Sunday, August 28, 2011

Remembering to balance

Our journey has ended. We're at home, relaxing on a Sunday after a trip to the barn and a nice ride for both of us. The laundry is in process and I'm studiously ignoring any urge to think about work until tomorrow morning. There are surely hundreds of emails lurking in my inbox even now, and some of them may even be as urgent as the sender thinks they are.

Right now, I’m happy to still be ignorant of all that has transpired in my absence—even if it means I will be buried again next week.

I made a vow while we were traveling, though, as I felt the knots in my shoulders work their way loose and as I took deeper and deeper breaths of pine-scented air. No matter how crazy things get at work, even if I can’t see how I will get it all done, there has to be time taken for a few crucial things--a daily walk and a daily (or almost daily) ride. The work will always be there, but my ability to manage it effectively depends on my mental state being up to the task. If I don’t remember to breathe and take moments during the day to step away from all of it, to let go of all the noise in my head, all the demands on my time and energy, I will not only be hurting myself, I’ll be hurting the business as well.

I have not written a lot about my job specifically, only as it relates to keeping me away from the ponies. Mostly, I wanted to keep the blog about the horses and leave my “other” life out of it. But as the balance has shifted in the past few months, I’m finding it harder and harder to keep work from leaking into the horse part of my life, so it has ended up here more and more often—even just as side comments and grousing about not seeing my horses enough.

I work for a company that provides service, technology and financing--primarily to the medical industry. We have learned that in order to effectively help facilities and even smaller practices, we need to help them manage their collateral (medical claims) and all the processes around getting those claims paid. We have lots of technology and expertise to do this, but the challenge is often convincing the entrenched staff to do what’s best and smart. Not what they've done for the last 25 years, or what they did at the last three facilities, or just how they've "always done it." Even when we’ve effectively increased their income by 10%, it is still an uphill battle more often than not.

It gets exhausting, and there is never a thank you--there is only the next thing that needs to be fixed. There is no shortage of opportunity out there for us to build our business and grow, but if I’m going to continue to be a part of it, I need to learn to let a lot go, to turn it off, to walk away.

My boss, the owner and CEO, is an entrepreneur. They are a different breed of humans, I swear. His energy and ability to put pieces together is remarkable and inspiring, and it is incredibly easy to get lost in his enthusiasm and pour all of yourself into his vision.

And it's a good vision. There are so many inefficiencies in the medical billing world, so many cracks where money slips away with barely a whimper, that with just a tiny bit of effort, good technology and tenacious staff, the revenue needle can move--and move significantly. The insurance companies don't like it, but too bad for them. I run the operations--from managing our staff as well as the customer relationships to solving simple IT issues in the office to making follow-up calls to the insurance companies. Basically, whatever it takes. And sometimes, a lot of the time, it takes a lot.

So how do I keep my energy in this? It is definitely not 10 hour days and checking email on vacation (which I didn’t do). It is remembering what we're doing and that we are doing good things while making our own business work, too. It is also doing what Steve and I just did on a daily and smaller scale. Turn off the phone. Walk away from the email. Breathe. Walk. Ride. Repeat often.

This first week back will be a rough test. The two weeks before we left, I didn't get out for a walk even once. Sitting is sooo bad. So bad. It wreaks havoc on your spine and joints AND slows down your metabolism. I do not need that kind of help. Particularly as I become "a woman of a certain age."

So. Big test coming up. Steve says to remember that sense of peace stealing over my soul the first time we lost the cell phone signal. That was pretty good, but it was actually even better when I got back to "civilization" and told my boss I needed to not check in until we got back. When I chose to disconnect was when my chest finally loosened for real.

I just have to make that choice daily, and certainly before I'm ready to run off and join the circus to get away.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Time away

I love being away. I love having the time to breathe, to not think about how to convince the client to do the right thing to keep their own business afloat.

And sitting here, watching lightening strikes over the Sisters in Oregon, listening to the rumble of thunder in the background? It's really improving my outlook on life.

Though even with some (rented) horse time today, I do admit to missing my own crazy ponies.

