Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Horse Book Review: The Riding Doctor Helps Us Keep Riding!

Aches. Pains. And bad, bad balance.

Sometimes climbing into the saddle feels like a mountain I must conquer. And sometimes it feels like I never quit riding those ten horses a day. Both versions kind of hurt. As a not-so-frequent rider, and one that has taken a pretty significant break from the farm life in order to pursue my desk-based career as a writer, I've found that one ride's form is rarely like another these days.

A little bit of that "Career Gap" equestrian trouble has gone into my current novel-in-progress, Show Barn Blues, which features a jumper trainer trying to keep a barn full of adult amateur riders in the show-ring and out of trouble. Grace has made a living out of supporting the teenage dreams of affluent women like Missy, but her young working student, Anna, can't imagine a day lived without horses.
“You rode as a kid?” Anna started to knot up a slipping hay-net along the trailer’s wall. “Like, you showed?”
“Oh, I did it all.” Missy paused and focused all her effort on getting the slim boot on. She might have to give in and get new ones soon, I thought. Nothing lasts forever, especially not pencil-thin calves. “I showed, I hunted… I wasn’t afraid of a thing back then.”
“And you stopped? What happened?”
“The usual,” Missy laughed, but it sounded rueful as well. “College, love, marriage, work, babies. And my horse died, and I never found another one I was so comfortable with. So I stopped riding, and then eventually I realized how much I missed it, and then, years after that, I finally had a little spare time to start taking lessons again. And then Grace helped me find Maxine, and here we are. But I’m definitely not the brave teenager anymore.”
If you'd said to me as a teenager that I'd totally identify with that passage as I was typing it, I would have laughed. I mean, I even found ways to ride horses for a living in the middle of Manhattan. But then I started writing full-time, and lo, the Career Gap was suddenly Real Life.

Dr. Beth Glosten, author of The Riding Doctor.
So it felt like amazing timing when a new book, The Riding Doctor, arrived in the mail. This large-format paperback, featuring colorful, glossy photos and illustrations, was written from one Career Gap Rider to all the rest of us. The author, Dr. Beth Glosten, MD, is a doctor who understands how our pieces stop working in perfect tandem once we spend a few years (or decades, heaven forbid) out of the irons.

“I wear the label ‘riding doctor’ when I work with riders and evaluate their balance and functional challenges on horseback,” explains Glosten. "My goal is to help all riders, but particularly those in midlife, understand their bodies and improve their function, so they can enjoy effective and harmonious riding, as well as other activities.”

Glosten's equestrian credentials are impressive enough without the "MD" attached to her name: She retired from medical practice in 1997 and pursued her passion for riding dressage full time, while also becoming Pilates Method Alliance certified. She is a USDF gold, silver, and bronze medalist, as well as a USDF 'L' judge training program graduate with distinction. But none of that came easily, as her bio explains:

The Riding Doctor by Dr. Beth Glosten
"After leaving horses behind for many years to pursue her medical career, Glosten decided it was time to ride again, only to discover that as a middle-aged woman, she struggled with tension, awkwardness, and an aching back. Glosten’s own frustration with riding prompted her to apply her clinical research skills to figure out what it would take to not only create the harmonious picture of horse and rider moving together, but also to feel good while doing it."

In a Q & A (provided by the author) Glosten explains what the book is all about, including the exercises, which are based upon Pilates:

"My instructions are designed such that each exercise or movement has relevance to riding skills. ...There are simple movements that show you how to control the position of your pelvis and rib cage; important determinants of posture. ...There are exercises that challenge correct posture in the same way that it is challenged in the saddle – using a single rein aid, a single leg aid, or even just turning. Balance is an important theme, as balance is key to success in the saddle."

Each exercise could benefit anyone, but Glosten's instructions are laced with real-life stories and examples of how they create a better, more effective equestrian. With sections on how our pelvis, spine, and abdominal muscles really work, plus photos of riders working in tandem with their horse and explaining the muscle groups that make it happen, The Riding Doctor makes me think of a more technical, practical Centered Riding: sort of a Centered Riding for the Rest of Us. You know, those of us who can't visualize ourselves into a perfect posture anymore!

Constantly looking for ways to keep myself (somewhat) riding fit, despite my current job as a desk-jockey (which requires very few muscles and a surprising quantity of snacks) I'm working my way through The Riding Doctor. I'm hoping that the next time I mount up, my horse won't think "Ah, the sack of potatoes has arrived for her yearly assault on my spine." Instead, maybe he'll think, "Better behave, this lady means business."

After all, I used to ride for a living.

I swear.

The Riding Doctor is available at Amazon, Trafalgar Square's HorseandRiderBooks.com, and at RiderPilates.com


Laura Crum said...

Sounds like a very practical book. As a 57 year old who, like you, used to ride for a living in my 20's (and then took several years off in my 40s to have a baby), I have many of these same issues. In my case the solution was buying a couple of bombproof horses who basically put up with my much decreased riding skills. But I can relate to the issues for sure and can see where this book would be a help to many.

whitehorsepilgrim said...

I haven't stopped riding however parts of me hurt more as the years pass. If this book is anything like as useful as core strengthening exercises a physiotherapist taught me - and it sounds like a most helpful book - then it will be well worth reading. A good chiropractor helps too. The one I see treats a number of riders and knows what goes wrong with our bodies. It helps to get horse and rider adjusted by the same person in a single appointment. A comfortable, well-behaved horse is an asset. My mare took me for a lovely canter through the woods this evening: one doesn't need to totally slow down!

Alison said...

Thanks for a great review, Natalie!

As I get older, keeping my body going gets harder.