Following a long, cold morning high-stepping through snowy CRP in search of a cock pheasant, I had just settled blissfully onto the couch with a bowl of Cheetos and a diet Pepsi to watch the Seahawks. As I lifted my legs onto the ottoman, I felt a tightening of the muscles in my left calf. Knowing what was about to happen, I jumped to my feet, flinging Cheetos to the floor, pleading, “OH, NO! OH, NO! NOT AGAIN!”
But the diabolic charley horse would not be denied. The cramp lessened its grip for a moment and I thought perhaps I would survive, but then it tightened again. Even as I tried to massage the contracting calf muscle, another charley horse chomped into the thigh on the same side.
I don’t know if the muscle cramps called charley horses are the most painful thing I have ever experienced, but they rank right there with kidney stones and taking a handball to the groin. Crashing back onto the couch, I kicked my leg out straight, still yelling, but the charley horses not only ignored my uncreative exhortations, they proceeded to take hold of the calf on the other leg too. Unable to kick the cramps out, I rolled to the floor, hoping to find a position of relief, but the long morning in the pheasant field assured me I would spend the next five minutes in terrible agony and the next two days with a limp.
I get a lot more charley horses now than I used to. My doctor tells me they result from “high or low pH or substrate concentrations in the blood, including hormonal imbalances, low levels of potassium or calcium, or the side effects of medication,” but I suspect they occur mostly because I don’t exercise regularly and I don’t drink enough water. When I hunt pheasants in thick cover, my legs are ill-prepared for the strenuous workout and I do not adequately replace liquid lost to sweat.
No one seems to know for sure where the term, “charley horse” originated. It appears to be a strictly American phrase, however, and it may have its origins in baseball. As the story goes, a player, whose father owned an old, lame horse named Charley, was troubled with a peculiar stiffness of the legs, which brought to his mind the ailment and limp of the old horse, Charley. He dubbed his affliction “Charley horse.”
The worst charley horse I ever had was in my small two-door pickup on the way home from a chukar hunt on the Snake River breaks. Exhausted, I climbed into the confining space behind the front seat when my friend offered to drive, and stretched out as best I could. We had just hit the highway when the first charley horse grabbed hold. “Cramp! Cramp!” I screamed. “Let me out! Let me out!” But there was a line of cars behind us and nowhere to pull over.
I had sometimes been able to get relief by pushing my foot in the opposite direction of the spasm, but in the small space behind the front seat, there was scarcely room to move, and I put so much pressure on the small side window it popped out onto the highway.
This certainly got the attention of my driver friend as well as the drivers behind us. Despite the earlier declaration that there was no place to pull over, my friend pulled over. Then, he dragged me from the vehicle onto the shoulder where I remained several minutes, a writhing roadside spectacle in an orange shirt, a victim of a horse called charley.
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