From Endurance to Dressage
Maintain the Habit
Being sick for several weeks was hard, and not just because I felt crummy. I am a goal-oriented, check off the boxes kind of girl. Not being able to check things off a list or reach even tiny goals was really starting to sap my motivation. I teach my students about inertia when we study the solar system. Inertia can be defined as a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged. Both Galileo and Newton knew that once moving, a body doesn't stop moving unless acted upon by a force such as friction. COVID was my friction.
I love routine, order, and movement. I rarely lay around doing nothing. The busier I keep myself, the happier I tend to be. In my early 20s, I struggled with feeling overwhelmed by all of the adult chores that I faced each day. In an effort to make life manageable, I determined that before I could sit down for the day, I had to accomplish three tasks at home. At first, those tasks were simple: check the mail, take out the trash, clean up the morning newspaper. Before I knew it, those three tasks became habits, and I began doing three more tasks. Eventually, inertia took over, and my body in motion stayed in motion.
Having spent two weeks laying around trying to recover from COVID, I started to worry that I would never get back my motivation to ride. Even the thought of driving out to the ranch left me feeling exhausted. The first day I did go, all I had the energy to do was put Speedy's new pills in their place. I didn't even go over and look at my boys. I was just too overwhelmed with guilt and fatigue. Instead, I sat on the rail for a few minutes and watched as the ranch owner and neighbor had a lesson. I wouldn't have even done that except that the sun was out, and I felt like a wilted sunflower looking for strength.
That was Thursday. By Saturday, I reminded myself that a body at rest will continue at rest unless something gets it moving again. I gave myself a huge push and determined to do at least one thing out at the ranch. My husband threatened me with all sorts of bodily harm if I overdid it, so I promised to keep things short. All I did was mix buckets and give each each horse a quick groom. I didn't even take them out of their paddocks. I groomed where they stood. And before I knew it a body in motion ...
The next day, I saddled up. I was definitely feeling a bit like I had wet noodles for legs, but I reasoned that the only way to build back my strength was to start working my body. I rode for 16 minutes and only at the walk and trot. The day after that, I rode for 36 minutes with a fair amount of cantering. Since then, I've been picking up my routine; cleaning and filling water troughs, mixing feed, sweeping, grooming, and riding.
Yesterday, I shared some advice from Laura Goodenkauf, head trainer/owner at Laura Goodenkauf Dressage. What she said about habits really resonated with me. Pondering how to restore my equestrian habits while worrying that I will lose my motivation as I recover from being sick has been giving me a certain amount of anxiety. In her article, Laura quoted James Clear, "The bad days are more important than the good days. If you write or exercise or meditate or cook when you don't feel like it, then you maintain the habit. And if you maintain the habit, then all you need is time."
I certainly haven't felt like it, but I am doing it which means all I need is time. I can make that work.
Back to Life
I am still here. Thank you to those who reached out to me to make sure I was still around. I wasn't able to respond, but I very much appreciated your thoughtfulness.
While it might appear that I am pretty public with what goes on in my life, there are parts that I don't feel are relevant to this space. That doesn't mean I am hiding the TRUTH or presenting a rosier-than-what-it-really-is life. I think you all know by now I am pretty honest about the frustrations of being an underachieving over-achiever in the world of dressage.
Typically, this is a space for me to share what life is like for a middle-aged, adult amateur equestrian. Sometimes, my work life affects my equestrian life, so I write about teaching. Sometimes my personal life affects my equestrian life, so I write about my finances, car trouble, or even politics. For this MIA episode, it was a health issue. I tested positive for COVID-19 on November 4th.
Like everyone else on the planet, I've caught different bugs that have kept me from the barn. Four years ago, I had a very serious case of bronchitis that kept me home for nearly a month. I've also dislocated my knee, been kicked in the face, had amnesia, and been dumped into more than one fence. COVID has just been one more thing to add to my list of things that interfere with riding.
