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We Are Flying Solo

July 21, 2015

How Not To Get Hot

Famous last words:  “I was going to wait & ride at 8:00 pm since it’s 907% humidity, but heck with it, it’s already 6:30 pm, that’s close enough!

Nausea, dizziness, stomach cramping, fatigue, shortness of breath, & nausea are all signs of…what was that, kids?  Dumbassery?  Well, yes.  That actually might be a better answer than my old friend, heat perishing (it sounds better than the completely non-dramatic label ‘exhaustion’).

I did ride, though!  It just took me three times longer to hose Encore between gasping on the floor in front of the fan, sipping water, & thinking, “Don’t throw up, don’t throw up, don’t throw up…”

Wow.  That Sounds, Um, Fun?  What The Why?

You’d think I’d be immune to working in the stickiest of the Carolina versions of air.  I mean, at least I was on a horse while the sun set instead of on the bow of an aluminum electrofishing boat wearing black rubber gloves at mid-day!

Alas, just as we must condition our horses to work in heat every year, we must prepare our own physiology for the demands of melting from the inside out.

Yes, totally what I look like sweating
Pre-Ride Tips For You
(aka all the things I didn’t do last night, but learned from a very smart pro athlete)

  • Drink a bottle of water beforehand.  
    • Even before you fetch Dobbin from the pasture or, if trailering, before you exit the truck on arrival.  I sweat a LOT.  Like, a greased pig in a sauna on the surface of the sun a lot.  All my water bottles are 1 L (~32 oz.) or larger.  After I made this a hard rule, it was literally night & day after XC – I could breathe!
  • Dress smart.  
    • Light, wicking materials are your very best friend & I’ll happily share my secrets for budget-friendly options from sports bras to shirts & breeches.  If I see a cotton shirt in July, I’ll run screaming.  And I don’t run (technically am not allowed to run, at least I got something good out of that mess).
  • Fuel your muscles.  
    • You’re saddled up & hydrated, but just before you get on, snarf a small protein bar or one of those electrolyte yogurt pack thingies that sort of tastes like you’re swallowing a salty booger (yeah, you’re running to buy those now, aren’t you?).  I choke down the latter & then chase it with 8-12 oz. of water as I’m readying my bridle. 
  • If possible, take swigs during walk breaks.  
  • Closer to reality...
    • Obviously, not an option at a gallop, although wouldn’t it be nice if jump judges could toss you a sip every 1/3 of the course, like bikers & runners do???  I could go for misting jumps, too.  That water jump’s really too shallow to stay cool; even if you can’t resist the swim, well, then it’s your last jump anyway, oops. 
  • On sports drinks:  never drink them straight (I mean, undiluted, I know what I mean, LOL).  
    • You’ll note that so far, I’ve only mentioned water alone.  Human metabolism flips a switch when exertion begins.  Before the switch, you can’t process any of the electrolytes anyway, you’ll just have more expensive pee, & even lighter versions, such as G2, have too much sugar (not knocking sugar, it’s one of my diet staples), which will just give you a quicker burnout.  After you start working, though, a bottle cut in half with water knocks the concentration down to a useful level & staves off fatigue. 
I don’t love the flavour, but after I felt the dramatic relief, I found one I could live with.  I just stock up when they are on sale at 10 for $10 at the grocery store!

Or that...
In case you forget, I find bribing a friend or sympathetic-looking passers-by to walk your horse as you drag off as many layers as possible while collapsing prone in the nearest patch of shade, trying to bring your pulse rate back below 100, to be a perfectly acceptable backup strategy.

How About That Ride?

Overwhelming desire to retch aside, Encore felt pretty decent.  It’s been a rough while for me, health & energy-wise, so he has been carefully managed using the “Slowest Rehab Ever” approach since he sprained his stifles during his X-Games.  In other words, I’ve been able to do about one short ride a week.  :/

In the spirit of keeping a positive context, though, I can’t afford to travel anyways & I’m a firm believer that 15 minutes of quality work with hills, energy, & correct transitions, is better than 45-60 minutes of mediocre riding when I tire or we both get cranky & sloppy.

We’d be much further along if, you know, someone else paid the mortgage so I could focus on the planned, excruciatingly consistent daily work that blistering would have required.  Or even just the lower-key muscle-building without the chemical intervention.  Oh yeah, & my own body would return to its super-human state circa 2010 or so.

Pls shade.
But I’m mostly ok with where we are for now.  Encore started out with a strong, balanced trot & was able to maintain his shape much more easily through turns & slopes.  I’ve continued to practice my YES I CAN goal & am getting ever closer to unlocking that stubborn left arm.

Encore tired quickly, so our canter work was quite lean-y as he got sore behind.  But that didn’t worry me too much, given noted humidity levels (I actually hosed him before riding as both horses were caked in dirty sweat, even standing in the shady run-in all day) paired with to-date infrequent rides.

Now What?

I’m currently taking some extended leave from work over the next two weeks.  I suppose the best category is “recovery leave,” so I can hopefully step off the vicious cycle of utter exhaustion combined with high stress before it eats up any more of me.  More realistically, I need a sabbatical, but PhD (Practicality Has Disappeared, hee) was not the route for me!!
I can has back?
Just being able to move at my own speed for a little is an enormous relief already, so I’m glad I was finally able to beat my guilt into submission & commit to doing it:  I’ve given plenty of sweat & blood for that time & the last break I can remember that actually involved rest was in 2010.  Both orange boys are actually ready to work at present (which I just jinxed, sigh), maybe we can get our routine back.

