Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work!

Right before dark I climbed up the final hill and jogged down a wooded path towards the finish line with my leg muscles so spent they felt like they were bleeding internally. My mind, though, was fresh and alert. I’m going to make it! I whispered aloud to myself. In reality, I meant we were going to make it. As solitary as it sounds to run a 100 kilometer (62 miles) trail race, the outcome relies on a team as I recently experienced.

As I jogged off the starting line of the Vermont 100 last week, two dear friends jumped in their truck to spend a very long day crewing for me around the course. They met me at aid stations to monitor my fatigue and calorie intake. They slathered sunscreen on my arms and shoved electrolytes at me. They became the axis around which I orbited, keeping my morale high.My thoughts fled to them when I knew they were waiting for me at the next aid station and then lingered behind with their cheering faces as I left each one. And at the finish, they jumped up and down to inform me that I had just placed third overall.

It sounded inconceivable.

How had I placed third in such a rigorous event at a distance I never previously attempted? How, when I spent 20 miles running while clutching a strained abdominal muscle, had I managed to keep a steady pace over 9,000 feet of elevation gain? As I lowered my quivery cramping body in to a chair muttering comments of disbelief, my friend told me she was not surprised at all. Watching me run all day, she knew I had the strength and patience to finish strong. She also knew how much training I undertook to prepare for this event, and even though she did not voice it she knew what a tough team stood behind me.

I spent 24 weeks preparing both physically and mentally for the race, adhering to daily regimes of workouts and recovery, often running 14 miles before work and another few on my way home. Before bed, I pulled on Back on Track recovery apparel and splayed across my foam roller to hit trigger points in my tight quads and calf muscles. Each morning, I settled my feet in the Back on Track socks I rely on to keep sole pain away. I tracked my hydration and nutrition with the big looming end goal in focus.

From the beginning of my trail running affection several years ago, Back on Track has supported my preparations for and recovery from adventures of all kinds. It has been a critical part of my team all along. Its presence and importance filled many of my thoughts during the 11 hours and 13 minutes it took me to run the Vermont 100k last weekend as I constantly scanned my body and mental state for vitality. Not only have I relied on Back on Track products for physical recovery but the good folks at the company have been cheerleaders from afar.

When I come up with a crazy goal like running across the Grand Canyon last year or tackling a mountainous 5-day stage race in British Columbia, my supporters at Back on Track never doubt me or question if I have lost my mind. They assume that with the right care, all will be possible. So far they have been right. That kind of positivity forms a backbone on any team that allows for epic outcomes.

Put simply, Back on Track is a company that helps individuals achieve their personal awesomeness. It is as dependable as its products and vice versa. So, believe me when I tell you that their products can help you reach your goals even when your goals seem beyond reach.

How Much to Give Away

How Much to Give Away

Many of us make our horses stiffer with our attempts at kindness. Aiming for light and forgiving rein contact, we sometimes make the mistake of too much looseness, which feels erratic and unclear to the horse. Rather than improving our horse’s balance and physiology, we cause him to fall apart immediately following moments of correct movement. Whether or not to interject releases of pressure with the contact is not the question; the question is when and how to do this.

Like many of my students, I want my horse to know when he has done something good. This includes when he has organized his body and stretched through his neck to make a soft contact with the reins. To praise him, I want to make a little release feeling in the reins. I see riders all the time with the same idea, except they often push their arms all the way forward, putting loops in the reins right when the horse has established a connection between himself and the rider. Possibly, this technique is even taught in some disciplines.

While the intention is good, the action is not.

Big variations in rein pressure disrupt the horse’s extensor muscle chain that channels propulsion from his hindquarters. Rather than easing in to the positive tonicity of maintaining a flexed poll and arched topline, he feels the rider abandon the postural framework. His nose pokes out, his back sags, and he loses balance. His rider then regains a light tension on the reins in order to re-establish his correct posture, and the whole cycle starts again.

Neither the horse nor the rider becomes steadier in this scenario. With the contact always coming and going, the horse’s back stiffens, his tongue muscles tighten. He relies on his forehand for equilibrium. The rider, meanwhile, develops a habit of pushing her elbows forward, collapsing her chest.

Am I advocating that riders should not offer a release of some sort? No. Riders absolutely should offer a lightening when the contact becomes nice. The trick—and the big challenge for us kind riders—is to give this release with a small movement of our fingers. With our hands and fingers we can offer the horse a lot; we do not need to push loops in the reins. An instructor once described this to me as “letting the steam” out of the contact. By opening your fingers in to a loose fist when the horse is moving correctly, you can create a lightening while maintaining the same rein length and bit position in the horse’s mouth. This consistency leads to steady recruitment of muscle chains that hold the body in good alignment. Avoiding big variations in rein length and tension prevents these muscular impulses from becoming erratic, or from being recruited without the continuity needed to increase strength and elasticity.

Studies of equine anatomy have shown how constructive it is for a horse to travel while ‘on the bit.’ They also show what a positive training tool the bit can be for the horse’s muscular development when used with good intention. The bit, and rein contact as a whole, allows us to trigger positive neuromuscular reflexes throughout the entire horse by generating engagement and looseness that both begin and culminate in the horse’s head and neck. In sum: yes, we do want feather light contact with the bit. Remember, though, that lightness is trusting and steady, not intermittent and sloppy.