I chose not to get vaccinated, and even while miserable in bed, I did not regret that decision. I am a healthy, active woman with a strong immune system. I am not anti-vaccine, and I believe this vaccine is certainly helping many people remain healthy. It just wasn't something that I felt was right for me. The vaccine can have serious side effects, and it's not a guarantee that you won't get COVID. Besides that, I do not believe the government has the right to dictate my medical decisions.
Fortunately, my husband took great care of me, and I did not need to be hospitalized. The whole thing felt like a really crappy flu. I ran a fever for more than a week, lost my appetite, spent a night hovering over the toilet, had a small cough, developed pneumonia, and then spent another week on the couch recovering.
My regular doctor doesn't treat COVID patients, so I went to Accelerated Urgent Care, a local chain of clinics that seems to specialize in the treatment of COVID-19. I was first given the antibiotic Azithromycin (to treat secondary infection) and prescribed Zinc, C and D. I was also put on the schedule for a REGEN-COV treatment, a synthetic antibody administered subcutaneously (in my case). When an x-ray revealed pneumonia, I took another course of antibiotics. I returned to the clinic for two follow up visits just so the doctor could observe the REGEN-COV's effectiveness. I was treated with the utmost compassion by the nurses and doctors at Accelerated Urgent Care. They took the whole thing in stride without ever making me feel as though I were overwhelming the health care system.
I developed symptoms on a Tuesday (slight congestion and fatigue), tested positive that Thursday, and then was sick for eight or nine days. I spent another week alternating between resting on the couch and puttering around the house. On Thursday, two weeks after testing positive, I made a quick trip to the barn to pay my board and sit in the sun. On Saturday, I finally put on a pair of breeches and laid hands on both of my boys. That seemed to really kickstart my body back to wellness. I think spending time with horses should be on the list of therapies for any illness.
Now, I just need to rebuild some fitness. I've finished the antibiotics, and other than some loss of stamina, I am symptom free. My fingers are crossed that I am strong enough to begin my Saturday lessons this weekend. In the meantime, I'm going to be spending as much time in the sun as possible, and that was prescribed by the doctor. COVID was definitely inconvenient, but no more so than any other thing that has sidelined me in the past.
It might take me a few days to get back into the swing of things, but I am definitely ready. It's good to be back!
A Weighty Matter
My weight that is. Not too long ago I shared my weight loss journey. It was hard. It sucked. I am still on it. It's been more than a month since I wrote that post, so I thought I'd give you an update, especially for those who might have been inspired to lose a few pounds themselves. You can do it!
When last I left you, I was trying to get down to 123 pounds. I never made it, but that's okay. My doctor actually insisted I stop losing weight as my BMI was starting to get too low. I am holding steady at 125. I tick up to 126 now and then, but I easily bring it back, and when I've been particularly diligent, I even drop down into the 124 range. Don't tell Dr. Sharma.
It's been both easy and difficult to ease off the militaristic approach I took to losing weight. While eating yummy things now and then is wonderful, I am wracked with guilt as I do it which sort of diminishes the treat factor. The other problem is the slippery slope effect; if I've already had 1 scoop of chip and guacamole, I might as well have 12.
I am finding that within one or two days of a "splurge" - does 12 chips even count as splurging?, I can lose the gained pound without much additional effort. I feel good, my clothes are comfortable, and Speedy probably appreciates packing around less of me. Izzy's a chunk, so he doesn't even know I am up there.
Just about the time I started to think I had reached a kick-ass state of health - why wouldn't I think so after losing 40 flipping pounds?, I scheduled my annual physical, smug in the knowledge that I am HEALTHY.
The first thing my primary care physician noted was that my platelets were low. After pulling blood three times over 6 weeks, it was finally decided that my platelets are just low when compared to other people's platelets. My normal is just low. Be prepared; this will be revealed as a theme.
Even though I already take vitamin D and omega-3 fish oil, she noted that I am now rather deficient in B12 as well. Amazon should be delivering some of that in the next day or so. Again, low.