Speaking of practice, fill me in!  You shared your CAN DO goals, how did you do?

Even if you didn’t catch that post on the first round, I’d love to hear about a detail you’ve been working on!  Leave a comment, better yet, tell us how you’ve practiced; I’m always excited to see everyone’s ideas & have a chance to try new approaches!! 


  1. Great post! I neglected to drink enough water pre-ride yesterday and was feeling pretty hungover this morning as a result :( My CAN-DO goal - to be firm and patient when the pony says "NO" - is definitely on its way to being achieved! A move to a barn where he is much happier in his work has helped a LOT, as well as changing my pre-lesson warmup strategy. Basically, more focus on what HE needs instead of what I want to accomplish!

    1. Oh no, the dehydration hangover, yuck!! Sorry to hear that! But sounds like awesome progress on convincing a certain pony that, really, we have no intentions of torture, it CAN be fun, LOL!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, SB! It is definitely overdue -- I hope y'all are getting to take some nice shady snooze breaks every now & then too, I think it should be a new summer rule! :)

  3. These are great heat tips, which have taken me four summers in Texas and several times almost passing out to implement!

    1. Hey, girl (insert Ryan Gosling face here, it's wayyyy better to hear that from than mine, hee...), no joke! Actually, my first job out of undergrad was at a National Wildlife Refuge west of Houston in tallgrass prairie -- a coworker quickly taught me, "if you're thirsty, you're already way behind." I remember staggering into the office at the end of every day for a month with heat exhaustion, so mega kudos to you & Simon for toughing it out!

  4. I still cannot believe my crazy friend and her crazy buddies who play POLO in the extreme heat and humidity here. I don't know how the ponies handle it, much less the humans, but somehow they all survive. NO THANK YOU. Your advice is excellent and I'll remember it, including cutting the Gatorade. My usual policy is to quaff some before riding, so now I'll grab an empty bottle and dilute to make two.

    1. Glad to be of service, RW -- I am notorious for breaking my own rules; the other famous last words are "meh, I'll be fine." *facepalm* I'll never forget the first HT I stuck to the whole plan, including an extra litre of water before XC, & I crossed the finish flags feeling like, ok, we just worked hard, but I can STILL BREATHE & I even think I could dismount without my knees buckling. Amazing...

      He Who Bought Me Solo used to race mtn bikes semi-pro when he was in high school & he was also very dedicated to consistent gym work; also being a science geek (albeit materials engineer), he taught me so much about "how not to feel like crap at the end." Truly priceless!

  5. We've been working on patience and learning how to be bored and okay with that. Dassah has a go button that usually doesn't turn off, ever. I read a really interesting training article by Peter De Cosemo - and I feel it has Dassah pegged.

    So our training sessions have been us standing around various spots in the arenas and around the barns for 20-40 minutes (depends on how long it takes per new location to get bored and cock a leg) we just stand. "Just stand" makes it sound easy but holy wow it is not. She'll pretend to be patient and then she just fidgets, fidgets, fidgets. If she steps away from our spot, I just nicely ask move her to move back, otherwise I let her fidget until she's done. She's typically always on the buckle after the first couple minutes and then slowly her head makes it's way to horizontal and she lets out a nice snuffle.

    The first time we attempted patience training, she threw a hissy fit. Obviously we were wanting some education in this area! After about the third session (over a period of a week) I could halt her, relax my body, let the reins slip, and she stood quietly.

    At the hunter pace a couple weekends ago I practiced this while we were waiting for our group to gather and then during the pace if we were ahead. She's catching on and responding well - I'm interested to see how this plays out when we start working again.

    1. Sweet, thanks for sharing that, Sarah -- I think that might ACTUALLY kill Solo, ROFL! He's funny, he doesn't "fidget" per se, he'll stand tied to a trailer with some hay all day or chill in x-ties no problem. But I know exactly what you mean by not easy! He just doesn't park if you are mounted or leading.

      He'll hang out, but he'll either have to graze or slowly sidle up to some unsuspecting spectator for nuzzling (this is actually hilarious to watch, I'll admit, it's srsly slow motion, one hoof sliding at a time) or have something really interesting to watch...we really are frighteningly alike, heh.

      I'm definitely going to check out that article, for the title at the least, awesome! Dassah sounds like a clever girl though, sounds like you are doing a great job of patiently sticking with it & I bet she'll figure out how much great naptime she's been missing very quickly!

  6. I have to Be so careful about staying hydrated in the summer.

    1. It can be a real challenge, can't it?? Sometimes I wish I could just body tape IV bags to myself or maybe I just need a tanker to follow me around!

  7. i have this ridiculous habit wherein i don't want to 'waste' my freshly filled water bottle before i ride and will want it the most. but really if i'm thirsty before i ride i should tank up then refill for the ride... maybe one day i'll figure it out haha

    also, re: the 'can do" challenge.... well, my mare actually ended up quarantined just days after i posted my goals. oops! my goals (sitting up straight thru core and keeping legs long and down - simultaneously!) are works in progress tho. not perfect but something to work towards!

    1. What??! A horse foiled a horse-related plan? I don't believe you... ;P (that's a deep deep empathy joke!) Solo was stuck in quarantine jail for 90 days at a previous boarding facility, it sucks, but hopefully yours will end as uneventfully as ours did!

      Water solution: two bottles. :D You're welcome (hee, it's what I do at work, I save one for the drive back to the hotel or home).