From Toes to Heels

I had an exciting week. I got a homework ride in! Yeah, the ride itself, 30 minutes at a walk on a horse “saying”--”this should be a day off for me”--isn't that exciting, it is that for the first time in months I got to ride twice a week! Hurrah!!!!! I also discovered that if I did some more grooming—curry comb and dandy brush, that my back did not hurt between my shoulders when I posted the trot. I got tired doing the extra grooming but it was nice not to hurt.

So when we groomed for my lesson on Wednesday I insisted on doing the curry comb and dandy brush, this time I used the Haas Military as the dandy brush since MJ seemed like he was, all of a sudden, getting irritated when I used the previously acceptable Haas Schimmel brush, which is a harder brush. MJ prefers the harsher brush on his summer coat but wants something not so harsh on his winter coat, at least until it comes in fully. Now the Haas Schimmel is just for brushing off the dried off mud, MJ will tell me if he wants it again as a dandy brush. Debbie finished the grooming and tacking up and we walked to the ring. My ride was basically fine, some posting trot, where my warmed-up back did not hurt, and our usual walking.

After our first warm up trots I draped my bradoon rein and kept contact with the Weymouth curb only. After all it had worked with the walk in getting MJ off his forehand. MJ reacts to contact with just the curb at the posting trot even better than he does at the walk. He reached out his nose, he lowered his head some, then he asked me to slip the reins as he stuck his nose out forward even more, lowering his neck. His back relaxed, his body “stretched out”, and his legs swung freely as my curb rein slowly slipped through my fingers. Debbie really LIKED that trot! So now I can add extending the trotting stride to extending the walking stride to the positive effects of keeping contact with just the Weymouth curb bit. The old equestrians were right, the bradoon lifts the head higher and the curb lowers it, and this lowering is different from the head/neck stance for collection. I have more difficulties getting this with a snaffle bit than I do with the curb bit.

Near the end of the lesson Debbie came up to me and said she had not been saying anything since she knew I had partially sprained my right ankle, but lately BOTH of my heels DID NOT GO DOWN, a bad position fault for Forward Seat riding. I do appreciate Debbie not getting after me all the time for something I cannot help but I think it got to irritating her.

When I got home I started thinking. Heels down are a very important part of security in the saddle for the Forward Seat, with my heels down I am less likely to topple forward even if the horse trips or stumbles (or goes down to its knees). I tried to figure out WHY my lower leg had gotten so much worse. Then I remembered that after I had Covid-19 in January of 2020 that it caused additional neurological problems to the ones I already have from Multiple Sclerosis, and that my balance was affected particularly badly, in that I ALWAYS felt like I was going to topple forward and “face plant” whenever I was walking or standing. Trying to stay upright I started to “grip” with my toes or just stiffen them. That helped keep me upright but now I think it prevented my heels from going down when riding a horse.

Then I paid attention to my toes. I have been clenching my toes all the time, when standing and walking to stay upright, when I sit to help support my body, and whenever I concentrated on anything my toes would start to curl up like they were grasping a branch, and I had no idea it would mess up my riding so badly. My toes curling into a grasping position has affected my entire seat, making it worse and my rides less secure.

So at home I have been concentrating on my toes most of the time, relaxing them when I feel them trying to grasp the floor. I feel somewhat less secure walking around my house but I will just have to re-learn how to use my core, back, shoulder and thigh muscles to keep my balance. Whenever I take my attention off my toes they just curl, by now it is a really bad habit of mine.

I also have been manually stretching each toe, bending it up straight as far as it can go without pain and holding it for a little while. With my toes trying to grasp the Universe 24/7 I presume that the tendons on the bottoms of my feet have gotten shorter and more tense, as well as the Achilles tendons that needs to stretch so I can get my dang heels down again. When I researched on the web for something I could wear on my feet to help me lengthen these tendons I got into the plantar fascitiis sites. Some companies have socks or other stuff with a strap from the tips of the toes that fastens higher up on the leg so that the foot is held at a 90° angle when sleeping. A problem is that at least some of them use neoprene and I don't want my feet looking and itching like I walked for several minutes in a poison ivy patch. Getting contact dermatitis from neoprene is very inconvenient since a lot of therapeutic gear has neoprene somewhere in it and it isn't always on the list of what is in that particular piece of equipment or clothes.

I will probably have to get myself to some stairs or something I can “hang” off of to stretch my Achilles tendons. This will have to be a slow, long process so I do not mess up my Achilles tendons, my ankles, my calf muscles, and the rest of the tendons on the soles of my feet.

Can't keep your heels down? Check your toes and relax them, it may help.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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