With the blood pressure cuff squeezing my now much skinnier arm, the nurse pointed out to the doctor that my pulse was quite low, somewhere around 52. An EKG machine was quickly rolled into the room and wires were strapped to my chest. Yep. Low.
Along with a questionable pulse, my blood pressure now regularly dips down into the 85 over 65 range. We're pretty sure that's where the dizziness is coming from. At the doctor's urging I now own a blood pressure monitor and cuff which I use twice a day every day to monitor and log my pulse and blood pressure.
I suddenly found myself being asked if I have a cardiologist. A what-ologist? I am 48 years old. Old people have cardiologists; not skinny pear-shaped women who carry their weight on their hips. I now have a cardiologist who I have seen three times, with yet another appointment scheduled for next week. That's how I found myself wearing one of these.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a Holter monitor is a small, wearable device that keeps track of your heart rhythm. Your doctor may want you to wear a Holter monitor for one to two days. During that time, the device records all of your heartbeats. That I even have to visit the Mayo Clinic web site smacks of "old ladyage." Yes, that's a word. I just made it up.
That's how I ended up wearing the heart monitor on Wednesday. The day before, I had an echocardiogram, an ultrasound of my heart. After that I had a Carotid ultrasound, an ultrasound of the arteries in my neck. It was after that that they strapped on the Holter monitor and told me to come back the next day to return it.
So what does all this mean? Nothing. The cardiologist already explained that losing so much weight, nearly 25% of my body, has made the workload much easier for my heart. Losing weight is also an easy way to lower your blood pressure.
But remember, low. My normal BP has always been right around 120 over 70 which is considered a low, healthy number. So now, it's really low, low enough to make me feel dizzy when I stand up. In all likelihood, my body just needs time to adapt to all this lowness.
So. Get healthy. Get fit. Your doctor needs to earn a living. Right now, I am supporting an entire medical team, mine and Speedy's.
Go, Team Speedy!
You know how you get all of those If you could choose one thing, what would it be lists on Facebook? The list usually includes things like choose $100,000 cash, have a dream house, or be taller. If I could really have any of those pie-in-the-sky dreams, I'd wish to be able to eat anything I wanted without ever gaining weight. Losing weight sucks. It's hard, and it's forever.
Last June, my husband and I were having a heart to heart. We were both discussing the other's health risks. There were things I wanted him to work on to ensure that he's with me for decades to come. He pointed out that he had a similar concern; my weight.
Every woman on the planet knows when she is four pounds heavier than she ought to be. She doesn't need it pointed out. So when she's 40 pounds past what she ought to weigh, it's on her mind every time she zips up her pants or reaches down to tie her shoes.
So when my husband ever so gently pointed out that my weight was likely to cause future health problems, I felt my temper rise. But then I paused, realizing that he was absolutely right. I was overweight, and I wasn't doing anything but gaining. In fact, I had tossed out all of my smaller clothes and was rapidly filling my closet with items that gave me room to grow.
Before the words were completely out of his mouth, I decided to do something about it. I got on the scale for the first time in a long while. In case you haven't noticed, I'm what you might call vertically challenged. I am only 5'3," so 5 or 10 pounds on my lighter frame look like 25 on a taller person. The scale read somewhere over 160 pounds. I was horrified.
One thing that was frustrating for me was that there wasn't anything that I could just give up and immediately start losing. I don't drink coffee or sodas, I haven't eaten fast food in nearly 20 years, and I cook from scratch. We don't microwave meals or eat food from the freezer section of the grocery store. I am also really active. I don't go to the gym, but I teach PE every day, and I ride nearly seven days a week.
And? I was still a chunky monkey. Eating healthy food and being active wasn't enough. I knew how much I wanted to weigh, but I knew there was no chance I'd ever get there. Instead I set a realistic goal. My very first goal was to get back to 159 pounds. It took about three weeks.
