Sticky Transitions

I love "Fix A Flat". It’s a product that puts air and glue into a flat tire and instantly saves you from inertia. It kept me on schedule last summer when I awoke to a car with a completely lifeless hind right. I panicked for 2 minutes before I remembered that I had a can in the trunk. In less than the time it took for Roadside Assistance to get my coordinates, I was on my way to Churchill Downs for Derby Week work.

I would love to invent a product like this for horse bodies. I’d call it “Fix A Lig” or “Mend A Muscle”. I want to guarantee instant improvement in 3 minutes! But even Fix A Flat has limitations. You still need a solid rubber tire to support the patch job so you can get to the gas station, add air, and be on your way. And it's sticky, so it usually gets all over your hands and clothes. And then your steering wheel. But I digress.

Back to the point. 

My OTTB undermines my work every chance she gets. First, it was a career ending fracture requiring stall rest. Then stubborn pyloric ulcers. Next, a kick injury needing sutures, constant tending, and more stall rest. Then a sore pelvis, sticky shoulders, more ulcers, hindgut issues...

We have exhausted many means: chiropractic, nutrition, medication, rest, exercise, tack changes, bodywork, modality work. 

I have lost patience. Where is my can of Fix A Filly?  

I have been called in to work “fix a flat” type miracles on horses with complicated issues. In some cases, dramatic improvements are seen immediately. But often, it takes a few sessions to unravel the mystery and get the horse comfortable enough to sustain healthy movement patterns. And even in cases when the work seems to elicit miraculous change, the results require conscious maintenance. Some people use this as proof that therapies don’t work. By that logic, eating breakfast doesn’t work because I am always hungry again by noon. But I digress. Again. 

I just worked on a horse that was “worse” after an adjustment. This intended “quick fix” had backfired and I was expected to fix the quick fix. I often work on horses with backs so sore that it’s hard to imagine them competing well after one therapy session. Yet sometimes these horses win big. Many factors add up to a victory, so I try not to think too much about this—but it does seem perplexing. There doesn’t seem to be a consistent law to winning in this game.  

But there is a formula. 

The best teams simply commit to the daily process. They use bodywork therapies on a regular basis, over time. Then one day, you’ll hear a trainer say: “He hasn’t looked this good in months!” And it feels like a quick fix.  Truly, it’s been time, hard work, rest, patience, faith, good choices, good teammates, support, and lots of frustration.  

We look at success stories as static entities. They seem to have been always in existence—like monuments of Greek gods. We may be in such a hurry to celebrate big wins that we conveniently forget to honor the small, sticky transitions.  The losing battles and small progresses are the bedrocks of “success”.  

Life is not static. The physiological processes of bodies are so ridiculously complex that I find it amazing that movement occurs at all, flawed or not. Injury and pain relief can happen in an instant but real healing always requires patience. Some injuries seem to respond to a “quick fix”, but almost all therapeutic solutions (bodywork; chiropractic; surgery; injections) require some time for complete success. It is the practitioner’s job to nudge the body towards recovery; it is the body’s job to mend.  

I’ve read that metamorphosis must be a truly painful experience for a caterpillar. Upwards of 90% of its cells die, and it regenerates new ones. Even before that moment, it undergoes an ardous journey:  

It begins as a slimy egg. It grows into a cute, fuzzy larva. It gets chased by birds. It gets hassled by kids. It slowly transitions into an odious pupa within a sticky cocoon. It waits. It suffers. Then, a miracle suddenly emerges from the sticky goo-- a winged creature that is safe in its perfection.

Then it gets chased by birds. It gets hassled by kids. It winds up pinned into a scrapbook.  

When the struggle feels like an overwhelming, immovable constant, and the win seems monumental, I try to remember that life is always moving. Even if it is unbearably         s   l   o   w. Things will get worse, so it’s wise to enjoy--or at least appreciate-- the current phase. Things will also get better. The best formulas implement strategies that support slow improvements towards "miraculous" wins. 

Horse life is both movement and inertia, and it is made up of sticky transitions that cannot be instantly fixed by a miracle product. 

But I’m working on it.