If I can only figure a halfway point (say, Shasta?), we could make a journey up here with the horses. They would love it. There is so much to explore, so many things to see and do. We just need a spot about 5 hours from home, the first stop. A place for Calabar and Lena to get out, stretch their legs and feel comfortable before we load them up and head up here to Northwest adventures.

Meanwhile, the lightening continues to flash outside.

It is a beautiful, powerful world. I'm glad I'm in it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Aches and pains

I can't decide if I'm getting old or just finally using my body hard enough to notice it. Or maybe just using my body harder than it's used to?

Calabar and I had a great lesson yesterday. Lots of hard work at the trot and canter, still in the round pen to work on position and balance.

There is much work to be done, but an inkling of progress was made.

Towards the end, as we were working on the canter, my rib cage kinda started to hurt. Like a charlie horse, but maybe a little worse. Later, as I gasped with every movement, Steve asked if perhaps I could have mentioned the pain and suggested we try something different for awhile. Well of course we could have. Only other things were hurting, too, and it didn't seem so bad at the time.

Later it was bad. It's not so bad now, but it is definitely still there. At least breathing isn't painful at this point, so we are improving.

My guess is I tore some scar tissue loose from when I broke my rib(s) last year. Pain was in the same place, only felt a little different and nothing was moving this time (big PHEW there).

On the plus side, if the scar tissue is looser, it should help improve my flexibility, which--according to Peter--needs a lot of work. "Roll with the horse!" he says. My back does not comply with verbal commands, it appears, and I continue to bounce more than we'd all like. Bar especially, though he's the most tolerant all things considered. (Particular considering it's his back I'm bouncing upon.)

The lesson? Sometimes it pays to only look at the plus side. I also gave myself a break (not a painful one) today, which seemed prudent for a couple reasons: a) it hurts to move, let alone ride and b) I'm on vacation next week and would like to enjoy it.

Calabar didn't mind in any case, and we should be able to regroup later in the week for some work before Steve and I take of Saturday for our horse-less camping adventures in the Northwest.

Best to get some ridin' in before we go, eh?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Forrest gives us a scare

Horses have the reputation of being, well, horses and hurting themselves doing dumb things.

We have had a few minor instances with Calabar and Lena, but Forrest did a good job Friday of reminding us all that sometimes horses do goofy things and pay the price for it. Of course, Katie had to pay the price for it, too. She's going to be working to pay off vet bills for quite awhile--with the joys of horse-ownership come glorious pitfalls as well.

The day ended normally enough, even on time for once. I was packing up to leave the office when my phone rang. Steve told me Forrest had gotten hung up in his gate and opened up his fetlock badly enough that Peter thought we needed to call the vet. Peter is not an alarmist, not by any stretch of the imagination, so when he says to call the vet it's time to call the vet.

I called and texted Katie and headed to the barn to see what damage had been wrought.

Forrest had been pawing while waiting for his grain and managed to get his fetlock joint caught in the lower inside corner of the gate, right below the hinge. The hinge wedged it in so well, Steve couldn't pull it free and neither could Peter. This naturally led to anxiety and struggles from Forrest, until he fell backwards and managed to pull his leg free himself. It probably wasn't pretty, but at least he was free. By the time I got there, his right front fetlock was bloody and swollen and he was lame on the leg.

Katie got there and we called our vet only to find she was away for the weekend. And why is it that horses don't hurt themselves during regular business hours, anyway?

Leslie had, as always, left the number for a substitute who told Katie to cold-hose the leg while we waited.

Because of the type of injury, how it happened, and where it was, the vet recommended an x-ray to rule out any severe bone or joint damage. I'd have taken pictures of the cool set up, but I was wearing my own lead apron and holding Forrest at the time. Plus, Katie was afraid the news would be dire and didn't really want photo documentation.

Dire would have been if there had been severe bone damage (there wasn't), or if the joint had been damaged (it wasn't), but x-rays and then a joint tap gave us good news. The options for treatment had there been separation in the joint or significant bone damage are too expensive for us to consider, so Forrest could have ended up as a very young pasture ornament. Luckily and to all our relief, he has other things in his future. Like daily leg wraps, four weeks off, including at least one week of stall rest.

Forrest says he was framed and when can he come out? Jail is no fun! I told him it was his own dumb fault, so suck it up.

The plus side is his fetlock joint in general is in fine shape--especially for a horse off the track--and I got so see some really cool field veterinary technology!

Pets (and our horses are definitely pets) are wonderful and add so much to life. They do, however, sometimes take big chunks out of your wallet in the process. That is part of the lesson, part of the responsibility.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Back to lessons

Jess and Bar in Jamestown

After a three week hiatus, Bar and I had another lesson with Peter today.

Peter is trying hard to figure out how to untwist me, particularly at the trot. The walk is okay, and I even think I do okay at the canter. But the trot throws all my flaws into harsh relief.

I put too much weight in my left foot (doesn't matter which direction we're traveling), and struggle to keep my lower legs behind the cinch. I bounce too high out of the saddle and don't lead with my pelvis when I post.

So Peter had me perch, not post. Put weight in both feet, shorten up my reins and arch my back. It was a little bit like what Ike had me do, though less forward. Ike had me much more forward, arms up over Bar's neck, my butt back over Bar's back--almost racing position.

The techniques were a little different, but the results were similar. I was less twisted, and Bar moved up into my hands. In fact, the brown ears pricked forward and he relaxed, confident in his ability to carry me in this familiar position.

It was a good lesson and gave me concrete things to work with until next week, which helps me a lot. Reading and visualizing are helpful, but having specific exercises to use gives me ways to gauge my progress.

However, my thighs currently feel like we've bounced our way through an 80's aerobics work out.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Calabar the wonder-horse

It has been a long couple of weeks at work--very busy and very stressful. Luckily, I do have the benefit of horse-therapy, in addition to a top-notch therapist.

Thanks to Bar for reminding me there us more to life than the mess that is inherent in the medical industry.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Lurking daughter, crouching trainer

After my last post, I received so much support and positive feedback, I thought it really couldn't get any better.

But it did.

I got to the barn Monday night, late, and Katie was still there. She'd gone to the barn around 2 p.m., so I was a little surprised to see her perched on Forrest's paddock when I arrived, frazzled and worn out from work.

My plan was to get Bar out and run him around the round pen. Katie had an alternative plan. "Get on him bareback, Mom."

So I did, and we proceeded to work on my position. She found out my legs don't fall the same way--likely due to the twist in my pelvis--and that I turn into a tight little ball of, well, tension when asked to trot.

We walked a little while, getting my hips to follow his rolling, shambling, movement. Then she said, "Okay, trot," and watched my entire body lock up as I then proceeded to try not to fall off because I was now a rigid block of human no longer flowing with her horse.

It's a wonder Katie didn't just shake her head and walk away, but she didn't.

"Again," she said. Kind of like Yoda, only more concise.

I told her that trotting bareback was kind of painful and she offered to get the bareback pad, then told me to suck it up when I said we didn't have time.

I think she's channeling Bela Karolyi.

It was kind of surreal to have her directing and helping me, but in a good way. And it was cool! Minus the crashing together of pelvis and withers, that is, which is painful and apparently my fault in any case.

The general consensus is that Bar is indeed a pretty good horse and that if I could just relax, this would work a whole lot better. He doesn't know much, but is fairly patient overall with my efforts. I know a little more (at least in theory if not practice), just need to breathe and not turn into a block of granite on his back.

But.. we can get there. I know it. And not just because my daughter is as stubborn as they come. I'm as determined as I've ever been to get better at something. This is special--my horse, me, riding. It has defined much of the last six years of my life. It has shaped my physical world (particularly the last couple of years), my goals and day-to-day actions, and my visions of the future.

It is teaching me to be a better human in this universe at the same time it offers salvation from said universe with the warm, earthy smell of dusty horse, hay, and seasoned leather.

Provided I can leave the office before dinner time, that is. But that is another blog post for another time.