I got completely honest with myself. Yes, I was eating healthy, but I was eating a LOT of healthy. Instead of three eggs for breakfast, I reduced it to 1. Instead of a loaded sandwich with potato salad on the side, I bought low calorie bread and ate an apple on the side. I got used to being hungry.
On average, I lost 1 to 2 pounds per week. I increased the number and variety of vegetables I cooked. I started having vegetables for breakfast. When we ate out, I chose a lot of vegetarian options and fruit or vegies on the side instead of fries or other starches. And once I hit 149 pounds, it was on!
I ate nothing sweet, no deserts or breads (other than my 45 calorie diet bread), and my portions got a lot smaller. I didn't stop eating though. I ate (and still eat) a hard boiled egg and a yogurt for weekday breakfasts. I eat a measured out baggie of nuts during the morning recess. Lunch is typically a sandwich with an apple. In the afternoons, I scrounge for grape tomatoes, baby carrots, a hunk of last night's protein, or fruit. I eat a regular dinner, but it's a lot smaller than it used to be, and half of my plate is filled with vegetables.
Throughout the fall, 139 pounds became my goal. I never thought I'd be able to lose 20 pounds, yet I did. Losing 30 pounds suddenly seemed possible. The holidays were tough, but I slogged through and even continued to lose weight. I constantly reminded myself of how great being thin would feel. Eventually, my goal was to weigh 129 pounds by my birthday which was on January 3rd.
I met that goal, but it took making some lifestyle changes. The biggest one was that I quit drinking alcohol in late June. It's not that I ever drank to excess, but I had a few glasses of wine every single day, or margaritas, or some hard ciders, or a lemon drop. Initially, I stopped drinking to see if it would hep eliminate the migraines. It didn't, but I realized how many calories I could save each day by drinking water or herbal tea instead.
It put a bit of a damper on our social life as well. People go out for drinks and food. That's just what adults do. Suddenly, I was the one ordering water and a plate of Brussels sprouts. Actually, the Crispy Glazed Brussels Sprouts at Eureka Burger are only 190 calories, and they are to die for! We no longer went wine tasting or to the wine events at local restaurants.
The one thing I gave myself permission to eat almost as much of as I wanted were the juicy fruits. At first it was watermelon and grapes. Later it was peaches and nectarines. Through the winter it's been apples, pears, and oranges. When I am hungry, I allow myself to indulge in fruits, even if it's two apples at a time.
I have one final goal, and I am only 3 pounds away. I want to hit 123 so that I can fluctuate up to 125. I know when we go out on the weekend or go to a party, I am going to gain a pound or two. My husband constantly reminds me that it's okay to indulge every once in a while. Having a range has helped me in the past, and I know it will help me feel better about that occasional sweet or greasy snack.
I am sure that both of my horses appreciate carrying almost 40 pounds less than they were packing last summer. I know it has helped my riding as well. My stamina has returned, and my balance is better. I have way more energy, I sleep better, and I am much fitter.
Dieting and weight loss have to be a personal goal. Don't lose weight for someone else. You'll only grow resentful, and you won't be able to keep it off. While my husband might have planted the seed, I really wanted to lose the weight for myself.
I've just finished my second herbal tea of the day. As I head back to the kitchen to make another cup, wish me luck as I pass those deliciously tempting lemon/raspberry cheesecake bars my husband made. He's not on a diet. That's okay. He's still getting sautéd zoodles for dinner.
Each time I have a lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, I ask what's the one thing that I really need to focus on. Knowing that my sitting trot still needs work, she (jokingly) suggested I ride without stirrups. Since I never do anything half-assed, I took her suggestion to heart and pulled my stirrups off my saddle.
Simply crossing them over Speedy's withers made it too easy to drop them back down. Yanking them off meant I had to tough it out, and I have. For several weeks I've been running through all of the movements at Second Level including the medium trot and counter canter without stirrups.
The two things I am focusing on are 1) letting my legs hang without gripping, and 2) resting on my seat bones. I can't say yet whether it's helping, but I figure it can't hurt.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: