Meet the Canyonero

Long story short, my Jeep Cherokee was costing me way too much in repairs.  Not to mention the fact that Jeep are no longer manufacturing parts for it, so it had become necessary to look for second hand parts.  Not a great plan when you’re talking about installing a new gear-box at a cost of twelve to fifteen hundred euros just for labour.  On top of all that, I had a major falling-out with my mechanic of five years – the Jeep was in his workshop for almost 6 months while searching for some of those unavailable parts and was returned to me with a huge scrape down the side.  At the time, scrapping it was not on my mind so I was pretty cross and he was pretty unapologetic, bordering on abusive as we (ahem) discussed it.  Two days after that conversation, the final line was crossed when the gearbox went and it was time to say goodbye – to both Jeep and mechanic!

Thanks to a very kind relative, I now have a brand spanking new Toyota HiLux pick-up truck.  The idea is that it can haul water for the garden as necessary in the summer, as well as being a towing and utility vehicle for looking after the horses.  I’m not sure where I’ll be towing to anymore, but I’ve always felt that you need transport if you have horses.  Who knows when a crisis will arise involving an emergency run to a vet clinic.

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The State of the Blog

Around the time I started blogging, I noticed a throwaway remark somewhere in interwebland – something along the lines of ‘most blogs dry up after about five years.’  Not me, I thought.  I love writing and documenting my new life here in Provence!  But, slowly but surely, it began to feel same old, same old :

Some groundwork with one of the horses (usually Aero).

A trek in nice weather.

Dodgy back.

Through the ears ‘back in the saddle after the dodgy back’ shot hooray!.

The occasional dog post

The even more occasional family post.

And life continued, same old, same old.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the rhythm of our life here, but I began to feel I could constantly recycle the same posts and no-one would notice.  I felt the blog was becoming stale and my enthusiasm for it was waning.  Looking back, I realise that I was subconsciously suppressing a constant recurring theme.  My back.  After all, who want to read the equestrian blog by that oul’ wan who’s always moaning about her back?

It’s been bothering me on and off for years.  Thirty two, to be precise.  Irish doctors invariably prescribed anti-inflammatories which I always felt masked rather than cured the problem.  While in Ireland, I self-prescribed visits to osteopaths and chiropracters, which helped me far more than medication ever did.  I took up yoga and benefited greatly – thanks to yoga, I confound the medics with my flexibility!  But still, crippling ‘dodgy back’ moments kept recurring.  And, slowly but presistantly, a constant low-grade pain started to occupy the spaces between the acute episodes. Pain in my lower back, upper butt, hips, thighs, knees and ankles.  Always there, somewhere, to some degree.

I love the doctors here.  You visit your GP with a sore back and practically the first question is “Have you been to an osteopath?”  A reply in the affirmative and a series of visits to a physiotherapist is prescribed.  Along with a very effective pain killer/anti-inflammatory for those acute episodes.  On the osteopath’s recommendation, special insoles were prescribed which were to balance my posture (interesting theory, not sure it helped, tbh).

Between January and September 2017, I had x-rays, massages, a course of twelve one-hour sessions with a physio, those special insoles and several visits to the osteopath.  I spent forty minutes every morning performing a mixture of yoga and the stretches and exercises my physio had shown me.

And still, my symptoms did not improve.  X-rays showed nothing more than a normal degree of arthritic wear and tear between L5 and S1 (a classic weak spot, apparently).  I began to feel like I was imagining it all and tried so hard to “get on with it!”  But every time I rode a little bit more, I had more pain.  Was I being a hypochondriac?  Was there something else going on in my head?  Was I deeply terrified of riding and making up the pain as an excuse?  I can be nervous, for sure, but was I any more nervous than any other 55 year old woman settling her behind into a saddle?

Finally, in November, I asked my GP to send me for an MRI.  I was fully expecting it to show ‘nothing’ – ie., normal arthritic wear and tear.  “Suck it up, woman, you’re just getting older” sort of thing.

It was a relief of sorts to see that HEY! I wasn’t imagining it!  Four herniated discs, L2/L3 to L5/S1, the lower three of which are touching nerve roots on both sides.  This actually does explain everything, pains in the legs and all!  The GP looked long and hard at the images and said well, the first thing to do is go back to the physio to try to strengthen your core so that it supports this weak area.  After that, maybe injections might be an option.

Back to the physio.  More exercises to incorporate into my morning routine, which now lasts an hour.  I am flexible and strong.  I can hold the plank for five minutes and I’m developing a six-pack (bar of chocolate, the French call it!!).  I’ve lost a total of eleven kilos over the last year.  Frankly, I don’t think I could be doing any more than I am.

But still.  I ride for more than an hour: my pain increases for the next couple of days.  The same with trimming two hooves.  Or doing more than half an hour of light gardening.

And worse… injections in the spine are quite probably NOT an option.  They can’t inject all six implicated nerve roots at once, apparently.  I’ve been referred to a neurologist in Marseille.  We’ll see what he says, but I’m not very optimistic.  Sure, I’m far better off than so many other people – a couple of para riders I know spring to mind – but I have slowly come around to accepting that my riding days are numbered.  I don’t know what that number is, but it’s there.  I’ve accepted that there will be no repeat of Le Big Trek, no mounted expeditions along the Via Domitia, no trail-riding in Yosemite (on my bucket-list for years, that one).  Instead, I am hoping to do more hiking with the LSH, once his knee has recovered from surgery.

So will I wake the blog up again?  Yes, I think so.  There will be fewer riding posts – I’m currently aiming to ride three days a week if possible.  There will be more Provençal life posts – there’s a lot going on in our little village this summer!  There will be a few gardening posts, as we attempt to grow some of our own vegetables this summer and investigate cheap and ancient irrigation techniques.  And some hiking posts, with any luck.

See you soon, I hope.

The torment of poor Flurry continues…

This is Flurry’s second session with Oriane.

I really think there is already an improvement.

For sure, there was a bit of this…

and this…

but she just keeps quietly insisting that he yields to her before she yields to him.

– that’s clearly where I go wrong! “Aw, he’s tired, I’ll just give him a nice long rein now…”

I’m pretty pleased with this.

And he hasn’t put a hairy little foot wrong.  Even when his buddy Quieto, who was doing groundwork in the arena, got very excited about the fact the Flurry was cantering.

Either the Hilton Herbs detox is helping Bigtime or he knows that he won’t get away with any shenanigans with Oriane.

Or both?