at the tiny apartment complex gym. You know you're unfamiliar with your apartment complex gym when you cannot figure out how to turn on the television and, after ten minutes of scratching your head, are resigned to an ungodly boring 4-mile run on the treadmill...and ten minutes into the run, another apartment dweller walks in and flicks a wall switch to turn on the television.

I had an animal communicator do a reading with Limerick. What Lim had to say was very interesting. I will share what she said tomorrow...or whenever I write on here again. Until then!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Pennsylvania running

I have been in Pennsylvania for the past week. Tonight we fly back to Illinois. We will arrive home too late to see Limerick but I will be happy to see my cats, to be home. I miss Limerick very much. I had a dream last night that when I arrived at the barn I saw that she was very skinny and unhappy. I miss her whiskers, her sweet breath, her velveteen pink muzzle beneath my lips, her large brown eyes regarding me.

I, the not-born-but-raised Midwestern girl, have gone on four runs here. The first run was around a large park and fairly flat. 3.6 miles.

Sleet and freezing rain accompanied me on the second run, which began at late dusk and ended in dark. I went through part of Dover, the town where my in-laws live, the town where my husband grew up. I tackled some hills (wary of accumulating ice), ran around my husband's elementary school (still bright inside despite the empty parking lot), almost got lost, and ran until the sidewalk ended. By the time I returned I was soaked to the skin but too warm to care. 3.2 miles.

The third run was gray and wet from heavy morning rains. Mid-afternoon. I took a complete foot tour of Dover. The town is small. I did not encounter many people. Those I did see beamed and waved at me. I waved back. The sidewalk was not continuous and I was thankful for my bright yellow shirt. Drivers slowed for me. It was a stark contrast to Chicago--all sidewalk, everywhere. People that totally ignored you, including drivers. I came across my husband's high school. The track was open. I ran around it a couple times, around the football field where he played. I was alone in the gray. Light fog muted the hills on the horizon. It was 15 years ago. I saw my husband in his red and white varsity football gear, a tall skinny teenager, striding across the field. His legs were muddy and sweat ran down his face. His eyes, as always, were as blue as a clear sky. I thought about the lump on his collarbone, the pictures I have seen of him with his arm in a sling, still in football gear, wincing with pain. This is is where it happened, and now our footsteps are intersecting. His from 1994. Mine--his wife from Chicago(!)--in 2009. 5.10 miles.

The fourth run was yesterday. My husband drove me to Pinchot State Park. Expecting the wide limestone trails of Chicagoland, I was initially confused.

"Where are the trails?" I asked as he parked the car.

"I don't know. Around." He pointed towards a network of leaf-covered narrow trails leading into the hilly forest. He stayed in the car with a book.

It was mid-afternoon. Cold but the bright sun warmed my bones. I started my run semi-paranoid. My Midwestern blood was alarmed. What sort of beasts hid within these hills? The trees and brambles were thick. To the left of the trail the ground sloped down sharply, rockily, towards a large partially iced lake. But the trail was not easy and bore rocks--from fist-sized to boulder-sized--tree roots, and ice, and I had to concentrate on where I placed my feet. Worries slipped away and I ran on. Ice covered the brambles around me and sparkled in the sun. I pretended I was a mountain goat as I ran up steep hills using icy rocks as stairs, my glutes whining with the effort. The beauty of the landscape almost swept me off my feet. And indeed, 45 minutes into the run, it literally swept me off my feet. As I gazed at the leafy tree-dotted hillside to my left, my right foot hit a rock in the trail. As graceful as a human javelin can be, I sailed through the air in an arc.

Well, here we go.

I hit the ground with my hands, slid, hit my right elbow, slid, hit my right knee on a rock, slid.

It was my first fall as a runner. I stood up. Dirt streaked my gloves and polyfleece shirt. I was thankful for both. My right knee screeched. I put weight on it. It whined but was not broken. I walked for a few moments and the throb subsided. I picked up a cautious run. The knee protested then quickly quieted down. I ran on for another 30 minutes. Back at the car, I showed my knee to my husband. It was, is, a badge of honor and I am thankful that my first fall was on such difficult terrain and not flat Midwestern asphalt. 7 miles.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Retained collection

I don't know what it was. Maybe it was the week off from proper riding (bareback jaunts don't count!). Maybe it was the pack of howling coyotes roaming around outside the building housing the indoor arena. Or maybe she just felt good and her new, toned body allowed for it.

But on Monday I worked on collection with Limerick and at the end of the ride, mid-canter, I let the reins go loose. I kept my position within the saddle--shoulders back, seat deep, chest up (I will never forget the words of the owner of the Andalusian mare I rode last spring--"Ride with your heart!").

I held my breath.

And Limerick retained that beautiful curve in her neck, the veins standing up in little mounds beneath her taunt skin. Her hind legs continued to gather deep beneath her and her forelegs lifted high into the air. She felt perfect, and it was all on a rein so loose that it draped in two great loops. After two laps around the arena I gently pulled her down into a long-strided trot and allowed her to float her nose an inch above the arena dirt.

I tried to remember the last time she felt this good. Oh sure, she had the ability and shape years ago. But what had changed? Am I more patient? Despite a sore lack of lessons, more understanding of the biomechanics required of equine collection? Is it the greater level of fitness I personally have? The knowledge that, right at that moment, I have no one to impress but myself?

Or is it Limerick--is she more willing to work hard for me, to give her all for me? Perhaps she finds pleasure in putting her nose to the grindstone during the one or two days of the week that I ask for serious work--and perhaps the days I set aside for play or interesting tasks hone her mentally, and now she has the mental sharpness as well as the physical ability?

It's probably all of these things together. Either way, I am very pleased. Shows in the fall? How about the spring?!