The price of compensations

Chazot Thought's

Jean Luc Cornille




He placed his hand on my front head and I immediately felt the vibration of physical pain. The day started as usual. He entered the barn for our breakfast, opened the Frigidaire filling up his pockets with carrots and started the distribution. Everyone gets a carrot and I get a few more. He starts with me and ends with me leaning on my window. We have then our morning chat. He gives me a kiss on my left eye counting how many stools I made during the night, checking how much water I drank. Meanwhile I am searching with my nose in his hands and his pockets. It is like magic; there are no more carrots and then there is one more.


He rarely talks or even lets any physical pain slowing him down but this one was debilitating. His movements were very slow and controlled as he was preparing our breakfast. I was worried about him and did not eat. I knew that he went through surgery two weeks earlier but he was doing well working us cautiously but efficiently. He came back like if he knew that he needed to let me know. “I am like you, I am experiencing muscular compensation. It is just that this one is incredibly painful. As you know, for the surgery, they opened my abdominal wall, cutting through the iliopsoas muscle. I guess and even if I was careful about the way I was moving, my back muscles compensated for the weaknesses of my abdominal muscles and now they are sore and painful. I am not conscious of that; this is just a logical deduction. You remember the study on high power contraction; it was made on humans underlining the intensity of eccentric muscular contractions. The author took example of the work done hiking up and down hills warning that the intensity of the work might render a novice hiker very sore. Some of my transversal spinalis muscles must have worked eccentrically a little too long or too much and now I am paying the price.” I was ready to suggest pain killer but I know that he would not agree. He does not like drugs for us as he is concern about side effects. I know that he thinks the same way for himself.  


As he does for us, his mind was on analyzing his problem. “The first three days of the second week after the surgery, I experienced the same pain. My back muscles compensated for a very weak abdominal structure and they became very painful. This lasted three or four days and the pain went away. I was thinking about you. The pain was real but Xrays would not have shown anything. Ultrasonography might have revealed some inflammation and, if I was a horse, I probably would have been diagnosed as lazy, overreacting, etc. It was a nagging pain and the only position giving some relief was lying on the bed, flat on my back without a pillow. Even crossing the legs was painful. After fifteen minutes of immobility I started to feel some relief. I realized then that I started hating the feeding time. You know how much I love the feeding time, the quietness of the barn, the peaceful noise that you make munching the hay. A situation that my brain loves when my body is functioning properly became a subject or reluctance. Anticipating the pain that I will feel bending over filling up your feed buckets, bending laterally picking up the flakes of hay, I hated the feeding time thinking that Helyn might not be there and I may have to do it. Of course Helyn was there.


Of course nobody forced me to perform and I was thinking about you, the horses. I did not do any dramatic move; it was simply a problem of muscular compensation like the ones that you experience during your physical education. I did not want to move and if I have been a horse I would have been forced to move. I did not want to go in the barn or the dressage ring and I was thinking about these horses refusing to enter the jumping or the dressage ring. Nobody forced me knowing that my reaction was initiated by physical pain. If I was a horse, everybody would have forced me dismissing the possibility of physical pain in favor of these primitive behavioral, or “establishing your leadership theories.” I was experiencing intense physical pain but it was no outside evidence. One could have believed me or decide that I was a wimp, lazy, disobedient, mean and so on.


It was a constant pain and as the day goes on. I became more and more irritable. My physical condition altered my mental processing exactly like for you guys. Because I have the intellectual capacity of understanding why I felt this way, I was able to control it. I said to Helyn, “After four PM agree with everything I say. After six PM, tell me that I am perfect.”Helyn responded laughing, “Sorry darling but I really cannot say that. I will just stay in the other room.” You do not have the capacity of analysis. You react like I was impulsively ready to do, hostile, aggressive, easily annoyed and you are blamed because equestrian psychologies are decades behind actual knowledge. You have empathy and emotion and feeling like us and if physical pain changed my perceptions and reactions, physical pain influences your thinking, emotions and reactions as well. These behavioral theories are wrong. These submissive theories are off. These training techniques teaching you the movements without preparing your physique for the athletic demand of the performance are unacceptable because they place you in the situation that I am experiencing right now and they blame you for your reluctance to perform. Often I admire your kindness. Even if someone has forced me in the dressage or jumping ring, I would have to fight to the nail, ejecting the rider if necessary by survival reflex. I would not have the kindness to perform, like you horses do, trying to protect your dysfunction and being blame for that.


During locomotion, almost 50% of your muscles work eccentrically at one sequence of the stride or the other. Of course you are subjected to the type of compensatory muscular work that I am experiencing right now. You might not have inflammation of other visible issue but the pain can be real and your only way to express it is reluctance to work or executing a specific move. I was ok moving straight on even ground. I could not bend to the right. It was less painful to the left. The worse was the rotation. I let everyone imagine what would have been my reaction If I was a horse asked to perform half pass right or even just a circle. “This SOB does not want to do anything even just a circle. It is all in his head. I need establishing my leadership. I need roping his legs, I need another whip. I need larger spurs. I need another horse.” What about, “I need a brain”. What about doing what the horse cannot mentally do, analyzing the horse reaction in respect of actual understanding of the equine physiology, identifying the source of physical discomfort or pain and creating a gymnastic program correcting the problem. This is classic equitation whatever the specialty.


Today is the second time that the muscular pain is acute. It is the other side of the healing process. My abdominal muscles became stronger and I am probably returning to a more usual work between my back and abdominal muscles. If I was a horse, my owner would blame the farrier, the vet or the therapist. Compensations go both ways  protecting the worse or reacting to the better. However, the pain is as acute. I cannot perform well for a few days and even when the pain will be over, I will have to direct the reeducation thinking about the possible reasons.


You understand now why I just walk you when I come back from a clinic and you had two days off. Even if you are active in turn out, you do not necessary work the muscles that I stimulate when I ask you for greater balance. You are an athlete, like all your pairs and the truth in training is about preparing efficiently your physique for the athletic demand of the performance. The truth is pain free. Everything else is not classical, not even ethical 

Jean Luc  Cornille (Chazot Thoroughbred) 2014